Dan Berk & Robert Olsen Interview: Significant Other


From the creative duo behind the acclaimed horror comedy Villains comes Significant Other. The psychological thriller revolves around Ruth and Harry, a young couple who find their backpacking trip through the Pacific Northwest taking a dark turn as they sense something is following them through the forest.

Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy lead the cast of Significant Other as Ruth and Harry, alongside Matthew Yang King and Dana Green. Much like Villains before it, which also saw Monroe leading the cast, the Paramount+ movie proves to be an interesting genre treat for the Halloween season, delivering a tense atmosphere, breathtaking visuals, and a shocking major twist.


Related: 20 Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies (That Blend The Genres Perfectly)

Ahead of the film’s premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with writing and directing duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen to discuss Significant Other, their desire to reunite with Maika Monroe, Paramount’s collaborative marketing team, and more.

Directors Discuss Significant Other

Screen Rant: I’m very excited to talk about Significant Other, I watched it earlier this morning, and it was such a tense ride from start to finish. I know you’re no stranger to genre-blending fare, and I’m a big fan of Villains. How did the story and the concept for Significant Other come about?

Robert Olsen: The actual beginnings of it were pretty necessity based, where we were in the middle of the lockdown in 2020, and it didn’t look like any movies were going to be happening anytime soon. So, we just tried to come up with a concept that would at least be extremely COVID friendly, so this was outside the whole time, and a very limited number of actors. So, we kind of started with that, and we were going to go and do it for a very low budget and run and gun, and try to get Maika to come work with us again, we wrote the role for her. But then, we started to do more and more work on the script, and our reps suggested that we tried to go a little bit of a bigger route with it.

So, we wound up taking it around, which, of course, took more and more time, by the time we were shooting it, COVID was still an issue, but it wasn’t as crazy as it was when we initially started writing it. As far as the genre blends in it, I think that it was a really fun exercise for us, because Villains is a bit of the genres are playing out at the same exact time the whole movie. This one is a little bit more, we wanted there to be a bit of a rope a dope, where you kind of come into it thinking that it’s going to be this more austere, Ex Machina-style, A24, heavy sci-fi, and then you get to have maybe a little bit more genre fun than you thought you were going to. That was something that we always wanted to do to kind of compliment the twists that are in the movie.

A film like this can be incredibly hard to market it without necessarily getting into those twists. How involved were you in that marketing process, did you have notes that you gave to the team of, “Maybe show this, maybe don’t show this?”

Dan Berk: We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Paramount marketing team that we worked with on this, because this is our first studio movie. We were told by other filmmakers we’re friends with and our producers that, like, “They’re basically going to just show you the final thing, you technically have consultation, but you don’t really, so just prepare to be devastated when you see the trailer.” To their credit, they actually involved us really heavily in it that, we gave many rounds of notes on the trailer, we had a big conversation before they started editing about what our perfect version of it was, which is largely what you see in the final trailer, where we sort of gave them the impossible task of giving them our three or four bullet points that were the third rail for us.

Obviously, as you know, there are some twists in the movie that we wanted to protect, and they went so far to even agree to, like Bobby said, in many ways kind of hide the genre of the movie, where it really is playing more like a psychological thriller, perhaps. You’re not really sure what it is you see, there’s a couple of little sci-fi visual cues, maybe, in that trailer, but it really does highlight a lot of the big, more bombastic spectacle that the film ends up delivering.

Same with the poster, they sent us a bunch of great options, and we gave notes and picked some cool ones. They were all really awesome, actually, we hope that they end up releasing some of the other alts, but yeah, it was a really collaborative experience, and probably one that won’t be matched on our next films by other studios, I’m sure we will experience the less collaborative version, but it was great.

I’m glad you got to have that, because you want to sell people this movie, but at the same time, you don’t want to give it all away. So, what was it like trying to find the look of the film, because it does feel very different visually than your past work?

Robert Olsen: It’s funny, because it’s the exact same Director of Photography that we’ve been working with in all of our movies, Matt Mitchell, who we owe another huge debt of gratitude to, because he is an incredibly talented Director of Photography, but he’s also a huge outdoorsman. As soon as we came to him with this idea, he was flipping out, and he was sending us photos every day, just dozens and dozens of reference images. So, we kind of went into it knowing that this was still a studio-level genre movie.

Sometimes, I think the trap you can fall into is making things almost too naturalistic, where things get too dark, or moody or whatever, so I think we found a nice balance, where we did a lot to schedule the shoot around the light, so we’ve built out a schedule that was based around, “Okay, this angle we’re going to do when the sun is here, then the next one is going to be over here, and it’s going to match because of that.” So, there’s some times waiting around on set to accommodate that, but I think you can you feel the quality of that when you watch it, because you can manipulate things when you’re outdoors, but it just doesn’t look quite as good.

