Interview: Larry Fessenden on Tapping into Loneliness in LIKE ME and His Upcoming FRANKENSTEIN-Inspired Movie DEPRAVED

from Daily Dead  by Heather Wixson

For nearly 40 years now, Larry Fessenden has been a cornerstone of the independent horror scene. He’s directed over 20 projects, produced around 70 shorts and features, and has even performed in almost 100 cinematic endeavors. One of the more recent films that Fessenden has been involved with is Robert Mockler’s Like Me, in which he co-stars alongside Addison Timlin and also serves as a producer.

Written and directed by Mockler (who makes his feature debut here), Like Me follows the social media-obsessed Kiya (Timlin), who sets out to film uncomfortable situations (robberies, kidnappings, you name it) in an effort to gain more fame and notoriety amongst the online community at large. But after she takes things too far, Kiya is faced with the ugly truth that the quest for internet fame can come with a hefty price tag attached.

Daily Dead recently had the chance to speak with Fessenden about Like Me, including what attracted him to the project from a producing standpoint as well as his thoughts on digging into his character, Marshall. Fessenden also discussed the vitalness of a film such as Like Me right now, and how Mockler was able to create something special for his very first time at bat as a director. And because it was recently announced, we also spoke to Larry about his next filmmaking venture, Depraved, which is his own take on the classic Frankenstein story.

Look for Like Me to arrive on VOD platforms on Tuesday, February 20th, courtesy of Kino Lorber.

So great to speak with you again, Larry, and especially for this film. I absolutely loved it when I first saw it at SXSW last year, and, I’m so glad to see it finally getting a chance to connect with audiences now, too. Robert created an incredible film with Like Me, and I’m so excited to see people discover it now.

Larry Fessenden: Yeah, it’s really, really gratifying. I can tell you that it’s so hard to make these movies, because you’re not quite sure what you’ve got, and you have your own beliefs and excitement about it. Then, you wonder if the world will take notice. And at SXSW, we had another film that got a lot of lovely attention, and we were very happy for it, but we wondered if Like Me would get that and here we are, which is great.

Yeah, that’s awesome. Obviously, we’re going to dig into the role of Marshall, but I’d love to hear a little bit about the production side of things first, and what made you decide to get involved with Like Me as a producer.

Larry Fessenden: Well, the project came through Jenn Wexler. She recommended it and wanted to help Glass Eye with putting boots on the ground to actually make the film. It had been workshopped over at James Belfer company called Dogfish. We read the script and it was very, very vital, with the topic of social media and our ongoing struggle with loneliness of the individuals in this society, this culture that is more and more fractured because of cable news, but now we have the internet.

I was so excited to make one of our little genre films tackling this topic, but I never felt it was didactic, I felt Rob was coming at it from an artistic perspective. And, I just felt that we were possibly in the presence of a maniac who could tap into all these things, and he then brought the movie to us. We nurtured the movie for quite a long time. We worked with many, many different budgets. Jenn Wexler was constantly revising the numbers, so we could do it at different levels, and then eventually we landed with the very smallest version, but still with a great team in place.

Even though this movie wasn’t made with a huge budget, on a visual level, the things that Robert is able to pull off in this film are just so incredibly ambitious. For me, that’s one of the reasons Like Me is such a standout, because there could have been a safer way to make this movie and not lean into the visuals as much, but man, it just has such a punch to it, because of what he was able to do by marrying the visuals with his story.

Larry Fessenden: Yeah, that was very much his MO, as I say. He had these tone reels that were very kinetic and that was an essential part of the vision. What I really love about movies, and this goes back to Alfred Hitchcock, is the idea of cinema. There’s a certain amount of dialogue in the film that brings life to the characters, but, in the end, it really is a visual medium and Rob was determined in the edit to create those jagged little edits.

Then, we hooked him up with James Siewert, who’s a maniac with the camera, and makes his own rigs. The two of them really hit it off, and they were able to create something very special, and that’s why the movie has that kinetic vibe. That’s how it got its punch.

