Sundance Features

January 16, 2008

Justin Nowell, Sick Sex

"I was very relieved to see that we're playing before Kirsten Dunst; hopefully people won't have walked out yet."

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

THE REELER: What can you tell us about Sick Sex?

JUSTIN NOWELL: It's pretty simple: The main character -- this guy Ken -- has been taking care of his girlfriend for the past three days. She's running a temperature of 102 and he's been waiting on her hand and foot. So he decides he wants to have sex with her; he wants to see what it would be like with someone with that high of a temperature. It's basically a battle royale between the two of them: He's trying to get her to have sex, and she's trying to beg off.

R: Really. So what compelled you to imagine such an interlude?

JN: It was just kind of a way of heightening that conflict -- just making their positions more entrenched. We worked with kind of an exaggerated naturalism, which was a way to up the stakes between the two of them but still have it resonate so that guys could say, "Oh, man, I've been through that," and girls could watch it and say, "Oh, God, my boyfriend's done that." It's easy to project yourself into.

R: And you shot in New York?

JN: It's just one location: a friend's apartment out in Brooklyn. It was a total skeleton crew and cast. There was the cast -- Ken Forman and Amanda Gruss -- and then my brother Tommy, who co-wrote it, held the boom. My friend Grant [Greenberg] shot it. We had one other friend, Todd Barnes, who helped produce it. The whole thing was done with equipment that we owned and one 500-watt light bulb. On a very hot August day. It worked out, because the girl's supposed to be sick. That's actually her sweat.

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R: That probably helped with the budget. What's been your festival experience leading up to Sundance?

JN: Basically, I've made longer shorts in the past -- almost mini-features in a way. I've realized that it's hard for programmers to put those in. Something that's 25 minutes might showcase more storytelling ability but there are only one or two spots at a festival for a short like that. I wanted to do something more pared down this time. Also, all the other shorts I've done in the past are a one-week shoot or a week and a half. This one came up almost like an exercise to do in a day with friends.

R: So how are you feeling about screening in Park City?

JN: It's kind of fun, because in the past we've invested so much more cash in our projects, and again, we were thinking of this one as an exercise -- just a way of staying sharp. It's nice; we were so pent-up about these other shorts, and with this one we really let off the gas pedal. And it went. We have a pretty laid back attitude about it. Plus the shorts programs are pretty well-attended, so we don't have to do a huge publicity push; people will see it. And Sundance picks 10 shorts to screen for 24 hours each on the [festival] Web site. Sick Sex is one of the films. [It is viewable Jan. 22 at -- Ed.]

R: And you're in the same shorts program as Kirsten Dunst's directorial debut.

JN: Yeah. That'll be fun; hopefully she'll show. I was very relieved to see that we're playing before her; hopefully people won't have walked out yet. We won't have to be twisting people's arms to come out.

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