Interview: Kimberley Datnow and Amy Datnow on Working Through “Daddy Issues”

Henrietta (Kimberley Datnow) is away from her family at the start of “Daddy Issues,” pursuing a career in standup in Los Angeles and having to conference in on her father’s funeral in England, though it can’t be said that they’re keeping the same distance. Crowding in on the phone, they aren’t too pleased she has prioritized her professional life over personal obligations, but it actually is where her father wants her as even she is surprised to find out when she’s left a palatial house in the hills in his will that comes with a significant price tag — a job in the executive suite in his company, where only her preparation from being heckled at the Laugh Factory is likely to come in handy when her new co-workers resent her.

In the comedy Datnow and her sister Amy conceived with writer/director Laura Holliday, the unwanted job isn’t all that her father left behind and while she doesn’t have to worry about income, she does have to consider why she is prevented from moving on with her life with no other obvious obstacles in her way, a stagnation that is shared by Nolan (Tanner Rittenhouse), a houseguest who can’t bring himself to leave, and their friend Alice (Alice Carroll Johnson), who has solved her own money problems with renting out her time to lonely old rich men. Through the fire of unexpectedly heated ping pong battles and dating studs from the latest CW show among other trials, the trio comes to see how their past has shaped their present and for the Datnow siblings behind it, the film offered an opportunity to come to terms with what they lost when their own father passed away.

Inspired to come together to create a production company (Clean Slate Productions) and develop their first feature, the Datnows have started things off with a smile with “Daddy Issues” and with the comedy coming to iTunes this week, they spoke about how their were able to turn their grief into something positive, shooting on both sides of the Atlantic and the unexpected moments that made their way into the film thanks to the “fuck-it theory.”

How did this come about?

Kimberley Datnow: It came twofold. Amy and I started a production company together because I was living in Los Angeles working as an actress and Amy was living in Israel working as a journalist, so we kept calling each other. We were both mid-twenties and had issues with dating, issues with the different sorts of dating apps and what they meant and the different types of guys we were meeting. We’d call each other from the other side of the world and be like, “Oh my God…” and we’d joke, “Is it daddy issues because our dad died?” And it was like a sick joke that became too real [because] the definition is someone goes for unavailable men and [we thought] maybe it was because our father was absent, so we had to make a film about it. We formed the company and we’re sisters, which is apparently quite rare. There’s a lot of brother production companies, but not many sister ones…

Amy Datnow: We’re the only sister production company in the UK…

And what you’re saying is that guys are exactly the same everywhere in the world.

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, I’d have to agree with that. And so are women, but I think in L.A., it was a lot of men with Peter Pan syndrome who weren’t growing up, who weren’t committing…

Amy Datnow: Or chasing the guys that aren’t that into you. That was part of it.

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, and I think a lot of people in our generation have these issues. We were talking to friends who were giving us these stories and accounts of things that had happened to them and…

Amy Datnow: We’d take the stories that we heard from our friends and put in similar stories.

How did your director Laura Holliday come into the mix and breaking down the story with her?

Kimberley Datnow: We made this film in a quick amount of time. We wanted to shoot it in L.A. and I moved back to London at that point, so we basically interviewed loads of directors and it was really important to us that the director had massive passion for the idea, could relate to the idea…

Amy Datnow: Was female because it’s a female-led story. That was important to us.

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, and we love a mixture of silly slapstick comedy and more dark satirical comedy, so Laura had the same influences as us and the same ideas about how we’d shoot it [with the] static camera and how we’d make a low budget film. She was the perfect person to come onboard, but then the actual story with Nolan and Alice was that [besides] Henrietta who’s lost her father, Nolan has his own daddy issues because he was a father while dating a woman with a son, so he has to come to terms with the fact he’s a father without actually being a father, and then obviously Alice has her own issues with being [beholden to a] sugar daddy, so we’re kind of looking a bit deeper at into what daddy issues are and how your parents affect you in your dating, like how even when they’re gone, like Henrietta’s father has died, they can still be a part of you and still fuck you up. [laughs]

How’d you find this atmospheric house in Los Angeles to film in?

Amy Datnow: Oh my God, it was an amazing house and a lot of the cast actually stayed in it because it was such a family cast. It was all in the woodlands…

Kimberley Datnow: This felt like the right amount of sadness whilst also being Nolan’s house, who is an architect.

