A Face in the Crowd: An Escape Comes From Within in Carlen May-Mann’s “Romance Package for Two”

Like many others over these past two years, Carlen May-Mann spent a lot of time fantasizing about being somewhere else, confined to an apartment in New York with only their cat for company during the pandemic. May-Mann has always had vivid imagination and being a horror buff, the mind could wander particularly dark places, but flipping through TikTok and Instagram, May-Mann’s getaway had become relatively modest, coming across a photo of the Poconos Palace Motel, a haven for honeymooners in Pennsylvania.

“I was totally obsessed with the vibe of the place – the heart-shaped beds and champagne glass hot tub. It felt like something from another time and place, maybe even another world,” May-Mann said recently. “I actually experienced really terrible writer’s block from late 2020 to late 2021, the worst I’d ever had. When inspiration finally reappeared for me, it was centered around love motels as well as a vague idea about a love triangle I had thought up a couple of years back. When these elements clicked together, I sat down, opened Final Draft, and wrote for the first time in over a year. It was pretty euphoric.”

What poured out was something more serious than its setting in “Romance Package for Two,” a short currently raising funds on Kickstarter to make a potential shoot this summer possible at such an ostentatious location. Such a small, self-contained production wasn’t what May-Mann had likely envisioned for a follow-up to “The Rat,” their eerily atmospheric, Halloween-set horror film that became a favorite at Sundance in 2019, but taking COVID-19 safety precautions into account, an idea about a couple who runs such a motel intrigued by a visiting dominatrix who stops by blossomed as May-Mann realized that a logistically less complex shoot could lead to a more dramatically ambitious film when the characters’ flaws could be exposed along with the reality of such a place.

“With this short, I challenged myself as a writer to work with one location and as few characters as possible,” says May-Mann, who can’t imagine now pulling together the 15-20 extras and six locations necessary to make “The Rat.” “Ultimately, this inspired me to write a very intimate film that delves into relationships and the ways our surroundings influence us.”

Whereas “The Rat” could take inspiration from subverting tropes about young women in peril, following one to what’s hyped by a boyfriend as a haunted house, only to find a different terror than ghouls and ghosts lurking within, “Romance Package for Two” drops any genre trappings to explore self-imposed distress when its characters want different things that they all need to work up the courage to express to one another, fearful of what they might look like if they expose their true desires. Still, May-Mann is excited by the possibilities of bringing the technical prowess and suspenseful story structure developed over the making of past chrillers to a more grounded drama.

“For “Romance Package for Two,” I wrote in a much more character-first fashion. I wanted each individual and the dynamics between the three to be the centerpiece of the film and to be believably complex,” said May-Mann. “That being said, with this film, I felt it was vital to react against certain patterns that permeate cinema about queer women. I wanted my characters to be deeply flawed and make terrible mistakes on a small, intimate scale. The opportunity to do the wrong thing and even be unlikeable is often taken from queer and female characters. I want to do my own tiny part to express that our humanity can’t always be shiny and perfect.”

That messiness requires sophistication to pull off, something that by now May-Mann has demonstrated having in spades, but now just needs the help of the crowd to make it into a reality. Should “Romance Package for Two” meet its goal by April 22nd, May-Mann, producers João Pereira-Webber and Noah Dirks and crew will head to Chicago with plans to complete a film for the spring festival cycle and while it may not be much of a vacation for anyone involved, particularly the threesome at the center of the action, any contribution surely is a worthwhile down payment on the kind of escapist entertainment that so many of us, May-Mann included, have been yearning for for some time.

To watch the filmmakers’ pitch video and back this project, click here.