Sunday, June 16, 2024

I Hate New Year’s Christin Baker and Ashley Argota On Representative Art

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This year has given us a surprising number of inclusive holiday rom-coms and I Hate New Year’s is no exception. From Tello Films, which released Season of Love, a much healthier and entertaining approach to Love Actually, this film follows Layne Price (Dia Frampton) who is experiencing writer’s block.

At her Los Angeles manager’s insistence, she reluctantly visits mysterious fortune teller Zelena (Candis Cayne), whose flamboyant advice she misconstrues. Heading home to Nashville for New Year’s Eve, a holiday she hates, Layne hits the town with BFF Cassie Holmes (Ashley Argota). While Cassie plans to finally confess that her feelings have evolved into more than friendship, Layne is too focused on “bumping into” her elusive ex to notice.

From Tello Films and DASH Productions, I Hate New Year’s was directed by Christin Baker from a screenplay by Kathryn Trammell, based on a story by Christin Baker, Ashely Arnold, Danielle Jablonski, and Kathryn Trammell. Produced by Christin Baker, Ashely Arnold, and Danielle Jablonski. Executive producers are Danielle Thoeni and Jim Thoeni. Co-producer is Stephanie Herman. Director of Photography is Micah Ellars. Music composed by Emer Kinsella.

Most viewers will recognize Frampton as the runner-up of the inaugural season of The Voice and lead singer of band Meg and Dia, while Argota has been in The Fosters, Lab Rats, and Broadway’s The Lion King.

Not knowing much about the film beyond the trailer, I knew I’d at least get to watch some lovely singing and was blown away by the charming story and the off the charts chemistry between Frampton and Argota.

So were director Christin Baker and lead Ashley Argota who kindly sat down for an interview with me about their experiences making the film! A film that’s especially novel for both of its lead characters being Asian-American queer women of color.

Zooming in from Nashville and LA respectively Baker and Argota spoke to me about filming a movie that wrapped literally before the COVID-19 shutdown, dealing with a tornado the first night of filming, and the way that the film organically turned into a vehicle for showcasing two Asian American women in love.

Throughout our discussion, it was clear that the two had such respect for one another and everyone else in the film which made our interview quite fun. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

FM: Christin, I wanted to start by asking was the film written to be about two WOC or did that occur as a result of the auditions?

CB: When I write, or when I write with Kat (this is our second project), we really do leave it open. Of course, if we wrote something super specific, say for a deaf character we’d want a deaf actress to play that role. But with ethnicity or nationality, we don’t think about it in that way. IHNY wasn’t written to be a vehicle for two Asian American female leads. That happened in casting.

FM: Well that’s good in one way because as we know, there’s plenty of casting calls that say it’s open ethnicity but a certain type of person gets cast. Since it wasn’t written for two WOC, when you held auditions, did Ashley and Dia have a chemistry read?

AA: No we had completely separate auditions and actually met on the day of our wardrobe fitting and table read which was that night. The photo that you see of Caroline, Layne, Cassie, and Freddie was taken that night at the table read.

FM: Did the characters change at all after casting?

AA: Christin just knew going in who they were.

CB: We did because the storyline is so great and fraught emotionally that the characters had really clear storylines, Cassie especially. The only thing we changed was when we had the opening with the DJ and the backup dancers and we didn’t even have any script changes for Ashley and Dia.

AA: We even asked, I remember at one point because we’re in Nashville, whether we should have Southern accents. You did let us riff in the car which was fun.

FM: Hah, those car scenes were some of the best! Was there anything that you wish you could have added, to those scenes or in general?

AA: Not me, which is unusual because when I usually watch things, I go “oh God, why did I do this” but there’s truly nothing that I would change. I loved it and am so happy with how it turned out!

CB: I wish actually that we had a little bit more, one more song for Cassie by herself.

AA: I’m just thriled that I got to sing some of Flatline because it is such a bop, it’s so good!

CB: Maybe I’ll post some snippets of the songs since we don’t have the rights to put all of them online.

FM: You should! At least the people making gifs and art can use those snippets.

AA: I am quite pleased with the gifs that fans have chosen for our movie.

CB: Oh yah! Like the one of Cassie fixing Layne’s hair. I would love to take credit for that but that was actually Ashley Argota!

