Up-and-coming filmmaker John Carchietta has co-directed and produced several thrillers like Late Fee and The Hills Run Red. He is one of those true horror fans who really knows his stuff. But recently Carchietta proved that he can tackle multiple genres with the debut of his first solo project, a queer romantic thriller called Teenage Cocktail. His film premiered at the 2016 SXSW festival and is now making its way through the international festival circuit.
I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Teenage Cocktail at the Greenwich International Film Festival this past June, and have been telling everyone (mostly other queer young women) about this film. Why? Because we deserve a good movie about us.
The plot of Teenage Cocktail is essentially this: two girls, fed up with life in their hometown, plan to run away together (to, you guessed it, NYC). Wild-hearted Jules convinces the more timid Annie to do webcam modeling with her as a means of funding their getaway. Somewhere along the way, they fall in love and begin taking more risks, Annie always trailing slightly behind Jules. More than anything, both girls want to be together, and to simply be away.
I was curious — if not a little bit skeptical — why Carchietta decided to write about two teenage girls, and how he pulled it off so well. So I reached out to the writer/director on Twitter and was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with him, despite his hectic schedule! As it turns out, Carchietta is just one of those rare filmmakers who aspires to tell a love story that people can actually relate to.
In a private Twitter message before the interview, I told Carchietta how excited I was to find a lesbian romance that didn’t feature a nine-minute-long sex scene (not to throw shade on a certain French film). He responded by saying that more than anything, he wanted young women to like the movie. More than half his crew was female and he collaborated with the two main actors to make sure no scene felt uncomfortable to anyone.
Sophie Cowley: Congratulations on your first solo directing debut! You’ve worked on several film projects before, but was it like branching out on your own for Teenage Cocktail? What inspired the switch from horror to more of a romantic drama focus?
John Carchietta: Thank you! Well, to be honest, it was pure self-validation. Very gratifying. At one point deep into editing I had shown the film to a friend and was complaining about who knows what. She flat out told me to shut up, that I had just made a movie for crying out loud. Then it sunk in. Wow, I made a movie. Like an actual real movie! And I’m very proud that it all came together in kind of an old fashioned way.
But I think that’s gotta be one of the most important moments for any filmmaker, to be able to sit down with yourself after the first one and acknowledge that you finally did it. That you never gave up. The pat on the back is important. There’s no stopping us after that and I think a lot of the time you can see that new level of emotion and drive, for better or for worse, in a director’s second film.
As for moving away from horror… don’t get me wrong, I grew up on horror movies. Without the impact they had on warping my adolescent brain I’m not sure I would have ever become as obsessed with movies as I am today. It will forever be my foundation. But as much as I adore the genre, worlds like Teenage Cocktail are where I like to hang out. At least for now.
Who or what inspired Teenage Cocktail‘s main characters, Annie and Jules?
JC: I’d be lying if I didn’t admit a lot of it comes from me and my relationships, friends, enemies and experiences. I think it’s important to write about what and who you know, regardless of the story. For me there always needs to be a high level of truth in the writing. I think an audience will always respect and gravitate towards that. I know I do.
When you and your co-writers sat down to write Teenage Cocktail, did you expect the film to be received largely as a queer coming-of-age drama?
JC: I was aware of that reception but it wasn’t necessarily on my mind while writing. I never really set out to make a queer specific film, which I think lends a hand in creating its honesty. Early on I was very adamant about not pitching the movie as a “lesbian love story” because to me it’s just simply a love story.
I think a lot of films that touch on the subject try to ring the alarm and constantly remind you that this character is queer. Like it’s some sort of excuse for every decision the character makes. I don’t understand that. The characters just happen to be two girls. I thought that made the most sense. Love is love regardless of gender. It’s all the same and super normal.
There’s literally no difference between any of it so why treat them any different? Do couples constantly remind each other that they’re straight in other films? No. It’s like having your characters remind each other to breath every ten pages because we’re human and need oxygen. That’s just dumb.
What feedback have you received from the LGBTQ+ community on the film?
JC: So far the reception has been overall very warm and positive. I’ve gotten some really sweet emails and messages which is surprising only because the film hasn’t seen many audiences yet.
One issue that I’ve found with movies like Blue is the Warmest Color is their explicit nature, which is often male-oriented. Can you talk a bit about your shooting process in Teenage Cocktailand how you managed to create authentic intimacy between the girls, without exploitation?
JC: I opened the script up completely to Fabi and Nichole. I’ve never been a teenage girl before so I let them know that if a piece of dialogue sounded silly or a situation that maybe they experienced felt boyish, that they should flag it. They both knew the script inside out and really respected what was on the page which made it a breeze to improvise as much as we wanted.
The three of us rewrote a lot of stuff on the spot according to how things felt at the moment. Having that level of trust and collaboration with my actors is everything. There’s almost no point in going forward without it.
Another huge element was the tender and respectful eye of my cinematographer, Justin Kane. He made the comfort of the girls a priority that never got in the way of the work. I’m sure it probably also helped that the majority of my crew was female.
But at the end of the day, when considering the risk of exploitation, I never once thought any kind of nudity belonged in the picture. It just wasn’t necessary and I felt I would be abandoning anyone who believed in Annie and Jules.
Can you name a few of your favorite movies/directors?
JC: The list is far too long and will always change by the minute. But right now, today’s top 5, in no particular order would be Paul Thomas Anderson, Amy Heckerling, Bogdanovich, De Palma,Jeremy Saulnier. Those folks have been on my mind a lot lately.
I just rewatched Martha Marcy May Marlene the other night. Still haunts me as much as the first time I saw it. Everything about that film takes my breath away. It opened so many doors for me as a writer. John Hawkes singing “Marcy’s Song” still gives me goosebumps, even now just thinking about it. And how those frames hang till you’re about to fall off your seat.
There’s also this moment in that same scene where you hear like a child talk or something in the background, a couple of lines into the song. Obsessed. Shout out to Sean Durkin!
Any upcoming projects on your mind?
JC: Right now I’m focused on writing a couple more love stories, both set in wildly different worlds. One of them very personal. I guess you can say it’s a fictional autobiography. Whatever that means.
All in all, Teenage Cocktail reminds us that love is pervasive. Plus, there’s plenty of genre mixing and a splash of violence thrown in for good measure. The stakes grow higher and higher as the girls’ plan transforms from a playful pipe dream into something more tangible and ultimately dangerous.
When I asked what inspired his film as a whole, Carchietta wrote to me over Twitter: “I tried to think about what if Amy Heckerling had directed something like Cape Fear. Not sure I got it quite there but it was still a fun ride.”
What do you think of Carchietta’s film? Would you go see it?
(This post was originally published on Film Inquiry.)