Brooke and Doug Purdy’s film, QUALITY PROBLEMS would most typically be defined as a dramedy, or maybe it would be comedic? In other words, the film, which puts a semi-fictional spin on the couple’s real-life experiences handling Brooke’s breast cancer diagnosis as well as raise a couple of kids, help manage the care for a father with the early onset of dementia ,and deal with…life, is not so easily categorized. And just like real life, the film has funny moments – both silly and wry, and dramatic moments with literal life and death implications. The great success of the film is that the Purdy’s personalities on-camera, and obviously off-camera as well, defeat everything standing in their path. Whether it be the pitfalls that a “personal” project like this almost always has, or even if it is the serious as fuck two-on-one battle versus the reality of cancer attacking one of them, they push forward, a little bruised for the effort, and imperfect in the execution (of say, acquiring the perfect cake for a party), making it to the finish line with well-earned smiles.
1 Brooke gets a cancer diagnosis and one of the responses the two of you have is, “You know what we should do? We should totally film everything!” Okay, medically speaking, why did you think that was a good idea?
Brooke: It’s all we could think of to empower ourselves. When I first got diagnosed, I was in a daze. You’re shuffling from this doctor to that surgeon to that oncologist. Plus, I was juggling a 3 ½-year-old and an 18-month-old. It. Was. Bananas. Since I went to film school and both of us are arty types, the only thing I could think to empower myself in an otherwise powerless situation was to document. If I made my focus about getting good footage/telling the “story” then I didn’t have to think about possibly dying. We actually got creatively inspired in thinking about it- rather than terrified.
Doug: I honestly didn’t think we’d ever use it creatively, but it was kind of a wonderful distraction. Something we could control in an instance where we didn’t have much control. Now I’m so happy we did it. It really adds something to the film.
2 Do the two of you have to play Rock, Paper, Scissors when you wake up to decide who gets to be the extrovert that day? Is there a schedule? How exactly does it work with you two?
Brooke: That’s no choice. We are both pretty extroverted on most days. Our. Poor. Kids. BUT- we have determined that only ONE of us gets to FREAK OUT about (money/career/health/parenting/politics) at a time. If both of us do at the same time, it turns into that sleepwalking scene from STEPBROTHERS…except with more profanity and blame.
Doug: Ditto. We’re always complete jackasses. I love you Brooke.
3 Speaking of the script, the most harrowing of personal dramas can be muted by clumsy writing or a script that lacks nuance. I think this film earns the emotions, so how much development did the script go through and how much of that “nuance” was found in the editing room?
Brooke: I had originally written a script about a “family” much like ours, living in a house, much like ours, etc. with the intention of us doing it as a project. This was just before the diagnosis. So- we got a bit caught up in beating death, raising kids, starting 2 businesses and … “life”. Doug had always said it needed “more.” Higher stakes. I went back in in 2015 after having met an amazing writing partner and editor in Colette Freedman – one of QUALITY PROBLEMS producers (& “Debbie” in the film). She helped me add back the “stakes” of breast Cancer and we were on our way. The film was shot exactly as written but did not become the film that it is now until our BRILLIANT editors (& the Producers of the film) Jen Prince and Jhennifer Webberly came on board. I cannot say enough about their gifts. Many late nights and crazy, caffeine riddled sessions later, they brought it to it’s beautiful balance of hilarity and empathy. They are truly GIFTED.
Doug: More ditto. It was such an organic process, the script growing as a reflection of our lives then continuing through filming and post. It speaks to the collaborative nature of the project.
4 Let’s talk about Doug’s bedroom “performance” in the film (without giving people spoilers). How many takes did it take and did he successfully get that out of his system (or does that continue to be a problem – I’m guessing here)?
Brooke: No, that was very much “based in truth”. It took two takes with two cameras. I lost my voice, he nearly broke a foot and our sound guy wanted to burn his rents from his face. #success
Doug: That kind of thing happens almost daily around here. If I don’t make my wife laugh hard everyday I’m not doing my job as a husband. And it was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. We had to do it without anyone laughing so I didn’t know if any of it was funny or useable. I hope it translates. And my kids now need therapy.
5 I write and produce with my wife, but on the set one of us is the director and the other is either the AD or stays in that producer role. How did the two of you divide up the directorial responsibilities on set?
