An Imaginary Friend With Benefits

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Creepy and hilarious, Mister Handsome explores what happens when a woman reconnects with a childhood imaginary friend and romance blossoms. After losing her job, Emily is forced to move back in with her parents, entertaining herself by reimagining good times with her old friend, Mister Handsome. In a gleeful montage sequence, the two use teddy bears for archery practice and frolic like kids. Things get weird later, though, when innocent fun gives way to grownup sexual attraction. The film was written and directed by Jason Wishnow, who is the film and video director for TED. Along with co-writer Suzanne Wrubel, he discusses the making of Mister Handsome in an interview below. 

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of the project? 

Suzanne Wrubel: I liked playing on the idea that all of these romantic comedies and idealized depictions of love and romance we constantly see have made our expectations of finding "the one" so high that the only person that could ever actually satisfy them would be an imaginary person of our own creation.  

Jason Wishnow: When Suzanne first said she wanted to write a love story between a girl and her imaginary friend, the original premise was more candy coated but I thought it would be hilarious if their relationship was purely carnal and he later turned out to be a real dick. I was fascinated by how childhood visions of perfection become clouded as we move into adulthood. She and I were both drawn to the image of a successful girl forced by circumstance to move back in with her parents and the humiliating regression that inevitably follows. It's something I experienced, myself, when I directed Oedipus with vegetables, and it seems to be a trend these days. 

Heather Burns really carries the comedy of this woman who refuses to let go of her imaginary childhood friend. How did you go about casting the film? 

Wishnow: Heather Burns was my first choice for "Emily" and I would like to see her take more leading roles in the future. We knew each other through mutual friends and she and Ajay Naidu are, in fact, a real-life couple. People always recognize Ajay from Office Space but he had just completed his feature directing debut, a film called Ashes, when I asked if he would come on board. Emily's “parents,” Beth Grant and Michael Chieffo, are also married off screen. I thought it might add an interesting twist to have these two couples play off each other. I reached out to Miles Fisher after seeing his very viral and hilariously brilliant American Psycho-inspired online video in which he performs a perfect impersonation of Christian Bale. After all, the ultimate threat to Mister Handsome has to be threateningly dashing. The little girl is the daughter of a childhood friend who reconnected with me on Facebook a few weeks prior to shooting. Finally, this is only a cameo, but the script explicitly mentions a "dapper gentleman" in the restaurant scene so I called up Steven Chen from the band the Airborne Toxic Event, for whom I'd made a couple music videos in the past. He was soooo excited to be on set with Heather and Ajay!

What was the production process like?

Wishnow:Production was a whirlwind. We shot in Los Angeles, an underappreciated city when it comes to independent filmmaking. Melissa Lee, our producer, had just returned to the States from shooting the Sundance award-winning film Circumstance, and David Waldman, our Director of Photography, had spent the previous week working with me shooting the TED Conference. 

Some of my favorite moments in Mister Handsome came from little bits we improvised during production and pre-production. I've posted the original script to Mister Handsome on my website for comparison, but the final film came out pretty close.

What's next for you? 

Wishnow: In accordance with Mayan prophesy, 2012 is the year when I will direct my first feature film. I'm also collaborating with the journalist Lisa Katayama to finish a full-length documentary about the nuclear meltdown in Japan.

And I will continue working with TED to creative-direct TEDTalks, something I've been doing for the past five years, though now in a part-time capacity so I can focus more energy on directing my own projects. 

For more work by Jason Wishnow, visit http://www.wishnow.com/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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