Hailing from the small city of Columbus, Ohio, filmmakers Ori Segev and Noah Dixon have made their directorial debut with Poser, which premiered to much acclaim at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Now arriving in theaters, it’s a unique blend of satire, dark humor recalling Yorgos Lanthimos, and obsession-led thrills to create a wholly unique visual atmosphere that also matches the genres of the local music scene.
Poser stars Sylvie Mix as “Lennon Gates,” a shy, monotonous podcaster who uses her strange approach to recording sound to find a throughline into the local arts scene in hopes she can fit in. Upon interviewing local bands for her podcast, she attempts to steal their lyrics and pass them off as her own. She then discovers the bubbly and charismatic Bobbi Kitten (playing herself) and a dark tale of obsession and lies unfolds. Poser marks an incredible debut performance from Mix as she takes us down a delusional path of self-cultivation and paints a fascinating portrait of an obsession gone awry.
Ahead of the film’s New York and Los Angeles rollout this Friday, I spoke with Segev and Dixon about the world of podcasting, capturing various genres of music, social anxieties, their filmic influences, working with artists, and more.
The Film Stage: How did you guys get your start?
Noah Dixon: So there’s a small liberal arts school near Columbus called Denison University. And that’s where we met. I originally went to school for music but ended up not liking it as much and switched over to film. And that’s where I met Ori and we just kind of knew. It’s a very, very small program. I don’t know how many people were in our class, like ten or 15 or something—not in their class, but the film program there. And we immediately knew that we creatively vibed together and kind of, like, filled out each other’s strengths and weaknesses and just continued doing that.
After we graduated from Denison we moved to Columbus and started a production company with our producers, Brett Reiter and Drew Johnson, who were also classmates of ours. And we spent years here in Columbus making music videos, commercials, and short films. Kind of doing everything that we could all leading up to this. All of us dreamt of making a feature one day.
Creating a podcast is such a fascinating way to peer through obsession. What made you guys want to tap into that specific medium? And, what is your relationship to podcasting like?
Ori Segev: When we were coming up with this story, we were like, what’s the perfect way to be able to talk to anybody that you want to? That’s a podcast. You know, it’s like, “Hey, I got this thing, let’s chat for a little bit.” It just felt like the perfect way to meet people that you wouldn’t normally get to meet and be able to talk to them one on one. And so it kind of started there and just like felt like the perfect fit.
There’s an interesting correlation between podcasting and then also criticism. So, what’s your relationship with criticism in general? And do you listen to specific podcasts?
Noah Dixon: Over the years we’ve shared a lot of podcasts back and forth. But I don’t know if the podcasts we listen to are necessarily like music or film critics as much. But the whole world of criticism, it’s all new to us because this is our first movie and our first thing kind of putting stuff out there. And I think there’s a certain level of isolation being here in Ohio and making things in Columbus. We’re getting reviews and things like that; it’s all very new to us.
So was there a little trepidation stepping in?
Noah Dixon: Maybe a little? I think, when we made the movie, we didn’t necessarily expect it to be shown outside of Ohio. We wanted to make a movie with our friends and we wanted to try to prove to ourselves that we can make a movie that we thought was cool. But I think getting the opportunity to premiere at Tribeca and distribute the film further—like, those are all things that were not on our radar. It’s all better than we ever expected.
What was it like working with burgeoning musicians? They’re performers but not necessarily actors. What were those conversations like, and how much did you shape the script around their personas?
Ori Segev: Well, we had a lot of friends that felt like they should be in a movie. They’re already such characters. I mean, Bobbi and Z, for example, I think it started with them. Where they look and feel like they should be on screen. They both have such big personalities––Bobbi more than Z, but he holds the screen in his own way. And I love a character that doesn’t say anything for the entire movie. But for a couple of them we had Sylvie conduct interviews with the bands. We did, like, a 45-minute interview with pretty much everyone, even though we only use a line here or there. I think that helped Sylvie get into her character and also let the bands have fun, poking a little bit of fun at their personas. But also answering these questions and being able to feel really natural as themselves.
I love some of the scenes, like the performance-art sequence when there are two people dancing going back and forth in this funny motion. Were you skeptical at all regarding some artists you met in Columbus? Was there any part of you that wanted to make fun of them and their intentions?
