Interview: Morgan Krantz on a Real High-Wire Act in “Squeegee”

“I’ve never thought about it, but in both “Babysitter” and “Squeegee,” they’re also storylines that could work in a porno,” muses Morgan Krantz, his mind wandering after it’s brought up that he seems to have a yen for exploring romantic relationships that might be considered inappropriate or unconventional. “When I first told Amy Rutherford, the actress about “Squeegee,” she was concerned because there is a really bad version of it that’s almost like an ‘SNL’ sketch — not to mention the porno version, so the crucial element is if it’s emotional for these people.”

In fact, rather than make anything obscene, Krantz has made something as irresistible with “Squeegee” as its leads find each other, with Rutherford playing an exec with a corner office in a high-rise whose professional success may have come at the expense of much of a personal life, leading her to make eyes and then some with the window washer (Blair McKenzie) that swings by. Like his debut feature “Babysitter,” which involved a teen seducing the family’s nanny, the inherent danger of the scenario — not even bringing up that it takes place at least 20 stories above the ground — is surely part the attraction, but there’s something more to the relationship where the barrier that prevents a physical consummation allows for a freedom to express themselves without fear of what the other will think, leading to a hilariously awkward sex comedy that doubles as a strangely poignant consideration of intimacy and connection in a world that’s more and more mediated by the minute.

Rather than wait out the pandemic to give the film the big screen premiere it deserves, Krantz released “Squeegee” online where it has quickly become a sensation, first premiering on Short of the Week, and he spoke about how he utilized a break from his work as an actor on the CW show “In the Dark” to make this high-flying short in Toronto, using the stark contrasts in his actors’ backgrounds to the benefit of the story and overcoming fear on screen and off with this short you can watch right below.

How did this come about?

It came very organically [because] I’m on a TV show that gets filmed out in Toronto, and I was just waiting in line at a busy restaurant with my girlfriend and I met this guy on the street, Blair McKenzie, who is the star of the film. He and his girlfriend had immigrated to Toronto that night and we were both out-of-towners in a sense, so we struck up a conversation and immediately, we just hit it off. He told me he was a window washer and that immediately resonated with me as something that I could do something with because I knew I wanted to try and shoot a short film during the hiatus from the TV show during Christmas, but I didn’t have an idea. I’m a little bit afraid of heights myself, so I just thought it was interesting that this guy was risking his life almost every single day for some jerks’ office building and I was very interested immediately in the contrast of the banality of what occurs inside an office building and just across the glass, there’s this guy risking his life to clean the window.

I didn’t know what to do with it and I also didn’t even know if he was down [to be in a film] — I just met the guy five minutes earlier, but to just meet somebody who is so charming and obviously has such great taste and he’s great looking and he’s a guy that’s doing this crazy job every day was immediately inspiring for me. That planted the seed and then I toyed with it for a couple weeks. We didn’t even exchange info, but luckily I ran into him one more time, and I still didn’t mention it to him because I didn’t want to freak him out, but one day I just had the whole idea — I realized if you have this sexual encounter on opposite sides of the glass, it would be a really cool way to show sex and the absurdity of it, these two people banging themselves against the glass like animals, it just felt interesting to me.

What sold you on Amy Rutherford to play opposite Blair?

Before I even met Blair, my parents had come to visit me while I was filming in Toronto and we went to go see a production of “Streetcar Named Desire” by a big theater company and I went into it thinking what could Canada possibly bring to Tennessee Williams? Not to be super-American about it, but I was really just going to amuse my parents and give them something to do, and I was totally blown away by the production and Amy played Blanche duBois, who’s a really important character in my life. I didn’t know her, but I had seen her on stage and she made me cry and laugh, so when it came time to cast the role, I thought it would be really great because Blair is completely raw [as an actor], that it would be nifty if the person opposite him was a very trained [actor] because she in her polished professionalism would elevate him and he in his raw authenticity would ground her.

It’s a little bit something I stole from Michel Gondry [because] I remember hearing Michel Gondry talk a little bit about the casting of “Eternal Sunshine” and what’s interesting is he put Jim Carrey in the very serious role and then he put Kate Winslet in the very funny role, and prior to that film, they were both known for the opposites of that, so I just thought that could work out and it did. They have really amazing chemistry.

