Internet Scammers and Doom Scrolling Made Quinn Shephard’s Viral Hit ‘Not Okay’ | News

Appearing via Zoom in a sensible black T-shirt with a sparkly gold chain, writer and director Quinn Shephard is energetic and affectionate when she talks about her latest film Not alright, even when it comes to the harsher truths of our society. Following a woman’s misguided journey to become the internet’s next trending personality, the film is a satirical cautionary tale that shows how skewed social media characters influence the reality we live in. Starring Zoey Deutch (Danni Sanders), Dylan O’Brien (Colin), and Mia Issac (Rowan), the characters are connected by their collective use of the Internet to deal with trauma.

It was this absurd contrast between scrolling haunting headlines, influencer scandals and glossy beauty ads, as well as the resulting information overload, that gave birth to Shephard’s concept for the project. “Oddly enough, I thought, ‘When they finally pass laws and stop school shootings, stop everything, then this movie is no longer relevant and it’s going to be great,'” she says. Instead, “it’s getting more and more relevant, which is tragic.”

Hailing from Metuchen, New Jersey, Shephard performed as an actress before focusing solely on filmmaking. She has appeared in movies such as Unaccompanied Minorsin which she portrayed the sensitive but tough tomboy Donna Malone, and Cameron Post’s Wrong Teaching, where she played the lead’s best friend with benefits. The 27-year-old creative made her directorial debut with her feature film Blame about a taboo relationship between a drama teacher and an unstable student, which she also wrote, produced, acted in and edited. Shephard often creates multiple characters who are forced to make choices about the right or wrong ways to act in an effort to grapple with difficult themes such as bullying, abuse, and the addictive nature of popularity.

“I consider myself a very political person,” she says. “Talking about important topics is really crucial to me and my art.” And with Not alrightthat starts with the need to see more nuanced views of femininity on screen, even unkind ones.

MTV News: You Directed Not alright, your second big movie, only 27 years old. What prompted you to direct in the first place?

Quinn Shephard: I was an actress from a young age. My mother got me into acting at a young age and guided me for a few years. I made my first movie Blame, when I was 20, and my mom and I produced it together. She raised me to love movies. We used to watch foreign movies in my house, and other movies, almost every night. Outside of such a great 80s and 90s film school, she showed me all the old Winona Ryder movies – Heathers, The Virgin Suicides, Heavenly Creatures. All these movies impressed me when I was a teenager.

I started taking film classes when I was in high school, just a film program at a New Jersey public school. I always felt very safe on set. I felt like it was a place where I could watch movies. It was always me and six guys doing costume makeup and running around with cameras and boom mics who were just idiots. It was so much fun, and it was always where I felt really happy. I knew it was the only place where I could combine all my passions and all the different art forms I enjoy.

MTV News: What inspired you to make this movie and focus on social media?

shepherd: It was honestly something that came out of the world around me the moment I started working on it. It was around 2018 when I was writing the first draft of the script, so it was Summer of Scam, Caroline Calloway articles at the same time, but then also this massive surge in Trump-era violence and politics. I’d go on Twitter and see that next to skincare ads and influencers, and it was really bizarre. I felt angry and anxious and wanted to talk about that feeling that so many young people went through at the time. It was like you couldn’t look away from your phone, doom scrolling, but when you were on your phone you felt like it was almost disconnected from reality. Writing the script felt like a way to combine the darkness and absurd frivolity we lived with on a daily basis and the resulting fear into a film concept.

MTV News: I love that the movie has an unattractive female lead. What made you want to go that way?

shepherd: I always like a complicated, morally grey, unsympathetic woman at the center of a story. We don’t see it enough. I like satire! We’ve had so many iconic satirical movies with extremely unsympathetic men in the middle like [American Psycho’s] Unsympathetic guys at the Patrick Bateman level, and there’s never been a problem with people understanding where those movies stand politically. Men have long been used as vessels for satire. I thought it was really exciting to make a movie like this where the dedication was to have an unsympathetic woman who does a lot of problematic things, which are also very specific to a young woman on the internet. It’s a bit polarizing. Some people say, “Why put a woman in this movie?” I’m like, “Why not?”