Noah Dixon: Everybody that we worked on the film with, we had known and were friends with already and we told them up front that there is this element of both being a love letter to these experiences that we’ve had in our twenties––going to shows and going to performance art that we do appreciate and are inspired by and love––but also, there is something totally ridiculous and pretentious about it. But from the very beginning of this project, I think we knew we were going to be towing those lines and balancing those things. And luckily everybody we worked with on the film knew that. And that’s our producer and wardrobe in the performance art scene.
Ori Segev: When they sent that clip they put together probably a 20-minute performance art piece that is, basically, the movie front to back in order, but just very, very abstract and funny. But bouncing off what Noah said, I feel I’ve been inspired by some performance art and then I’ve also been on the side where I don’t really get what’s happening at all. And you’re kind of just standing there. So I think we’re also poking a little bit of fun at our experiences as well.
So do you guys believe in that old adage that great artists steal?
Noah Dixon: To some extent for sure. I think that in everything that Ori and I do, every project that we’ve worked on, there’s definitely an element of us either pulling up YouTube clips or referencing movies. But, as is anything with art, I think there’s a gray area between what is too much and what is crossing the line. You have to ask, what is stealing versus pulling inspiration? And that might be different things with different people. And when it comes to originality and being creative, Ori and I are definitely okay with pulling from filmmakers or musicians that we really respect and love. And other people that inspire us.
That’s why Lennon was such a fascinating character: she was an artist in the way she would go around stealing audio and putting it together with other noises she recorded. What do you think it is about a person like Lennon that would make her reluctant, to be honest about her work?
Noah Dixon: Because it’s so precious, you know. I think a lot of people can relate to this, whether you’re an artist or not. There’s this prolonged feeling of walking into a room and wanting to connect with people but feeling awkward or having social anxieties around that interaction. And I think there’s a lot of films out there that use themes that are more like high school films or middle school films where it’s more like, what’s it like to go to a high school party? Or what’s it like to go to a middle-school party? But I think that continues throughout your life. And what we wanted to do with Poser and with this Lennon character specifically is show social anxieties in these art spaces and music scene spaces. But I think it’s a universal feeling. And I think that societal pressures cause you to do that and take your art to weird levels.
What kind of films inspired you? Were there particular films you guys watched and stole from or inspired you to make this?
Ori Segev: As far as visually, The Neon Demon. I love that movie and I really like those saturated colors. And as we were shooting, I was always talking about that movie. And I think that’s how I see a lot of photography. Every once in a while, we’ll use an image I found on Instagram from someone I follow. I’m like, I don’t know what it is about this image, but I want to figure out how to film it or that vibe. So I think we pull a lot from random things that sometimes don’t make sense even when we’re filming but we got there.
Yeah, because a lot of the photography is gorgeous. There’s a lot of great low-light, hazy photography in the party scenes.
Ori Segev: We love haze. [Laughs] I’m trying to haze everything. [Laughs] Haze is awesome. I mean, I just love how it looks. And I think we wanted that grungy, raw, aesthetic where it looked like somebody just smoked up in this basement like five minutes ago without being too nail on the head about it.
Noah Dixon: There are a lot of music films to a fault that I feel are glossy or fake in a way. And I think because we knew we were working with real bands, we wanted to shoot it to look like it’s an underground show or a basement show, or a warehouse show. So I think Ori took a lot of time and dedicated a lot of effort to creating the lighting setups to be what those settings would look and feel like. Not making it overly glamorous or super cinematic but lighting it like how it would be lit in those spaces.
So I wanted to ask about Bobbi Kitten. What made you cast her and what kind of direction did you guys give her and Sylvie? Because the story hinges on their relationship and how it evolves.
Ori Segev: Well, I’ll start with how we met Bobbi. We did a music video for a whole different band, about five years ago at this point. So we cast Bobbi as the lead for that music video and she was amazing to work with. Bobbi is so talented and has such fun energy. And we always knew, we got to work with Bobbi again on something. When Noah pitched Poser it felt like we wrote it for her.
Noah Dixon: Before we even knew what Lennon’s character would be, we knew Bobbi. We wanted to write a film around her and her band and like Ori said, she’s charismatic. So I knew I wanted to create a character that was the antithesis of Bobbi. So that’s how we came up with the Lennon character. But yeah, in many ways, it was easy to direct and edit them. Because once the cameras are rolling Bobbi is essentially playing herself. She is this incredibly bubbly and charismatic energy. So she can hold the frame in such a unique way without saying anything. We really lucked out and it was just so easy to work with the both of them.
