Brandon Isaacson: What filmmakers were your influences for this film? Or do you not think that way?
Leah Meyerhoff: Specific films that come to mind are Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and Sophia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides. I am also inspired by the work of my peers, including Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love, Ry Russo Young’s You Won’t Miss Me and Ben Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.
BI: How did you work with Natalia and Peter? What was the process between you and them?
LM: We had an intensely collaborative process. We worked together to create back stories for the characters, drawing upon experiences from our own lives along with research from real world locations and purely fictional elements. During production, we built a safe space by shooting on closed sets with minimal crew whenever possible. This allowed us the freedom to really explore the emotional nuances of the characters and find those raw and honest performances that make the film so powerful. They were not afraid to take risks and it shows.
BI: This is a deeply vulnerable and human film. Was it difficult to be as vulnerable as you are in this film, or has your previous training helped you to go to those places?
LM: I have always been interested in telling stories that feel emotionally raw and authentic, and it is often a vulnerable process for both me and the actors to get there. I have an empathetic style of directing and emotionally challenging scenes can be draining, yet I have learned that as a director is willing to be vulnerable with an actor they will give you their best work in return. Art that comes from an honest place has always resonated particularly strongly for me, and I hope that people who see I Believe in Unicorns will connect to it in a similar way.
BI: I Believe in Unicorns has a gorgeous, faded look to it. It feels like, intentionally or not, your aesthetic reflects a complicated nostalgia for that period in your life. What was your aim with the aesthetic of this film?
LM: The story is told from the perspective of a creative, intelligent, vulnerable, and imaginative teenage girl and all of the aesthetic choices in the film were made with this in mind. From the decision to shoot on Super16mm and Super8mm film stocks to the use of in-camera special effects and extensive stop-motion animation, I wanted to create a textured and visceral look that was in alignment with how this character sees the world. There is an immediacy in the shooting style and fluidity in the editing which keeps us closely aligned with her subjective experiences while also allowing space for our own memories and interpretations to seep in. The hope is to create a tone that feels both nostalgic and timeless, and a desire to follow this girl wherever her magical journey may lead.