Filmmaker Sasha Collington on Genetics, Romantic-Comedies and Heartbreak

With her debut feature Love Type D, Sasha Collington challenges the rules of the modern dating world and the tropes of classic romantic comedies. Her film explores a hypothetical scientific discovery which allows people to identify if they are dumpers or dumpees.

After Frankie (Meave Dermody) receives her twelfth consecutive dumping, she decides she must somehow put a stop to the never-ending cycle of heartbreak. Wilbur (Rory Stroud), a scientifically-minded young boy who delivered his older brother’s dumping, becomes Frankie’s unlikely friend and side-kick. He encourages her to track down, date and re-break up with every single person who has ever broken her heart. Frankie hopes that Wilbur’s hypothesis will reverse the Type D gene and transition her from dumpee to dumper. Her ensuing behaviour brings into question the alarming and unhealthy behaviour we often see normalised in the typical romantic comedy.

Leoni Horton sat down with Sasha to discuss the genetics of love.

Screen Queens: So, Love Type D began life as a short titled Lunch Date, what inspired you to adapt the idea into a feature? 

Sasha Collington: Lunch Date is essentially the first scene of Love Type D, a woman getting dumped by the younger brother of her current boyfriend, and the ensuing moments. I didn’t really have any particular desire to develop it further because it was quite self-contained. Then I met an investor who was interested in putting in money, which never really happens, I mean, you hope that will happen, but it just doesn’t. He was very keen to keep those characters, but I didn’t want to write a story where a woman struggled to win back an ex-boyfriend who clearly wasn’t right for her. That story line isn’t something that I’d want to watch, so I decided to develop it further in terms of something more philosophical. 

SQ: The film reminded me of something like Black Mirror, I think because it plays with the idea of scientific possibilities. What drew you to the concept of our love lives being subject to genetic predisposition?

SC: I’m quite interested in science, it’s not really my background, so I did have to do a lot of research into epigenetics, or how your behaviour can affect your genetic code. That’s an idea which I found fascinating. At the start of the film, there’s a sense that you can blame the universe for your problems, then at the end, we come to some degree of realisation that you are an actor and you have responsibility. I like science. I always feel like there’s some incredible scientific discovery that people are ignoring, so I liked the idea of fusing a theoretical scientific discovery with a romantic comedy. Because I think that sometimes people think “Oh God, what if there’s something wrong with me?” So I was curious to discover that, if there was, what genetically you could do about it.

SQ: What I loved about Love Type D was its realm of possibility; it seems like anything is possible, from love potions to dating beyond the grave. Why was it important for you to bend the terms of reality in order to tell this story?

SC: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I have the perfect answer for it. I suppose that I like things that are a little bit surreal, and I’m also interested in the idea of perception. I don’t know if you’ve read The Secret, full disclosure, I don’t believe in The Secret, but I like the idea that if you decide you want to be rich, that you can then attract riches. It’s interesting to explore to what element certain things are predisposed. I think that certain things happen to you which you have no control over, but you can always look at your own behaviour and your own choices. I feel like so many romantic comedies are just about women meeting the right man, they are hardly ever about a woman reflecting on herself and her choices or growing. Given that society is evolving so much, surely these types of films have to be about more than people getting married.

SQ: Are you a fan of romantic comedies? Are there any that influenced you?

SC: Groundhog Day is an excellent example because it says something a little bit more philosophical. It has that premise that Bill Murray’s character has to improve himself to be ready for a relationship. I also really like Tootsie because again it says something larger, he [Micheal Dorsey] has to improve himself and explore what it’s like to be a woman. There’s also Planes, Trains and Automobiles but that isn’t so much a romantic comedy, it’s more like a buddy movie. I like the ones where people have to shift themselves a bit, and I think the ’80s and ’90s rom-coms say something a little bit more about life. I don’t necessarily like the ones where it feels like it’s all about meeting the right fairy-tale prince and finding the happy-ever-after because that’s just not true. 

SQ: I think Frankie’s journey points out some of the alarming or unhealthy behaviour we often see normalised in the world of modern dating. What are your feelings towards Frankie’s behaviour in the film?

