30 Beats

30 Beats

Condola Rashad and Ben Levin in 30 BEATS, written and directed by Alexis Lloyd. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. All rights reserved.

30 Beats (2012)

Opened: 07/20/2012 Limited

Limited07/20/2012
Monica 4-Plex07/20/2012 - 07/26/20127 days
Playhouse 707/20/2012 - 07/26/20127 days
Village East07/20/2012 - 07/26/20127 days
DVD10/09/2012

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rated: R for for sexual content, nudity and language.

10 New Yorkers, 3 summer days : 30 chances to explore sex, to take a risk, to fall in love. 30 BEATS.

Synopsis

Ten disparate New Yorkers are connected by a summer heat wave and a series of steamy sexual encounters in 30 Beats, featuring an ensemble cast that includes Lee Pace (The Hobbit), Condola Rashad ("Ruined," "Stick Fly," "Steel Magnolias"), Justin Kirk ("Weeds,") Thomas Sadoski ("Newsroom") and Jennifer Tilly. Written, produced and directed by Alexis Lloyd (The Claim), the film is a light-hearted exploration of seduction, spontaneity and self-discovery that's as sultry and vibrant as the city in which it's set.

When the doe-eyed JULIE (Rashad) seeks out worldly anthropologist ADAM (Kirk) in a determined effort to lose her virginity, the stage is set for a delightful dive into a world of sensual singlehood in New York City. The encounter triggers a chain reaction that connects 10 city-dwellers over a period of three sweltering days. After de-flowering Julie, an out-of-sorts Adam looks up seductive psychic ERIKA (Tilly), who in turn frolics with bike messenger DIEGO, who later declares his love for the scarred beauty LAURA, who subsequently tries to seduce her chiropractor MATT (Pace).

The shifting locations, emotions and circumstances surrounding these rendezvous paint a multi-faceted picture of passionate--and often unrequited--love in the city. Matt's lust for switchboard operator KIM is complicated by a lesbian fling, which also indirectly affects Kim's interest in speechwriter JULIAN, who in turn is enthralled by ALICE, a call girl on the verge of a career change. Taking on one last job, Alice pays off a debt by dutifully seducing the virgin SEAN, who it turns out is the best friend of Julie--the virgin whose first encounter opens the film. The tryst brings the round of random-seeming encounters fullcircle as Sean and Julie debate the risks and rewards of introducing sex into their comfortable, platonic relationship. Will they or won't they? It's just another thrum of the city's heartbeat of love.

About the Film

Alexis Lloyd's feature writing-directing debut 30 Beats is a delightfully whimsical exploration of the world of seduction, spontaneity and self-discovery that moves along with the ease of a dance. In fact, it was precisely that dance-like structure that sparked Lloyd's inspiration.

"I was looking for a subject matter in which rhythm and a sort of circular dance between several characters would drive the action," says Lloyd (The Claim), who borrowed the idea of a series of interlocking romantic encounters from Arthur Schnitzler's classic play "La Ronde."

"I found the structure of the play fun and inspiring," Lloyd explains. "It doesn't take place in New York, of course, but there are enough parallels between Vienna in 1900 and New York today to recompose elements of plot and character around the same theme, which is a chain reaction of love and sexual impulses in a big city where encounters are fluid, fleeting and circular."

Lloyd is quick to point out that his film isn't an adaptation of "La Ronde," but rather a variation on the same theme. Nor was Schnitzler's play his sole inspiration. Lloyd says he also drew on Italian Cinema from the 1960s and '70s, most notably Pier Pasolini's 1974 film Arabian Nights, as well as the city of New York itself.

"I wanted to make a movie about New York," he says. "I was looking for an angle that would allow me to show how the city itself acts like a catalyst in sexual relationships, almost like an aphrodisiac."

It was specifically relationships between young single people, that most intrigued the writer-director. "I didn't want the film to be about infidelity, betrayal, or adultery," he explains. "New York is the world capital of single people. They make it vibrate with life and energy. The rules of love are different in every city. New York is especially unbridled and uninhibited, for women just as for men. I wanted to explore how people handle that kind of freedom."

