like me

Whoever still generalizes January as a cinematic wasteland has clearly not watched Robert Mockler’s Like Me. This is an introspective timebomb that bursts with ambition, execution and payoff, all the while told through a lens that burns with the vibrant fluorescence of this first timer’s splash-making debut. Mockler has a vision that’s never sacrificed; boundaries are tested by setting the screen ablaze with neon tragedies. January is for phoned-in franchise five-quels – what’s this cautionary social media takedown think it‘s doing around these parts?

The film’s star, Addison Timlin, manipulates her way through a gonzo road trip fueled by “likes” and “shares” on internet posts. The crazier her stunts – from robberies to kidnappings – the more people discuss her abstract artistry. She craves attention like a drug, caught up in a sea of endorphins that spike whenever content goes viral. Unfortunately for her latest muse, a schlubby motel owner played by indie horror legend Larry Fessenden (who also produced the film), this means there’s no telling when her antics will stop.

I had the pleasure of moderating a post-screening Q&A of Like Me alongside Mockler and Fessenden in New York City this past week, which we primed with an interview at a local diner beforehand. The three of us sat and chatted about our views on social media, tried not to gag while recalling some thematic food usage, and grappled with the business ins-and-outs of indie filmmaking. Here are two honest creators talking about how Like Me came to form – and how nothing was going to stop them.

Let me start by asking if there was a specific event or occurrence that brought upon the birth of Like Me. Obviously, it’s a skewering of our society’s current digital obsessions, but where did this idea start?

Robert Mockler: I always wanted to make a movie about loneliness. I really enjoy narratives like Taxi Driver and One Hour Photo. Then there was this major paradigm shift where social media really started to become ingrained into our culture. I saw this image in my head of someone holding up a convenience store with a cellphone and I thought that opened up intriguing territory. It played directly into my interest in America’s obsession with “the outlaw.” All these things started converging in a way that I thought could potentially be worth exploring.

Mr. Fessenden, given how you can’t be found anywhere on social media, one can assume you’re not too much of a fan?

Larry Fessenden: Is that a known thing? [Laughs] Yes, I find it contemptible.

Given this stance, when you read a script like Robert’s, are you surprised by the increasing stranglehold social media has on our culture?

Larry Fessenden: Oh, I was particularly excited to do a movie that explored social media. We all know it has two sides, but I do think these obsessions are dividing us as much as uniting us. There’s this endless, dreamy idea that human progress is always pushing towards the good and what I like is that [Robert Mockler] created a cautionary tale. Like Me is about the loneliness, and then there’s the context of the contemporary communication situation. I mean, you could make a movie about telephones as well – it’s just that social media is present right now.

Robert Mockler: For me, social media is a tool like anything else. I think it amplifies impulses and behaviors that are innately inside us. And I think sometimes those impulses – behaviors – are ugly and horrifying, but they’re undeniably human. I don’t know that social media is sort of an actively corrosive force. I think it’s more about what these programs expose inside of us.

Larry, I apologize for not knowing this offhand, but did you get involved with Like Me as an actor or producer first?

Larry Fessenden: My associate, Jenn Wexler – she works with [my company] Glass Eye Pix as a producer – first got wind of the film. It was with Dogfish Pictures, James Belfer’s company, and she brought it to us. It was a bigger budget at the time, and we met with Belfer, and we said, “Whoa, this sounds like something we’d really like to do.” They needed an actual production company to come in and put boots on the ground. I like it when a so-called horror or thriller – whatever type movie this is – engages with something culturally relevant. Belfer could tell Rob had other things on his mind besides just the social critique. It was obviously about his characters very specifically. The script and his vision were very rich, plus Robert also had made a concept short using one of the scenes which was really, super engaging. I immediately knew [Robert] was a filmmaker worth nurturing.

Was there one specific aspect in the script itself that jumped out as a major selling point? A single scene that made your mind up on the spot?

Larry Fessenden: This was a movie about social media and our obsession with “Likes.” A movie that asks if that’s a misplaced desire. It’s been done before, but as I said – in conjunction with the short – I could see [Robert’s] cinematic eye and that became exciting.

It certainly has been done before, but not with this kind of artistic intent. Stylistically, Like Me is on a different level compared to something like Unfriended.

Larry Fessenden: I like to aesthetically break the mold. Try different things. We just made a movie called Most Beautiful Island which is a series of very long takes – that sort of a Dardennes brothers approach – whereas I could tell that Rob was a collagist, and that seemed so exciting and so different for our little company. His fractured narrative in our consciousness YouTube world. It just seemed like a great opportunity for a different-looking movie.

Alright Robert, I have to ask about your usage of food imagery. To me, it’s a statement about overindulgence. Is there truth to that assessment? How do you explain the close-ups on chewing mouths and messy eating?

Robert Mockler: For me, a part of this film is about how we medicate our loneliness. I think food is one of those ways. Technology is one of those ways, I think pet ownership as well in some strange way…

Larry Fessenden: [Laughs] Beg your pardon?

Robert Mockler: [To Larry] I’ve had pets all my life but it’s this weird inter-species hostage situation, you know? So, yeah – food is one way that we medicate feelings of estrangement and loneliness, but it’s also about overconsumption and being inundated with a constant influx of information and material things.

Larry Fessenden: Real colorful things…

I was just going to ask about the scene where you, Larry, are bound to a bed and force-fed “treats” by Addison Timlin until you puked. Was that fake movie magic or did you have to eject all that slop from your body? 

Larry Fessenden: Let me tell you this. We took a lunch break on set and I got a call from my doctor. I had this ringing in my ear that was previously checked out, and my doctor told me it’s “possibly a brain tumor but we’ll keep checking.” Then I had to go back into the shoot and get tied up, which – to add – I’m extremely claustrophobic. I knew the art director and I said, “Colin, you know, I’ve gotta be able to pull out of these.” I was essentially stuck because I’m strapped up. Then came the force-feeding and “torture.” That I was fine with, but I did laugh to myself, “Am I really going to choke and this will be my last thing on film?” Anyway, I don’t have a tumor so far! That worked out. I mean, look. When you’re an actor, your job is to expose yourself and do stuff that isn’t particularly comfortable. Otherwise you’re not really putting yourself out there. We had fun. It was great, and Addison was awesome. In fact, it had been a long-time fantasy. [Laughs] Sorry, I’m not allowed to say things like that anymore!

Robert Mockler: It did all start to smell like sour milk very quickly.

Larry Fessenden: It was gross.

Robert Mockler: It was a very small room, with like fourteen people huddled around slowly rotting food and milk.

I was going to say, that scene featured pizza, cheese balls, gummies, any junk snack you can imagine.

Robert Mockler: Everything. So it was just this sugary, milky smell that was rancid.

Larry Fessenden: What’s funny is that I’m a pescatarian – which means I don’t eat meat – and so of course we had a bacon scene in the film. Ask anyone who has voluntarily given up meat for political reasons about how bacon is still this forbidden food you dream about. I was like, “Rob, you sure we can’t do another take because I feel like I can do that better. I can try that one again, right?” You can’t use fake bacon in person. It’s just dripping with the fat and oil. So that was a very fun scene for me to do personally despite breaking my “code” for a second.

Robert Mockler: You also got very personal with the toilet, as well.

Larry Fessenden: [Laughs] Luckily I got so distracted by the bacon I didn’t mind having my face in the shitter.

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