Alison Brie added another impressive notch to her writing belt with the film Spin Me Round, screening at the Cinequest Film Festival Wednesday evening (September 17) at 7:15 p.m. PT at the Hammer Theatre Centre in San Jose, California. Spin Me Round will be in theaters, On Demand, and streaming on AMC+ August 19th.
The movie marks the third feature film writing credit for Brie, who plays “Amber” in addition to co-writing the movie about a woman who wins an all-expenses-paid trip to her company’s facility outside of Florence and the chance to meet the restaurant chain’s rich, charismatic owner.
As Alison has impressed with her acting in major projects like Community, Glow, and Mad Men over the years, as well as 70-plus other works, I found myself zeroing in on the story, character development, and jokes in Spin Me Round — which all flowed beautifully like an Italian red — that she helped create.
Brie co-wrote the film with Jeff Baena, who directed the movie. Molly Shannon had plenty of room to steal scenes and Aubrey Plaza and Alessandro Nivola gave strong, memorable performances as well.
Alison had worked with Baena and Shannon on previous films and was game to give it another whirl for Spin Me Round.
“It was so fantastic. This is the fourth film that I’ve made with Jeff and this was a big reunion from our film The Little Hours, it was a reunion between us and Italy, also Molly Shannon, Aubrey Plaza, Fred Armisen were all in that film and this film,” Brie said via Zoom video on Monday. “Me, Molly, and Aubrey have all been in four out of five Jeff Baena films, we’re like the ‘Baena Players’.
“So it was really fun to be back together. It does feel nice to be a part of almost an acting company and get to work with people again and again in different capacities and playing different roles. When Jeff and I were writing this, even though we weren’t totally sure of their availability because you never know when [it’s going to happen], we definitely wrote with Molly and Aubrey’s characters in mind and that’s really fun too.
“It’s a great advantage to be able to picture the person as you’re writing the role for them and this one was especially fun because all the other times I worked with Molly — in Horse Girl, and in The Little Hours — we had Molly playing much more subdued characters and this time we really got to let her have a lot of fun, we really got to unleash Molly and she’s so funny. Obviously Molly is such an incredible talent so it’s really fun to just let her go wild.”
Alison was prepared for Molly’s unrestrained comedic talents as she had sharpened the skill of not breaking earlier in her acting career.
“I have to say I’m really good at not breaking,” Brie said. “I honed this skill at Community where I was just surrounded by so many hilarious people all the time and really had to learn to keep a straight face and I think on this film, I really felt like it was my responsibility to anchor the tone and Amber is such a passive character watching all of these kooky characters acting out around her and it’s such an important part of the tone of the movie so I think I was like, ‘This is on your shoulders to not break, to really be in the moment.’
“And that scene where Molly is borrowing clothes, perfectly encapsulates me and Jeff’s sense of humor and how much we like to highlight these really awkward human interactions and that all depends on how seriously the two of us are taking this, being in the moment, so it’s really key.
“You know, the harder scene for me was when we were in the hallway and she comes out and she’s in lingerie and is yelling at me in the hall. That was a more difficult scene for me to keep a straight face because Molly just was riffing on a lot of that stuff and it was so funny.”
Alison looks back on her time on the hit comedy series Community fondly. The show impacted the way she approaches creating characters and stories.
“On Community, I don’t remember a lot of improvisation,” Brie, who played “Annie” in the series, said. “They usually let Donald (Glover), like ‘Donald, if you can beat that button give us a few different ones.’ But where we got to have our fun was more just like in the execution of these characters and the more that we all took ownership over our own characters.
“Annie-isms were created by me and my take on certain performance things, as were everybody’s character’s isms. When it comes to writing and working in a different capacity and even my couple forays into directing or producing, co-producing, I think everything goes into it.
“My experiences on Community and on Mad Men and on every job, it’s like I’ve been afforded this luxury of working with so many different people, watching, especially working in TV, working with so many different directors and seeing the different approach that all different directors have and working with a lot of different writers, because there’s a new writers room every year and some of the writers come back and some don’t and some are more open about their journey and how they write and some are more closed off about it and it all goes into the pot.
“It’s sort of like spending years collecting data and then taking a minute to take stock of all of it and realize that I know more than I even realize.”
Spin Me Round was the second writing collaboration with Alison and Jeff, with 2020’s Horse Girl being the first. Despite the originator of the story changing with the two projects, the work remained the same.
“The process ends up really being lengthy. It’s a lot of time spent just talking, talking about ideas, telling stories from our lives, something that we’re thinking about that the characters are doing will spark a memory then I’ll tell him a funny story and sometimes that story finds its way into the script as it does a number of times in this movie,” Brie said. “And even just feelings, infusing it with feelings, that reminds me of a relationship I had or a weird date I went on. How can we use that specificity from my personal anecdotal history to add nuance to all of these characters.”
Given the final products, audiences would be in for a treat if Alison and Jeff continued writing together on projects. Spin Me Round strikes the perfect balance of heart and comedy. The characters feel real and the jokes hit hard.
Alison learned through other projects that without heart, a project has nothing.
“I do think comedy should have a lot of heart. I think all work should have a lot of heart,” Brie stated. “I think Jeff and I are the same in that way where even if we’re making something that’s inherently comedic, it’s all about grounding it in the character’s journey and making the characters really specific.
“So for me, it’s never been about writing jokes, it’s just more about the situations that we’re putting characters in. But even with Community, which had so many great jokes and just an amazing team of writers to do that every season, and obviously Dan Harmon’s comedic genius of a brain, I think that people would not identify as much with Community or it wouldn’t have the staying power it has had without the heart. It’s all about heart.”
Brie will also be one of the recipients of Cinequest’s coveted Maverick Spirit Award which will be given virtually this year at Cinequest’s “Cinejoy” event at a later date. The Maverick Spirit Award reflects the best of the worlds of innovation and artistry.
“It’s such an honor and so exciting,” Alison said of the recognition. “Indie film has always been such a big part of my life. When I was a teenager it was sort of what made me want to be an actor. And as hard as it is to plan a career trajectory in this business, I think I’ve worked hard to try to do different types of films and take risks and try different things and for that to be recognized is an incredible honor.”