One-night stands are typical fare for movies about coupling in the modern era. Twenty-four-hour sex benders — sans sleep and a connection with the outside world — however, are best reserved for ace filmmakers at the top of their game. And that’s exactly where director Miguel Arteta, writer-star Alia Shawkat, and actress Laia Costa find themselves in their upcoming dramedy Duck Butter — the first trailer for which EW can exclusively reveal above.
Just as Duck Butter‘s title suggests (warning: searching the phrase on Urban Dictionary yields a few NSFW results), love is often a messy endeavor stretched out over weeks, months, or years. But Duck Butter examines what happens when two women (Shawkat, Costa) meet at a club and, high on their palpable chemistry, agree to spend a full day together having sex every hour, on the hour. Ahead of Duck Butter‘s April 20 debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, EW caught up with the trio behind the film (set for theatrical release April 27 via The Orchard, followed by digital availability on May 1) to discuss producing in real time (just like their characters, Shawkat and Costa filmed the bulk of the project together for a full 24-hours), recasting Costa in the role of the originally male co-lead, and how bringing the Victoria actress aboard carved an unexpected space for the project in the realm of new queer cinema.
Watch EW’s exclusive trailer for the film above, and check out our full interview with Shawkat, Costa, and Arteta below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The key word here is intimacy, which is harder and harder to find in all aspects of life. Why was it important to focus on a story about intimacy?
ALIA SHAWKAT: We wanted to make a story about why it hurts so much when it doesn’t work out with someone, and you know that they weren’t the right person, but it still kills you because it’s not easy to turn it off.
MIGUEL ARTETA: We answered the question of why it hurts so much…. Why is it so important to have your heart broken by the wrong person sometimes? It’s a little love poem to relationships that mean a lot, for whatever reason. You can love somebody, but they might not be the right person for you!
The script took around five years to write with Miguel. Was that because you needed time to feel comfortable with your first feature script?
SHAWKAT: The story evolved so much and we were really open to listening to where it took us, but it was definitely our schedules. We were Skyping from different places in the world, and then we were finally were both in L.A. We were friends already, but the first time Miguel came over as a writer, I was nervous about saying the wrong thing! Then, we got a schedule going and all of a sudden my kitchen was covered in notes and we had a real routine. Then we were getting in fights over stuff, we weren’t holding back, we were laughing, crying….
Almost like you guys had to discover a new layer of intimacy in your own relationship?
ARTETA: That’s true! We had to throw away all the conceptions of trying to manage what this was going to be…. suddenly we were just like, let’s be us! Let’s be raw! Then, it took on a new life. We wrote a whole screenplay that we were proud of, but we realized it had a life of its own and that we should give up the screenplay…. Let’s work from an outline and…. it was calling for improvisation, for us to throw away the script. The original idea of having two people spending 24 hours together was just a small idea in the first 30 pages of the screenplay, but a friend of ours suggested that the whole movie focus on just the 24-hour period.
We looked at a lot of different actors [to play Alia’s love interest] at first. When we came across Laia, we thought she’d be playing one of the smaller parts, but she has such a great energy. She was like, “Alright, I don’t care about playing a small part as long as you let me watch the whole 24-hour filming thing!” And we were like, yeah, that sounds like [the love interest character] Sergio to us!
So, Sergio wasn’t initially written as a woman?
SHAWKAT: No! It was going to be a dude!
Laia, you read the story when it was a male character?
LAIA COSTA: When I read the message with the old information, I was so excited about the 24-hour filming schedule, because the movie I did just before was Victoria, which was shot in two-and-a-half hours in real time. That’s why I was like, “Yeah, just give me the small role. But, let me be there!” Of course inside I was like, I just want to be part of the main couple…. and act in the 24 hours! But of course I didn’t say that.
SHAWKAT: Yeah, you willed it!
COSTA: Sometimes you just need a good reason to do something. After a Skype session with Miguel, I didn’t know anything about Alia, so I Googled her! Everything I found made me think, “I just want to be with these two crazy artists doing this movie! I don’t know what it’s about, but I don’t care!” [Laughs].
When people see a movie that has a same-sex relationship, there are so many labels and expectations placed upon it as a “queer” or “gay” movie, and it’s funny this didn’t start out in that vein, but ended there. Are you comfortable labeling the film as such?
ARTETA: I wanted to say something about [people]…. Whether it was men or women wasn’t that important to me. I just wanted to have people know why Naima and Sergio [are together]. There’s something about the way they both are that makes it this explosive night. It was more about finding [people] with the right qualities, regardless of gender, age, and nationality.
SHAWKAT: We were having a hard time finding someone, and meeting all these young male actors for the part, something wasn’t clicking…. When we changed it [to Laia], it was a big switch, and surprisingly the story made so much more sense. Even though it is about two lesbians, it was important to me that the movie isn’t a lesbian story. We don’t mention us coming out…. There are no challenges about us being out. It’s a point to be a film about two people who fall for each other and it just goes wrong. I hope the film — and queer cinema in general — are seen is: they are just two people. That’s the whole point. Instead of being like “Oh, they’re gay, can you believe it?”, they’re just two people. Everyone feels these things in relationships and has these crazy dynamics.
Not to yank the wheel too far left, but I did my Googling and came up with multiple, uh, very interesting definitions for “duck butter” on Urban Dictionary. Care to elaborate on the title?
SHAWKAT: It’s not a spoiler…. Explain, Miguel! [Laughs]
ARTETA: Love is a mess. Love is messy: duck butter!
SHAWKAT: I remember it was our name early on and we loved it.
I have a feeling so many people are going to be in for a surprise when they do their Googling as well. Also surprising to many might be the concept of these women having sex every hour for a full day. Did you approach presenting sex on screen differently than what you’d seen before?
SHAWKAT: There’s still lots of room [to grow in terms of] how women in sex scenes are portrayed in film. It had to be done in an honest way…. it was important that it felt intimate and real and not over sexualizing nudity…. Originally when we wrote the script, it examined their relationship over the course of a year and a half. And when we changed it to just 24 hours…. the way they have sex is like they way they have a relationship for a year and a half. It starts off exciting and fresh and then all of a sudden it gets a little boring and repetitive and emotional…. We were trying to capture a whole relationship in that amount of time and how sex evolves.
Was it difficult to foster that intimacy between you, as actors?
COSTA: It was not difficult at all! I had the most fun part of all. Miguel and Alia, they wrote the thing, and Miguel was also directing, so I felt like a fruit in their cocktail. These two amazing artists, Alia and Miguel, are two different liquids, and they are together in a magical cocktail! And I’m the strawberry inside it, just having fun. It was so easy! The 24 hours, I loved them so much.
SHAWKAT: We had such a chemistry…. We shot it in 24 hours, like a live play. We had two crews. Laia, Miguel, the DP, Hillary Spera, our first AD producer, and I, we stayed up almost the whole time…. We took a 20-minute nap and woke up and kept going. We had choreographed the scenes the week before…. but we’d only have a certain amount of time for each scene to get that real energy of actually being awake for that long [like the characters]. By the second half, when the other actors showed up, we’d already been up for 20 hours…. We were just running on crazy fumes!
ARTETA: I highly recommend it, though. Try to stay awake for 24 hours having sex every hour on the hour. It’s a good thing to do, dude.
SHAWKAT: Yes, we recommend that for everybody!