Awesome. So were you guys reluctant to center a story around someone like Lennon because she’s so monotonous but also a true psycho and did you ever worry that that might hurt the film?
Noah Dixon: I think we were worried a lot in the beginning because we had never done something like this. We hadn’t had much experience. We’ve done a lot of music videos and commercial work, but we just don’t have much experience with dialogue. And again, this is our first movie, so there was a lot at the beginning that I remember. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to pull this off. And we had a bunch of backup plans but I think we were ready to adapt where it’s needed. And luckily, within the first couple of days, we knew that we could pull off that light in character and we knew that she’d be able to hold the frame and audiences would be interested in watching her for these monotonous slow takes.
What is your favorite subgenre of music in Columbus? Because there are so many little funny ones in the film and in particular that one scene where Lennon is interviewing the bands, I think my favorite was “junkyard bop.”
Noah Dixon: I mean, it’s so hard. What’s so unique about Columbus is there are all these different subgenres and it’s a smaller city. But when you’re in a bigger city like New York or Austin there’s a punk scene or a rap scene and they’re distinct. But in Columbus, because it’s smaller you see a lot more overlap across genres.
Ori Segev: You just made me think about when we were doing the scene you’re talking about, we just had like all the crew members yell out more subgenres that they’re making up and like, I can’t remember them all, but there were so many funny ones.
And then there was that one band who said they were “Girl Death Pop.” I was like here’s a genre I could get into. [Laughs.]
Ori Segev: That idea played a huge role in the movie. They’re an amazing band. And Carly who wrote the song that Lennon ends up stealing for herself, Carly let us use that song. And we knew if the song didn’t work neither would the movie.
Is that Sylvie actually singing? She has a beautiful voice.
Noah Dixon: We didn’t know that at the beginning. I think originally we were just going to have her take the words from the song. But we discovered through her Instagram page that she’s this incredible singer. So we incorporated that more into the film as well.
Ori Segev And she actually wrote the final song in the last podcast. So that’s an original. It’s kind of crazy.
What’s the last great movie you guys have seen?
Noah Dixon: We saw Everything Everywhere All At Once together. That was awesome. I did see the new Cronenberg too, Crimes of The Future.
Oh, that was great. I saw that too.
Noah Dixon: That was really cool. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, even though I love Cronenberg’s stuff. I didn’t really know much about it going into it.
Ori Segev: I watched this French movie, Mandibles, that I was recommended and it was awesome. It’s like a French stoner comedy about a pet fly. It was so weird, you know. It was 100% up my alley. I loved it.
Are those the kind of films you like?
Ori Segev: I do. I loved Jay and Silent Bob growing up. I saw them for the first time in middle school and their stuff is so funny. But I’m sort of all over the place. I like documentaries a lot. I like a movie where I can just turn it on late at night and not worry about the filmmaking as much. Sometimes it’s hard for me to turn my brain off—like, how somebody made it. But then there are a lot of other films that I’ve dug over the years, like Victoria.
The first part of your movie reminded me of a Yorgos Lanthimos film—there is something tragicomic about it when it starts. She does the recording of the people talking in the gallery and then the classical music plays. Is that a filmmaker you two were thinking about when making it?
Noah Dixon: Always referencing Yorgos.
Ori Segev: [Laughs] 100%.
Noah Dixon: Yeah, there’s something totally intriguing about his dialogue. The pacing and the rhythm. Almost always. Anything that we’re working on, I feel we always reference him for sure. I think there’s something very stylistic about him in particular, and the dialogue we reference a lot.
Right. Because there’s a part of his work that works with monotony. There’s this weird, stunted aspect to his dialogue and it makes you feel like you’re not on planet Earth when you watch his films.
Noah Dixon: Totally. Yeah. It’s very dry and, as you said, just doesn’t feel like it’s on planet Earth or that people talk like this. And I think we’re both drawn to his work for that reason.
Ori Segev: But it also feels natural in his world and in the world of the film he created. I don’t know what he does. But it works.
Poser opens in NYC and LA this Friday, June 17 and will expand.