The Paris-born Lloyd, whose varied work history includes a youthful stint on an Oregon farm, serving as a junior diplomat in Athens with the French government and working on films in Australia, says he could have shot 30 Beats in any major city. But it would have been a different film.

"Young people come from all over the planet to experience New York," explains Lloyd, who these days spends most of his time in the Big Apple. "The city is unavoidably a big laboratory for love and sexual encounters. This is not the way it is in Paris or London. Also, the discovery of sexuality is a matter of youth in all its charm." Lloyd's treatment of these themes resonated with the cast.

"I found the format of the story interesting," says actor Justin Kirk, who plays the character of Adam in the film. "I thought it would make a cool movie, the way it circles around and you see all these people in summertime in New York. It seemed like they were lining up an interesting international cast, which was a unique experience for me. We each had two partners; it seemed like a cool little setup."

Condola Rashad, who plays the character of Julie in the film, says she was drawn to the intelligence and sexuality in the script, the latter being something she had not really explored as an actor. "It wasn't risque, but it was genuinely sexual and I had to make something organically sexual without commenting on it," she says. "I thought that was pretty cool."

For Jennifer Tilly, the attraction was the script's gentle humor and whimsical nature. "I thought it was really charming," says the actress, who plays the character of Erika in the film. "I also liked that it was set in New York City and that New York was like a character in the film. I liked how it ties things up at the end and that there's such a cross-section of people, all different but similar in that they're all looking to make connections."

As for the film's title, Lloyd says it started as a working title that corresponded to the fact that each of the ten sequences has three dramatic beats. "The first beat is when the character declares his or her sexual attractions; the second is what triggers the act, and the third beat is the consequences, the aftermath of sex." Plus he says, "I liked the ring of it. It has something rhythmic, and physical, that goes beyond the individuals- the beat of New York itself."

Producer Molly Conners (Frozen River) was instrumental in getting 30 Beats into production after a mutual colleague passed Lloyd's script to her in 2008.

"I loved it and met with Alexis and started working with him immediately," Conners recalls. "As somebody who lives in New York and who was, at the time, single and around the age of a lot of the characters, I thought it was realistic and whimsical. It was definitely something I wanted to get involved in."

With the help of casting director Billy Hopkins (Se7en, Good Will Hunting), the filmmakers pulled together an international ensemble cast of actors, some of them established screen performers, others making their big-screen debuts. "A lot of agencies were pitching us bigger names," Conners says. "I think we got a nice balance of unknowns and better-known actors."

Lloyd says he started the script with only three characters in mind--the virgin, Julie (Rashad); the academic who de-flowers her, Adam (Kirk); and the psychic to whom Adam subsequently turns for help, Erika (Tilly). "The rest came along through the character dynamics of each sequence," he says.

Casting for the two youngest characters, Julie and Adam, proved to be especially labor intensive. "We did literally hundreds of auditions for those two characters," Conners recalls.

Lloyd had in mind a unique character type for the role of Julie, who opens the film by seeking out an older male friend for the specific purpose of losing her virginity.

"When we did the casting, many of the girls were 'Gossip Girl' stereotypes," he explains. "I was looking for more of a free spirit--a girl who didn't care what people thought of her. The role needed someone who was mentally very strong, and was both hyper-mature in terms of character and a bit immature sexually, being slightly late to lose her virginity."

Lloyd found what he was looking for when he saw Condola Rashad in the stage play "Ruined" on Broadway. "She was very intense and unusual in that part, and very credible--a girl who had this combination of being extremely determined- but also somehow naive was a perfect combination for the characters in 30 Beats," he says.

Describing her character, Rashad says, "She kind of reminds me of a cat. She might let you pet her, but then she might scratch your face. She's always trying to sniff people out; she's a very curious person. Once she's made up her mind to do something, she's going to do it. She kind of lives in her own beautiful world."

