Awards Daily chats with actress and filmmaker Haley Finnegan about her new short film and how to get more Instagram followers without really trying.
For most people, Instagram is a way to show off vacation photos and pictures of pets. And for the select few known as influencers, it’s a way of life.
Actress and filmmaker Haley Finnegan (Netflix’s Mascots) examines life as an influencer in her short film Westfalia, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival Friday, April 26. The short film follows a couple that embarks on a road trip in order to gain more followers on Instagram.
I chatted with Finnegan about the concept behind this film, why social media can be depressing, and the challenges of writing, directing, and starring in the project.
Awards Daily: Where did the idea for this short film come from? Do you spend a lot of time on Instagram?
Haley Finnegan: I definitely do. More than I like to admit. I definitely start my day checking Instagram first, and I wish I could say it was [for] the news. (Laughs.) But it isn’t. Sometimes it sparks me to check the news, which is good. I look at Instagram and check to see what my friends are up to, what influencers are up to. It is a big part of being an actress now, having a big following, which can be a little frustrating. The night that I wrote Westfalia, I was feeling like I wanted to quit acting. I was sick of getting close and then having it be that I had to audition against someone who had more influence or who had a bigger count on Instagram. I was a little cynical, so I just wanted to poke fun at that world.
AD: Well you do a good job! I found the short film incredibly depressing, which is a compliment. Was that the intended reaction? I think it’s spot-on commentary about social media.
HF: When you write a story, you always want to have somebody in your script who’s relatable. I think the reason that it’s depressing is that it is relatable. They are outside in this beautiful place, sitting next to somebody they claim to love, and they’re on their phones. Why can’t that be enough? Why do they need this big following? I think Instagram is an incredible outlet and can be a great thing for an artist to have, this place to be free to express themselves, but I think sometimes people can go after it the wrong way and that’s why it’s depressing.
AD: Emelia says throughout the film, “We should be Christian. We’ll get more followers.” Is that something you’ve noticed, too?
HF: I’m a Christian, and I have noticed within people I follow that they will post within their bio, ‘Proverbs or ‘John 3:16’ and then they never do anything else having to do with being Christian. But they gained this huge following just because they identify in this way, and I think that’s ridiculous. And also, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing! I wanted to bust on that.
AD: How challenging was it to direct, star, and write this film?
HF: The writing part was the easy part. I was so excited about it the night it I wrote it. As far as directing, it was really hard because I wasn’t just directing—I wore a lot of hats. It’s really hard to be creative but also tell someone to make sure our lunch was setup or to make sure we were set up for our next location. The acting was so rewarding. This is why I did it. Nobody was giving me the chance to do what I wanted to do, and I chose people I loved working with. Brody is played by Bryan Flynn, who’s on my improv team. I work with him at least once a week and have for the past three years, so that comes naturally. We had so much fun with that. It was hard because we couldn’t put everything in the film, because we improvised it. A lot of the dialogue wasn’t written. The hardest choices were directing and then editing and saying, ‘This is better than this take, and this is why’ and knowing that there’s this other take out there that no one will ever see.
AD: Speaking of you and Brody, I couldn’t help but wonder how the couple met and what they do for a living. Do you have a background story in mind for them? How do you think they evolved into this state of their relationship?
HF: I think they’re both perfectly disconnected. Emelia is probably a trust fund kid and Brody had quit his job for it. It’s her spearheading it. Emelia drafted this all, and Brody’s along for the ride. He really does want to make it work, because it would be a lot better than working. I don’t think he hates camping the way she does.
AD: Has working on this film made you look at your own social media engagement differently?
HF: It’s really funny. I just produced a film I used my life savings on and Instagram is the best way to market it. I’m using Instagram more than I have in years, which is the opposite of what I want to be doing! I do try to be either self-deprecating with my posts or just really honest about how I’m feeling. I do try to be mindful of taking time off.
AD: I try to do that, too. I totally get that. My last question is, the film leaves you wanting more—is there a future for these characters?
HF: I actually have been wanting to make it a feature-length film since I wrote it. A lot of people have said, ‘This should be a [TV] series,’ but I love movies. I love seeing a story resolved. I am trying to go that route. [The feature-length version] actually is a similar story, but expanded, understanding who Emelia and Brody are and what they want. The Laura and Nick characters grow in the future. I want to show the behind the scenes of how Emelia and Brody can be influenced by them and how great Laura and Nick’s life appears to be is influencing them in a negative way. It’s a realistic look at what it means to be influenced.
Westfalia premieres Friday April 26, 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival as a Funhouse selection.