Not many directors would choose an apocalyptic sci-fi romance spanning several filmmaking disciplines for their feature debut, but Sam and Andy Zuchero wouldn’t have it any other way when it comes to “Love Me.” The film, which will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week, stars Oscar-nominated duo Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun as a buoy and a satellite falling in love a billion years after humans have gone extinct.
Speaking exclusively to Variety, the married filmmaking team say they first thought of the idea for “Love Me” back in 2019, and shortly after the global pandemic had them ruminating on themes of isolation and human connection.
“We thought that the idea of a buoy and a satellite, the two furthest things from each other, having a conversation was really funny,” Sam says when asked about the seeds of the project. “Then we read Ray Kurzweil’s ’The Singularity Is Near’ and many sci-fi books but it wasn’t until we decided it was a love story that it really came into focus.”
Commenting on their influences, the duo is quick to point to director Douglas Sirk, their primary source of inspiration when it came to crafting the romance at the center of the film. “I think Sirk often gets a bad rep for being too melodramatic, but we read ‘Sirk on Sirk’ and we loved the purity of how he looked at cinema. Melodrama isn’t a dirty word, it’s music and image,” adds Andy.
Of making the film as a sprawling multi-disciplinary epic, Andy says: “The movie didn’t seem worth making to us until we said to ourselves it was like Kubrick meets YouTube,” adding that he is proud they managed to “execute this Kubrickian scale of science fiction in a way that was a bit more guerrilla. We took these disciplines that we had worked with before, like animatronic props, and took them to different locations around the world.”
The directors say they wanted to shoot “Love Me” as an episode of “Planet Earth.” “We shot the buoy in a frozen lake in Alberta in freezing temperatures, then in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver. Then, as the sun approached the red giant into a desert, we shot the buoy in Death Valley.”
Stewart and Yeun appear in several forms throughout the sci-fi film, starting off as a buoy and a satellite making first contact and eventually modelling themselves after a couple of social media influencers the buoy, played soulfully by Stewart, comes across online.
The Zucheros were overjoyed when Stewart and Yeun jumped onboard the project. “It was like kindred spirits,” says Sam of first meeting the “Twilight” and “Spencer” star. “Kristen read the script, had her representatives call us and then we met and just talked. We talked about our experiences and the differences between our personal and presentational selves. Then we did the same thing with Steven and felt so connected to them and really grateful to them.”
“When you collaborate with Kristen and Steven, you pretty quickly realize that they care more about the art than they do about their personas,” Andy says. “They care more about the impact on culture than the impact on themselves. They’re fearless and hardworking artists who are willing to be completely vulnerable in the service of art, which is unique.”
The couple was lucky all around with contributors for “Love Me,” which includes Sundance-veteran producers Kevin Rowe (“The Starling Girl”) and Luca Borghese (“The Persian Version”), plus Shivani Rawat and Julie Goldstein of ShivHans Pictures, the production and finance company behind “Captain Fantastic” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
“There are producers who will respect a wild idea, and then there are producers who can take a wild idea and execute it,” says Andy, with Sam promptly jumping in to call Borghese a “pure genius.” Andrew adds that the duo spoke to several financiers and studios about “Love Me” before finding a home at ShivHan. “Nobody was as gutsy as them to step up and turn it into an actual movie,” he concludes.
Despite working alongside a slew of award-winning collaborators, only one led Andy to send an announcement text in the family group. David Longstreth, the lead singer and guitarist of Dirty Projectors, agreed to score the film, marking his first time doing so. “For the last 25 years, [Longstreth] has been an artist who has pushed his craft to a whole new genre and directions that felt completely new but emotionally moving at the same time. He has always been an artistic hero for us,” Andy says.
“Dave was also completely fascinated by the idea of doing a purely austere but emotional score, something with the lushness of Debussy but the spontaneity of Bill Evans and ’60s jazz,” he continues. “He took these two references and turned it into something completely David Longstreth.”
“Love Me” arrives at Sundance having already won an award, the Alfred P. Sloan Film Feature Prize for a film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a major character. “We felt very honored,” says Andy of the accolade, going on to cite “After Yang,” “Grizzly Man” and “Robot & Frank” as other great examples of films previously awarded the prize.
And what does a successful Sundance look like for the duo? “A good friend of ours says that the reward for good work is more work, and we enjoy making movies so damn much,” Andy says. “The greatest success would be to get to do it again, with collaborators as beautiful as the ones we’ve worked with on this film.”
“Love Me” will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19.