AA: Yes but a lot of that was because Christin allowed me to do that. Other directors would say “no this is what you’re doing.” But you, I’ll shout it from the rooftops, Christin is the most collaborative director that I’ve worked with in my life. You really were just like “hey what do you think about this” and you just let me play, especially with the bathroom scene when I flipped my hair, and the car scenes. It was just one big playground for two whole weeks.

director Christin Baker talking to leads

CB: Did you notice, we took the scene when you’re putting on the jacket, and it was inside out?

AA: No I just couldn’t get my arm through it because I’m just clumsy. You know how many of my friends texted me “what a great choice!” Yah, that was a choice that I made…

CB: Or the scene where her hair was all up, and she had to take her hair down, go back to make-up to get it redone, and step right into the same spot since it was a match scene.

AA: That was hair that did it and it had all the bobby pins, and my hair was placed very precariously. We can’t recreate this, this is just a one shit kind of thing. I took it down and it’s such a genuine reaction when I take the pins out, like what the hell!

FM: It’s just like Cassie’s a Disney princess.

CB: It was perfect!

AA: Thank you. It was fun to shoot.

FM: Christin, what was your favorite moment to direct and favorite moment overall? Ashley, did you have a favorite scene while watching the film?

CB: There can’t be one, technically. Ashley do you have one off the top of your head?

AA: The park scene was my favorite one to shoot, which in hindsight sounds weird, because it was so cold.

FM: I remember seeing the photo Dia posted! Y’all must have been freezing.

From Dia Frampton.

AA: We were freezing and I don’t know if the scene was enhanced by how cold it was, but it was a very emotional scene to shoot and at the same time one of the easiest to shoot. The energy in that scene, everything was just so easy about it. Plus the chemistry between Dia and I, despite the frigid temperatures, the lack of clothing. (Laughs.)

They did a great job of keeping us warm between takes. As soon as Christin called cut, they’d run out to us and feed us French fries. That was just one of my top three favorite scenes to film.

CB: I agree that was such a nuanced scene and it was really fun to play with those levels and moments. It was really fun to direct because before we took them out into the freezing cold, they spent a lot of time rehearsing it so that once we got out there, we knew what we were going to do. It’s such a pivotal moment, during which Layne has this realization [of loving Cassie] and Cassie is just done.

FM: She is over it, and wants to go.

CB: Exactly, and in the car Cassie says “I hate New Year’s” so really filming it was just making small tweaks, because during rehearsal so much of it was fleshed out.

AA: I remember, you took us to the backyard of the house, and we sat around the firepit. We knew going in that scene would be really cold, so we prepared for it. Plus it’s a pivotal scene so Dia and I just wanted to get it right. We said we’d rehearse as many times as we need to get this right with the energy shifting in the scene between both of us sitting on the bench, and then one of us getting up, sitting back down.

CB: I think that one, and then the car scene too right before that one, the almost kiss, was also really fun to direct. You know, a lot of scenes we have to think of who is driving it and then who is reacting to it, and this was one scene where Cassie was really driving it, when throughout the whole movie, she’d been reacting to Layne.

Plus in the car, they really can’t get away, or walk away. So those little tiny energy moments, those were super fun to direct as well.

FM: I know for me that’s what made this movie so enjoyable. Obviously, the other inclusive films on Hallmark and Lifetime would have a happy ending, but this film was the one where I was truly invested in the characters getting their happy ending and of course the singing was an added touch of fun. What was the process like for recording?

AA: It was kind of a whirlwind. I found out that I booked the part and then literally a couple days later, I was in the studio recording everything. I didn’t get to sit with the songs for too long. “Our Heart” which plays over the credits, we didn’t even know if we would have time to get that one done, but after I finished everything in the studio, they asked if I could do that one if I had time. So they played a line of it in our headphones and then we would repeat it back so I didn’t know how the song sounded until I watched the movie!

I love getting to go to the studio and sing for TV and films, and the songs were so good so it was a joy to do it. Actually, “Hours of the Night” was the first thing that I shot and I had just gotten the song with my voice on it that morning. I did learn the piano part though which I was very proud of because I hate when you’re watching something with music and people are playing their instruments, but so obviously not playing them correctly.

CB: Ashley doesn’t know what I’m going to say next.

AA: Yah I was just terrible to work with. (Laughs.)

CB: Haha, no it’s that she’s so on it. I knew this from when she went into the studio because we had two days with Dia, and one with Ashley. I wasn’t there but one of my producers was and I’m getting text updates and little recordings of Ashley singing and we just thought if we could get the songs done by the end of the day that would be great. Middle of the day, my producer tells me “oh Ashley’s done.” I went “are you kidding me?! Who is she?!”