Amy Datnow: And we found it through Heather [Lynn], the producer. In the evenings, we’d jam out in the house.

Kimberley Datnow: It was so nice. We had this actor Peter Jason who was like one of the leads in “Deadwood” back in the day and “Adaptation.” He’s done quite a few big films, so he shot the most amazing scenes, and he was so real, and [would get them] in one take…

Amy Datnow: And afterwards, it was all a young crew, and it was Laura’s first feature, so we were really excited to have him and he stayed behind afterwards and we ate all the craft ice cream and he regaled us with stories. It was so old Hollywood, so we loved that.

Kimberley Datnow: And what was so amazing about the location was coming from England and having that sun every day in L.A., you can’t not be happy. As soon as we got there, we’re like this is the house.

Even though England is in the film only a short time, was it difficult to coordinate a shoot across two different countries?

Amy Datnow: We travel a lot between L.A. and London and we wanted to shoot a film that showed the beauty of both cities because they’re so photogenic, but it was quite difficult. We had a different DP in London, so we had to make sure it would match in style, which was a bit tricky, but it worked out okay. And then in London, it was mostly waiting for good weather. You can’t believe how lucky you are in L.A., like with every day being so sunny and perfect to film.

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, we have these two-hour windows in London where it’s like, “Okay, it’s not raining. Let’s get the camera.” We had a couple of scenes in the film that are in London in the film, but we shot them in L.A. so in post we had to get the right grading, but also Laura hadn’t been to London…

Amy Datnow: Yeah, it was her first time in London, just to add in another hurdle for her. [laughs] But she was never sleeping. She was exploring London in the night and it’s like, “Laura, you need to sleep. It’s a long filming day.” [laughs]

Nolan and Henrietta have quite a ping pong match at one point in the film. What was that like to shoot?

Kimberley Datnow: That was a really fun scene.

Amy Datnow: Kimberley ad-libbed some good lines in there that weren’t in the script, like “Do you want to play with your balls?” And I’m like, “That’s a good line, Kim.”

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, we had some chemistry reads before we did it and I think that was really important to have a director from a producing point of view that was keen to have a cast to be an ensemble because I think that makes it a lot funnier when people can play.

Amy Datnow: Yeah, if they went offscript, we were really loose with it.

Kimberely Datnow: With that scene, we shot four takes and we had to pick all the ping pong balls up and keep doing it…

Amy Datnow: And to continue that take, you have to stick the ping pong balls directly exactly where they landed so that it’s continuous.

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, then we just went off-screen and we had this theory called “the fuck-it theory” where we’d go off-script now and see what happens. In the edit, we ended up using quite a lot of that take and we did it in a few other scenes as well.

There’s a fair amount of Datnows in the credits and obviously the film is a personal one. What’s it been like to share with your family?

Amy Datnow: Obviously our mom is our biggest fan.

Kimberley Datnow: She loves it.

Amy Datnow: We really wanted her to play the mom, but she was busy that day, so we got an actress [Nesba Crenshaw] that is so similar to her it’s ridiculous.

Kimberley Datnow: And unfortunately, our father passed away, but he was always a very entrepreneurial spirit and he had this amazing love for literature and film. He would sit us down and I remember some of our most fun days were sitting in front of movies.

Amy Datnow: So even though we’re kind of bashing out relationship, we have great admiration for him and I think he’d be proud of the product.

Kimberley Datnow: Hopefully. [laughs] But our mom’s also very proud of it. Every time she can’t find anything good on Netflix, she’s like, “Oh, let’s watch ‘Daddy Issues!’” And we’re like, “Mom, we’ve seen it so many times editing it.” [laughs]

Amy Datnow: It’s taken us about four years to actually get to this point, so we’re so happy and excited to be releasing it and [with] COVID now, we hope that it can bring some enjoyment to people since it’s lighthearted and other people can relate to [it].

Kimberley Datnow: Yeah, hopefully can be received in the way it’s intended because you have to laugh in these times.

Amy Datnow: We always found it so funny the things this [personal] tragedy brought up for us, and it’s about seeing comedy in situations like that.

“Daddy Issues” is now available on iTunes.