Free Samples, the debut feature from director Jay Gammill starring Jess Weixler (best known for her roles in the cult classic Teeth and indie rom-com Peter & Vandy), is one of those single location films that are so convenient for fresh-out-of-school filmmakers. Fewer sets, shooting days, and logistics of every kind make an elusive breakout feature that much more attainable. It could feel amateurish — but Free Samples has far too impressive a cast to be accused of that.
“It was very serendipitous how it turned out. I met the screenwriter Jim Beggarly, and we wanted to work together on a film… He was working on a project with Jesse Eisenberg at the time… and just through that relationship, [Jesse] read the script,” Gammill says. Weixler adds, “The film only requires one or two days from each of the people other than me. So I was like, ‘Oh, well who would be fun to do this with?’ I knew that we were going to shoot so fast that it would help to feel familiar with some people so that we could have at least some comfort or mojo in one or two takes.”
The result of the filmmakers’ networking and Weixler’s rolodex of actor friends is a roster that includes, in addition to Eisenberg — Jason Ritter, Matt Walsh, Halley Feiffer, Keir O’Donnell, and former Hitchcock leading lady Tippi Hedren (the 2012 HBO film The Girl was based on Hitchcock’s alleged obsession with her). Weixler plays Jillian, a disillusioned law school dropout trapped inside of her friend’s ice cream truck, which she has agreed to look after for the day, and each of these capable performers stops in at one point or another — some enticed by the “Free Samples” sign.
So there’s plenty to distract Jillian as she nurses a hangover and ponders a laundry list of her short life’s failures — an uncertain engagement and a squandered career particularly bothersome. “Jillian is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, like everything’s wrong,” Weixler says. “It was really fun to get to act like a sourpuss, since you’re not really allowed to do that in your normal life.” Weixler has a strikingly sunny disposition in person.
Gammill is more optimistic about his heroine’s likability. “I think from the get-go, I liked the character, and I didn’t really care about [whether she was likeable]. This is part of her character, and I did not want to diminish that,” he says. “If you made her so likeable from the top — where would she go? What would happen? What would the story be?” Presumably, it would be something very different from the acerbic quarter-life coming of age story he has created.
Free Samples hits Los Angeles cinemas today and is available on iTunes and OnDemand.