Ingrid Goes West is the directing debut of Hatboro native Matt Spicer, who caught the filmmaking bug watching movies while he was a student at Upper Moreland High School.
That’s when he went from being a consumer to a connoisseur, captivated by movies that prompted him to think about the art form in a new way.
“I can tell you right now what the movies were,” said Spicer, who stopped in Philadelphia recently to screen Ingrid for friends, family, and fans.
“[Brit crime thriller] Sexy Beast. I just watched it again and it really holds up. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, anything by [Paul Thomas] Anderson. Requiem for a Dream. Fight Club. They were all so different from the mass-market stuff that came through the multiplex, and it was the director’s voice making them so different. That was a real lightbulb moment for me. I wanted to be the guy who was making the decisions that make those movies so distinctive.”
And so he is in Ingrid Goes West, his acidly funny debut as a feature film director, based on his own original idea, which grew out of his desire to satirize the social media scene reshaping L.A., the town he traded Hatboro for. The story — about a young woman’s unhealthy obsession with a glamorous Instagram star — blends comedy and drama in a way that heralds Spicer’s unique voice as a filmmaker. And though Spicer makes the subject his own, you will notice an homage to Fight Club embedded in the script.
Spicer was propelled to USC’s film school with the help of his Upper Moreland English teacher — thanks, Mr. Cohen — and a confidence in his writing skill. Once out of school, Spicer cowrote a screenplay with Max Winkler (son of Henry, and a respected sitcom director) that didn’t get made, but that ended up on Hollywood’s famous Black List, a collection of the promising-but-unproduced scripts.
Meanwhile, he made a couple of shorts, produced Winkler’s movie Ceremony, and kept typing away, evaluating ideas.
Ingrid grew out of a lunchtime bull session Spicer had with writing partner David Branson Smith, on the general subject of social media.
“We were talking about Instagram, and that led to a larger conversation about the implications of social media, because it’s so present, especially in L.A.,” he said.
Increasingly, he said, performers need a following to advance their careers.
“Everyone’s building a brand. My girlfriend [Parenthood‘s Sarah Ramos], she’s on it for work, and she has 60,000 followers. Dave and I, on the other hand, have like 500 followers, so we’re basically just consumers,” he said.
Spicer was enough of a consumer to understand the hazards of the technology.
“It’s great for sharing and connecting, but there’s this obvious dark side. It can dredge up these negative feelings and insecurities. FOMO,” Spicer said, referencing the dreaded Fear of Missing Out. “You see your friends are hanging out, why didn’t they text me? Or, am I not wearing cool enough clothes? Or, am I not taking cool enough vacations? It can really get in your head.”
They set out to send up the L.A. social media scene, and arrived at the story of a deeply vulnerable young woman (Wilmington-born and -raised Aubrey Plaza) who becomes obsessed with an Instagram “influencer” (Elizabeth Olsen) and gets in over her head. They wrote it quickly, and submitted it to the Creative Artists Agency.
“We’re like, this is our next movie.”
And, incredibly, it was. Plaza read the script and loved it, so much so that she also signed on as producer. “That was a big help. When she came on, we started filling out other roles, and when [Olsen] agreed to do it, that was the keystone.”
Spicer had a chance to sell the movie to an online distribution platform but held out for a theatrical deal, which he got after the movie played at Sundance. Nothing against Netflix or Amazon, but he loves the theatrical experience. Especially for comedies like Ingrid. “Because of the timeliness of it, we had a shot at breaking through the clutter and tapping into the audience I knew would be out there for something that’s looking at these ideas and themes. Especially because it’s a comedy, and comedy really benefits from that communal experience,” Spicer said.
The movie is opening to good reviews — Spicer shows skill as a storyteller and gets a first-rate performance from Plaza — and the director’s stock is rising.
His next project is still secret, but it involves one of those “platforms” and the adaptation of a book he loves but can’t yet name. Suffice it to say the film (or series) will also be about technology.
“Ingrid sort of looked at the negative consequences of social media and technology. This would do the reverse, in a way. It’s looking at video games, and their potential as art. Can a game be something really positive in someone’s life? I think it can, and I’m willing to defend that idea in this film.”