Cinejoy 2023 Interview: Vivian Kerr and Anthony Rapp on Constructing a Strong Relationship Out of “Scrap”

“Sorry for trying to have fun with you,” Beth (Vivian Kerr) says as she skates circles around her brother Ben (Anthony Rapp) in any number of ways in “Scrap,” actually wearing rollerblades at the Midnight Rollerway in Los Angeles, but doing loop de loops in his mind as well as she’s been prone to do since he took her under his wing after their parents passed away. Their afternoon together is the first that Ben can remember them sharing in years, last spending this much time in the same room when Beth gave birth to her own daughter Birdie and he’s suspicious of the reunion when he’s often been left to take care of Birdie, but sees little of Beth, who he’s been led to believe has a busy career to tend to while he does as well, though as a successful fantasy novelist, he spends much of the day at home anyway. He doesn’t take the bait when Beth mocks him, though he does take it on the chin, skating right into someone else on the floor and the black eye he gets as a result comes to reflect some bruised feelings within.

That is hardly the only thing that rises to the surface in “Scrap,” an feature expansion of Kerr’s short of the same name (directed by Leena Pendhakar) in which she played a woman who rapidly descends into homelessness after losing her job but tries to keep up appearances for those around her. With Kerr now fully behind the camera and in front of it once more, Beth isn’t the only one hiding something from her loved ones when moving in with Ben and his wife Stacey (Lana Parrilla) not only brings about unresolved issues from the brother and sister’s past, but raises secret desires of Ben, who feels stuck with the popularity of his Oracle series of novels when what he’d really like to do is write a biography of Billie Holliday, and Stacey, who is having trouble trying to conceive and isn’t entirely sure she wants to continue. However, the actress/writer/director sees the chaos this creates lend itself more to comedy than tragedy as she offers up all this drama with a light touch as they all go to greater and greater extremes to keep up a charade rather than admit what they’re truly feeling.

After making a charming on-screen pairing, Kerr and Rapp are just as winning off of it, generously taking the time to talk about their collaboration as “Scrap” is being made available online for a limited time as it makes its North American premiere virtually at the Cinejoy Film Festival from March 1-12, followed by in-person stops at festivals throughout the year and the two spoke about the evolution of the short into a feature, making savvy use of Los Angeles landmarks and having a film that’s resonated with audiences around the world since it’s premiere at Deauville last fall.

Vivian, when we talked last, you had already set your mind to a feature, but given the time between and what may have happened after seeing what the short did in the world, did the initial idea evolve much?

Vivian Kerr: It definitely did evolve a little bit. I didn’t direct the short, but the look of the feature is quite different, although story-wise, essentially the first 15, 20 minutes [is the same]. The dialogue is familiar, [which] was wild actually because it was four years later in a different house and Anthony and I were in a living room saying the same dialogue. Like that’s very strange and doesn’t usually happen. But it came out so much better than I ever could have hoped largely because of Anthony and Lana’s performances. They’re so incredible in the movie and all of the supporting cast is so so good — Beth Dover, who plays like the teacher is so funny. — and I got extremely lucky with the casting and that Anthony was able to stay with the project…

Anthony Rapp: I’m lucky that you wanted to keep me round. [laughs]

Vivian Kerr: It would’ve been a little awkward [otherwise] because I definitely [told Anthony], “Oh, I’m writing this with you in mind,” [so it would’ve been funny if] I just never reached out to you again. You would’ve been like, “What the hell?”

Anthony, since you were in the short, were you actually involved in shaping the character of Ben as he got more fleshed out in the feature?

Anthony Rapp: I don’t consider myself to have a role in shaping a character unless what I’m given in the text just feels really jarring. I feel like it’s my job as an actor to take what’s written and then bring it the best life that I know how and then we work collaboratively to make the scenes work. so I wasn’t like feeling the need to intervene at all because it just felt like it was so wonderfully rich and interesting on the page. The shaping, such as it was [involved] feeling it out on the day, and I really do love as an actor, being given material, whatever it is, and then trying to get inside of it to the best of my ability.

Were there any ways this came alive on set in ways you might not have expected?

Anthony Rapp: Yeah. We didn’t rehearse a lot, which I think worked in our favor on this film in the sense it’s so subtle and delicate, so if you start to rehearse it too much, you can start to get a little too carved out. There was a lot of trust, just going into these nooks and crannies together and every scene came alive in ways that we wouldn’t have expected all the time.

Vivian Kerr: Yeah, it was just fun too. What I really enjoyed was being able to set this framework with our [cinematographer where for instance] when we shot that argument we have in the kitchen, we knew we were going to be shooting this wide from all the way across the room and then obviously Anthony’s done a lot of theater, and I trained in theater, so being able to play the whole scene out energetically, from entrance to exit [when] it’s three or four pages [of dialogue], before moving in for coverage is so satisfying to me because then we really can just play.

