Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway has written/produced some of your favorite shows. Six Feet Under, United States of Tara, How To Make It In America and Grey’s Anatomy, to name a few. She wrote the beloved book Tiny Ladies In Shiny Pants and when Jane Lynch hosted the Emmys, she called on Jill and her sister Faith Soloway, also ridiculously talented, to write her material.
This month, Jill’s headed to Sundance with her short film, Una Hora Por Favora, starring Michaela Watkins and Wilmer Valderrama. Kind of a big deal to have the short you wrote and directed accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, you guys. 32 shorts were selected out of 4,038 submissions. I’m no math wiz, but 32 is way, way less than 4,038.
This isn’t the first time Jill and Michaela have worked together. Soloway directed the Funny or Die short Tight, (1M+ views!) in which Watkins plays a woman who finds out she has a special, um, gift. It’s a beyond-hilarious parody of HBO’s Hung and was written by another super talented chick, Diablo Cody. Soloway and Watkins teamed up for another spot-on Funny or Die short taking advantage of Watkins’ (dare I say) perfect, Andie MacDowell impression, which finds Andie doing stand up at The Comedy Store in The Triumphant Return of Andie MacDowell with Michaela Watkins. Jill and Michaela have one of those amazing collaborative relationships that’s evident in the work that they create together and their close friendship out of the work world. They also have a fantastic line of mittens. They don’t. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. And you’re welcome for the idea.
Michaela is one of the funniest people I know. Selfishly, I will direct you to watch The Creepy Hand Model: Ellen Sirot with Michaela Watkins that we made together (I play her assistant & if you haven’t seen the real-life Ellen Sirot, watch her first, because Michaela nails it). I laugh so hard at everything that comes out of Michaela’s mouth. Always. We recently took a two hour car ride together. I wished it was twenty-two hours, so she’d keep doing whatever the hell it was she was doing from the backseat that had me crying in the front seat. She let me sit in the front seat because she knows I’m claustrophobic. I love her, you guys. You’ve all watched her be perfect on/in: Saturday Night Live, as JLo’s BFF in The Back Up Plan, being a biyatch to Laura Dern in HBO’s Enlightened, as Matthew’s hilarious girlfriend Lucy on The New Adventures of Old Christine and of course, we all just saw her kill it as Schmidt’s boss Gina on New Girl!
By the way, I should make it quite clear that Wilmer Valderamma (That 70’s Show) is a whole lot of amazing in this short. You will love him. And he is sexiness. But this column is about my ladies! Speaking of which, Lady Soloway was lovely enough to let me watch Una Hora Por Favora and it is so damn good. And gorgeously shot. And funny. And smart. And a lovely story. And sad. And happy. And it’s barely thirteen minutes long. I love when a short film is done really well, because you truly can see this whole life in just minutes. When they’re done right you don’t feel rushed or like you missed entire important chunks of information. In Una Hora Por Favora we see what happens when a lonely woman, who has a co-dependent relationship with her mother, picks up a day worker to help her fix her shower. An entire relationship happens. From beginning to end.
I emailed Jill and Michaela some questions about the short, their process, their rad relationship and whether or not there’s any husband/boyfriend swapping going on in their real life. One of them answered. One of them completely ignored me. I love them.
KUSHNER: You two have one of those really special close creative relationships that lives both on and off the set. Those pairings and that chemistry aren’t that common, because they can’t be forced. They either are or they aren’t, you know? How do you guys find yourselves taking advantage of this? Is there much improvising? Husband/boyfriend swapping?
WATKINS: I used to want to swap boyfriends, but then I found one I like better than hers. Although I wouldn’t mind a parallel world where her husband, Bruce, and I would get fancy take out from cool east side hole-in-the-wall hip establishments that I’m not cool enough to know… and now that I think about it, it would be cruddy of me to deny my boyfriend her big bouncy busom. But I don’t see how either of these scenarios would end well in real life. I’m sorry, what was the question?