Once they were in the roles, did you change anything to fit them?

It was a very hard script to write well because there was a lot of trappings and I fell into all of them in the initial draft, all the cliched, goofy stuff you could do. The idea was always built around Blair, and Amy Rutherford is the only person I could imagine doing the role [now] and luckily I just cold-called her agent and worked it out together, so there wasn’t necessarily and adaptation that occurred in the casting. But in the rehearsal process, Amy challenged some of my weaker ideas and ultimately made things stronger and I really welcomed her feedback. She was super game to experiment and also help Blair along in his first performance ever.

Honestly, what really unlocked it for me is I had this script and it was feeling ‘80s in a weird way, like “8 1/2 Weeks,” and I really didn’t want it to be twee or cute. I wanted it to be real but elevated, so I listened to classical track “Bolero” by Ravel and when I was alone, I started improvising what the movements would be as both characters, but mostly for Amy because he’s hanging out the window. Once I found that song, the rhythms of that really made me understand that all the action had to be very restrained because there’s a temptation in everything to get to the point — to rush things — and I thought the patience of those movements was key to the eroticism. Everything is very slow in the beginning, like the way she turns around — it’s all very restrained in a sense and in terms of what Amy and Blair brought, they were just so game. Blair was such an incredible performer and I was so relieved about that because the whole thing was going before I even knew what he was going to do, but because he was completely raw — he wasn’t in like high school plays or had some weird ideas of high school acting is that I had to go up and battle against, he just was totally open.

What was it like figuring out the logistics of this?

It was basically miraculous because once I had Amy, I was like, “Okay, what we really need is a building because if you get the cast and the right locations, you’ve got a good foundation.” But I I have maybe three friends in Toronto. One of them is a businessman named Greg Stewart, who finances startups and produces these great films like “Creative Control” and “Wobble Palace.” We met at Sundance years ago and we’ve spent a lot more time together because I’m in Toronto a lot now, so he was my one guy that I was like, “Okay, this is my only possible connection to an office building. Amazingly, it worked out with his building. And then the company that Blair is a window-washer for, called Cancore Services, hooked us up with basically their crew and was just game to be part of the movie basically with all the gear. It was just very lucky, really. We just shot it over a weekend after a holiday.

When Blair’s hanging outside the building, I imagine that limits the amount of takes you can have.

Well, the funny part is I was very nervous because I’m an actor on a lot of other people’s sets, so I understand very much the feeling of being put in a hairy position by a production, so I’m totally against endangering anyone’s safety, so I was scared of this concept, even though it was fully ensured. And I told Blair because I was having cold feet about it and when I explained my fear to him he was going to be on the window, he was like, “Oh mate, I do that every day. I’m scared of acting.” [laughs] So I’m like, “Oh okay. I can help you with the acting.”

We had a professional helping named Jamie, so there was that and it was cold, but Blair does this every day and he’s from Scotland, and for all the Canadians there, apparently it’s a nice day. I never felt we didn’t get enough takes. It was very organized beforehand, as much as it could be, and there’s a funny story that Blair tells when he was pretending to jerk off up there [for the film’s climax], there were some civilians down below who looked up and thought he was having a stroke, so they were tugging on his rope, saying “Hey, are you okay?” in the middle of filming. [laughs]

The film has already racked up a lot of views. What’s it been like to put out into the world?

It’s been great. Obviously, the initial intention was to start with film festivals, but given the virus and the state of film festivals, I didn’t know if I felt like waiting to start there and just had this hunch to put it online and a lot of people were pushing me to do that because they thought somehow it was also kind of relevant to the quarantine, which I suppose is lucky because when we were filming, if I had any higher ideas about it, it was more in line with internet relationships or some analogy to that. So I’m really happy that I put it out and I still hope to play film festivals, but ultimately I believe the point is to give it to the people, especially for a short film and honestly, it’s been a joy. It’s rare that I have such a joyful relationship with something I’ve created, and I don’t know why, but this piece is something that I really want people to see and I’m eager to share it. People seem to be enjoying it, so that’s all I can ask for really.

“Squeegee” is now streaming here on Short of the Week.

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