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A Conversation with Joanna Arnow, Babak Tafti & Scott Cohen (THE FEELING THAT THE TIME FOR DOING SOMETHING HAS PASSED)

Joanna Arnow is a writer, director, cinematographer, editor and actress hailing from New York City. Prior to her feature debut The Feeling That The Time For Doing Something Has Passed, Joanna had already solidified herself as a filmmaker with a specific style through her short films I Hate Myself, Laying Out and Bad at Dancing. The Feeling… which is in theaters right now, was executively produced by Sean Baker and premiered at the Cannes 2023 festival in the directors fortnight category. The film is hilarious and absurd while being thematically rich and extremely well made. Scott Cohen has been a champion of indie cinema for over 20 years acting in many great films such as Active Adults and Louder than Words. Babak Tafti is a rising star having acted in the excellent Swallow as well some episodes of the hit Succession. It was an honor to speak to these 3 extremely talented people in the following interview edited for length and clarity.

Hammer To Nail: Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. As a New York Jew living in LA it was great to go back with this film. I really had a blast. It was so funny. I would love to know how the casting process worked. Particularly how you two got the roles. 

Joanna Arnow: Our casting process worked in different ways! We cast a lot of roles such as Scott and Babak, through the suggestions of friends who had worked with them before. We also had a terrific casting director Charlotte Arnoux who helped cast a lot of the roles, some from tapes. Then, I cast some folks I knew like my parents in hopes to add some authenticity to the piece.

HTN: Got it. Joanna, your performance is so great in this movie. You go places I am not confident most actors would. Where does that fearlessness come from and what’s it like to be so naked on set? For Scott and Babak you guys are playing characters that are outside the norm. What gives you guys the fearlessness to take on a project where your character is not the most likable always. 

Scott Cohen: I am not sure if it is fearlessness as much as it is a challenge and interest. Joanna took the lead and made it very easy for us to fall into this world that was a little more demanding in terms of creating a character. She was patient and interested. She was fabulous in her support of everything I came up with. It all comes from her. Just to go back to the casting, I got into it via one of the producers. I read the script but also saw her short that won in Berlin, I was then convinced that I wanted to be a part of anything she did. That is how I came to do it.

Babak Tafti: Piggy backing off of that, yes, it is all Joanna. She set the tone for everything. There was such clarity in everything she did. Her approach, what she wanted, etc. It kinda gave me that relaxation to go wherever I needed to go. I never really thought about it because she made it so clear this was the right path.

JA: Just to say a little bit more about casting Scott and Babak specifically, for those characters I was looking for comedy first and foremost. That is how I see this film however, I also needed that complexity to come through. The scenes are so dialog driven but Scott and Babak have such exciting presences. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to work with both of them! For me it is not really about fear or not fear. I was just really excited to make a project and act in it. It was such a gift to be able to act in the film I was making. I was not very preoccupied by questions of nudity myself. It was a step for sure, but in the end, we all have bodies and they are natural!

HTN: Joanna this script is great. What is your screenwriting process like? Do you treat it like a 9-5? 

JA: I usually work on a script a few hours a day. I was also working another job so I could not treat writing as my 9-5 at the time.

HTN: The roast chicken date in the park where they talk about Scott’s salary. Scott, why is this moment essential to understanding your character and for Joanna where did this idea come from? It’s amazing. 

SC: I would have to defer to Joanna as to why it is important to his character. There is a challenge of keeping things at the status quo while also trying to change to be more fresh. He is not exactly comfortable with including her in his normal world. That moment becomes one of the more telling moments for him as to where he is as a normal human being. He is not happy and awkward about communicating what his salary is. At the same time he is proud of what his salary is.

Scott Cohen in “The Feeling That The Time For Doing Something Has Passed”

JA: I am glad you asked about that scene. I do not think anyone else has! I like writing scenes that play with subtext. His mixed feelings about wanting to clarify his salary was funny to me. I wanted to explore the gray areas of that relationship. In some ways it is casual but there is this intimacy of what it looks like when they eat together. What people say and how they act with each other in those moments where things are not defined is very exciting to me. I like leaving audiences wondering about things such as, why is she not eating the chicken? I just hope people are left off balance by it

SC: You do not really see this much in film or television. The idea of how people eat in relationship to another person. It can be very telling. How a person eats, how much they are eating etc. You’re barely eating anything because you don’t want it sticking in your teeth. A scene like this is so freeing. You can really be present.

