‘He’s Just That Into You’s’ Baylee McDonough and Alex Ames on donning the rom-com

“…we wanted to spin off of the typical romantic comedy, spoof it almost. I think we hit it on the head.”

Every year, LakeFrontRow talks to the filmmakers behind some of our favorite entries from Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project, which challenges teams to write, shoot and cut a short film in the span of one weekend.

Hailing from Milwaukee, “The Bechdel Test” drove to Madison to snatch up their criteria early Fri evening, then drove back to Milwaukee to shoot all weekend before contending with traffic on I-94 once again on Sun.

The drive was worth the finished, cocksure product. He’s Just That Into You is a vibrant send-up of romantic comedy conventions, interrupting Alex Ames and Abigail Dupee’s rants about the service industry with a mysterious, silent suitor (Contrell Smith). Director Baylee McDonough and her very self-aware team members string together familiar tropes and story beats while still making away with a buoyant and spontaneous entry.

McDonough currently attends the Art Institute of Wisconsin, and Ames will be a first-year transfer to Columbia this fall. I spoke with both of them about their 48 Hour Film Project:

Did you see comedy as intertwined with the “Romance” genre you drew?

Alex: Once the creative juices started flowing, we went off of what our strengths were, especially with acting. I guess the comedy came from that, if that makes sense.

Baylee: It does. [laughs.] With drawing romance and having an all-girl crew, we wanted to spin off of the typical romantic comedy, spoof it almost. I think we hit it on the head.

Even your title speaks to that idea. I had heard that Contrell Smith was only available for a few hours.

Alex: We had Contrell for a solid four hours. We kept telling ourselves that The Forbidden Fable of Papa L’s .38 Special were our competition because we’re all from the same school. Contrell wrote for them, then acted for us, and then went on to act for them and then edited their project too. He got the short end of the stick with that 48.

Baylee: He was very busy that weekend, so props to him.

And did you plan on only having him for a small window of time?

Baylee: We knocked out all of his shots right away, namely because some people were cutting down a tree in the park we were at. We knew we only had a certain amount of time to shoot before he went on another crew.

Alex: We were also fighting against the rain.

You do a great job of hiding the rain that day.

Alex: Thank you. That goes to [director of photography] Dana Shihadah. She worked with what she had, which was little to no sunlight.

Baylee: And it was the hottest day of summer. [laughs.]

The dialogue between Alex and Abigail’s characters is so loose yet the humor and timing of your short is entirely dependent on that conversation landing. How did you go about writing their exchange?

Alex: Abby was one of the writers on the original script as well, and there was a little, I would say tension. I really thrive with improvisation, and since she wrote it and is a theater-oriented actress. My performance was a lot more improvised, while hers was on the nose. I feel like that ended up benefiting both of our characters.

And it benefits the conversation you’re having. The joke is that your character is practically having a separate one with Contrell’s distraction.

Alex: It helped that Contrell was off to the side and not saying much. But really, I give props to Baylee for her editing skills. Looking at the footage, it was rough to figure out which take was the best one, because it was so hard to get that comedic timing down pat.

Baylee: It was really easy working with both of them. Like Alex said, she and Abby worked well together so I didn’t have much feedback for their performances.

If this were the 72 Hour Film Project, what would you have done differently?

Baylee: Definitely the location. I wasn’t a fan of it because it felt too open. Our original idea was a different park in Milwaukee but it was so busy we settled for the next best thing. And like I said, somebody was cutting down a tree for a good hour which cut out a lot of our audio.

Alex: If I had to change anything, it would be the car scene at the end. Do you want to take this one, actually?

Baylee: So, the car scene at the end was thrown together on Sun morning because Sat night into Sun morning at like 1:00a I finished what I thought was our final edit before realizing we were a whole minute short of meeting the requirement. We were scrambling. We called our DP at 3:00a and she was like “Yeah, we can meet up tomorrow morning.” So Alex and I met Dana at the Institute and threw some B-roll together. At first, when I edited it all together, it didn’t have a good flow so Alex threw together some sound design. It honestly came to life. Props to everyone for pulling through on that.

Yes, that song change at the end really hides a lot of that.

Alex: Thank you! That was the fastest sound design I have ever done in my life. Like, in a half hour.

  • 2016’s audience favorites, as well as a handful of judges awards, will be announced at the Madison 48 Hour Film Project’s “Best Of” Screening. The screening takes place at 5:00p at the High Noon Saloon on Sat, Aug 27. Admission is $5.