Our working relationship started with Jill telling me to do something and I would do it. Or I would make her laugh at her dinner table and she would come to me with a script for a funny video that I had inspired. She is a “do-er” and I am an “Okay, where do you want me to stand?”-er. She is a “writer”. I’m an “improviser”. She is a “feminist”. I am “fascinated by feminists”. She is a “visionary”. I am a “funny accents and hats lady”. Together, we get a lot of stuff done. But the truth is, it really gets done because Jill Soloway is a “do-er” and there’s just no denying that. I’m so jealous of that kind of mentality. I’m going to reap the benefits and be her comedy slave for as long as possible because I love what we make together, but when she finds someone else, I will push them off a bridge. Oh, I forgot, I’m also a “Where are the gluten-free oatmeal cookies?”-er.
SOLOWAY: Tons of improvising. When we were working on Una Hora, sometimes I would go over to her house the day before with a pencil and paper and make her talk in character and I’d just write it down. The way we take advantage of our special relationship is that I write things that I want to see her say or do; she makes them funny in a way that makes me laugh. The best place from which to work comedically is that sibling-esque/best-friendiness where all you want to do is crack the other person up. If cameras can be rolling while it’s happening, you’re super lucky.
KUSHNER: Jill, you wrote this for Michaela, right?
SOLOWAY: Yes. A short about a woman who picked up a day laborer was her idea. My contribution was to begin to imagine how it could get absurd, quickly. Actually, my friend Sarah Thyre reminded me that I wrote a cartoon about the very topic for her zine, Thyrezine, a decade ago. I also have a close friend who had a similar story so I think it was in the Zeitgeist.
KUSHNER: Michaela, as an actress, does it feel differently to go into a project knowing that the role was created for you?
WATKINS: It’s really something special to know that a role was created just for little old you. You never have to worry that they’re secretly wishing they could’ve cast Debra Messing or Whoopi. And yes, to answer your previous question, Jill lets me improv a lot because I understand the world we’re playing in and she’s extremely open to collaboration and play. If I had to give Jill’s directing style a name, it would be “playful”. And it’s color would be “fuschia”… and it would make you take your clothes off and tell you you’re not fat even though you know you’ve let yourself go only to cringe at the footage later.
KUSHNER: Do you see some of Michaela in you? Is that where some of the muse-ness comes from for you? Muse-ness is a word, right?
SOLOWAY: If Mucinex can be a word, so can muse-ness. Michaela is a hilarious, dry, subtle Jewess. Like a sister. And she has a bunch of sisters. So I think we both come from a Jewish-Sisterhood-is-Powerful comedic soup. Speaking of which, wouldn’t this be a good place to pimp out my sister Faith’s awesome work www.faithsoloway.com and put up two pictures so everyone can see how much you two look alike?
KUSHNER: You seem like you’re close with your family – as far as your relationship with your mom and Elissa’s relationship with her mom … similar?
SOLOWAY: Absolutely. My mother, my sister and I were like this triumverate growing up. We never disagreed with each other. It’s weird, in retrospect. But at the time it was very comforting. Picture all three of us sucking on pudding pops and watch Mary Tyler Moore.
KUSHNER: I loved that line when Wilmer’s character is describing her relationship with her mom as “… an unconscious, almost romantic pact”. And I hate that I can relate to that!
SOLOWAY: Yup, that’s part of the deal with Jewish moms. The legend seems to be about Jewish moms and their sons, but I think it’s true of daughters too. My mom definitely implied to me and Faith that she was to be our first and only loves. And each other of course.
WATKINS: God yes. “unconscious” being the operative word. Some mother’s play an old tape over and over for their daughters thinking we don’t hear them, but in truth, we ONLY hear them. Unconsciously they are nagging us every minute of the day. We hear them constantly in our heads with every choice we make from shoes to men to paper towels. I wish mothers understood this. I think they would feel very happy about this news.
KUSHNER: The day workers that base themselves at Home Depot (note: the actual Home Depot is not used in this short) always remind me of actors who show up for a daily audition hoping to get picked. Both visuals are so LA. Using that setting as an unplanned dating pool was hilarious and a really cool choice.
SOLOWAY: Thank you. It reminds me of the women lining up on the Cat House or Bunny Ranch reality show as well. When I went to pick the day laborers to be extras, they lined up for me without being asked. Like a rose ceremony. It was this highly funcomfortable feeling. Power plus shame, I guess.