JA: You ate a lot of that chicken. Thank you haha.

SC: I did. It was good hahaha.

HTN: That sentiment of the gray area comes through in the moment where she takes out the plastic silverware and he demands that they use the real silverware. I love that level of detail. Babak in one of your first scenes you and Joanna share a kiss, If I am not mistaken it is the first kiss of the film. The mansplaining La dude kissed her forehead but otherwise I think not. Babak what was important to you in these opening moments and Joanna what’s your thinking behind this extended kiss the deleted text?

BT: It was a very fun scene to shoot. We were really trying to time it with the doors opening of the subway. It felt like we were stealing a moment. It’s that first date, the end of the night tension. That lingering look of are we going to do this? Are we going to kiss? It was just a very new york moment. I thought it came out pretty nicely.

JA: One of our producers was tracking on his phone when he thought we would be approaching the station. We had to really get the timing right because it was tricky. The dialog needed to happen before the kiss and the doors needed to open for the scene to end. I feel like that vulnerability at the end of the date, when there is that question of will you kiss, I find a lot of humor in realism and strange settings. The fact that that is happening on the subway. The humor of balancing while the train is slowing down.

HTN: It is a great moment. Two scenes back to back between you and Babak had me crying in laughter. He is drawing you seemingly failing to understand that this is meant to be sexual as he focuses on getting the proportions right. And then right after we cut to him on top of you making the most hilarious face while you are just straight faced and Babak says “I really like the faces you make.” Joanna what was the thinking behind these moments and Babak besides it being funny why do you think your character genuinely wants to make a nice drawing of her? 

JA: To me it’s a film about a character wrestling with sexuality, relationships and who she is going to be. She is exploring these two relationships. The misunderstanding about the drawing was another situation of the comedy of trying to figure things out. How can this aspect of the relationship be brought to the forefront in this very different style of relationship she is exploring.

BT: Chris is a very literal, genuine person. He takes the assignment very genuinely. With a lot of things when they are trying to find each other they are always just missing each other, particularly with their sexual and emotional language. My favorite scene in the movie for the Chris section is when we are watching the french short. Joanna does some incredible acting in this scene. She catches my hand rubbing her leg. The way I read the scene when I saw it is that she was learning a new form of intimacy of touch and expression. I found that to be such a beautiful moment as she is learning from him.

HTN: I was going to ask about that sequence! However, that leaves me time to ask about pickled herring which is more funny anyway! This was utterly hilarious to me. Why does your character actually find it endearing that Babak wants to share some pickled herring and for Babak you already talked about how genuine he is, but if there is anything you want to add as to why he thinks sharing pickled herring is a good idea for a date?

BT: That is a great question Jack haha. I will defer to Joanna on that one hahaha.

JA: I was interested in showing scenes of her exploring new things in that relationship. She does not like seafood as explained in that scene. There is comic tension about whether she will try it or not. As I remember Babak, you did spill the herring juice….

BT: Those jeans were never the same….

SC: Throw those out! Haha.

HTN: For each of your characters, physicality is so important. Joanna, what were your directions about the physicality, it really fits the tone of this world. For Babak and Scott what conscious decisions did you make about your physicality when entering this world. 

JA: The timing of these scenes was very important to me. One of my main goals in our rehearsal’s was just slowing down so we could find the space to explore those in between moments!

SC: Joanna created a space that was very freeing. The challenge was to be truly present in this very elongated sense of time for her character. I had to be clear about what I was doing in that space. For her to create this world where we could be awkward and uncomfortable, be present but never lose sense of who we were. That is a testament to her ability as a director and how well she knows herself. We fully followed her lead.

BT: Before we shot or anything, She was on top of where everyone was and would help mold the efficiency of movements that these scenes ask for. A head tilt there. A sudden timber of laughter. She was very specific which made it easy!

HTN: Thank you all so much for taking the time to speak with me today, I really thought the film was so excellent and Joanna, I will definitely be seated in theaters for your next one.

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS) 

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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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