Talk about tapping into your character, Marshall. For me, what is really fascinating is that he’s a guy that’s very off-putting at first, because of certain actions. There’s still a humanity to him, and in the character of Kiya too, where Robert really tapped into this idea that human beings are still human beings regardless of their imperfections.

Larry Fessenden: Absolutely. Look, it’s very clear to me that if advertising and marketing creates a standard that we can’t possibly achieve, and it is entirely the design of the capitalist society to make you feel like you have to purchase things in order to get there. And that’s why loneliness is baked into our American cultural society. And I feel that there are so many scenes where you could just feel that kind of anguish from each character.

There’s the scene with the homeless dude and the eating. On the one hand, you have the theme of eating, and that’s something that Rob clearly wanted to explore in this film. But when she says, “What animal would you be?” He says, “I’d like to be a big fish in the water. A big creature.” And there’s so much sadness there, and you just realize people feel so beaten down by this hyperkinetic world. So yes, this is a movie about social media, but it’s really about where this culture has brought us to today, and it literally bakes loneliness into the pie.

As for Marshall, yeah, he’s a little bit of a creep, because he very possibly oversteps the line with a younger girl, but it’s also unclear if she’s telling the truth in the same token. I think the reality is, it’s two people in a room and I don’t think he’s going down a list thinking, “Is this legal or not?” He says, “I don’t know if I could live with myself if I didn’t explore this opportunity.” And then, of course, the movie spirals from there.

One thing I appreciated was that the script gives some explanation as to literally what damaged him, but it’s nice that it saves that for later on for when you’ve already made a judgment about him. That’s an interesting structural thing, not to lead with that, and, of course, you never really get backstory from Kiya. These are the things that make a movie haunting and intriguing. You don’t have all the answers laid out right in front of you.

For me, it’s interesting because she really wants these connections, but almost for a self-serving purpose. It’s a real internal struggle that Kiya has. I also loved the fact that even though these characters come together in a really messed up way, there’s almost a sweetness to the relationship, too. You can tell Marshall is conflicted, because sometimes he’s posturing with Kiya, and sometimes he’s being very genuine.

Larry Fessenden: Right. I love that you say that. It’s almost like he’s defiant. I think that I played it that way, and I actually maybe believe that. I never thought of it until this moment, but nowadays, it’s almost defiant to be vulnerable. Or to be candid. Because everyone is self-protecting and they’re so aware of how they’re coming off. Marshall’s lost everything in his mind, and so the one thing he has left is just to put himself out there. And this girl is somebody who is ready to receive him for who he is.

Before we go, I wanted to congratulate you on Depraved. I saw the announcement the other day, and that’s really awesome to hear you’ve got a new directing project coming up.

Larry Fessenden: Oh, cool. Thanks, I’m very excited. We’re going to see what we can do. It’s funny, when a movie is in your head, and then, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh crap, now I’ve got to go and put it on the screen,” [laughs]. A friend of mine said that making a movie is making as few bad decisions as you can, where it ends up being a ratio of good decisions to bad decisions, and I believe that.

Because Depraved is tapping into the world of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster, I’m curious what is it about this character that appealed to you as a storyteller?

Larry Fessenden: Well, in a funny way, I want to make all the classics again. I’ve made a vampire movie. I want to make a werewolf movie, but Frankenstein is one of the greatest creations of pop culture. The original version is a masterpiece, and oddly enough, it’s a story that hasn’t been done that well since. And it’s often attempted. I feel there’s a core theme in that story that I would like to explore and bring it very much back to this idea of loneliness.

It’s about waking up, and you’re someone, and you don’t know who you are or why you are. And then there’s the question of what brought you into this world. In my story, there will be conflict of the parental figures as the scientist who made him and the other people around him. I’m very interested in the subjective lonely experience of being alive in this world and in this culture, and Frankenstein is such a fantastic, iconic way to look at it. And also, there is the physical body horror aspect to this story, of someone being sewn together, and there’s identity horror, too. There’s so much possibility in it that I’m just overflowing with excitement.