“No she’s done and she killed it so we’re just going to have her do this other song.”

That’s pretty much my experience with Ashley. She just comes and kills it, she’s this acting machine who just chomps through amazingness, and you’re like, well we got that.

AA: Thank you Christin, that’s very nice.

CB: Actually, I want to say that when Ashley was playing the piano, we did a close-up and I said that we’d roll just a little bit of it and once we get it, I’ll say cut and that’ll be it. I’m watching her on the monitor and she’s playing the song and singing and I realized that I forgot to call cut! I made her do the whole song and I went oh no, did that actually go longer.

AA: I remember! I bet if you checked the tape you could see my face in the second verse, because I thought “well she didn’t yell cut, so maybe they just need some extra footage” and then you said cut, and I went “oh thank goodness.” I thought, well Christin likes to keep the camera rolling.

CB: Ultimately Dia would have come in and stopped her but I just remember going “oh no, and this is our first day working together!”

FM: Speaking of scenes like you playing the piano, what other scenes were your favorite moments?

AA: Anytime “Flatline” comes on!

CB: I don’t think that I knew you like that song so much.

AA: I didn’t either until it was a week after the film premiered and no one in my house can stop singing it. Any moment with Candis Cayne, because I love her so much. Anytime she winks, or raises her eyebrow. Definitely the chemistry that I had with Dia, because we just had such an instant chemistry and trust with each other. It’s really cool to see that it translated so well onscreen.

FM: You two hadn’t met before?

AA: Nope, we had met at the table read and actually I avoided coming downstairs to the hotel lobby because I thought, oh I’m going to be awkward, so I won’t go down until the last minute. After that I always went ten minutes early so we could catch up.

CB: And Dia was actually down there 15 minutes early.

AA: She was always reading a book or drinking her Matcha tea.

FM: I think I read somewhere actually that Candis was great at putting in some dialogue or adjustng scenes. What was it like filming with her, and Christin, directing her?

AA: Well I actually only really got to spend time with her because of the car scenes. She keeps it so light on set but she’s also so professional so I loved working with her.

CB: I was a huge The Magicians fan and she actually came when we had a day off so I was able to pick her up at the airport and I hugged her and was so excited. Usually actors get a kind of read on the director and how much they’re willing to make script adjustments. Kat is a great writer and gives me the script and goes, I’ve done everything that I can up to production. Here you go.

Of course we do some tweaking and adjustment. So when Candis had some suggestions, nothing that was big, but things like changing it to say loved ones instead of family, I was totally for it. The changes really made sense. I think, actually in this film, she’s the most dialed back from what is normally her otherwise performative pieces, except Zelena which we shot the first day. Otherwise she’s Marley, the driver.

Blonde-haired blue-eyed woman looking at viewer

I loved seeing her in this because her essence comes through, even though she’s just like a magical driver who is taking the leads around.

AA: She’s just really lovely, she always calls you gorgeous which makes you feel great at 8 in the morning when you’re getting makeup done.

CB: She’s like hey gorgeous, and I just love her.

FM: That’s wonderful, and the mystical aspect, and her breaking the fourth wall is just so great.

Ashley, what does it mean for you to be in this film?

AA: It means a lot, and I’ve gotten a question just doing press for this movie. Who was your Filipino woman on TV when you were going up? And I thought long and hard about it and I didn’t have anyone! I am just so honored that I get to be that for people, and people are really responding to it. The messages that I’ve gotten are really nice, and I’m excited and thrilled and honored that people think we did it justice.

I’m really grateful to Christin and everyone at Tello that we worked with, the casting team, and everyone for really looking for the best person for the job, because like you said earlier, even if someone says it’s open ethnicity, it really isn’t.

In this case, and Dia and I have talked about this a few times, usually when we’re on set, we are the Asian person, the one, just the token. That wasn’t the case on this movie, everything I had, I got to look at my scene partner and see another Asian woman with lines, and both of us are playing pop stars.

That never happens, usually I’m the best friend who is smart and can do math. So it was just so cool to play a character that’s an normal all American girl. I’m just really grateful and excited. I really love the work that Tello does. I’m honored.

Two asian women singing at karaoke

FM: That’s wonderful. Christin is there anything you want to add?

CB: Yah, these two were just the best, and they had great phenomenal on screen chemistry which is what you’re looking for.

AA: Did you know we’re going to have such great chemistry from our tapes? I’m interviewing you now. Or were you just like, we hope so!

