When 15-year-old Sam looks through his divorced mother’s old videotapes from the summer of 2006, he finds footage that reignites his belief in one thing: True love does exist.
YouTuber Elle Mills is about to release her debut short film, Reply. The LGBTQ+ love story stars actresses Ava Capri and Ciara Riley Wilson as its leads, with the film being just as wholesome as it is beautiful. Utilizing the talented mind of producer Michael Murphy, Mills is able to create something truly special for audiences to enjoy.
Streaming exclusively on Creator+ starting November 10, Pop Crave chatted with director Elle Mills and producer Michael Murphy to discuss their upcoming short film, Reply, and how they hope fans will embrace the film. Keep reading for the full interview!
In five words, how would you describe your short film, Reply?
Elle: Oh, boy! Michael, you can go first!
Michael: Nostalgic and cute… while pretty.
Elle: I love that! I think nostalgic, cute, wholesome… and love [laughs]!
You guys gave this film some amazing direction, and the acting from your two leading women is phenomenal! What was it like watching Ava and Ciara bring your characters to life?
Elle: Oh my gosh, it was insane! I wrote the script with them in mind, so I was really hoping that they would say yes. When they said yes, I remember the first day of rehearsals with Ava and Ciara. They did the first scene, and I was like, “Oh, shit, perfect!” Like, it was insane. I feel like they embody what I wanted the characters to be. Honestly, the film is charming but in a warm way, and I think they’re both that. I think that they’re both so talented, and my favorite part of the whole experience was working with them. Seeing these characters I came up with in my head have a heartbeat, it was unreal.
The music of the short film does such a great job at capturing the feelings I was having while watching! What was the process of selecting the music like for Reply, and what kind of music were you trying to go for?
Elle: Thank you so much! I did YouTube for years, and music was always how I started making my videos. I would have the music laid out first. This is my first short film, and for me, the music was super important. I had known Adam Melchor who sang “Begin Again” in the film, so we wanted to keep it within my scale of people where I could maybe ask to use their song. I’m also just a huge Adam Melchor fan, so that’s where his song came to play. The others were just like the songs I listen to. I listen to indie pop, and I kind of wanted this film to be a representation of me. That’s how I found them, and those songs were actually written into the script. I had the flow of it before even shooting. I appreciate that you liked the songs, because the songs were very important to me. They were a hard thing to get the licensing for, but we got it done!
Elle, I know this is your first short film, but you’ve done a lot of iconic YouTube videos in the past and have also recently worked on a music video for Joshua Bassett! How many things were you able to take from those prior experiences and apply to this film, and how many new things did you still have to learn while making Reply?
Elle: Prior things were story. I feel like that’s something I knew going into it. I’m like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing!” That’s always something that was holding me back from really getting into directing: my lack of experience of the technical side of things. Going into it, I knew I was passionate, I knew how to tell a story, and so I felt confident in that. I had a lot of excitement. I feel like I’m a good leader when I need to be, so I was holding onto that, but what I learned was honestly through Michael Murphy right here. He’s been doing writing, directing, and producing years prior to me doing it, and so having him guide me and answer all my questions… Honestly, the whole experience was a learning process. I really just jumped into the deep end and was just trying to stay afloat. Winging it! I feel like everyone on set was super down to teach, and I feel like I was really upfront about that. I don’t really know everything, but I feel like everyone was super down for that. It was very much a passion project.
Michael, on the other hand, you’ve made a plethora of short films in the past! “Dead Wonder” is a more recent one that I really loved! Specifically with Reply, what was the moment on set where you realized that this film was going to be something really special?
Michael: I think it was kind of this process throughout. The answer kind of came to fruition slowly but surely, and then by the end, we were just 100% sure. My intention going into this – knowing that this was Elle’s first short, that this was obviously something that was going to be a very memorable experience, but also that this was going to be something that really represented her – as a filmmaker, I really wanted to build a team around her of people that not only understood the film, understood her, and really matched what she was trying to do, but I think also [people] that were experienced and knew how to operate on the set of that scale and what it was going to be. It just ended up being perfect. I can’t say it enough, but this was the most perfect set I’ve ever been on. We were wrapping early, we were throwing birthday parties during lunch, we had extended lunch! There were just so many things that we were able to do because the entire set was so well-padded and put together. Normally where you hit bumps on most productions, we weren’t hitting them. That kind of was that slow realization of, “Oh my God, this is really great!” Then we wrapped and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’re all crying a little!”
I was truly taken aback by how many themes and questions popped up in my head after watching this short film. One thing I was reminded of was that the U.S. currently has a very high divorce rate, which has led to a lot of people losing their belief in true love. This film does a great job, I think, at showing that true love exists – but maybe societal expectations and pressures can lead us to ending up with someone who isn’t really the one. I wanted to ask, what was your intention behind structuring the film as being told through the perspective of a divorced mother’s son?
Elle: Yeah, growing up, I feel like every single marriage that I was surrounded with ended up in divorce. I do think it’s interesting, because I do think I’m like a hopeless romantic – and also my brother, to be honest, too. I love romance films. In hindsight, I kind of notice that. I do think I resonate with Sam the most out of all the characters in the film, this idea of true love does exist. I think that’s how it came to play. Love is very bittersweet, and I think that’s kind of what my approach was. With just life in general, that’s how I see life. It’s both beautiful and sad, and I think that’s something to embrace.
REPLY will be streaming exclusively on Creator+ on Thursday, November 10.