“The actual names are Fucking Idiot 1 and 2, but IMDb won’t allow that,” says Sarah-Violet Bliss when pressed on the subject.
It’s merely one indication that she and writing partner Charles Rogers resist sparing anybody in their approach, least of all themselves. Another is, well, the fact that pretty much the entire movie is an exercise in giving two coddled Brooklynite characters a CrossFit gymnasium’s worth of rope with which to hang themselves.
Fort Tilden is the arch, comic tale of Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty), a young Williamsburg artiste and an aspiring peace corps participant, respectively, on a pilgrimage to the eponymous beach to meet up with two dudes and hopefully get laid. The path to the promised land is leaden with human obstacles, though, many involving sharply observed city-dwelling archetypes played by rising comedic performers like John Early, Neil Casey, and Will Hines. As the leads encounter each challenge, they reveal themselves to be entitled, myopic, self-obsessed, feckless, and any number of adjectives routinely cited in thinkpieces on the shortcomings of millennials. They are also deeply human, and imbued with obvious affection from their creators.
“We love Allie and Harper,” Rogers says. “We understood the nuts and bolts of their journey and then as we kept writing, we understood why they were kinda pathetic and that is what’s funny about them. We think they’re complicated characters, and whatever is unlikeable about them, there’s a reason for it and it’s because of something from their past.”
Instead of painting abrasive caricatures of a generation whose key traits they’ve only absorbed culturally, Rogers and Bliss, who, at 28, belong to the same generation, infuse their flawed protagonists with authenticity. However, they do also make jokes out of these people. A lot. Here’s how they get away with it, without looking like the idiots they’ve billed themselves as.
At times, Fort Tilden gets a tad ridiculous in its depiction of bohemian obliviousness, but it never goes over the top. The reason for that is because the writers relied on actual people—themselves and others—to keep the characters from descending into the realm of sketch comedy or cliche.
Charles Rogers: “We drew from experiences from our own selves in the way that, like maybe these are things that are a little unsavory about us that we don’t want to admit. I feel like that’s a part of the writing process: you always end up writing yourself in for better or worse. The majority of interactions we have on a daily basis, there is something funny and cringe-y about them and that’s the spirit we wanted to write the movie in.
Sarah-Violet Bliss: “We also reference so many people that we know. There were so many moments where we were like, ‘No one would really do that.’ And then we thought about it and realized, ‘Well, this person we both know would do that’ and ‘Yup, that person would do it.’ So it’s always grounded in reality even though it’s also heightened.”
If choices like the matching Monacle Order-style sunglasses the leads wear look like they came from a Vice photo spread, they weren’t written in with any specificity. Instead, the directors consulted their cast and their friends.
Rogers: “Those were the actress’s real glasses. It was a strange coincidence that they both happened to have almost the exact same pair of sunglasses.”
Bliss: “The matching rompers were not in the script either. We raided our producer friend Claire Harlem’s closet, because she has great style, and she had an abundance of exciting rompers.”
Of course, Fort Tilden takes place in New York. It couldn’t have been anywhere else. The way that Bliss and Rogers set the scene, however, relies on the actual feeling of living in New York, without leaning on any obvious touchstones.
Rogers: “I feel like one thing I don’t love is when things become a little too reference-y, when it’s like ‘meanwhile, at this restaurant that people know about.’ That quality of New Yorkiness is a little too insider in a way that I find kind of exhausting and boring. And I think we wanted to keep it open and universal enough that somebody who didn’t live in Brooklyn would still be able to identify with that experience without feeling left out of it.”
Bliss: “Fort Tilden is the number one beach when you think of where hipsters like to go to. When we made the film two summers ago it was even more so, like a little bit more undiscovered and there was more of a mythology around it. It’s hard to find and you have to know someone who’s been there to get there. It’s kind of like, you’re supposed to go on a journey to Fort Tilden. You’re not supposed to take a car, you’re supposed to try to bike and go on some adventure.”
The ladies of Fort Tilden would be helpless without their phones, and in some scenes they are. They’re even helpless in one scene, shown in the trailer, in which they have phones, but still witness their bike being stolen mere feet away.
Rogers: “We weren’t sure about putting in the thing with the bike. But being in New York is a daily celebration of the bystander effect. Every day you’re letting something happen, just because you’re not sure if you’re supposed to participate in anything, because so many things happen on a daily basis and you’re never sure where the lines are.”
Some of the people Allie and Harper encounter they almost immediately slag off, often via texting. It looks like a character flaw, and ultimately it may be, but it’s certainly not inaccurate of this generation. (Or most any generation, if we’re doing an honest audit.) But it’s the way they talk about them that’s most revealing.
Bliss: “You might think, ‘Oh, they’re so mean or whatever,’ because they’re talking to each other about other people behind their backs a lot, but I mean, I do that too. I’m not ashamed of that. They’re not always intending to be mean to other people.”
Rogers: “It took a long time trying to figure out what they should say about these musician-friends they don’t like, but when they call them ‘tediously adorable’, they’re definitely talking about themselves. Well, also the majority of the things that they say about other people could be said about them too. We were always conscious to make sure that they were always talking about themselves whether they knew it or not.”