CB: You’re always hopeful. I think when someone can have chemistry with an off-screen person, when you can see the look in a person’s eyes. Now I can’t remember the two scenes that we sent you.

AA: You sent the very first scene that I have with Dia and the almost kiss in the car.

CB: So when you can see that they have chemistry, my friend uses this term. Some people have chemistry with themselves so it doesn’t matter who’s on screen with them. People might say I don’t know what that means, and I can say Cate Blanchett. Someone who just has chemistry with themselves. That can sometimes be what you’re looking for.

Ashley and Dia, they had a quality in their self-tapes. You really have to think about what scenes that you’re sending so I sent the one in the car because it’s a tough scene. If I can see a click, a spark with this random person even though they’re not looking at the screen itself, then you go “okay I could put a banana there” and she would have,

FM: Chemistry with the banana.

CB: Then you put Dia in there and you go, holy smoke, so that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a quality that someone has with whatever entity is beyond the screen and when you have that, you know they’re going to have chemistry. Then you just put their faces next to each other and go “that’s it.”

Dia and Ashley

FM: That’s amazing advice for anyone in acting! Especially since unlike TV shows or big-budget films where you can recast, here you just have to go with your gut and say these are the folks.

CB: We do have another holiday movie that we’re doing, and with the vaccine we’re hoping to shoot two movies this next year. A LGBT holiday romcom, and we have another project were hoping to shoot in September.

FM: For these next projects or others, do you think you’ll write the characters with specific ethnicities or other identity factors in mind?

CB: I’m not sure to be honest. I am someone who when the Black Lives Matter movement really occurred this summer, I thought about my own experiences and really reflected. I’ve always known that I have white privilege and have lived a very homogenized life. So I’ve continuously worked to create stories and sets with an atmosphere where collaboration of different thoughts of people with totally different backgrounds is welcome.

I definitely hope to and will continue casting amazing people, and women of color because they are the best for the role instead of like others who might say, this person looks like me so I should cast them. Fortunately, I work with an amazing casting director who knows that it is something that is highly valued.

It doesn’t matter that we cast Ashley first, don’t only send the blonde haired, blue eyed people. I want to see the best people for each role. I do have that privileged background so it is something that I always think about.

FM: That makes sense and Tello Films does have other movies with actors of color and other writers so I’m excited to see what comes next.

Ashley do you have anything else already lined up, or just planning right now?

AA: I actually did another movie in quarantine because I got lucky, and I’m not sure when it’s coming up, but it’s called Don’t Log Off and it was shot totally socially distanced using Go Pros. Plus I have my podcast that I host with my fiancé and we’ve done all the interviews for the year and now we’re planning next year’s guest. Hopefully Candis can come on too since I’ve interviewed Christin and Dia.

FM:: I’ll definitely check that out! To wrap up, I always like to ask if there’s anything else that either of you would like to add?

CB: That’s amazing that you’re asking, because I always think of things after the interviews are over!

AA: Oh! There was a tornado on the first day we filmed. Honestly we did have a lot of obstacles thrown at us, even beyond worrying about finishing before a shut-down. We filmed our first full day and then when we got to the hotel that night, it was windy and rainy. well I turned the TV on at some point and they said there was a tornado about to plow through Nashville, and I heard the sirens!

Now the last time I was in Nashville, driving, and heard the sirens I thought it just meant the tornado was near. I realized they meant that the tornado was here and I watched the tornado go through Nashville from my hotel window.

Dia, I think was on the other side of the hotel so she didn’t quite know what was going on and, I remember talking about this. Production of course checked on us to make sure we were alright and Dia responded something along the lines of “I’m doing great. Thunder is cool.” (Laughs.) She had no idea until the next morning whereas I’m ready to go with a backpack and shoes on. Incredibly, everyone in our production was safe and nobody’s homes were hit or anything and some people lived right near the path.

CB: That was crazy, and then we, there was a ball game during one of the scenes that we were trying to film and I decided that we would just wait until the game was over. Dia, she was filming a really emotional scene and we were close to being done, but I could see her trying to find the words in between the beeps and I wasn’t going to put her through that. Otherwise though it really was a great shoot.

AA: It really was, I usually don’t like going on location. This was probably my favorite location shoot that I’ve had. It was just a great experience!

I Hate New Year’s is available directly from Tello Films.

You can find Christin Baker on Twitter and lead Ashley Argota on Twitter and Instagram.

Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!

Images courtesy of Tello Films and Dia Frampton.

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