30 Beats was Rashad's first feature film, which presented a new set of challenges for the actress.

"I had never done any film, not even in college, so I was just sort of trusting my instincts," she says. "There are certain technicalities of film that I just wasn't used to, like the continuity of it. On stage, if I feel like putting my hand on the table one night and I don't feel like doing it the next night, that's okay. But with film, if you put your hand on this table in five takes, then you probably want to keep on doing that, so when they edit, it fits together."

For the role of Adam, the 30-something anthropologist who somewhat reluctantly obliges in taking Julie's virginity, the filmmakers cast Justin Kirk ("Weeds," Angels in America). Lloyd describes the character as "a bit of a playboy, used to being successful with girls, but a bit vulnerable."

"It was important to me that there be a balance of sexual power, so that it wouldn't be the poor little lamb going into the jaws of the big bad wolf," Lloyd says. "Casting Justin Kirk, with his innate sense of comedy, of the little twists and turns in the way a scene develops, worked very nicely."

Kirk describes his character as "a single, freewheeling man who suddenly in the course of the story finds himself concerned, and looks for a solution to said concern." The "concern," while not overtly articulated in the film, stems from his encounter with Rashad's Julie.

"Adam knew Julie when she was a young girl," Kirk says. "So having sex with her seems odd to him and he's slightly reticent, but she is persuasive and not just a little attractive, and one things leads to another. Then he thinks she put a curse on him."

As to why Julie chooses a relative stranger to take her virginity, Rashad says her character has always had a crush on Adam and genuinely likes him. "There's something about that that's very exciting," she explains. "I think that there's this pressure for teenagers about keeping or losing your virginity. She's just decided, let me just get rid of it so I don't have to deal with this anymore."

For the third character in this opening trio, Lloyd cast Broadway and Hollywood star Jennifer Tilly. She plays an intellectual psychic named Erika whom the out-of-sorts Adam visits after his tryst with Julie.

"I liked the part of the psychic and thought I could have fun with it," says Tilly, who describes her character as someone who likes to observe life from the sidelines. "She sees a lot of things--she sees the future, she sees the human feelings in people. She doesn't want to be hurt, but she gets involved in spite of herself."

"It was fun to cast Jennifer as a pragmatic, no-nonsense psychic, doing a job that deals with a lot of interesting nonsense," says Lloyd, who knew the actress from her 1996 film Bound. "New York is the world capital of psychics and shrinks, and probably because it is such a material city. It was fun to counter-cast Jennifer in the part of an efficient, practical psychic with a feisty private personality, finding it problematic have a normal sex life because of her special gifts."

Lloyd, who counts as his main influences and mentors French producer Paul Rassam (Alexander, Marie Antoinette) and French actor and filmmaker Claude Berri (Jean de Florette), looked to New York's dynamic theater scene for talent.

"I wanted to cast actors who had experience with New York theatre as well as film actors I had worked with in the past," he says. "Most came from the New York stage scene. I wanted to find actors who could really collaborate on creating parts that were layered."

For the role of Laura, a young woman whose life-threatening heart condition has left her sexually paralyzed, the filmmakers cast Paz De La Huerta (Choke, "Boardwalk Empire")--again going against type.

"I thought it would be more interesting, both for her and for the audience, to cast Paz not as the typical uninhibited sex kitten, but in the role which is the most inhibited one, the most blocked sexually, to whom an unusual sexual awakening happens, which takes her by suprise" says Lloyd.

For the role of Matt, a chiropractor who is the apparent trigger for Laura's sexual reawakening, the filmmakers cast another Broadway regular, Lee Pace (The Hobbit). Playing the role of Diego, a bike messenger who is Erika's lover and falls in love with the scarred Laura, the filmmakers cast Jason Day (Mancora), a relatively unknown actor from Peru.

The rest of the cast includes Vahina Giocante (Lila Says) as Kim, a sexy switchboard operator involved in a lesbian fling; Thomas Sadoski ("Newsroom") as Julian, a speechwriter who becomes the object of Kim's affection and who in turn is enthralled by a call girl named Alice, played by another actress whom Lloyd had worked with earlier in his career, Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Burnt by the Sun, Hannibal Rising).

