Internet Scammers and Doomscrolling Triggered Quinn Shephard’s Viral Hit ‘Not Okay’ | New
Writer and director Quinn Shephard, who appears via Zoom wearing a sensible black T-shirt with a shimmering gold necklace, is energetic and open when talking about his latest film Not good, even as it deals with the hardest truths of our society. Following one woman’s misguided journey to become the internet’s next trending personality, the film is a satirical cautionary tale that reflects how biased social media personalities influence the reality we live in. Starring Zoey Deutch (Danni Sanders), Dylan O’Brien (Colin) and Mia Issac (Rowan), the characters are connected through their collective use of the internet to deal with trauma.
It was this absurd contrast between scrolling scary headlines, influencer scandals and glossy beauty infomercials, and the resulting information overload, that sparked Shephard’s concept for the project. “Weirdly, I was like, ‘When they finally pass laws and stop the school shootings, stop everything, then this movie won’t be relevant anymore, and that’ll be awesome,'” she says. Instead, “it’s becoming more and more relevant, which is tragic.”
Originally from Metuchen, New Jersey, Shephard acted as an actress before focusing exclusively on film. She has appeared in films such as Unaccompanied minorsin which she portrays the sensitive but tough tomboy Donna Malone, and Cameron Post’s Bad Education, where she played the lead role’s best friend with benefits. The 27-year-old designer made her directorial debut with her feature film Blame, about a taboo relationship between an acting teacher and an unstable student, which she also wrote, produced, starred in, and edited. Shephard often creates multiple characters who are forced to make choices about the right or wrong way to act in order to tackle difficult themes such as bullying, abuse, and the addictive nature of popularity.
“I consider myself a very political person,” she says. “Talking about important topics is really crucial for me and my art.” And with Not goodit starts with the need to see more nuanced visions of on-screen femininity, even the unlovable ones.
MTV News: You realized Not good, your second major film, at only 27 years old. What initially made you switch to directing?
Quinn Shepard: I was an actress from a very young age. My mother introduced me to the theater when I was young and directed me for a few years. I made my first film, Blame, when I was 20, and my mom and I produced it together. She raised me to love movies. We always watched foreign films at my house, and other films, almost every night. Apart from such a great film education of the 80s and 90s, she showed me all the old Winona Ryder movies – Heathers, The Virgin Suicides, Heavenly Creatures. All these films marked me when I was a teenager.
I started taking film classes when I was in college, just a film program at a public school in New Jersey. I always felt really safe on set. I felt like it was a place where I could get interested in movies. It was always me and six guys doing costume makeup and running around with cameras and boom mics just being dumb. It was so much fun, and it was always where I felt really happy. I knew it was the only place where I could combine all my passions and all the different art forms that I enjoy.
MTV News: What inspired you to make this movie and focus on social media?
Shepherd: It was honestly something that came from the world around me when I started working on it. It was around 2018 when I was writing the first draft of the script, so it was both “Summer of Scam”, articles by Caroline Calloway, but also this massive rise in violence and Trump-era politics . I would go on Twitter and see this next to skincare ads and influencers, and it was very weird. I felt angry and anxious and wanted to talk about that feeling that so many young people had at the time. It was like you couldn’t look away from your phone, scrolling through the doom, but when you were on your phone, you felt it was almost detached from reality. Writing the script felt like a way to take the absurd darkness and lightness we lived with on a daily basis and the resulting anxiety and combine it into a film concept.
MTV News: I love that the movie features an unlikable female lead. What made you want to go in this direction?
Shepherd: I always love a complicated, morally gray, unsympathetic woman at the center of a story. We don’t see it enough. I love satire! We’ve had so many iconic satirical movies with extremely unlikable men at the center, like [American Psycho’s] Unkind men on the level of Patrick Bateman, and there’s never been a problem for people to understand where these movies stand politically. Men have long been used as vessels for satire. It really excited me to be able to make a movie like this that was committed to having an unlikable woman doing a lot of problematic things, which are also very specific to being a young woman on the internet. It’s a bit polarizing. Some people say, “Why would you put a woman in this movie?” I say to myself “Why not?”
