In the upcoming Paramount+ film "At Midnight," Monica Barbaro ("Top Gun: Maverick") plays Sophie, an actor starring in a superhero film with her boyfriend and fellow actor, Adam (Anders Holm, "How to Be Single"). When she finds him cheating on her with a crew member, she has to stay quiet about it because of her career. While in Mexico shooting the end of their movie, she meets ambitious junior hotel manager Alejandro, and finds herself continually meeting up with him at midnight.
"At Midnight" has a fairytale feel to it, complete with animated opening credits and camera work that pays homage to classic rom-coms of the past. I recently spoke to director Jonah Feingold ("Dating & New York") about his take on the film's style, Martin Scorsese's comments about superhero films, whether there was a plan to have Boneta (who has a musical background) sing, and what films inspired his work on "At Midnight."
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
'We Used Cinderella As A Reference'
This is going to be fun. I'm a huge /Film fan. This is exciting.
Oh, that's wonderful to hear! From the opening credit graphics to the end of the film, this feels like a very fairytale sort of film, almost a throwback to 1930s, '40s rom-coms. Was that in the story from the beginning?
That was not in the script from the beginning. That was my director's pitch. The first draft of the movie was written by Giovanni Porta, who's incredible, and the second draft by Maria Hinojos, who actually plays the director within the movie. And the films that I grew up loving, Billy Wilder, Nora Ephron, old Disney "Cinderella," "Lady and the Tramp," all this kind of stuff is the reason that I make movies. And it's the style that I'm trying to embrace. So when I pitched in the film, my approach was old-school Hollywood. I want us to watch a 45-second opening title sequence that I got Paramount to agree to let me do, which, by the way, is hand-drawn by a Disney illustrator named Asia Ellington, who's incredible. But she is a Disney illustrator. She's done these things professionally. We were lucky enough to get her on board. And we used "Cinderella" as a reference. We used "Lady and the Tramp." We used "Snow White." That was the intent.
Oh, that's awesome. And it totally comes across. One of the things I found so lovely is that so many of the actors get to actually speak Spanish instead of that trope where everyone speaks English. Can you talk about the decision to do that?
Absolutely. Diego Boneta, who's the star of the film along with Monica, and who's also a producer, was very adamant. The whole movie exists because he wanted to bring worlds together. He wanted to honor Mexico in a way that he didn't feel has been honored in the romantic comedy genre. He wanted to show Mexico City in a light that we haven't seen. It's not "Narcos." It's this magical, wonderful place that he grew up in, that he loves. When he pitched that to me — and he's seen my first film, "Dating & New York" — he had seen the way I had brought New York to a screen, and he wanted that for this film.
For the Spanish sequences, it was never a [conversation]. My debate to the studio was, take away the subtitles. In "Saving Private Ryan," I believe Spielberg has a sequence where you don't see the subtitles because the character wouldn't know what they're saying. And I was like, "Every time that Sophie's learning Spanish, that's how much we get in the subtitles. She hears certain words." Ultimately, we couldn't land on that for technological reasons, like subtitle, closed caption stuff. But that was the vision. So we always wanted to have as much Spanish as possible. Because as you said, there's nothing worse than a movie where they speak a language they shouldn't be speaking.
'MCU And Superheroes Are Part Of The Zeitgeist Now In Cinema'
There's a moment in the film where Sophie mentions that comment from Martin Scorsese about superhero films not being cinema. I'd love to hear your thoughts about putting that in there.
The whole "Super Society" [the film within the film] myth is derived from the MCU-type stuff. The trials and tribulations, her wanting her own spin-off movie. The MCU comment was recently made by Scorsese at the time of production, and we, in a Billy Wilder-esque way, thought, "Why not inject some pop culture into this movie?" You can kind of date it in that sense. But we thought, "Why not? It's hilarious." MCU and superheroes are part of the zeitgeist now in cinema, so we thought it'd be fun to just get that take, and it made it into the movie.
What was it like balancing writing with directing on this one?
This is my first time as a shared writer with somebody. So that was a new experience, where there were two other writers before me who had worked on the script that is very much their own. I was then asked to do a director's pass. And that was a wonderful experience because it was taking characters they already created and just adding elements of magic and adding production elements, and having a very supportive group of producers and Diego Boneta, who would just tell me all the time, "Inject more Jonah into this story. Inject more of your personal life into this," which was very liberating. I feel very lucky.
I know Monica has a dance background, and there was a dance scene in there, which was great. But Diego sings. Was there ever any talk about having him sing?
Yeah. There's an unreleased opening. For the opening credit sequence, we originally wanted two minutes of titles. Paramount said no, which is understandable; it's a streaming movie. And I'm very thankful for the 45 seconds we have. But Diego was going to sing an original song as the opening number. And then, during [the] "At Midnight" montage, he was also going to sing a song that my composer, Grant Fonda, had written that was half English, half Spanish, and it's all about meeting at midnight. And it was very "Cinderella" vibes. Ultimately, we decided it wasn't best for the tone and for the pacing of the film. But it was a conversation, and I'm trying to get him to sing in the next movie. And to Monica's point, the dance was not in the script. That was a date scene. And then I got to know Monica, and I got to know her dance background, and I said, "Why don't you guys dance together?" And then we got a wonderful choreographer, and we put the dance together, and that's how it made its way into the movie.
"At Midnight" premieres on Paramount+ on February 10, 2023.
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