Apps like Tinder have made it much, much easier to find dates, but have they made it harder to be in a relationship and find love? That’s one of the big questions posed by The Browsing Effect, a new film written and directed by Michael K. Feinstein.
I had the opportunity to speak with Feinstein about how he created this ensemble story and the various challenges of micro-budget filmmaking.
Angela Bourassa: How did this story begin for you? Did it start with the big idea or maybe with one particular character?
Michael K. Feinstein: In 2012 I graduated from college and, at around the same time, Tinder went live. I was 22, single, and I had just moved to LA where I knew almost no one. So naturally I started using apps to meet women, and for a while that was the entire extent of my social life. Just date after date after date. After about a year or two of this I started to think about what a movie about online dating would look like. Every time I saw dating apps in television or in movies it was always as a joke—a punchline about desperate and/or horny people. The idea that no one had really treated the topic seriously before really excited me as a writer. So The Browsing Effect really started with the idea of writing a comedy about online dating that still treated the topic seriously and didn’t condescend to the characters.
Angela Bourassa: Ok, so then how did you go about reverse engineering your characters and their individual arcs from that big idea?
Michael K. Feinstein: I knew I wanted to write a movie that encapsulated some of my experiences with online dating, but unfortunately my life does not unravel in a three act structure. So for a while I had no real idea. Then, on a friend’s recommendation, I watched this movie—Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice—a really funny, insightful comedy from 1969 about two couples at the end of the sexual revolution and how their relationships affect one another. I loved the film and I also recognized how its structure could be adjusted to fit the themes that I wanted to talk about.
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice is ultimately a film about how as humans we always feel that the grass is greener on the other side—which is obviously a complex that has been greatly heightened by social media and online dating. Based on what we see on our phones, our friends’ relationships are more functional than ours, they have nicer apartments than we do, eat better looking spaghetti than we do, et cetera, et cetera. This idea and how it was expressed in that film cued me in to what my story was ultimately going to be about—love, friendship, and jealousy.
Angela Bourassa: Did you always intend to direct and star in this film, and if so, how did that effect your writing process?
Michael K. Feinstein: Yes. I always intended to direct this and wrote it with that in mind. So that meant, during the writing process, making sure that any idea I had was ultimately something that could be accomplished on a micro-budget. No car crashes or big set pieces. Just a lot of people talking in doors. So then it became about how to make that interesting—how to write these scenes so that the world never felt small.
Angela Bourassa: What was the process of getting this movie made like for you? What were the hardest steps along the way? Or on the flip side, was there anything that magically fell into place and helped you move forward?
Michael K. Feinstein: We made this film independently on a budget of less than $200K. Once I was able to secure most of the budget from private investors—many of whom were friends and family—I brought on two friends of mine from film school, Roan Bibby and Paul Perez, to produce it with me. From there we went about hiring a crew, finding locations (which might have been the most difficult step), and casting over 30 speaking roles with the help of a wonderful casting director we hired named Susan Deming.
We also called in every possible favor that we could think to ask. Many of the characters’ apartments are owned by people that someone on the crew knew, nearly all my friends are in the background at one point, and my mother—of course—did craft services. We shot it over 19 days, edited and re-edited it dozens of times over the course of the next nine months—showing it to several test audiences to gauge what was working and what wasn’t, and then did a Kickstarter to raise finishing funds like music licensing, color correction, and sound mixing.
Every step along the way was difficult in some sense but also wildly rewarding and fun. I’m very grateful that the cast that we found was able to fall in place, and at times it does feel a bit like magic.
Angela Bourassa: Which character or storyline was the most fun to write?
Michael K. Feinstein: I have to be honest, I don’t find the actual act of writing to be fun. I enjoy coming up with ideas and beginning the outlining process, and I enjoy doing late drafts of my scripts where I am fine-tuning and polishing. But I find the actual act of writing to be incredibly arduous. Trying to get your ideas on the page the way they feel in your head is like trying to open a door with a key that very nearly fits. So while no character or storyline was particularly “fun” to write, I’d have to say the Ben storyline was maybe the most emotionally satisfying since it was the closest to my own personal experiences.
Angela Bourassa: Ensembles are tricky, because you need to balance so much. What was your strategy for plotting the various storylines and interweaving them?
Michael K. Feinstein: That balance is tricky, and it was something that I was constantly considering during the writing process—which meant a lot of outlining. However, it wasn’t until we got to the editing stage that I really felt like I got a handle on the balance and how much to show of any one character’s journey.
Angela Bourassa: I always like to ask, what’s something that you learned during the process of making this film that you wish you had known when you first started?
Michael K. Feinstein: Everything takes longer than you think it’s going to take and everything is more expensive than you think it’s going to be.
The Browsing Effect will be On Digital and On Demand on April 9, 2019.