Interview with filmmaker Douglas Riggs

We’ve participated in several conversations about people earning a living off their output on various social media platforms. So I was really intrigued by this line in the synopsis for the short film Likes: “Through the window of a smartphone, global fame is a tangible goal for the seemingly self obsessed.”

If you haven’t done so already, watch the film below — WARNING: the content is mildly NSFW and definitely not for children:

Having watched, and enjoyed, the film I approached filmmaker Douglas Riggs with some questions:

How did you manage to write, cast, and shoot this film in a three day span?
As a commercial producer, I’ve tried to develop an infrastructure that holds efficiency number one.  You need interchangeable pieces from gear to personnel to talent to anything to accommodate a client and their timetable.

I was given a moment’s notice that I would have access to this gorgeous floor to ceiling glass condo in downtown Los Angeles.  I could’ve used it for a fashion spot or for any commercial gig.  But at the time I was really fascinated with this surge of modeling culture on Instagram, so with my constraints in mind, I penned a very short 2 and a half page script and then sent it to my usual casting director Crystal Lujan.  2 days later we’re in the condo, no rehearsal, shooting and racing the clock.

Did you already know your leading lady from before?
No, Sophia was actually the first audition of the day and then I had to sit through nearly a hundred more after. She has this fierce mystique to her. This calm confidence that was apparent from the moment she walked in the room. I should’ve just known to call it right then and there. I hope to work with her again where we can utilize the full range of her talent.

How long have you worked with DOP Carlos Mason?
Carlos and I go back to 2010.  I threw illegal warehouse parties on the edge of Silverlake and K-Town and Carlos was part of Grizz Lee’s San Diego crew that would attend my marquee events.  My first video ever was with Carlos back in 2010, at my warehouse loft, with Keith ‘Stunnaman’ Jenkins from The Pack.  He not only is a talented DP, but a thorough producer.  He’s solution oriented and usually the hardest-working man on set.  We, together, actually just finished producing this indie sci-fi proof of concept for the feature script Vermillion.

And what does it really take to make a movie like this, this quickly?
Again, I lean on having built the network of Hollywood professionals who are ready to work if the shoot date fits their schedule.  I am trying to segue from being a producer whose mindset is usually efficiency and practicality to a director that’s fixed on unlocking as much detail and nuance creatively as possible.  On the set of Likes I acted more like a 1st AD than an actual director.  I knew that to get everything I wanted, we had to move quickly.  And that’s ok, I enjoy a frenetic pace.

I notice you highlighted the fact that the film was shot in 4K. Why 4K, and what are the unique benefits/difficulties you experienced in producing a 4K project?
We shot on the RED Dragon.  It was a necessity–since the condo has these massive glass walls–to shoot in the Dragon’s HDR setting.  Maybe 4K is overkill, finishing in 1080 is totally acceptable these days.  But I also wanted to highlight that we’re on the cutting edge.  4K content will eventually be the norm, if not higher, and we had the capability of executing that, so why not?  Also it really helps with reframing shots in post.  I try to execute the best quality image possible.  Of course good story is king but the producer in me sides with executing the most professional looking image possible.  And I go after that.

Why did you decide to tell this particular story?
I’ve shot Sahara Ray before. I’ve shot Bryana Holly before. These girls carry an immense amount of social currency because of the large followings they’ve amassed on Instagram specifically. To this younger millennial generation, these Instagram models matter. They are key lifestyle influencers as well as a new breed of self-started celebrity. And that is one side of the coin that fascinates me. I wish I could pay the rent with my good looks and a smart phone, really.

The other side to the coin is ego.  I love the subject of ego and how it can enable and destroy.  I am fascinated by the “why” when someone posts a selfie or a snap of them behind the wheel of a sports car.  I smile every time I see a “humble-brag” online.  A lot of times, what a person posts on instagram tells you more about themselves than they realize.   Can you catch the distortion in the image they are hoping you gobble up?

Also, I have two acquaintances that make their living off salacious photos on Instagram, though they may balk at the word ‘salacious’.

I love that Monica is either a) independent enough or b) self-obsessed enough to rat out her ‘sponsor’, was that always the ending you had in mind for this film?
I have to give credit to my editor Spencer.  He slipped that in during his initial rough cut.  He photoshopped Sophia’s and Jon’s faces on a stock photo of a couple in bed.  He found the perfect punctuation.  We were able to shoot the ending photo during the poster shoot.  I had been watching Last Days by Gus Van Zant before the shoot and at first wanted to leave it open ended and airy.  It pays to have a good editor to persuade you to kill your darlings.

How long did post-production take?
It’s funny how it takes 3 days to prep and shoot and then 3 months to cut and color.  There was no rush to come out with this piece, so I opted to take time for it to settle and then get some fresh eyes on it before picture locking.

Did the film change much from final script draft to finished screened cut?
Other than Spencer’s genius idea with the ending photo, I had Sophia’s and Alexa’s opening scene written as the ending.  I thought it would be a nice little payoff to see the motivation for her being in that bad situation in the condo at the end.  But I think it works better the way we have it in the final cut.

What is the best thing that’s happened to you — work-wise — since Likes was released? And what was the worst?
I’m really surprised it’s hit above 10k views on Vimeo.  That I did not expect.  There hasn’t really been a bad experience, other than some have casually called me misogynistic, feeling that the piece is sexist.  Which saddens me of course, because that is not something I wish to purvey.

What can you tell us about the feature film you are developing?
Vermillion is a sci-fi script written by the VICE online editor Mike Pearl.  It deals with the very real scenario that in the future the wealth disparity will be much much wider and access to electricity will be one of the major divides between the social classes. It’s something that I have been developing with director Nathaniel Miller for over three years.  It draws on themes and imagery from some of my favorite movies like Syriana, Traffic and Children of Men.  We have a 10-minute proof of concept currently in post, which we hope will be instrumental in corralling the final investments needed.  The car is built, we just need the gas.

Any final words of advice to people trying to mount their own film production?
“It’s better done, than perfect” or E.A.E. “Execution Above Everything”

Douglas has a cool looking website. Check it out.