Ingrid Goes West director Matt Spicer on how this Sundance darling was inspired by his own 'addiction' to social media

Nicola Chan |

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Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid who has an obsessive personality.

There’s no denying that social media has become an addiction for many. But if it weren’t for this unhealthy obsession, we probably wouldn’t have had the pleasure of having Ingrid Goes West at the Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong this year.

The drama follows the cyber addict and social media stalker Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) who moves to Los Angeles to follow and get close to Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). 

 “I definitely struggle with social media addiction myself,” director Matt Spicer confessed to Young Post.

“What I felt was interesting about Instagram was I found myself looking at other people a lot. It’s very voyeuristic, and so I thought it would be interesting to do a movie where a character took that to the extreme.”

Apart from his own observations, he was also inspired by his girlfriend Sarah Ramos, an actress who uses the app for work. He noticed Ramos had “weirdos reaching out to her [on Instagram]”.

Spicer added that his girlfriend’s annoyance at his compulsion to use the phone at dinner also made him question his unconscious habit.

“That bothered me. Why do I feel so addicted to this?  What is making me do this?”

Considering that “this is something interesting that is happening [to many people] right now,” he decided to make a movie to explore all the questions he has about social media addition.

Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, right) doesn't know it, but Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is obsessed with her.
Photo: Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong

He started the project by selecting actors and actresses whom he’s a fan of, and then gave them roles which they hadn’t had a chance to play before.

“We wanted to have actors feeling like they are doing something a little bit different than what they usually do.”

Therefore, the comedy actress Plaza played the mentally unstable Ingrid, drama queen Olsen was assigned the comedic Taylor, and the dramatic O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays a “comedic and romantic” Dan Pinto (Ingrid’s landlord).  

“It’s an opportunity for people to play in different sandboxes, to really stretch themselves and do weird stuff,” he added.

Although having to shoot the film in 25-days was a constraint, Spicer thought the pre-production was most “soul-crashing” and “draining”.

He explained that he ran into “all the obstacles” of not having adequate financial resources to turn the script he loved into reality. That's why, he elaborated, to make his vision a reality he had to either learn to compromise or stand up for what be believes in when compromising isn't an option.

“(Sometimes) you have to think of a new way around something; so it’s just a lot of logistical stuff that isn’t as fun.’

Spicer acknowledged Plaza and Olsen for giving their “best performance” at the close-to-final Halloween Party scene in which Taylor reproached Ingrid for trying to befriend her with the hidden motive of gaining popularity in social media.

“They knew their characters so well, and they had really liked each other in real life. That’s why I think…a lot of their real selves came to [life].”

He also explained that he deliberately pushed this scene towards the end of the shooting to give the two lead actresses “more to draw from than at the beginning” when they were less familiar with each other. 

The number of Spicer’s followers on Instagram has jumped from 500 to 3000 in time with the release of Ingrid Goes West. And as his reputation grew he felt his “relationship with social media” has changed accordingly.

“Before the movie, I was the voyeur, I was more of the Ingrid, and now I feel like more of the Taylor in some ways [and] to certain people. That’s been a really interesting dynamic shift.”

The fact that the public – and not only his friends – are reading his Instagram posts has made him “more self-conscious” about the content he shares.

“I always respect the people who are able to just be themselves online and not think about it. For better or worse,” he chuckled.