Director Simon Saveylev on his Cynical Rom-Com ‘Googly Eyes’

| February 14, 2017

Simon Savelyev’s Googly Eyes is the perfect cynical romantic comedy for Valentine’s Day. Or, really, any day of the year. Starring Cooper Barnes as Gary (Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger) and Laura Spencer as Suzy (The Big Bang Theory), this wry short follows a newly broken-up couple as they try to solve the mystery behind Gary’s earache.

Savelyev wrote and directed Googly Eyes while earning his MFA at UCLA, but since graduating he’s moved back to his home state of Massachusetts to kick off his directing and editing career. He talked to us about shooting in black and white, studying with James Franco, and making films in Boston.

Simon Savelyev (left) directs the flashback scene in 'Googly Eyes'

Simon Savelyev (left) directs the flashback scene in ‘Googly Eyes’

Is Googly Eyes — whether the failed relationship or the googly eye in the ear — based on real experiences? 

The googly eye in the ear is based on a real incident that happened to a friend of mine. He had an earache and went to his doctor, and they found an old googly eye in there. He remembered putting it in there as a kid, once he saw it. I had another neighbor who discovered a fishing weight in his nose, which he’d apparently shoved up there as a kid. Now I’m thinking I grew up in a weird neighborhood.

Why did you make the film in black and white? If you could do it all over again, would you still do it in black and white?

I decided to shoot in black and white mainly because I think black and white can look beautiful, especially in indoor spaces. The apartment we shot in was a standard, boring LA apartment with blank walls and bad light. But in our camera tests, black and white made it look nicer. An ugly hallway became kind of beautiful. Textures came out. I liked how it made the mundane problem of the earache seem somehow more important and worthy of serious black and white screen time.

Cooper Barnes and Laura Spencer in 'Googly Eyes'

Cooper Barnes and Laura Spencer in ‘Googly Eyes’

Cooper Barnes and Laura Spencer have a great natural rapport. Why did you decide to cast them, and did they have room to improvise?

Cooper and Laura both just owned their auditions. When someone nails it, everyone in the room feels it. Both Laura and Cooper have outstanding comedic instincts, and when I paired them up they just felt like a real couple. I think we rehearsed just one day and then shot over the next three days, in chronological order. And basically we stuck to the script, although we did some improvising along the way.

Another one of your student shorts, Smoke (starring Keir Gilchrist, Thomas Mann, and Bo Mitchell) will be featured in the upcoming anthology film The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards. Heyday was produced by James Franco as part of a UCLA class. What was it like working with Franco, and are you excited for the feature to finally see the light of day after so many years?

I’m super excited about this movie. It’s basically a series of short films all based on the stories of Robert Boswell. My film, Smoke, is about three teenage boys who gather around a campfire and smoke cigarettes and talk about what you’d expect teenage boys to talk about: sex. It’s pretty raunchy, but in the end, sort of sweet. It was written and produced by two amazing UCLA grad students at the time, Nicole Riegel and Lisa Vangellow.

It was a trip working with James. He has a million projects going on at all times, and yet he still finds the time to help students out. He could just be buying Ferraris, but he does these movies.

What is the filmmaking community like in the Boston Area? How do your experiences there differ from your experiences in LA? 

Boston is a great place to be a filmmaker. The filmmaking community here is much smaller than in LA, but very open. In many ways, LA can be a tough place for independent filmmakers. You don’t catch many breaks; nobody gets excited about a zero-budget film being shot in their neighborhood. But in Boston, people do get excited, which is cool.


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