MTV News: Not good seems to be asking people to examine their personal feelings about cancel culture through Danni’s dilemma. What do you want viewers to take away from this film?
Shepherd: There is no one right answer in social media or cancel culture. I think those are two complicated subjects. There’s no world where I want people to watch this movie and be like, ‘Oh, throw your phone in the ocean. Your phone is evil. It was more about gaining a real awareness and sense of humor about the absurdity of the internet, and also really understanding how it amplifies how we feel as a country right now. As young people living in America, I think the internet is a magnifying glass of our emotions, our privileges, and our prejudices. All of this impacts the media we consume on a daily basis. It impacts who we are.
I think it’s the same with cancel culture. It can be an incredibly toxic practice where we send rape and death threats to women which is not a solution for them to make a mistake. It won’t help them grow. On the other hand, holding people accountable for their actions is really important. The movie was a lot about exploring something that we live with now – it’s a real part of our world. I really wanted to explore, “What’s a satisfying ending for a character like this?” What more can we hope for? Is seeing them suffer satisfying for an audience? Is watching them have a happy ending a good ending? I wanted to follow that line and see where we landed with the story.
As young people living in America, I think the internet is a magnifying glass of our emotions, our privileges, and our prejudices. All of this impacts the media we consume on a daily basis. It impacts who we are.
MTV News: Mia Issac brought fire and passion to her role as Rowan, a gun control advocate for trauma. What was it like working with her?
Shepherd: Mia is amazing. Her performance in the movie is so beautiful. Working with her on set was such an honor. She was so young, just 17 when we shot, and this was her second acting project. She brings everything of herself every day. Every scene we worked on, it had playlists. We would sit down and talk about the times and emotions his character was going through. It was really easy to work with her. I think she really connected with Rowan on a deep level. It was that fire and that passion that drew me to her for the role, and she just rocked it.
MTV News: Zoey Deutch and Dylan O’Brien are adding nuance to their roles as Danni and Colin. Why did you choose them to embody these characters?
Shepherd: I think Dylan hadn’t really played a role like this before, but he’s such a talented comedic actor. He is also very good in the theater. For me, it was an instinct. We had a similar vision for the role. I did a Zoom meeting with him and I could just tell he had a great sense of humor and knew who this guy was the same way I did. We were both like, “Pete Davidson. Justin Biber. Kelly machine gun. Blonde hair, tattoos. We were really excited and sent each other the photos of the most ridiculous outfits and we instantly vibed. I knew he was really going to transform and he really did. He’s kind of unrecognizable in character in a great way.
With Zoey, I loved her work in so many projects. I loved him in Flower. I saw an ad for his first Tribeca and absolutely loved that performance. It was in my head when I was writing Not good. I saw her in my head when I was working on it because she’s so good at being an incredibly brave actress who isn’t afraid to play unkind women but also brings kindness and vulnerability to all of her characters. It’s no different. She’s committed so much to Danni. The fact that she can be so scared one moment and you really feel for her the next is something very special.
MTV News: did Not good changed your own relationship with social media?
Shepherd: I sincerely wish I could say “Yeah, I’m not on Instagram anymore”. But the problem is that the film made me more online because the search required me to be immersed in the Internet. I’m always on my phone because I’m always trying to follow trends and what’s happening on TikTok. I was in my hotel room and I was like, “I have to take a fit picture.” I was like, “Oh my god, I’m literally becoming Danni.” Maybe after the press, I’ll do a social media cleanup. Thanks for reminding me.
MTV News: Not good can be described as a political film. Do you see yourself making films that are similarly concerned with politics in the future?
Shepherd: It’s funny, I consider Not good quite a political film. My next project, which I can’t talk too much about yet, is a story that I think has a lot of social and political themes as well. It’s hard to say if I would make a movie marketed like that, because I like to Trojan Horses with something that looks entertaining but ends up with a lot of social issues in the end.