Tribeca Film Festival 2020 interview: Filmmaker Justin Fair on his highly stylised short, ‘Sloan Heart Neckface’

Synopsis: Sloan (Clara Mamet) has a not-so-low-key crush on Neckface, an anonymous graffiti artist. Neckface (Raúl Castillo) has less-than-resolved intimacy issues and a no relationship policy. Which he makes abundantly clear to his obsessive fan girl. That is, until Neckface realizes he and Sloan may be the same kind of crazy; and embarks on a mission to win her back. Which may or may not involve exploiting his roommate (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), stealing a much-coveted pair of sneakers, and incurring the wrath of a ferocious lunch lady.
Appearing in the New York Shorts Program at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival 2020, Sloan Hearts Neckface is something special. It’s an incredibly engaging 15 minutes. It was like watching a tennis match of NYC characters. As a New Yorker, it really felt like home. It’s visually vibrant and quite emotionally turbulent. I was lucky enough to speak with filmmaker Justin Fair on what makes Sloan Hearts Neckface as unique as it is. Check out our interview and the teaser trailer below.
Did the initial script look and feel like the now finished film?
Yes! I hope so anyway. I hope we captured what was great about the script. Some things we captured quite literally from what was written, a lot we cut, and a lot we elaborated on, but I hope the essence remained intact.
I adore that each character has a signature color. Whose decision was that?
It’s great to hear that translates! We had an extremely talented Art Director, Lydia White, who lives in a Shell House. She created these beautiful mood boards consisting of a lot of Blues and Reds and we decided to run with that. I wanted not only for the characters to have a certain color, but also to have those colors impose themselves on the other characters at certain times of the story.
Have you ever had someone who was, shall we say, “a little more than enthusiastic”, pursue you?
Haha. I can’t say that I’ve ever been pursued in the way Sloan pursues Neckface in the film. I’ve never had that pleasure.
Who does the art on the letters?
We had a whole team of artists work on the art. I thought it important that each character’s artwork came from a different artist. The Neckface character actually had several artists: Jeff Weinberg did the sketches on the Priority Mail stickers, Landon Webb designed all but one of the tags. The big practical tag that Neckface rips off the fence was done by John Gagliano. Jenny Herbert created all of Sloan’s artwork. Henry White did Lester’s portraits of Sloan, and Ruth Sylvestre did the other Lester drawings. Really proud of all their work, thank you for asking.
Are Neckface’s tags real? 
Absolutely not haha! There’s actually only one practical tag in the film and that was one made on our own materials. The rest of the tags that appear on subway beams, buildings, and monuments were created and then added afterward by a great VFX guy, Matt Brant. He did all the compositing, tracking and rotoscoping.
I love that this is essentially a string of monologues. Did Ian Grody sit in on casting? 
It is a string of monologues! Initially, it was just two monologues that Ian wrote for a magazine, if I’m not mistaken. Later he expanded it to several more monologues for an evening of staged readings at NYU- which is where we met. He eventually adapted it into the short film script. Ninety percent of the actors in the film are friends of Ian and mine. We never held auditions.
Do you have a favorite short film?
No, I can’t say I do. I don’t get to see enough of them. There are a lot of places online to see them now, but I prefer to see them in a theater. The earliest short films I remember seeing are Charlie Chaplin’s. I still have a big love for them.
What directors inspire you?
So many greats. I love both the classics and contemporary stuff. For inspiration, I look to Scorsese, Cassavetes, Kubrick, Ozu, Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Fincher, Sofia Coppola, Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, Denis Villeneuve, Wes Anderson
What is the most rewarding part of directing for you, and also what is the most challenging? 
The most rewarding part of directing is for me is being surprised by my collaborators. If your collaborators feel like they can take risks and be heard and their contributions will be honored (as opposed to having their job/performance dictated to them), then they will give to the film in beautiful and surprising ways. In other words, if I’ve created the space for everyone involved to feel like they own a piece of the film, then we all got to do what we came to do and that love will show up on the screen. That’s when I feel most successful as a director. The most challenging part of directing is the discipline of rolling with the punches because things will always go wrong. When they do, the challenge is to embrace it as a chance for creative problem-solving. I try and trust that it’s just the film finding its own way. It pretty much always leads to something better than what was planned.