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Catching Up With Ashley Bell and Michael Stahl-David on Love and Air Sex

March 1, 2014  |  6:01pm
Catching Up With Ashley Bell and Michael Stahl-David on <i>Love and Air Sex</i>

As we approach this year’s SXSW festival, you may remember us raving last year about Bryan Poyser’s wildly hilarious film The Bounceback, starring Ashley Bell and Michael Stahl-David, among others. The film was eventually re-titled Love and Air Sex, and is currently in theaters. Bell and Stahl-David spared some time to talk with us about the film, shooting in Austin, and using Go-Pros to shoot masturbation scenes on the very first day.

Paste Magazine: Thanks for joining us, both of you guys. Why don’t you tell me about the origins of the project and your involvement with it?
Ashley Bell: Love & Air Sex isn’t a love triangle; it’s a love hexagon about breakups, and getting together, and deciding if you want to get together or if you want to find new love, and walking that precipice over the course of a weekend in Austin through the Air Sex Championships. Air Sex is air guitar meets karaoke mime sex. It’s actually a real life thing; it exists in Japan, and the World Championship takes place in Austin every year. For me, reading the script and reading the character of Cathy, it was a no-brainer to start the fight to try to be a part of it. I loved the script; I’ve been dying to do a romantic comedy coming out of the films I’ve been doing. My mom is one of the founding members of the Groundlings. I’ve grown up doing improv, and when this came along I really connected to the character and I’ve seen a lot of Ryan’s work before and I said, “I want to be a part of this so badly.”
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, I like indie movies because they don’t have to play as tightly to the formula that Hollywood has been using for a long time, so that was one of the things I was excited about the movie. The director Bryan Poyser had proven that he could do cool, funny, weird movies about relationships. His movie Lovers of Hate, and some of his web series, are very funny, and I just believed in a lot of those relationships. And even as some of the premise is pretty silly and outlandish, I still believed it. And so that’s kind of the line that I think he walks really well, that there’s stuff in the movie that’s really goofy and out there, and yet it also feels relatable. There’s also a lot of subtle things that are just very human. Part of how he collaborated with actors is he loves actors, he loves process, and he puts a lot of trust in us to improvise and to play and it was just a treat to get to work with somebody who has such an appreciation for actors and lets them go free.

Paste: It’s a movie that has a lot of wild, crazy stuff in it, and as much as I love Marshall Allmans part and the other kind of crazy moments in it, I think that what y’all do is bring the emotional center to the movie. Did y’all sort of feel that going into it, that you would be doing a lot of heavy lifting as far as providing that?
Stahl-David: I sort of saw it as these are the characters you can relate to a little bit more, who are more familiar, and they’re kind of the eyes of the audience in a way, and that the heartbreak thing is real. It’s not 12 Years a Slave; you’re not having to go into depths of terror or sadness. It’s fun to sort of play in that sphere of keeping things real. I just like to pretend that it’s really happening and that was really fun to do with this.

Paste: What kind of order did you shoot in? Did you go pretty much from beginning to end or was it all mixed up?
Bell: Oh my god, it was all mixed up. We shot the end scene at the airport first, and that first scene as well was a tried and true icebreaker of the shoot as well for Michael. Michael, that happened to you on your first day, and I think even on the second day.
Stahl-David: Brian purposefully scheduled our masturbation close-up as the first shot. It was like “Hey! Nice to meet you. I’m going to have you lay in this bed and pretend to jack off. And get the camera real close.” “You straddle me with a movie camera while I pretend to diddle myself. OK, let’s make a movie!”
Bell: Put some GoPros under the sheets! It was a real good time.

Paste: Well, when I asked you that question about order, I was actually specifically thinking about that last scene, because playing that last scene, of course, has no words in it. You two really do create this really authentic sense of something going on there, and having to shoot that on the first day, I take my hat off to both of you. You were able to embue it with a sense of meaning that was very believable.
Stahl-David: Thank you. You try, you do something, and you don’t know if it works, and you think, “that’s all right, I guess,” and then when you see if fall into place and everything that leads up to it, you’re relieved, like “It’s not terrible, OK. I buy it.”

Paste: I apologize in advance for a question that’s probably a very common question during these interviews, but for each of you, had you known about the Air Sex phenomenon before the film, and if not, what was your first reaction upon discovering the wonderful world of Air Sex?
Bell: I had never heard of Air Sex before in my life. I saw it and it was just this shock, awe, and WTF moment, you know? And scanning through the script I was like, “Cathy doesn’t have to do Air Sex, OK,” and then I was absolutely blown away by what Zach and Sara did. What they choreographed, the commitment and free-fall into it they did on stage. It was so funny. I so applaud them.
Stahl-David: I had a previous career in Air Sex professionally, and my imaginary penetration is unrivaled. (laughing) But I didn’t want to put it in the film because I didn’t want to make anyone else embarrassed. We wouldn’t be able to get away with the R rating.