Quinn Shephard takes selfies in front of ring lights and cameras.

MTV news: Not alright seems to ask people to explore their personal feelings about cancel culture through Danni’s dilemma. What do you want viewers to take away from this film?

shepherd: There is no one right answer to social media or cancel culture. I think they are both complicated subjects. There’s no world where I want people to watch this movie and think, “Oh, throw your phone in the ocean. Your phone is bad.” It was more about getting a real sense and sense of humor about the absurdity of the internet, as well as really understanding how it magnifies what we feel as a country right now. As young people living in America, I think the Internet is a magnifying glass for our emotions, privileges and prejudices. All of this affects the media we consume on a daily basis. It affects who we are.

I think it’s the same with cancel culture. It can be an incredibly toxic practice where we send rape and death threats to women, which is not a solution for those who make a mistake. That’s not going to help them grow. On the other hand, it is very important to hold people accountable for their actions. The movie was a lot about exploring something that we now live with – it’s a real part of our world. I really wanted to explore, “What’s a satisfying ending for a character like this? What can we best hope for? Is it satisfying to watch them suffer in front of an audience? Is watching a happy ending a happy ending?” I wanted to follow that line and see where we ended up with the story.

As young people living in America, I think the Internet is a magnifying glass for our emotions, privileges and prejudices. All of this affects the media we consume on a daily basis. It affects who we are.

MTV News: Mia Issac brought fire and passion to her role as Rowan, a gun control advocate dealing with trauma. What was it like working with her?

shepherd: Mia is incredible. Her performance in the movie is so beautiful. It was such an honor to work with her on set. She was so young, just 17 when we filmed, and this was her second acting project ever. She brings everything of herself with her every day. Every scene we worked on had playlists. We would sit and talk about the moments and the emotions that her character went through. It was very easy to work with her. I think she had a really deep connection with Rowan. It was that fire and that passion that drew me to her for the part, and she just rocked.

MTV News: Zoey Deutch and Dylan O’Brien add nuance to their roles as Danni and Colin. Why did you choose them to portray these characters?

shepherd: I don’t think Dylan had played a similar role before, but he is such a talented comedic actor. He’s also so great at drama. For me it was a gut feeling. We had a similar view of the role. I had a Zoom meeting with him and I could just tell he had a great sense of humor and knew who this guy was the same way I did. We were both like, ‘Pete Davidson. Justin Bieber. Machine gun Kelly. Blonde hair, tattoos.” We were very excited and sent each other the most ridiculous outfit photos and were instantly in the mood. I knew he would really transform himself and he really did. He’s a little unrecognizable in the character in a great way.

With Zoey, I loved her work in so many projects. I loved her in Flower. I saw an ad for the premiere of Tribeca and I really liked that performance. It was on my mind when I was writing Not alright. I pictured her in my head when I was working on it because she is so amazing at being an incredibly brave actress who isn’t afraid to play unsympathetic women, but also gives amiability and vulnerability to all of her characters. This is no different. She worked so hard for Danni. The fact that she cringes one minute and you really feel for her the next, that’s something very special.

MTV News: Made it Not alright Has your own relationship with social media changed?

shepherd: I really wish I could be like, “Yeah, I’m not on Instagram anymore.” But the problem is that the movie made me more online because the research for it required me to be immersed in the internet. I’m always on my phone because I’m always trying to keep up with the trends and what’s on TikTok. I was in my hotel room and I thought, “I need to get a ‘fit photo’.” I thought, “Oh my god, I’m literally becoming Danni.” Maybe I’ll do a social media cleanup after the press. Thanks for reminding me.

MTV news: Not alright can be categorized as a political movie. Do you see yourself making films in the future that are equally concerned with politics?

shepherd: It’s funny I think Not alright a fairly political film. My next project, which I can’t share too much about yet, is a story that I think also has many social and political themes. It’s hard to say if I’d make a movie marketed like that, because I like to show people Trojan horses something that feels entertaining but ends up confronting them with a lot of social issues.

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