Emily The Criminal is the debut film from writer/director John Patton Ford. Having celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the film stars Aubrey Plaza shining in a performance we have yet to see her take on. We had the opportunity to discuss the film with Patton Ford and how he came up with the idea, what he learned most, and what it was like working with a screen legend.
Where's The Remote?
So my first question is related to what really drew me into the film in the first place. A lot of crime films tend to glamorize the activity presented. You think of the flashy cars, the great clothing and jewelry. With this though, it's moreso out of necessity. That literal need to pay off loans and get through your daily meals. Can you talk about what you kept in mind when crafting a story surrounding that necessity?
John Patton Ford
I just wanted to keep it kind of every day, and sort of relatable. I didn't want to indulge in a sort of crime that felt inaccessible to audiences. I didn't want something about mansions or drug running; Anything that felt kind of elite or not in our world. I wanted audiences to think, "Oh, this is probably going on on my street somewhere". So just giving people the unexpected, and keeping it accessible is what I wanted. That was the mantra the whole time, you know: "Just keep it real". That's where it all started.
So is that what brought you into wanting to focus on credit card fraud specifically?
Yeah, a number of years ago when I lived in a neighborhood in LA, I could kind of tell there was some sketchy criminal activity going on. I didn't know exactly what it was, but then sure enough, there was this massive FBI bust. I think it was in 2012, where they arrested like 97 people. So I read everything online that the FBI had charged them with, and one of the things was this bizarre credit card scheme where they would just take random people off the street, make dummy cards for them, and then send them off on shopping sprees. And I thought it was the most bonkers idea. So that's kind of where that initial idea came from. Plus, I thought, "Well, you can make a really suspenseful sequence out of someone trying to buy an item with a stolen credit card". And you would need so few resources to shoot that. You could do it cheaply, and it would still feel like a suspenseful set piece. So it was a little mercenary, and as a filmmaker, I thought it would be good and cheap [laughs].
Another big draw surrounding this film is that it features a performance from Aubrey Plaza that we really haven't seen her tackle. So I was just curious, when you were writing the role, did you have her in mind? And what was the most important thing to you about writing Emily?
I actually didn't have anybody in mind. I was thinking, "Maybe I'd make this movie any way I could". Even if it was on my phone or something. But when I gave it to a friend of mine for notes, he actually knows Aubrey, so he said, "Hey, I think she would like this, let me give it to her". So it got to her totally unplanned; And it just turned out to be the perfect thing. Then when I was crafting the character, I wanted someone who was really relatable. Somebody the audience would see themselves in. Except this character, for whatever reason, is slightly more enabled than we are to just go for it and do the things that we are just slightly too afraid to do; Whether it be her behavior in a job interview or just her willingness to take a small risk. I wanted this character to embody, "This is us... If we just had a little more caffeine".
Those job interview scenes in particular were incredibly cathartic. One of the highlights of those scenes is obviously Gina Gershon making an appearance. So I was just curious what it was like to be working with a screen legend, especially on your debut film?
Yeah, it was awesome man. We actually didn't have that cast until the last minute, and we were just trying to figure out who it should be. We were basically shooting the movie and still casting. And then it turned out to be Gina, so we were all high fiving about that. If you know who she is, there's this entire thing that she just brings on arrival. And I can tell you this much man. Aubrey is tough and she's just such a strong person. And so is Gina Gershon. Seeing them together in the same room, at the same time, you kind of want to just back away slowly [laughs]. They are way too tough and powerful for their own good [laughs again]. But that's exactly what we wanted. We wanted two people who could just cancel each other out in terms of power.
With this being your debut, what was the most important thing that you learned when making this film? What are you going to bring along the rest of your career?
Collaborators, you know? The people that I got to work with on this are just wonderful, whether it be the cinematographer, Jeff Bierman, or the production designer, Liz Toonkel, who also just did Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, which is out right now. I was fortunate to get really great people who bent over backwards to do this. And that's the thing I'm excited about. I'm really excited about working with a lot of these people again in the future. That, and you know, remembering to drink a lot of water. I think I'm going to take that one with me because I probably didn't do that enough.
Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment will release Emily The Criminal exclusively in theaters on August 12th, 2022.