Paste: I think we have a title for this article: “My Imaginary Penetration is Unrivaled.”
Stahl-David: Yes!

Paste: When you saw the finished film, was there anything that surprised either of you about the finished film as opposed to your experience filming it?
Bell: I was so blown away by what Bryan did. He had such a strong vision. The film was once called The Bounceback and that’s what Brian hit so beautifully well with the love story, with these great characters, and what heartbreak and love is, and that tightrope you walk with the craziness that is Love & Air Sex. I saw it for the first time at SXSW, it was such an exciting screening to be in the audience for and to see it live, and I just think Bryan did an awesome job.
Stahl-David: Yeah, it was fun to see parts that I wasn’t there for and see what people did with them. And see lines that people improvised. I just remember Zach Cregger—he’s so funny in this movie—and it was fun to see, “Oh that’s what they did in that scene, look what they found, look at the other joke that they found.” Also I think he did a great job of making the climaxes work and that’s a tribute to Brian and Don Swanyos, the editor, the music choice—it just sort of worked. And I wasn’t sure it was going to. You know, you never know. So it was really cool to see that.

Paste: This is a movie that really does a great job of being in a specific place, and Austin is like another character in this movie, and it expresses a lot of affection and love for Austin. Were either of you very experienced with Austin before you filmed?
Bell: I’d never been to Austin before, and had heard so many incredible things. The way Bryan took us through the city through this film was so cool. There’s such a strong film community and all of the doors opened up for Brian because he’s such a pivotal part of Austin films. I think my favorite day was actually a reshoot that happened. The montage at the beginning of the film, we actually flew back and crammed five years of friendship into one day of pictures all through out the city, and that was awesome. We went everywhere. We went all over; it was awesome. It was the perfect encapsulation of what the spirit of that city is.
Stahl-David: We were shooting nights and we would wrap at 6:30 in the morning and a couple of times when we would wrap and we would go with the crew and be like, “let’s all grab Bloody Maria mixes and materials and let’s go meet down by the river.” It was summertime and we’d meet at Barton Creek and there’s this area that’s outside the official swimming area called Barton Springs and you didn’t have to pay, and we would be there at 7:30 in the morning, drinking Bloody Marias and swimming. It was a beautiful summer morning and we had people jog by like, “Who are these heathens?” That was such a fun, beautiful way to get to hang with people. It was lovely.

Paste Magazine: Thanks for joining us, both of you guys. Why don’t you tell me about the origins of the project and your involvement with it?
Ashley Bell: Love & Air Sex isn’t a love triangle; it’s a love hexagon about breakups, and getting together, and deciding if you want to get together or if you want to find new love, and walking that precipice over the course of a weekend in Austin through the Air Sex Championships. Air Sex is air guitar meets karaoke mime sex. It’s actually a real life thing; it exists in Japan, and the World Championship takes place in Austin every year. For me, reading the script and reading the character of Cathy, it was a no-brainer to start the fight to try to be a part of it. I loved the script; I’ve been dying to do a romantic comedy coming out of the films I’ve been doing. My mom is one of the founding members of the Groundlings. I’ve grown up doing improv, and when this came along I really connected to the character and I’ve seen a lot of Ryan’s work before and I said, “I want to be a part of this so badly.”
Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, I like indie movies because they don’t have to play as tightly to the formula that Hollywood has been using for a long time, so that was one of the things I was excited about the movie. The director Bryan Poyser had proven that he could do cool, funny, weird movies about relationships. His movie Lovers of Hate, and some of his web series, are very funny, and I just believed in a lot of those relationships. And even as some of the premise is pretty silly and outlandish, I still believed it. And so that’s kind of the line that I think he walks really well, that there’s stuff in the movie that’s really goofy and out there, and yet it also feels relatable. There’s also a lot of subtle things that are just very human. Part of how he collaborated with actors is he loves actors, he loves process, and he puts a lot of trust in us to improvise and to play and it was just a treat to get to work with somebody who has such an appreciation for actors and lets them go free.

Paste: It’s a movie that has a lot of wild, crazy stuff in it, and as much as I love Marshall Allmans part and the other kind of crazy moments in it, I think that what y’all do is bring the emotional center to the movie. Did y’all sort of feel that going into it, that you would be doing a lot of heavy lifting as far as providing that?
Stahl-David: I sort of saw it as these are the characters you can relate to a little bit more, who are more familiar, and they’re kind of the eyes of the audience in a way, and that the heartbreak thing is real. It’s not 12 Years a Slave; you’re not having to go into depths of terror or sadness. It’s fun to sort of play in that sphere of keeping things real. I just like to pretend that it’s really happening and that was really fun to do with this.

