Painfully Relatable: Quinn Shephard on the Movies That Make and Break Her 

Filmmaker Quinn Shephard and Not Okay star Zoey Deutch. — Photographer… Amber Asaly
Filmmaker Quinn Shephard and Not Okay star Zoey Deutch. Photographer… Amber Asaly

The filmmaker behind Zoey Deutch influencer satire Not Okay on cinematic tragedies, cringe comedies and great films for Jersey girls and queer folk. 

Quinn Shephard’s new film Not Okay takes the trope of ‘a harmless lie that snowballs out of control’ and attaches it to influencer culture with darkly comic, squirm-inducing results. It’s not Shephard’s first go at putting unlikeable characters in intense circumstances. The filmmaker, who started her acting life at the ripe young age of three, made a splash at Tribeca in her early twenties with Blameher 2017 feature directorial debut.

“Shephard wrote, directed, edited, produced, acted, and made out with Chris Messina in this at age twenty. An absolute legend,” writes Melanie of Blame, which has been picking up new Letterboxd reviews and ratings in the immediate wake of Not Okay’s release. In that earlier film Shephard plays Abigail, a high school student who is embroiled in an affair with her drama teacher (Messina), to the displeasure of fellow student, Melissa (Nadia Alexander, Shephard’s fiancée, who also plays Harper in Not Okay). But all is not at it seems as Shephard upends the usual age-difference movie tropes. 

As BeBraveMorvern writes, “It’s an impressive sleight of hand, a twist that seems to comment more on narrative conventions than on the true face of their experience: being raised female in a culture that both values and blames them for their objectification.”

Danni (Zoey Deutch) and Colin (Dylan O’Brien) exerting some influence over each other.  — Photographer… Nicole Rivelli
Danni (Zoey Deutch) and Colin (Dylan O’Brien) exerting some influence over each other.  Photographer… Nicole Rivelli

Similarly, Not Okay is a moral rollercoaster with a thoughtful epilogue that subverts expectations of how people go about making things right—both in the movies and in life. Starring Zoey Deutch as Danni Saunders, an under-performing media industry worker with outsized ambitions who gets caught in a big lie, Dylan O’Brien as her skeevy co-worker and Mia Isaac as a traumatized young activist, it romps along in a vape-cloud of secondhand embarrassment and well-placed cameos, encouraging audiences to question the ways in which trauma is activated by influencer culture. 

Speaking of influence, we asked Shephard to share some of the films that have shaped her, from early inspirations through to the most recent mind-blowing watches, along with her Spotify playlist of Not Okay song inspirations. 

Kirk White, Zoey Deutch and Mia Isaac in therapy. 
Kirk White, Zoey Deutch and Mia Isaac in therapy. 

Which film made you want to become a filmmaker, and why?
Quinn Shephard: Even though it didn’t age so well, American Beauty was a big one for me. It was the first example I really remember of a film that encompassed so much tonally, going from a full satire at the beginning to a heavy-hitting drama at the end. The use of dream sequences and magical realism also really stuck with me and impacted both Blame and Not Okay.

What films did you watch, or ask your crew to watch, during production for Not Okay?
In no particular order: I, Tonya, Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting, The Square, American Animals, Do the Right Thing, Parasite, Network, and Requiem for a Dream.

Mia Isaac (bottom left) fans herself while Quinn Shephard and crew set up a shot. 
Mia Isaac (bottom left) fans herself while Quinn Shephard and crew set up a shot. 

What is your favorite cringe-comedy-drama; the film that makes you squirm but you can’t look away?
The Square! Ruben Östlund is the reigning king of painfully relatable satire in my opinion. I also love Pen15 for cringe, which I know is TV but is also one of my favorite things ever.

Which movie scene makes you cry the most? (Whether happy or sad tears).
The ending of Divines! Oh my god, I’m not sure I’ve ever sobbed so much at the ending of a film.

What film breaks your heart? And what film puts it back together?
Everything Everywhere All at Once did both, truly.

Quinn Shephard’s all-time favorite film Thelma (2017), directed by Joachim Trier.
Quinn Shephard’s all-time favorite film Thelma (2017), directed by Joachim Trier.

Who is the single most influential film director to you, and what film of theirs should be the gateway film for our readers?
Joachim Trier. If you’re a queer woman or a genre lover, start with Thelma, my absolute favorite film. If you’re a fan of more classic films, The Worst Person in the World is a brilliant and extremely relatable story.

Who is your favorite editor and/or writer character in a film?
Capote is such a great film and such a fascinating, morally gray character.

What music were you listening to when working on the film? (Got a Spotify playlist link?)
Yes! I was very drawn to retro 60s French music as well as choir and strings—the exact opposite of what you’d think with a modern internet film, haha! I liked the mashup of scoring the film like a cinematic tragedy and using the choir to represent the voices online as well as the voices in Danni’s head.

As a Jersey gal, what are your must-watch New Jersey films?
Patti Cake$ is probably my favorite Jersey film! Fun fact: my first film Blame was set in New Jersey in the town where I grew up, and we shot it at my old high school!

Danielle Macdonald is a Jersey girl in Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ (2017). 
Danielle Macdonald is a Jersey girl in Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ (2017). 

What mindfuck movie changed you for life?
1000% it was Sorry to Bother You. At no point did I know where that film was going, and I loved every minute. It made you think but also was thrilling, hilarious and so ingenious.

Not Okay takes a brilliant (and important) swing with its ending. What film upended your genre expectations in a good way?
Do the Right Thing did that so well. It’s a wild ride that starts out funny and grows so intense and meaningful as it goes on. The tonal balance is impeccable, and it really leaves you to sort out the hard questions on your own in the end rather than answering them for you.

Restoring faith in cinema one filmmaker at a time: it’s the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). 
Restoring faith in cinema one filmmaker at a time: it’s the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). 

What is the last film you watched that blew you away?
Everything Everywhere All at Once. It was so powerful, hilarious and emotional.

What’s a film that Zoey or Mia recommended to you, and they were absolutely right?
Zoey referenced Nightcrawler and I’m so glad I watched it—such a dark and sharp satire!

Would you like to share your Letterboxd account?
I’m not really too active because I just like to bookmark films and not rate them. I feel too much for the filmmaker and struggle to add ratings, but I love the app! 


Not Okay’ is now streaming on Hulu. 

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