Brooke: As you probably know, anytime anyone hears “Husband and Wife Directing Team” the eye rolls are nearly audible. But we were well practiced. We met in an acting class, directed two plays and many shorts together. We took turns. When I had the brunt of the acting work – he directed. and vise versa. When on screen together we relied on our amazing Producer Jen for any tweaks. It was a dream to do actually. If we had that same organization and flow with our household we’d be Martha Stewart… without the prison time.
Doug: Yeah, it was pretty seamless. I had a bit of a tough time the first couple of days, but we learned to plan it out the night prior so it was pretty easy on set. I don’t think Brooke and I ever had any drastic takes on scenes. If we disagreed, we would try both and see what worked. And having our editors in the room REALLY helped.
6 Never work with kids and animals. That’s a time-honored adage. Is that exacerbated when it’s your own kids or is it even more of a pain-in-the-ass production-wise?
Brooke: Well, we had the benefit of really liking our kids (and pets). Since I wrote it with them in mind, I knew what their strengths would be. Having said that, they blew us away… every take. And that’s on screen. Not just us as their parents talking. Also, they got to go to “movie camp” for an entire summer. They were surrounded by our amazing crew and cast of mostly friends and family. It was a working “village.” They were supported and gave us choices we never thought possible. Now… working with “other” kids and pets…? Not so much. And our dogs’ rider contracts were ridiculous.
D: The kids were honestly some of the easiest people to direct. They just “got it.” They never tried to push, which hard for kids. They usually went under. Simple and nuanced. Always knew their lines (better than us). And they really got into it. Not just the acting, but the entire process. I’m so proud of them.
7 This is a micro-budgeted feature that enjoys the appearances of some very familiar faces in the cast, one of whom makes an uncredited cameo. Were all of them friends that obviously LOVE you both or was it something else that got them to agree to be part of QUALITY PROBLEMS?
Brooke: A little of both. One, we ARE ridiculously charming. I wrote many of the parts with actors we already knew and loved in mind. But also, since we started with a core group of very close friends, everyone that they brought in was already “vetted” and fit so well. It was – no lie – a literal “Love Fest”. It set the bar for future projects and collaborations pretty high.
Doug: We were just so lucky. We got such great actors. And ZERO drama. I can’t stand actor drama. Insecurity I get. I understand that because we all deal with that. But when it turns into actor drama there’s just no place for it. Everyone was just so chill throughout. I learned so much, both as an actor and a director, from these people.
8 A question for Brooke. Be honest here, since you play the fitness boot camper leader so convincingly, I have to ask: At any point in your life did you have the Jane Fonda exercise tape and bow before her leg warmer-wearing altar?
Brooke: HA! Uhhh, no. At one time I was a punk rock girl, chain smoking Marlboro Menthols, downing Diet Coke and very… single. The genesis to trainer was post marriage, kids, cancer and “broke-ness”. I’m still “punk rock” … I just do so from inside a mini-van. I also secretly think Jane is a cyborg sent here to age better than us mere mortals.
9 You are just starting the film festival tour with QUALITY PROBLEMS, but having gone through the experience making the film, can you easily project to more Brooke and Doug feature film team ups? And would the dynamic stay the same as far as writing and directing responsibilities or would there be a shift in who does what based on the experience of making this one?
Brooke: We are actively looking for something to do together. I have been on a writing-BLITZ and we are thinking on our next venture among those scripts. I think our first choice would be to do something together. I know that, personally, I would want to either direct Doug or co-direct something with him. There’s a shorthand and continuity of taste there that can’t be replicated. I’m spoiled and he’s cute, so it’s a no-brainer.
Doug: We’ve got some ideas. She’s got a bunch of scripts. I’ve written a couple. We’re trying to narrow it down. I’m itching to direct again. I just like working with my wife. She’s my best friend so it’s fun just doing anything with her. Directing or acting, I don’t care. We just wanna keep doing stuff together.
10 Popcorn or Candy?
Brooke: AH! Another “perfect combo”: I am popcorn (to an obsessive degree) and he is Peanut M&M’s (also near obsessed. ) We will share but only a little. We are choice-loyal. Like the movie and kid-making- it just works.
Doug: I’m partial to 3-day old ceviche…
QUALITY PROBLEMS makes its world premiere on Saturday at the Cinequest film festival in San Jose.