Significant Other Directors Dan Berk & Robert Olsen On Their New 'Anti-Date Movie' - Exclusive Interview

It's that time of year again to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa and get your scare on. Luckily, Paramount Pictures' new horror film "Significant Other," described by directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen as "the perfect anti-date movie," offers a perfect option for a scary movie night. "Significant Other" tells the tale of young couple Ruth and Harry (portrayed by Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy) who embark on a weekend backpacking trip in the remote Oregon woods of the Pacific Northwest. But Ruth can't seem to shake the feeling that something feels off, and she may be right.


Directors Berk and Olsen enlisted Monroe, known for her work on other such horror fare as 2014's "It Follows" and 2022's "Watcher," after working with her on their 2019 film "Villains." With the addition of Lacy of "The Office" and "The White Lotus" fame, they had found their leads.

The List sat down with the film's writing and directing duo, Berk and Olsen, for a behind-the-scenes scoop ahead of its October 7 streaming release.

On their intentions for the film

My mind was spinning with all kinds of questions after watching "Significant Other." Did you intend for there to be multiple interpretations of the film?

Robert Olsen: Sure, to a certain extent. We went into it with a theme in mind. We wanted to explore that Ruth character, who doesn't necessarily want to get married, and how alien that worldview can feel — unfairly so. We tried to explore the idea of how, from a very young age, you're pushed into marriage. Your parents are pressuring you to get together and pair off and life bond with this other person as early as possible. When you push against that, you're viewed as "other," for lack of a better word. We wanted this to be an expression of that, where the whole film feels like you're trying to run away from something and you can't, like it's going to keep coming there. It's the way that it is. That was something that we wanted to explore.


It was interesting because there were points while we were trying to get the movie made where certain executives at some other companies we pitched it to were saying, "This Ruth character, why is she saying no to the proposals? She's so unlikeable." It actually only encouraged us to keep exploring that theme, because it's so baked into our societal consciousness that's what you have to do, and if you buck against that trend, that makes you the bad guy or something. We wanted to set this up that way and then maybe have some other things happen that you don't expect.

What you just spoke about included some things that I hadn't even thought about the first time I watched. It's the kind of film you must see more than once to catch everything.


Dan Berk: We hope it's a conversation starter. We like to call it the perfect anti-date movie. You can watch it with your boyfriend or girlfriend or your significant other, and it might challenge your relationship. It's a great breakup movie. It's a cool "f***-you" movie if you just went through a bad breakup or whatever. There's a lot of different ways that an audience member can relate to this film.

An unexpectedly smooth shoot

How long did the film take to shoot? Did it go according to plan, or were there any hiccups along the way?

Dan: We shot the movie in 27 days. It actually went better than according to plan, because it was slated for a 28-day shoot. It was an incredibly blessed production phase. Everything went incredibly well, due in no small part to our incredibly talented local crew in Portland and our super professional, crazy effective actors, especially Maika [Monroe] and Jake [Lacy].


We're also total prep hounds. We take a very Hitchcockian approach to pre-production, where we prep wildly. Luckily, on this one, it all went according to what we planned. With production, there were no hiccups. We mounted the production during a period of time in the Pacific Northwest where it's usually quite rainy and a little bit unpredictable weather-wise, but we actually got quite lucky. It only rained on one or two days, at least where you could read the rain on camera. There might have been drizzle here or there, but that doesn't necessarily get picked up. The film gods were shining down upon us during production, for sure.

As writers of the screenplay as well, did the final film turn out how you had pictured in your minds?


Dan: Definitely. It was a funny thing — we conceived this film as such a smaller enterprise. When we first wrote it in the middle of [the COVID-19] lockdown, it was like we were going to go out and make it for no money. That was the plan. Because it was pre-vaccination, nobody was filming anything, so we were like, "Let's go shoot a movie on our iPhones."

We wrote the movie as much more of this very small, contemplated kind of art-house thing that didn't require much in the way of VFX or set pieces or anything like that. Once we partnered with Paramount and it became a bigger thing, it evolved quite a bit from that point forth. The development process was in some ways a process of expanding scope and making things feel bigger and making things feel more like a studio release.

The final product is probably better in many ways than what we wrote. The adage that you write one movie, shoot one movie, edit one movie is true, and it has been true on all of our movies. There's always discoveries in post-production that make the film even better than the prior version, or the prior version before that. We were lucky enough to have some really smart executives of Paramount that pushed the post process further in some ways than we would've taken it without their input. We were very lucky in that sense. We're thrilled with the final movie.


Working with stars Jake Lacy and Maika Monroe

What was it like working with actors Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy?

Robert: We worked with Maika on our last movie, "Villains." We wrote this role for her, so we knew from an early stage how badly we wanted to work with her again. She's an absolute dream to collaborate with in every aspect of the movie-making process because she has a great story sense. We start working with her on her character within the script before we even start shooting the actual movie. She's incredible; she can get to these high emotional places instantly. It makes production that much smoother. She's an incredible person, too, and a great friend of ours. We're out in the wilderness all away from our families, and it felt like we were there with a group of friends again.


Jake somehow slotted right into that. Even though we had this pre-existing relationship with Maika from a previous movie we worked on, Jake felt like he slid right into this little circle of trust easily. The most important thing is that he can go toe-to-toe with Maika, which is very hard to do. I'm not kidding when I say she's one of the best actors we've ever worked with. If you have an imbalance there, where that other role is some guy who's more attractive than he is a good actor, she's going to expose him in those scenes — whereas with this whole movie, there's nowhere to hide, since it's just the two of them talking to one another. Luckily, they are both incredibly unpretentious and hungry and constantly working on their craft and gave each other ideas, and they both came to work prepared.


It's so nice to know that you don't have to worry about your actors. You have to worry about whether it's going to rain. You have to worry about if a grizzly bear is going to come and eat from the crafty table, but you don't have to worry about your actors showing up prepared, and you don't have to worry about them being a pain in the butt, or that they have to be in their trailer for an hour before any dramatic scene or whatever. Sometimes movie stars have some baggage with them or are difficult to deal with, and you get a good product, but it's hard to get there. But with them, it's the best of both worlds. You get a great product, and you have a great time doing it.

That is awesome. I hope it gets a good response. I'm curious to see what the rest of the audience thinks of it.

Dan: Us too.

Robert: We're on pins and needles here in the final few days before this thing comes out. We hope that people like it, and we hope that even the people who don't like it at least have something to think about with it. We hope it's a good conversation starter.

"Significant Other" is available to stream on Paramount+.

This interview was edited for clarity.