SC: I definitely wanted her to act in an unethical way, to show how far some people are willing to go to ensure their own happiness or to make sure that they don’t get hurt. I don’t want to advocate her behaviour, but I do think it’s interesting. Plus women are given so much advice. There’s this book called The Rules —which we had a copy of because my Mum’s a therapist— and in it, there are all these rules that women are meant to adhere to, but if you tried to follow them all, you’d just go crazy. In the film, when Frankie does reflect on her behaviour, she is able to see just how ridiculous she was acting, but I do think that people can go a bit mad. There’s some really interesting research, where scientists give people MRI scans just after they’ve been broken up with. They’ve discovered that your brain waves are affected when you’re heartbroken, which does, unfortunately, send some people a bit nuts and make them do things that they wouldn’t normally do.

SQ: I absolutely loved the character of Wilbur; he and Frankie are such an unlikely duo who share fascinating chemistry. Why did you decide the role of Frankie’s friend and mentor should go to an eleven-year-old boy?

SC: I guess I was just thinking about the fact that he’s too young to have had a romance so he doesn’t really understand what Frankie is going through, but at the same time he has all of this great advice and wisdom. Sometimes children have a different moral necessity to adults because society isn’t swaying them in a particular direction. Plus, I liked the idea of an eleven-year-old boy giving out love advice when he’s never even kissed a girl, it’s a funny idea. I really enjoyed the idea of them being so different.

SQ: Yes, well, it’s such a role reversal because Frankie reminds me of a mopey teenager and Wilbur is more akin to a middle-aged man.

SC: Definitely. Wilbur was very fun to write for; he was actually based on the actor who played Wilbur in Lunch Date (Alexis De Vivenot). When I first met him, he just seemed very wise for somebody his age. There’s a saying that the more you realise, the less you know, so I like the idea that it’s as a child that you’re the wisest you will ever be in your life – at least in certain respects. 

SQ: Wilbur was definitely a scene-stealer, but I think the whole film has some great comedic beats. Have you always been interested in comedy?

SC: I like writing comedy, but it takes a while before you feel confident in making one. It’s hard in the beginning because you’re always thinking “what if nobody laughs”. It takes a degree of recklessness to give it a go, but it definitely feels like a genre that I’m happy working in. Because it feels like you can discuss darker issues and philosophical questions while also keeping it fun. I think I like comedy because it plays a role in cheering people up and because there’s something very familiar about it. At the end of the day, if I’m tired, and especially with the lockdown happening now, comedies seem like a welcoming place you can escape to. 

SQ: How did you find the process of finding your lead actors? 

SC: It was actually really hard. With Frankie, it was challenging to find a person who you could believe had been dumped so many times and who is also very funny and likeable. We auditioned a lot of people and didn’t find anyone – I’d say we were a few weeks away from shooting principal photography, and we didn’t have a lead actress. So, yeah, I was worried. Then I saw this film Griff The Invisible at the Berlin Film Festival, and there was this actress in it who I found very funny and very unusual. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I wrote to her agent at about two in the morning. It’s important to mention that Meave was in Australia at the time and that she came over to the UK pretty last minute. It was a bit nerve-racking, but as soon as we shot the first take, I just thought, yeah, she’s absolutely the right person.

With Wilbur, it was tough again because there’s so much dialogue. We had so many young boys audition but we just couldn’t find anybody, so I started looking at self-tapes. They always say that self-tapes are a bad idea, but in my opinion, they’re not. I saw his self-tape, and it was so cute and so funny. He began it by asking if he should do it with his glasses on or off, which was such a humorous introduction to him because he was thinking about it in such a serious way. As soon as I saw Rory, I knew he was the kid because he was so funny even though he was taking everything so seriously. 

SQ: I understand that the process of making the film took around five years? Has it been difficult to let go?

SC: It’s certainly been a bit of an ordeal, but I think that making an independent film is an ordeal. It took so long to make, we shot it over a number of years, and obviously, Rory was growing up. You change so much at that age, so it was an exhausting process trying to make it make sense. It turns out that creating a comedy is a lot less fun than watching a comedy, but I’m glad it’s completed, and I’d like it to find it’s home and the right audience. I think in the future, for me, I’m interested in working on an episodic project. 

SQ: And as a final question, do you have any advice for those who might relate to Frankie’s situation?

SC: I think my advice would be that all things pass. I hope that the message of the film reminds people that they are the masters of their own destinies. I think that it’s okay to feel a little bit stuck or without agency, but I want the film to remind everyone that they are the agent of their own destiny – so don’t forget that!

by Leoni Horton

Leoni Horton (She/Her) has a dog named Bill Murray and a Master’s Degree in Writing For The Screen. She spends most of her time thinking about her next cup of coffee, or which Safdie Brother would make the best boyfriend. Some of her favourite films include Blue Velvet, The Apartment and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Leoni can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd at @inoelshikari.

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