LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 12: Cooper Raiff attends the drive-in premiere of IFC Film’s “S#!%HOUSE” presented by Film Independent on October 12, 2020 in Woodland Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
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Cooper Raiff on Making a Movie with No Prior Filmmaking Experience

As a 23-year-old native Texan, Cooper Raiff decided to make a movie with no prior filmmaking experience. For his effort, S#!%house, he won the featured narrative competition at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. Taking up writing in high school, Raiff had no interest in directing but understood that no one would read anything he wrote unless he produced something first. So, the only way he could get his college love story on screen was to become a filmmaker, borrowing equipment without permission and filming on campus during a school break. The resulting short grew into this feature, which Raiff not only wrote and directed but also played the lead role and edited the film as well.

You birthed that first short while you were at Occidental College. How did that come about?

My sophomore year at Occidental College, I didn’t have spring break plans because I am not a fun person (laugh). My two best friends didn’t either. About a month before, I texted them saying, ‘why don’t we make a movie?’ but they didn’t want to. I somehow convinced them and I came up with this idea really fast. We were on a college campus so I thought, what is the easiest thing to make; I will just make a movie about college. It was the walk and talk part of Surprise, surprise. He did twelve hours later. What transpired next?

We met for lunch and talked about making that movie short into How risky was the title you chose?

I like titles that are a starting place for a movie. It introduces you to the world. For Alex, he had this awesome first home and this second home is feeling like a shitty home. He has a bad attitude but I think some of it is based in reality. College is tough. The first scene of the film has these two guys talking about a party at a place called the Shithouse. That is based on a real place at my school; there was this party house called Shithouse and I felt it was a great metaphor for how I was feeling then. It’s a dramatic title that is in your face. I wanted that to be the starting point for the film.

College is this transition from home to adulthood. Some people thrive. Some people get lost. So how difficult was that transition for you?

It was endlessly hard and painful. I wanted to make a movie about the pain of leaving home and growing up. First and foremost, it was hard for me. In order for me to get along, I turned my brain off a bit. Unlike Alex, I was more like the roommate. I drank a lot and didn’t think a lot about home. For the movie, I wanted Alex to be the interior me of my freshman year, the feelings I was pushing down.

What were you sad about?

I knew I wasn’t going to get that time back. Being totally free can be paralyzing. Alex can’t move. I could move my freshman year but I wanted to explore what it would have been like had I been so close to the pain of leaving home and growing up. Alex was close to it and it paralyzes him.

You forge this relationship in the film with your dorm advisor. It was almost a role reversal to the classic male-female scenario as you wanted the relationship and she just wanted sex.

Yeah. I don’t know if I thought about that going in. It was a gender flip where he wakes up and wants to go get breakfast and she is trying to sneak out. Movies usually show it the other way around. Alex is someone who used to have a safety net for 18 years and lost it and when he finds this girl, he thinks she is his new safety net and wants to stay there. When he wakes up, she is not there to catch him. The movie is based on a relationship I had with this girl in college for three years and that is how dynamic was. It was flipped I guess.