I'm Totally Fine Dir Brandon Dermer From Music Videos to First Feature

When Brandon Dermer came on board to direct his first feature from the world of music videos in Decal's indie sci-fi buddy comedy I'm Totally Fine, he found himself in solid hands working with fellow director and writer Kyle Newacheck and writer-performers in stars Jillian Bell and Natalie Morales. The film follows Vanessa (Bell), who's mourning the loss of her best friend and business partner, Jennifer (Morales). With reservations in place, Vanessa decides to take her holiday when she stumbles upon an extraterrestrial who is her bestie's form. Dermer spoke to Bleeding Cool about how the music video experience helped with the feature and worked with writer Alisha Ketry, Newacheck, Bell, and Morales.

I'm Totally Fine: Jillian Bell & Natalie Morales Talk Sci-Fi Comedy
Natalie Morales and Jillian Bell in "I'm Totally Fine." Image courtesy of Decal

I'm Totally Fine: Challenges of First Feature

Bleeding Cool: What intrigued you about 'I'm Totally Fine?'
Dermer: This idea of loss of control in 2020. We all had the experience of "life is unpredictable," and everything felt extremely unpredictable. I grappled with my anxieties about wanting to control and understand the situation, but I quickly realized this through therapy and self-care. The moment I relinquished that control, life became a whole lot easier. That was the genesis for the concept of this film. I had that idea and wanted to explore it through this absurd device, so I approached Alisha Ketry with the concept, and we started working on it. We partnered with Kyle Newacheck, who came on board and continued to crack the story with us. That was the genesis of the project.

Were there any major creative hurdles as your first feature?
To try to get my first feature made, we looked at the idea and worked backward on how we could make something that was producible not only in a pandemic but in a timely fashion. I looked at films like 'The One I Love,' which is a great film with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss, where it was all filmed in one house, with high concept and great execution. From my years of coming up in music videos and sketch comedy, I pulled every trick out of the hat to make this feature film.

I'm Totally Fine: Jillian Bell & Natalie Morales Talk Sci-Fi Comedy
Natalie Morales and Jillian Bell in "I'm Totally Fine" (2022). Image courtesy of Decal

Was there any external influence that helped serve as a guide?
Kyle, who produced the film, became a mentor figure of mine. He was one of the co-creators and directors of 'Workaholics.' He currently directs 'What We Do in the Shadows.' He also directed 'Murder Mystery' with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston and 'Game Over Man,' both for Netflix. He was a guiding light through this entire process. It was great making the film with a producer who also has years in the saddle as a director in long-form, where I've dipped my toe into TV, and this was my full, jumping into the pool of extreme long-form

What was it like working with Natalie and Jillian on set?
Natalie and Jillian were extremely collaborative. They put everything into the roles, both behind the scenes and on screen, which was incredible. I worked with them for weeks leading up to it and talked about the characters, their motivation, and the relationship between the two. Both of them are extremely talented creators in their own right. Both are writers, directors, and performers. They were in it with me, not just for bringing in an incredible performance but for getting the most out of everything on this small production.

How much of the film was improvised compared to what was in the script?
We worked off the script, but we always left room for improv. By nature of making an independent film like this, we would learn so much on the day that would impact the next one. We started writing this script in July 2020 and were shooting in December. Most films go years in development on the script. There would be things we were shooting on day two that impacted day five; we decided to punch up the script then and then improv on the day. The script was the contract, and we wanted to deliver the contract, but we always made room for amendments.

I'm Totally Fine Dir Brandon Dermer From Music Videos to First Feature
Harvey Guillén in "I'm Totally Fine" (2022). Image courtesy of Decal

What part of directing music videos do you feel helped you most for 'I'm Totally Fine?'
There are a couple of things. One in a music video, often you're limited to a day. I've always strived to make short films dressed as music videos. I looked at music videos to continue my path as a storyteller, so I would have to figure out what I needed in my takes. I only got so many takes and how to execute them with the parameters given to me, time restraints, and the budgets. I was able to bring that to the feature and open up the gamut of what I'm filming, but bringing those tools and restrictions I had in music videos to this. There's also pacing coming from music videos, thinking rhythmically in the storytelling while visualizing the sequences, listening to music, figuring out the pace, and how they would translate to the edit.

I'm Totally Fine: Jillian Bell & Natalie Morales Talk Sci-Fi Comedy

Can you break down Natalie and Jillian's performances as comedians putting in such grounded performances?
Both of them are executive producers, and that's because they were extremely involved with the development of the characters, script, and story. They were invested from the get-go, weeks before showing up on the set and having those in-depth conversations with Alisha, Kyle, and me about who these characters are, their story, and how they're dealing with grief. Jillian pulled from her own experiences and put that into her incredibly vulnerable performance. We talked about the reactive nature of dealing with grief, what that looks like in the different stages, and how that manifests in someone like a character like Vanessa. For Natalie, we talked about what it is like to be an alien coming down to earth and picking up on these human attributes. As you are an alien with what you think, no real emotive response, what that starts to look like as your sort of emotions inside, you begin to wake up and grapple with that experience.

I'm Totally Fine, which also stars Newacheck, Harvey Guillén, Blake Anderson, Cyrina Fiallo, and Karen Maruyama, is currently available in theaters, on-demand, and digital.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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