- “I am someone who writes my fears, and I was afraid that my career would cost me my relationship. So I wanted to write a movie about that,” says writer director Chloe Domont about her hit Netflix thriller, Fair Play.
- The film addresses everyday questions around modern masculinity, mining a specific type of male dread that manifests itself in an obsession with being “alpha,” fueled by a thriving podcast and YouTube industry.
- Domont hopes that her film raises questions about how the link between female empowerment and male fragility might be dismantled.
Chloe Domont’s thriller Fair Play provoked a Sundance bidding war that Netflix won for $20m and put the writer and director in the spotlight.
It’s the sort of triumph she is still wary of, in terms of how it impacts her own relationships, and was built on strength through adversity in what calls the “toxic link” between female empowerment and male fragility.
“What I really want to explore with this film is why is it that a woman being big, makes a man feel small?” she told Maggie McGrath in a video conversation. “Like why are those two things so closely linked? And I think it’s a systemic societal problem. I think that it’s the way society raises boys to believe that masculinity is an identity and that they have to fit in the box, that success is a zero sum game. And it’s not.”
According to Moviemaker, the film mines a specific type of male dread that manifests itself in an obsession with being “alpha,” fueled by a thriving podcast and YouTube industry.
Fair Play tells the story of two young employees at a cutthroat hedge fund, desperate for promotions. They’re secretly engaged, because company policy prohibits interoffice relationships. But things get nasty when Emily (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) begins to far outperform Luke (Alden Ehrenreich, Solo: A Star Wars Story).
Domont had earned a BFA Degree in Film & Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and by 2017, was earning steady TV directing jobs on high-profile projects like HBO’s Ballers, CBS’s Clarice and Showtime’s Billions.
The idea for Fair Play was “burning inside of me” she told McGrath as a result of her own experiences. “I had this feeling as my career was starting to take off, where my successes didn’t feel like a win, [but] like a loss because of the kinds of men I was dating. These were men who adored me for my strengths, or my ambition, but at the same time, they still couldn’t help but feel threatened by the very same things that they adored me for because of the way that they were raised.
“It just made me realize how much hold these ingrained power dynamics still have over us. So I wanted to put that on screen and be as ruthless with it as … the nature of the subject matter itself.”
Domont’s favorite scene sums this feeling up and was the first thing that came to mind when she started writing the script. This is the scene when Emily gets a promotion but her first reaction isn’t excitement; it’s fear.
“That walk home and the dread and the silence of when she gets in there to tell him about it. The way we shot it, too, is I wanted her to feel very small in the frame. So there’s a couple shots that are over his shoulder and he’s very dominant in the frame. She’s very small in the frame and looking away and afraid to even look at him. And I just felt like that encompassed what I was trying to explore.”
She elaborates on this with McGrath, saying that while there may be some progress in American corporate culture as a result of #metoo, she also feels there’s a slow erosion of women’s careers.
“It might not be blunt force trauma, but it’s a death of 1,000 paper cuts. This kind of bad behavior was ignored, and then normalized. And then the scary part is usually after that, it’s escalated. So that’s why it’s so important that those little tiny breadcrumbs you are constantly leaving. It’s like a snowball that it constantly builds.”
Domont hopes that her film raises questions about how the link between female empowerment and male fragility might be dismantled.
“How can we demystify the role that men are raised into thinking they’re supposed to fill? How can women embrace their successes without fearing that it’ll hurt them on some level? And how can we love and trust one another, in a world that’s so dependent on the very power dynamics that get in the way of that of that love, and trust and respect?”
READ MORE: Fair Play Writer-Director Chloe Domont on the Making of Her Office-Romance Disaster Movie (Moviemaker)
Much of the tension in the on screen relationship is attributed to Domont’s work with editor Franklin Peterson, whose credits include episodes of Homecoming, Calls and Gaslit.
“Even talking to Menno [Mans], my DP, we were constantly reminding each other, ‘Pressure cooker, pressure cooker,’” Domont told Peter Tonguette of Cinemontage. “We wanted to build up this ballooning tension — this balloon that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and you know it’s going to burst at some point, you just don’t know what or when. The idea was building up this tension of this couple who can’t escape each other, really.”
Peterson explained that his first thought was to start off the film like a straight drama: “You sell the characters as if they are a couple you are going to just really root for, and then you pull the rug out slowly from underneath them. [But] Chloe said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. I want, from the very first shot, to keep you unsettled.’”
He also explained that test screenings were “wildly” helpful. “It’s an R-rated movie for people who want to see an R-rated movie about a toxic relationship, or are willing to go on this ride with us. Once you enter that realm, you’re now asking, ‘How do we make this the best version of that movie for that group of people?’”
READ MORE: Franklin Peterson and Chloe Domont Talk Editing on Netflix Thriller ‘Fair Play’ (Cinemontage)
One of the most difficult scenes Peterson cut was the final scene with Campbell and Emily. It carries with it a delicate balance between what the characters say vs. what they mean. That balance has to also contend with an overall tension keeping the audience unsure what will happen.
As he explained to Filmmaker, “The coverage isn’t complex but to modulate the performances, guide the pace, and accommodate new lines meant we went through dozens upon dozens of versions. We would test the movie with a version of the scene we thought worked, only to realize that while solving one issue, we created another. It’s an example of how the hardest editing work will never show on the screen.”
One thing that never changed was the story’s ending. Domont knew what she wanted to say, and was never tempted to let her characters off with a pat resolution.
“I don’t write one word until I know what the ending is,” she told Moviemaker. “That ending is where the story and the genre come together, in one final punch.”
“It’s working within the thriller genre, which uses violence as a means to solve conflict,” says Domont. “So that was important.”
To watch Fair Play, you would think it was shot entirely in Manhattan, where the story takes place, taking over the city’s many real hedge-fund offices and overpriced apartments, restaurants and bars.
In fact, the production was based in Belgrade, Serbia — where Fair Play executive producers Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman had recently made much of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
READ MORE: “I Use Split Screens as a Tool for Ensuring Any Performance Can Be Used”: Editor Franklin Peterson on Fair Play (Filmmaker)
Domont told Moviemaker, “Ram was advocating for us building there, because he was like, ‘This is the way to build a set the way you want. This is a way to put the most amount of money on the screen. And the crews are excellent.’ So that was what we did. We built all the sets in Serbia. And then we shot all the exteriors in New York, because the movie does not work if you don’t shoot the exteriors in New York.”
She took full advantage of being able to have sets designed to her specifications.
“I intended for it to be kind of a claustrophobic film, in the sense that the characters are trapped between their home life and the workspace, and they go from one enclosed space to another and they can never escape each other,” she explains. “And because we’re in these same spaces for so long, I wanted to build them. And it was very important for me to build them. I had a very specific idea for how those spaces should be and feel, to feel claustrophobic in different ways.”