Photo credit: Jason Kempin/Getty for Mei Makino; Anna Martinez for Emily Garrett
Inbetween Girl is a quirky and personal coming-of-age dramedy, and one of my favorites from 2021’s SXSW Film Festival. The film follows young artist, Angie (Emma Galbraith), as she struggles to find herself in the wake of her parents’ divorce. Hunky Liam (William Magnuson) and his Insta-famous girlfriend, Sheryl (Emily Garrett), become entwined in Angie’s life shortly after she starts working on a video-diary time capsule. Angie’s casual flirtation with Liam evolves into something else entirely, creating a ripple effect that extends to every facet of Angie’s teenage existence.
This week, the film’s director, Mei Makino, as well as the three leads, Emma, William, and Emily, joined us to chat about Inbetween Girl’s inception, the speedy film shoot, character specifics, and sequel ideas! Read on for my exclusive interview with director Mei Makino, and the cast of Inbetween Girl.
I want to say congrats to all of you guys on your first South by Southwest! I thought this movie was very charming, and unconventional. I admired it for breaking the mold of the traditional rom-com, and coming of age story. Can you tell me about how each of you got involved in the project?
MEI MAKINO: I wrote it in 2017, in a writers group, and I wasn’t planning on making it. I was just, “Oh, I’m going to write something!” My friends (who then became producers on the film) really pushed to make it. So shout out to Matt Striker and Connor Pickens who said: “you need to make this film!”
EMMA GALBRAITH: I auditioned, but I was connected through a short film that I was working on at the time. The director of that project knows Mei, and actually worked on sound for Inbetween Girl. He knew Mei was casting a proof of concept video, and sent her my audition tape for his film. She reached out to me while I was writing an email to her asking if I can audition. I’d seen the casting call a few days before.
WILLIAM MAGNUSON: I remember, I applied to audition, but someone told me about the project in advance. It was through the same kind of organization that Emma was working with. It was really funny that both of us had this connection to get onto this project, and auditioning for it. I had no idea what I was getting into and now—wow, I had no idea how lucky I was to be in that room, at that library.
EMILY GARRETT: I’m from San Antonio, not Austin, where you guys are all from. I love looking for auditions, and things to work for. I think it was Texas Gov, something that has film projects posted that people are working on. I saw an open cast on there. I checked it in high school all the time. Oh my goodness—so exciting.
It’s actually funny, during my self-tapes, I was camp counseling at a summer camp. One of my summer campers actually filmed my audition tapes for me. I honestly did not think they were good. I’m not going to get a call back, but it’s okay. That was fun. Whatever. I felt kind of weird—my summer camper filmed my audition for me.
That was so fun, because then I got call backs, and auditioned there. I came back, and I was still camp counseling. They were like, “how did it go?” All these kids are so excited about movies. When I got the email that I got the part, they were all so happy for me. I think my campers are super excited about this film, because they’re in the process with me as well.
I was reading that you guys filmed this in only 15 days. That’s crazy to me, because it definitely doesn’t translate over to the film’s quality. Was this a tense shoot, because it was so short, or was it more freeing to have so little time to get it together?
MEI: I have to give so, so, so much credit to Ivy Chu. She is our director of photography. She is so smart. At the top of the day, I would show her my shot list. How can we simplify this without getting in the way of the narrative? We would basically go over the approximate blocking. How can we cover this in a way that gets everyone in the scene, but lowers the amount of shots?
That would be really helpful. I would go into a scene, and I would have eight shots, and Ivy would say, “No, need this down to three!” You had to go, go, go, and credit to the cast. I basically, in my head, had a three take rule. We’re not going over three takes, we don’t have the time. Luckily enough, most scenes we only needed three takes, because they nailed it. Ivy, her GNE team, and her camera team, were super hardworking, and made us get through.
Liam is in a love triangle with both Cheryl and Angie. Do you think that your character, Liam, is ever truly in love with Angie, or do you think he’s only a footnote in her life?
WILLIAM: Definitely a footnote. I think he likes her on some levels, but he doesn’t care about her enough to do her justice in any kind of way. So he rationalizes what he’s doing, and says that he likes her, and maybe even convinces himself that he loves her. But that’s not love, that’s something else. I have no idea what that is.
I love the way that the sex scene wasn’t exploitative, and how it went to a black screen. We only hear the characters talking and the reactions. It was almost giving them privacy from the viewer’s eye. Was this always a goal, to subvert the typical onscreen depictions of sex?
MEI: The first script had full-out sex scenes, but when we were shooting, Emma was a minor. Legally, we couldn’t do that. So we had to think of a creative way. Originally, when I rewrote it, we’re going to different points in the room. It was more comical. The stuffed animals are watching them, you know.
When we got in the editing room, our brilliant editor, Connor Pickens, said it should be black. I would argue—maybe we should have an animation here. Then I tried a lot of different ideas. I tried writing all the text out. I tried coming up with an animation that symbolized what was going on. I tried all those things, and it didn’t feel right.