The penultimate link in the film's merry-go-round structure is the character of Sean, a virgin who is dutifully seduced by Dapkunaite's Alice and who is revealed to be the best friend of Rashad's Julie--the erstwhile virgin who opens the film. For this role, the filmmakers cast Ben Levin (The Emperor's Club).

"It was so sweet--we bonded right away," says Rashad of her experience working with Levin. "I spent a lot of time with him on set and we were both young and very excited."

Because each of the 10 characters has sexual encounters with two other characters, they each exhibit what Lloyd describes as "a dual love personality," behaving completely differently in each situation.

For instance, in the first scene Julie is aggressively determined to seduce an older man. In the final scene, she contemplates making love with a boy her age who she truly loves.

"With Adam, she's wearing this dress, and tries to use this sensuality that's real, but not really developed," Rashad explains. "But with her best friend, Sean, when she decides to have sex with him, she's decided she's going to make love to him as herself. It's a much purer level of intimacy. She's allowing herself to just be the girl that she is, versus attempting to seem like a woman."

Rashad says such duality is quite typical of women that age: "An 18-year-old kind of does think, well, I'm grown now, I can do whatever I want. But on the inside, she is still really just a girl."

Tilly's character, Erika, experiences a similar split. "With Adam, she's more businesslike," explains the actress. "She's the problem solver, the one in control, the dominant in the relationship. She's the one who decides what's going to happen in terms of sex. But with the boy, Diego, it's more of a playful relationship. He makes her feel young. She's a little bit in love with him but she knows it won't work out, so she makes a game of it so she won't get hurt."

30 Beats was shot in Manhattan over a five-week period in the middle of the summer with Lloyd, who was also a producer, tapping his European roots and connections to finance the project.

"We shot in every neighborhood you can imagine," says Conners, a Manhattan resident. "We did a lot of work in the West Village, the Garment District and Harlem. For a small budget film we had a lot of splinter units."

Lloyd says he was particularly attracted to the locations provided by the city's streetscape as well as its rooftops. "People live on rooftops in New York much more than people do in Paris or London," he observes. "It's more comparable to Rome in that respect. More things happen there on rooftops there."

The film's original musical score was largely composed by C.C. Adcock, a rock and blues musician from Lafayette, La. "The Zydeco sound from Louisiana lent itself well to the tonality of the film--better than lots of New Yorkers' music, which tends to be harder and colder," Lloyd says.

One of the biggest challenges of the shoot, and a major factor in the look and atmosphere of the film, was the heat that pounded New York during the filming. It was something Lloyd and cinematographer Lisa Rinzler (Pollock) paid meticulous attention to.

"It's not so easy to capture heat on film," Lloyd says. "It is not expressed by a specific color or a specific light. You have to work indirectly: on skins, sweat, exterior signs, fans, ice cubes and costumes. It was further complicated by the wind, which was hot and moist during the shoot, but looks colder when seen from a climate-controlled theater."

Asked about the temperature on set, Rashad exclaims, "Oh, my God, you have no idea! When I was shooting the scene with Justin Kirk, it was so unbelievably hot. All of the sweat that you see in the scene is not fake. There were no spray bottles. It was just purely us sweating. It had to be over 100 degrees in that apartment."

Kirk says the heat was perfectly conducive to a summer sex movie set in New York. "The day I worked with Condola without question was the hottest day of my career," he says. "You had to just embrace it. Normally hair and makeup come around and pat you down and touch you up, but not that day. Alexis didn't let them."

As Lloyd explains, "The goal was to create a strong sensorial impression--to show New York turning into a tropical city in the heart of summer. Extreme heat and humidity have consequences on bodies, on skin and, of course, on sex drives."

That said, Lloyd had no interest in putting actual sex on the screen.

"We live in a world where filmed pornography has become a part of mainstream pop culture," he observes, recalling Orson Welles' assertion that it's impossible to film either the act of praying or the sexual act. "It has lost mystery. Everything, simulated or not, has been filmed, by the best directors and by the worst. The idea in 30 Beats was to focus on what happens just before the act, and sometimes just after, and to leave what happens during to the imagination of the audience."

 

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