‘Raising Victor Vargas’ Scribe on the Joys of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Her New Short Film

When heading to Sundance, nothing helps more than a talented familiar face. And for those discovering Eva Vives’ short film Join the Club, the sight of Ari Graynor (of Whip It and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist fame) should be a welcome one. The funny blonde is offered a meaty role — the short is basically a monologue piece — and packs quite a punch. It’s a particularly effective performance, considering the entire weight of the short falls on her shoulders: for most of the film, the camera sits squarely on her as she fidgets and rambles about, allowing us to focus on her frizzy hair and expressive face.

Taking place during a therapy session where a female writer debates joining an all-women’s club, Vives’ film could easily be described as In Treatment meets Girls though that wouldn’t really prepare you for the neurotic humor and emotional insight that drives much of the short film. Vives, who hails from Spain and moved to New York City when she was 18 to attend NYU has been making a name for herself in the indie scene: she produced the Sundance-winning short Five Feet High and Rising back in 2000 and co-wrote the Indie Spirit-nominated Latino classic Raising Victor Vargas.

Taking time from her recent stint at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab where she was working on her upcoming feature film, Nina, we chatted with Madrileña where she told us why Graynor was the perfect actress for the part and why she encourages anyone interested in breaking into the indie scene to apply to the Festival’s labs in Park City.

On Casting the Lead Actress

“I find it astonishing that it is 2016 and we are basically still grappling with some sort of affirmative action in Hollywood when it comes to every so-called minority.”

I’ve always been interested in how women talk. I wanted to see if I could write the way I hear a lot of women talk, the way I often think. Like a stream of consciousness. [And Graynor is] someone I’ve had the privilege of calling a friend for years and as I was writing the first draft, which was much longer, she immediately popped into my head. She has the right mix of neuroticism and dignity. Ari is often known for her comedic parts and she certainly can be very funny and has incredible timing, which is obviously something I was looking for. But she also brings a gravitas to her roles that I wanted. A lot of what Nina says is very honest and in a way, profound. She expresses misogyny, self-hatred… I didn’t want the movie to only play as a joke and Ari completely understood that.

On Labels Like “Woman Writer” And “Female Filmmaker”

My hope is years from now we will look back at this time and say, “Remember when we had to qualify everything as ‘female’ or ‘Latino’?” and then laugh. I find it astonishing that it is 2016 and we are basically still grappling with some sort of affirmative action in Hollywood when it comes to every so-called minority. But I understand the necessity of helping minorities now. Any club or group that helps people feel better about themselves or their work, is fine with me. Having said that, I personally have never joined a club, though I suppose Sundance could be seen as such.

On The Joys of the Sundance Labs and Her Upcoming Feature Film

It was an amazing and intense experience! I am in such awe of my fellows for giving so much of themselves and sticking to their ideals and also in awe of the advisors who selflessly donate their time and expertise to help us. For no other reason than to help!

My feature is similar in tone to Join the Club. It’s about a female stand up comic who finally meets a guy worth her time but has a hard time connecting to him due to her past. It’s very darkly funny and a lot of what we discussed at the Lab was how dark to let it be, exactly. It is very liberating and educational to be able to sit down with the likes of Susanna Grant or Paul Attanassio and go down writing paths with them. What if we let Nina be as dark as say, Shame, what would happen then? And you talk about it for 10 minutes and then realize why that’s not as exciting as something else. And then you go to lunch and listen to Walter Mosley talk! I urge every screenwriter out there to apply. Most of us apply a few times and get rejected before we are accepted. It’s a club. 🙂

Join the Club screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival as part of its Shorts Programs.