WATKINS: My hilarious friend Amy Procacci used to joke that she would like to pick up a day worker at Home Depot and pay him just to hold her. It’s similar to the acting world. Sure, we’d all like the job, but if you don’t get to do the job because you’re too attractive/young/healthy, it’s almost better than getting the job…I’m told. These are not excuses I hear very often. I have not hired a day worker, because the only labor my home has required is painting and hammering nails in my rented walls. These things I do myself… and again, most importantly, I hear my mother’s voice in my head– “He could be Jack the Ripper.”
KUSHNER: There’s a scene in Una Hora where she’s talking about and watching reality TV with her day labor guy. It’s pretty fantastic.
SOLOWAY: Yes, I think that was the first comedic escalation for both of us. What if you picked up a guy to fix something and then realized he’d make good company for watching your shows?
KUSHNER: When you wrote this, did you have a specific timeline in mind that this relationship took to run it’s course? While it’s not spelled out for us, you get that vague sense that might be best described as – not long but long enough.
SOLOWAY: At times I wanted it to feel like a year in 12 minutes. Other times I thought, if this is only taking a weekend (by the end she speaks perfect Spanish) then it’s even funnier. As it stands now, I think we let people draw their own conclusions.
KUSHNER: We get the feeling that this is maybe how most of this woman’s relationships play out and we happen to be watching one of the more interesting/amusing ones, simply because it even surprised her (that he came out of nowhere when she picked him up as a day laborer to fix her shower).
SOLOWAY: The funny/deep conundrum here is that she started out hoping she could objectify him — even purchase him, really — but he was able to see her wound, as it were, see straight into her soul. She couldn’t take it. She had to take him back to the Home Depot.
KUSHNER: The music is rad in this.
SOLOWAY: Thank you! My husband Bruce is a music supervisor so it’s all in house. We love collaborating. As does Fanny Dooley.
KUSHNER: Michaela, this is your 2nd year in a row at Sundance. Not too shabby. Last year, you went for starring in Lake Bell’s awesome short, Worst Enemy, and now for Jill Soloway’s awesome short, Una Hora Por Favora. Yay for rad, talented girls! Also, you’re one of , if not the funniest girls that I know. Okay, maybe these are not really questions.
WATKINS: Wow. Thanks, Jill. You are ridiculously funny, so I’m touched you think so. Do you ever get sick of how clever you are? Do you ever tell yourself just to cool it and only be mildly amusing?
KUSHNER: I told you I loved her, you guys.
WATKINS: And I agree about Ms. Soloway and Ms. Bell. They are stupendously talented, creative and expressive women and I’m so lucky I get to work with them. #HumbleBrag. I am not kidding when I say, I don’t know how I got so lucky to cross paths with them and to have them entrust me with their projects. #ItSoundsLikeI’mStillHumbleBraggingButI’mGenuinelyBlownAwayByTheseFerociouslyTalentedGoddessesSeriouslyChrist!
KUSHNER: Excellent hashtag work. Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
WATKINS: I’m in a film called Wanderlust written by David Wain and Ken Marino (directed by the former). I think they’re frickin’ geniuses. Opens February…24th? I’m also playing Lake Bell’s sister in her Indy Feature Film, In A World which starts shooting late February. Lake is starring in it, she wrote it and…wait for it… she’s directing it. God I’m so lazy.
KUSHNER: Jill, you’ve written, executive produced bunches and bunches of amazing shows. What’s your next ideal project? (Which will obviously be put into motion immediately after Una Hora Por Favora kills at Sundance).
SOLOWAY: I have a few pilots– and if any of them got shot, that would be a dream. If not, I want to direct a feature. I have a few scripts; with Sundance I finally have the validation if being a director, so now it’s just about making it happen.
My biggest of big thanks to Jill Soloway and Michaela Watkins. Now, go kick some Sundance ass!
*Note: The last word of the film’s title is intentionally misspelled as Michaela’s character is not so up on her Spanish when she first picks up Wilmer’s character.