Kristen Stewart and Boygenius Celebrate Their Bloody, Monster Truck-Filled Short Film at Premiere: It Felt Like a Fever Dream

A short film that actor-turned-director Kristen Stewart made with the group Boygenius got an official Hollywood sendoff Thursday night at the El Rey Theatre, with a film premiere that also doubled as a launch party for the indie-rock trio’s new album, “The Record.” In keeping with Boygenius’ matter-of-fact naming tendencies, the short is titled simply “The Film.”

Stewart did not participate in the Q&A that Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus did with members of the press and public after the screening, but she stepped out to introduce the short film, which is essentially an interlocking combination of music videos for three songs from the new album: “$20,” “Emily I’m Sorry” and “True Blue.”

The imagery is sometimes sentimental, sometimes bracing and vivid. Bridgers sings “Emily I’m Sorry” in front of a monster truck rally. Palms are cut for a blood oath. And there is some lip-locking through copious blue paint. The framing device is sweet, though, beginning with one band member sleeping fitfully in bed and waking up at the end embraced in a group cuddle.

“It was a knockout, fall-down honor to be asked” to direct the short, Stewart said, and capture “the incredible fireworks show that pops off when these three come together. I am such an enormous fan. I wish I had them to look up to when I was a kid. I’m sure there’s kids here — you’re lucky, it’s a different world. And it’s something to behold. … It felt like a fever dream making this thing. And I imagine if you got to step into what feels like their shared consciousness, that you might feel pretty on-fucking-fire, too.”

Stewart also did a product plug. “The new merch is sick,” the director said, endorsing a new T-shirt she’d picked up in a booth at the back.

The members of Boygenius conceived the idea that an old-school film premiere would make for a more novel launch for the new album than a release gig, pulling up in a limo and posing on a red carpet before sitting down to answer about a half-hour’s worth of questions. (The live shows will come soon enough; earlier in the week the trio announced some additional concerts in addition to the festival shows already on the books, starting with a pre-Coachella tour launch in Pomona April 12.)

“We all contributed a lot, obviously,” to the creative process of the short, said Dacus, “but there’s a lot of Kristen in what you just saw. So we’re all proud of her, and happy to have had an excuse to share space with her and create something.”

Added Bridgers, “It’s very visual and hard to describe conceptually. So somehow, with hand gestures” from Stewart, “it was explained. It was maybe the most chaotic group text I’ve ever been in. ‘You’re gonna spit blue.’ … It was a blast, definitely the most fun I’ve ever had on a music video shoot.”

The colorful spit Bridgers was referring to occurs in the concluding segment of the film, which is soundtracked by a song mostly written and sung by Dacus, “True Blue.” It has all three members using rollers to rather messily paint a large living room — and themselves — blue. (Also, unremarked upon at the Q&A, it has Dacus looking on as Bridgers and Baker indulge in some blue-tinted making out.)

The segment for “Emily I’m Sorry,” meanwhile, features Bridgers singing in front of a monster truck rally. The opening part of the film, highlighting song “$20,” paints a portrait of young girls escaping a stern mother to cavort in suburbia, intermingling with the band members. “Getting to hang out with little kids all day was the dopest,” said Bridgers.

“I was challenged by being not an actor,” added Baker, “and Kristen modeled it movement-by-movement. For me, I was getting more instruction than the children. And one of them is taller than me,” laughed the most diminutive of the three band members.

The group members talked about participating in the Re:SET concert series, which will have different lineups of artists hitting several regions of the country in June to trade off days at different outdoor venues. “The festival was really cool and let us have input in their thing” — meaning, a curatorial interest on the dates Boygenius is headlining, which will feature Clairo, Dijon and Bartees Strange as hand-picked opening acts. “I wish we could go through the other days — we’re all LCD fans.” (LCD Soundsystem and Steve Lacy will be headlining their own days in the traveling circus. “But, yeah — Warped Tour, but good.” After some laughter, she tried to walk the comment back. “Not that Warped Tour wasn’t good…”

“Let’s not revise history,” quipped Baker.

Asked about the many outside references in the lyrics to “The Record,” Dacus said, “There’s a John Didion reference — and there’s some Bible references, of course.” (The audience tittered, either knowing or not knowing two of the members grew up evangelical Southerners. “What else? We reference ourselves.”

Bridgers concurred that there are callbacks to lyrics from her solo albums that she wrote into this group effort, deliberately or otherwise. “It’s not redundant,” she insisted. “It’s a motif. I’m always accidentally stealing from myself, and that’s what I say. It’s a motif over my entire career, not plagiarism.”

Baker was celebrating a coincidental but important anniversary. “I’ve been putting out records for 10 years today,” she said, referring to the March 30, 2013 release of an album by her first band, the Star Killers. “I was listening back to that record today. I was like, ‘Holy moly, this kid had a lot of feelings and needed to communicate them.’ I was like, ‘Man, I liked the word fail.’ It comes up six times on ‘American Blues’ and I’m just like, ‘I have big feelings. I don’t know where to put them. … I stuck with it because of the avenue that it provides me to feel understood by other people.” Baker said she “back-to-backed” a listen to that debut and the new Boygenius album, “and when I listen back to the lyrics that I was writing for this record, it’s like an entirely different person, capable of a self-love.”

Talking about the experience of working with Bridgers and Dacus, Baker admitted, “I almost said magic, and then I made myself say something less genuine. So I want to edit it” to reinsert the word. Interjected Dacus: ” I would say that, inherently, ‘magic’ is super queer.”

Some of the new songs were more collabortive band efforts than others, but nearly all of them have some kind of lyric input from the others, even if it’s just a couple of words that changed in a group edit.

Said Dacus, “I wrote a song, ‘We’re in Love,’ for them, but there are like one-word changes that Phoebe made that like opened up the whole meaning of the song. Like the color of a flower. There’s a carnation line, and it was white, which I just picked, and then she was like, ‘Make it pink,’ because it’s a reference.”

Bridgers elaborated. “You can, there’s a mark. “My mother is here. Where’s my mom? Throw a hand up in the air. There’s a Marty Robbins song that my grandmother used to love, and it’s like, ‘A white sport coat and a pink carnation. I’m all alone at the dance…’ And Lucy’s song is about trying to connect with somebody in another life — and how would you find that person? ‘I’ll be the boy with a pink carnation.’” Another reason for the line edit: “Elliott Smith tried to wear a pink carnation with his white suit at the Oscars. And the Oscars were like, ‘It looks corny.’” Vindication for Smith’s couture instincts, in a Boygenius song, at last.

The questions from the audience weren’t all on the heady side. One attendee asked the band to name her new Chihuahua. Coming up with names simultaneously on the count of three, Bridgers picked “Greg,” Baker picked “Peanut” and Dacus said “Four” (“because four comes after three”).

The short film might be the first exposure most music fans have had to Stewart as a director, but she previously wrote and directed a short, “Come Swim,” that screened at both the Cannes and Sundance festivals. She’s due to make a bigger splash in the filmmaking world with a feature debut, “The Chronology of Water,” for Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free.

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