So, Matt had a great plan about how to attack and build around the light. Then, the look itself, we shot Alexa LF, it’s like a nice, big, large-format digital camera. We just wanted to try to capture, we always called it the “vertical majesty of the forest.” That’s there in the aspect ratio, too, we just wanted to have a little bit of a taller frame, so you can constantly feel how small they were amongst these giant trees that really are so huge in real life. We were both from the East Coast and the woods don’t look like that, once we got out there, we’re just, “Okay, we have to find a way to photograph this properly, because it’s so majestic.” And yet, it’s hard to really capture it, so we tried to get as many low angles as we could to try to make it seem like the forest itself was a bit of a foreboding character in it.

You mentioned you wrote Maika’s role specifically for her, but what was it like looking for her perfect screen partner in this film?

Robert Olsen: Yeah, that was definitely a challenge, not a challenge in that it was so hard, but it was something that we had to get right. We knew that this movie, there’s really not a lot to hide behind. It’s very performance-driven, it’s just two characters in the woods. We needed to find someone who could really act and also someone who had the proper chemistry with Maika, which for this film is a little tricky, because it’s not a rom-com. The chemistry we were looking for wasn’t exactly that they were madly in love, we needed to, in very nuanced ways, and with a very non-explicit set of tools, show the strain in this relationship. Because, due to their semi-divergent or increasingly divergent worldviews about marriage and about how they want to live their lives and whatnot.

So, we ended up getting kind of lucky, we had seen Jake’s name thrown out at some point during the casting process, I think, by our producer, Dan Kagan. I think you had seen White Lotus, I was about to start it with my wife, and we sat down and watched the entire thing in a night, and we both were flipping out thinking this guy is absolutely perfect. Then, of course, I was like, “Oh, yeah, we saw him in Obvious Child like 10 years ago,” and thought he was great in that and then realized that he had this kind of — again, I won’t even say, it’s too close to a spoiler. But, what ended up working really, really well, what we got lucky with was that Maika and Jake, in real life, are in very different parts of their lives. Jake is a little bit older, he’s married, he has two young kids, he has sort of a more settled existence. Maika is younger, she’s in her 20s, she travels a lot, they both spoke to their characters quite well, which of course makes sense for Maika, because we wrote the role for her, but we got very lucky with Jake.

When we first saw them on screen together, their real life kind of baggage was the truth that they were bringing to their roles, it worked perfectly in that contrast that they were looking for. We knew that from the first time we all sat down for dinner in Oregon, when everyone got there during prep, after the dinner, Bobby and I looked at each other, and we were like, “This is gonna f——ng work. Oh, this is great.” Just seeing them speak, it was like, “This is exactly [it],” they got along really well, they really dug each other, but it’s also like, you could just tell there was that teeny bit of distance, because of where they were in their lives. That was something that we got very, very lucky with that we think works quite well.

Dan Berk: Yeah, like Dan said, there’s nowhere to hide in this movie. It’s just the two of them, and we knew going in, because we’ve worked with her before, that Maika on screen, she’s very naturalistic and very apt and has this unique quality to her. But she’s also an unbelievable just performer and technician in her art, so we needed somebody who would go toe-to-toe with her and actually be a good [foil].

When you’re casting late 20s, early 30s, you get a lot of pretty boys sent to you that maybe aren’t the best actors, and Jake is the best of both worlds. He’s obviously very handsome and all that, but he’s a really good actor and getting them together, there’s so much of this movie that isn’t even on the page that just came from them being in the same room together, running the lines together. They both have a hunger to go along with their talent, so it was just an incredible creative environment to be in, and they both also have really sharp story sense.

Robert Olsen: They both brought a lot of script notes to us and ideas for tiny things that ended up just being our favorite moments in the movie. So, it really was a very healthy collaboration between the four of us for sure.

About Significant Other

Presented by Paramount+ in Association with Paramount Pictures’ Players Label, SIGNIFICANT OTHER follows a young couple, Harry (Jake Lacy, “White Lotus”) and Ruth (Maika Monroe, “It Follows”), who take a remote backpacking trip through the Pacific Northwest, but things take a dark turn when they realize they may not be alone.

Check out our other Significant Other interview with stars Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy as well.

Next: Biggest Horror Movies Coming In Fall/Winter 2022Significant Other is now streaming on Paramount+.


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