Paste: What kind of order did you shoot in? Did you go pretty much from beginning to end or was it all mixed up?
Bell: Oh my god, it was all mixed up. We shot the end scene at the airport first, and that first scene as well was a tried and true icebreaker of the shoot as well for Michael. Michael, that happened to you on your first day, and I think even on the second day.
Stahl-David: Brian purposefully scheduled our masturbation close-up as the first shot. It was like “Hey! Nice to meet you. I’m going to have you lay in this bed and pretend to jack off. And get the camera real close.” “You straddle me with a movie camera while I pretend to diddle myself. OK, let’s make a movie!”
Bell: Put some GoPros under the sheets! It was a real good time.

Paste: Well, when I asked you that question about order, I was actually specifically thinking about that last scene, because playing that last scene, of course, has no words in it. You two really do create this really authentic sense of something going on there, and having to shoot that on the first day, I take my hat off to both of you. You were able to embue it with a sense of meaning that was very believable.
Stahl-David: Thank you. You try, you do something, and you don’t know if it works, and you think, “that’s all right, I guess,” and then when you see if fall into place and everything that leads up to it, you’re relieved, like “It’s not terrible, OK. I buy it.”

Paste: I apologize in advance for a question that’s probably a very common question during these interviews, but for each of you, had you known about the Air Sex phenomenon before the film, and if not, what was your first reaction upon discovering the wonderful world of Air Sex?
Bell: I had never heard of Air Sex before in my life. I saw it and it was just this shock, awe, and WTF moment, you know? And scanning through the script I was like, “Cathy doesn’t have to do Air Sex, OK,” and then I was absolutely blown away by what Zach and Sara did. What they choreographed, the commitment and free-fall into it they did on stage. It was so funny. I so applaud them.
Stahl-David: I had a previous career in Air Sex professionally, and my imaginary penetration is unrivaled. (laughing) But I didn’t want to put it in the film because I didn’t want to make anyone else embarrassed. We wouldn’t be able to get away with the R rating.

Paste: I think we have a title for this article: “My Imaginary Penetration is Unrivaled.”
Stahl-David: Yes!

Paste: When you saw the finished film, was there anything that surprised either of you about the finished film as opposed to your experience filming it?
Bell: I was so blown away by what Bryan did. He had such a strong vision. The film was once called The Bounceback and that’s what Brian hit so beautifully well with the love story, with these great characters, and what heartbreak and love is, and that tightrope you walk with the craziness that is Love & Air Sex. I saw it for the first time at SXSW, it was such an exciting screening to be in the audience for and to see it live, and I just think Bryan did an awesome job.
Stahl-David: Yeah, it was fun to see parts that I wasn’t there for and see what people did with them. And see lines that people improvised. I just remember Zach Cregger—he’s so funny in this movie—and it was fun to see, “Oh that’s what they did in that scene, look what they found, look at the other joke that they found.” Also I think he did a great job of making the climaxes work and that’s a tribute to Brian and Don Swanyos, the editor, the music choice—it just sort of worked. And I wasn’t sure it was going to. You know, you never know. So it was really cool to see that.

Paste: This is a movie that really does a great job of being in a specific place, and Austin is like another character in this movie, and it expresses a lot of affection and love for Austin. Were either of you very experienced with Austin before you filmed?
Bell: I’d never been to Austin before, and had heard so many incredible things. The way Bryan took us through the city through this film was so cool. There’s such a strong film community and all of the doors opened up for Brian because he’s such a pivotal part of Austin films. I think my favorite day was actually a reshoot that happened. The montage at the beginning of the film, we actually flew back and crammed five years of friendship into one day of pictures all through out the city, and that was awesome. We went everywhere. We went all over; it was awesome. It was the perfect encapsulation of what the spirit of that city is.
Stahl-David: We were shooting nights and we would wrap at 6:30 in the morning and a couple of times when we would wrap and we would go with the crew and be like, “let’s all grab Bloody Maria mixes and materials and let’s go meet down by the river.” It was summertime and we’d meet at Barton Creek and there’s this area that’s outside the official swimming area called Barton Springs and you didn’t have to pay, and we would be there at 7:30 in the morning, drinking Bloody Marias and swimming. It was a beautiful summer morning and we had people jog by like, “Who are these heathens?” That was such a fun, beautiful way to get to hang with people. It was lovely.

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