Below is my interview with Zac Cooper, the writer, director, and star of It Happened One Weekend, a romantic comedy about two long-time friends who discover they may or may not have feelings for each other after recent dating struggles. The film had its premiere at the 2022 Indy Film Fest, where it won the “Best of Hoosier Lens” Award. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ben Sears: The film has been called a “love letter to Indianapolis”, and the affection for the city easily comes through.
Zac Cooper: It definitely is. For reasons that I can’t really put my finger on, Indy felt like home. It was like one of the first places I found that really felt like a home to me. I moved a little bit as a kid, nothing dramatic, but I never felt a real connection to a city, and when I moved here, I moved downtown in 2017 and I really fell in love with the city and Indy felt like home to me. That’s where I feel like the love comes from in the film.
BS: You definitely get a sense of the exploration of what’s new and exciting about the city, especially downtown.
ZC: It’s funny, I know a lot of people who have lived here forever and they always talk about how much it’s changed, but this is kind of the only version of Indy that I know.
BS: Did you always plan on casting yourself as the lead in the film?
ZC: I did, because I knew that, with Merry (Moore), we would have the chemistry that I felt like these characters needed. And I knew that it was going to be a low-budget affair and any time you get more than one person involved, schedules get conflicted, and if you can have one less conflict, it would be logistically easier too.
BS: Was this your first time directing yourself?
ZC: I’ve done it a few other times in some short films. I only direct myself in things that I know I can do. I’m not pushing myself to do Shakespeare or anything, so I try not to be hard on myself but I just trust that this person is just a normal person who makes jokes, which I do myself all the time. But on the production side, it’s very important to have people I trust, who are cool with that process because you spread yourself a little more thin. I view it a little bit as having to wear a lot of hats, especially an independent filmmaker, when you’re on set. I look at it the same way as a cinematographer who can operate their own camera, or something like that, it’s just another tool I might have.
BS: Tell me a little about how you came to work with Merry and her casting in the film.
ZC: I met Merry in college during our freshman year, so it’s been almost 10 years since we’ve known each other. We’ve worked on stuff together throughout the years, and she’s one of my favorite people to work with. Going back to trust, I knew that I could trust her if I was spread a little too thin. There were times when she said ‘we should run through this scene more’ and I had to do all these other things, but I knew that I could trust her with that. That was one of the reasons I cast her, not only because she’s great, but because I knew we could pull it off together. And I think if I would have worked with someone else in that role who I wasn’t as familiar with, I think they may have felt a little abandoned at times or that I wasn’t paying enough attention. Which is probably true, but I think Merry just knows how I like to work and what I’m working for.
BS: Chemistry between the two leads in a romantic comedy is really crucial. And that’s another thing that comes across really well, is your familiarity with each other. It almost feels like you’re intruding on their personal lives.
ZC: I’m glad that shows up on screen. That was another reason too [that I cast Merry] because I knew these characters had to feel like they had known each other for a bit when you first meet them, and I knew that Merry and I could easily bring that energy.
BS: There’s a crucial dramatic scene in the third act that you filmed all in one take. Did you always plan to shoot it that way, or did it unfold naturally?
ZC: No, that was one that I probably hadn’t thought to shoot that way before we got to set. It really just had to do with the space that we were in, it was just a really narrow living room/kitchen area of a two-story townhouse. We were just trying to figure out if we utilize the whole space, or do we keep it in the living room? It kind of just naturally unfolded as we would run through the scene and talking through it with Taylor Dekker, the cinematographer, of doing it handheld and doing it this way. It just came of working through production issues of figuring out how to get the scene done but also making it feel alive and not stagnant.
BS: What went behind the decision to shoot the film in black and white?
ZC: That was something that came almost as soon as I thought of the movie. Partially because I just wanted to shoot in black and white because I thought it would be fun. It was something that Taylor and I had talked about doing at some point, and as pretentious as this may be, there is a kind of tradition of first-time filmmakers gathering together with their friends and making something cheap and scrappy and shooting it in black and white. As far as the story goes, I felt like it was appropriate because black and white is very romantic and these characters feel like romance is just around the corner, and that at any time they’re going to meet the right person. So I wanted the audience to feel that way too, and I like the thought of the audience thinking ‘oh, I know where this is going to go’ and then hoping by the end they were taken by surprise just a bit.
BS: Do you see yourself working more in romantic comedies or is this just a unique story you wanted to tell?
ZC: I think a little of both, I don’t feel beholden to that genre. But what I am interested in, and what my mind often goes to, is stories about relationships, so I think I’ll make more things about relationships and they may fall under that rom-com genre, but I don’t feel like that’s what I have to make all the time. I have no shame in the fact that most of what I make is about relationships or romance in some form.