That goes to what you said: it is an incredibly intimate moment. Letting the viewer’s imagination take hold was a great call. Both the composer, Andrew Zhang, and Connor Pickens, our editor, really loved the idea of having that drum build go along with the black. Credit to them. It ended up being the right choice.
I noticed that the character of Angie wore a hat in almost every scene. What made you decide to give Angie this character quirk, and how much of yourself did you put into Angie?
EMMA: The hat was Mei’s. I’m actually looking at it right now. It’s hanging on my bedroom doorknob. The hat was not my creation. That was entirely Mei, but I definitely formed a strong bond with it. It’s like a Binky, in a lot of ways, just a comfort object. It is her shield against the world. I really tried to portray that as well.
To the other part of your question, there’s a lot of me in Angie. That’s most apparent in the scenes where she’s talking about China, but also her background as it relates to China. Conversations we had about putting China in the movie, and having her dad be from this particular city Fuzhou in China—that’s where my mother is from. References to that are from my personal experience being half from China.
In addition to that, the experience of being a teenage half-Asian half-white girl in high school, feeling like I didn’t belong. Those are all feelings that I had. At the time we shot, I was 17, and when I was cast, I was 16. I was right around Angie’s age. Definitely those experiences fed into what became Angie’s character, as we developed her.
Angie and Sheryl’s friendship was one of the most surprising parts in the movie. That’s an angle we don’t usually see from this type of film. From the script, what made you excited to play this role?
EMILY: I love the dynamic as well. It was surprising of course, but not really that much for me. You don’t see it a lot, but it felt very natural. They’re just getting to know each other. She had these assumptions about her beforehand. Then, we had some really fun scenes together, for a project, and everything seems it would fit really well.
When I met Emma, we got along so easily that I was really, really comfortable. This is super fun! Sheryl, the character herself, I can relate to a lot. She was such a joy to play. It’s nice to play someone who I feel has layers, and is trying to be as genuine as she can. She’s still getting to know herself, and it was nice to make connections in that way. People wouldn’t expect it, but at the same time, it’s just girls! It’s girls in high school, making friends, and getting to know each other at the end of the day, which is super nice.
Do you think that Liam is ultimately a good guy? Do you think there’s justification for some of his more selfish actions in the latter part of the film?
WILLIAM: I don’t think he’s a good guy, and there’s no justification for his actions. He’s a human being, he doesn’t deserve to die, but he masks himself as this good, goofy guy. I think he falls for his own BS and he’s like, I’m a goofy guy. I’m cool. I’m not mean to people. I’m nice. I say nice things.
His actions really say otherwise. So ultimately, he’s a bad guy, but, he’s a work in progress. He’s learning obviously, and he’s a human being, but I think there’s literally no justification for how he behaves in this movie.
There aren’t many coming of age films out there that approach things from a biracial perspective, and emphasize interesting cultural differences. How much personal experience was here, and how did you go about incorporating it into the script itself?
MEI: I’m actually half Japanese. I still relate to what Angie goes through; with not being able to speak the language, with feeling disconnected from your parents, from going to a school where everyone’s white, and you look different. Everyone expects you to be one way. So, so much of that comes from both me, and Emma.
I had one last question for all of you. If you were ever to make a hypothetical sequel, or continuation, where would you see these characters going from here? Where do you think Angie maybe goes to college?
MEI: Angie is probably going to go to an art school somewhere, in Texas, or she might major in art at UT. I would love to see Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight. I would love to see one of those types of movies with Angie and Sheryl. That would be so interesting. 10 years down the line, these young women have grown into whatever they want to be. Sheryl’s a famous actress, Angie’s a famous artist. They’ve both been through more throes of life, and they have a little bit more maturity, and a better idea of how the world works. I would love to spend two hours listening to them talk.
EMMA: Angie’s a famous artist, Sheryl’s a famous actress, and they work on a movie together called Inbetween Girl. No, what I would give to see the sequel where Angie and Sheryl become buddies again later in life after they’ve grown. There’s so much potential there for such a good love story, be it platonic or romantic. I know people who watched the film really wanted Sheryl and Angie to get together. There’s so much potential there for such a good relationship. I definitely would want to see that.
EMILY: Can you tell we’re hinting at something? We grew so close to these characters. That’s why we have so much fun talking about this. I think Sheryl’s pursuing theater somewhere, having a good time with that. I love Sheryl and Angie’s balanced dynamic. How she’s a little more mellow socially, and then Sheryl is more, “Oh my gosh, wow!” What about you, William? Where do you think Liam is? I’m curious.
WILLIAM: I think Liam has to have an ego death. He needs to go into some tropical jungle, and eat a mushroom, and just become a different human being.
Thanks again to Mei Makino, Emma Galbraith, William Magnuson, and Emily Garrett for chatting about their fantastic film, Inbetween Girl. The full interview will be up soon on our Youtube channel, and will be posted here as well. This year, South By Southwest went completely virtual, and took place March 16th – 20th.
To obtain more information about the festival, please visit http://www.sxsw.com.