Anthony Rapp: Yeah, you hear about some film actors who repeat their lines over and over and over again and you never know when it’s your turn, just because they want to get their take. But like Vivian said, [we were] able to play a scene through, and Lana too, we’d just play ball and go for it every time. It was great.

Vivian, when you take the director’s chair in addition to being the lead, does it make things go smoother on set or is it difficult to concentrate on one part of the process when the other constantly beckons?

Vivian Kerr: It was a great project to be my first feature because I had been with it for so long. I’d been developing it since 2016 and we’d gone through the process of the short and then taking it to film festivals and engaging with audiences, so I learned what they responded to and what their follow-up questions were. They really wanted to know why [Ben and Beth] are estranged and what’s with their backstory? What’s going on with [Ben]? And I was able then to understand what the full story was going to be. I also knew that Ben’s wife was going to be a much bigger role in the [feature]. She doesn’t even have any dialogue [in the short], so [that whole process led to] thinking more about like, why don’t Ben and Stacey have a child of their own [when they’re] so willing to take in [Beth’s daughter] Birdie?

Then I was just at a point in my career where I was ready to step into that role. I certainly couldn’t have done this 10 years ago, but I’ve been an actor now for 15 years and I know how to take care of myself as an actor, so the real learning curve was the directing. I prepared a lot with our DP so that he knew my mind and we were so clear on the shot list and what we were trying to achieve each day. I had done enough preparation that then it was more like playtime on set.

Anthony Rapp: I can’t imagine directing myself that much. I’ve made a film too, and I have aspirations, but I can’t imagine directing myself as the center of a film and to wear both hats the way that Vivian did. It was astonishing to witness.

What was it like figuring out the geography of this? You’ve got a lot of great Los Angeles landmarks in it?

Vivian Kerr: It is a Los Angeles story, and Rachel, my producer, and I only had the briefest of conversations about is there any place else we can shoot this? Because L.A. is obviously notoriously more expensive to shoot in. But it’s such an L.A. story and I wanted to use these iconic locations because the film really deals with nostalgia and unresolved things from the past, so [I wanted] to have these places that are resonant for both Ben and Beth. When Ben is driving around and he goes up to the Griffith Observatory to have a think or the Moonlight Rollerway — I never thought we’d get that. It’s such an iconic place in Los Angeles, and Ben says in that scene, “This is where he set up birthday parties for her when she was a child. He was a young man and trying to basically be a father figure to his little sister, so for her, it’s wonderful place, but for him it’s very upsetting and stressful.

Anthony, it might not be so unusual to preside over a room of cosplayers, but what was the day like at Skylight Books where your character does a reading to Orcs?

Anthony Rapp: That was just fun. I’m a nerd myself anyway, even before being a part of Star Trek, and that was really fun for me to play a fantasy novelist. All of our little background group of folks were very, very lovely and welcoming and Skylight, there’s another iconic place, to get to do it there. It was fun to get trolled by Beth in that scene, too.

Vivian Kerr: Anthony is a really funny ad lib at the very beginning [of it] when he’s like, “Tropes are gonna trope, and the audience laughs. He made that up, it was so funny on the day, I was like, “Well, that’s going in the movie.

Was there a particularly crazy day of filming?

Vivian Kerr: I think every day, because it’s an indie. We shot it in 20 days, which is wild and logistically, it was very challenging, but the actual shoot really was a pleasure. It was a really wonderful group. The cast and the crew were wonderful and everyone was super professional and very chill, and again, I’m very grateful to them for giving me that as a first time director.

Anthony Rapp: And it was in COVID times too, so [we were] making a super-low budget film with all those protocols and still staying safe, and everybody was bringing their best selves to the day.

What’s it been like to start getting it out into the world?

Vivian Kerr: It’s been really fun. Deauville is an incredible festival and I’m really thrilled now that U.S. audiences can start to see it [at] CineQuest and then next month we’re playing Phoenix Film Festival. The audiences are really responding to it because it’s an intimate family story, hopefully told with some humor and some lightness, but also it covers some subject matter that affects a lot of people — fertility struggles, financial issues, the shame dealing with estranged relationships with your family and siblings. So people seem to be relating to it and that’s very satisfying.

Anthony Rapp: And it’s been such a strange time for movies in so many ways. It’s so dominated by these huge event movies, so to have this wonderful, almost old school character films is just like a breath of fresh air.

“Scrap” will be available to screen virtually as part of the Cinejoy Film Festival from March 1st through 12th and will next screen at the Phoenix Film Festival in person on March 31st-April 2nd. A full list of future screenings is here.

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