Nico Raineau’s debut feature originally was a road-trip movie that would start in Los Angeles and end in New York.
But when one of his producers suggested he change course and shoot Hooking Up in Dallas, that decision necessitated a detour in the story, too.
So the romantic comedy shifted gears to have its two main characters journey from Atlanta through Dallas as they navigate various afflictions and obstacles in their personal lives.
“When we knew we were going to Dallas, we had to rewrite the script to fit,” said Raineau, who is based in California. “We ended up setting part of the movie in Dallas, but also faking Dallas for Atlanta.”
The film follows Darla (Brittany Snow), a struggling sex columnist for a lifestyle magazine who also happens to be in a sex therapy group. That’s where she bumps into Bailey (Sam Richardson), who’s trying to bounce back after a breakup when a cancer diagnosis sends him into a downward spiral. It turns out his support group meets in the same building.
Desperate for new material, Darla proposes revisiting the sites of her past sexual exploits, which could be cathartic for her but also beneficial for Bailey if he tags along.
“The story began with the idea of having to retrace your history with a stranger,” Raineau said. “There’s a lot of situational comedy that’s inherent with that, but it also makes you vulnerable. You have to open yourself up to someone and really reveal the decisions that you made, and who you were when you were younger. I enjoyed the dichotomy of those two themes.”
Texas filmmaker Jon Keeyes, who helped to finance the project through his Highland Myst Entertainment label, arranged the local shoot, which took place in February 2019.
Raineau had been to Dallas just once before for arriving a few weeks before production to familiarize himself with the area — including scouting restaurants and neighborhoods to shoot, and hiring local crew. Astute viewers will notice a handful of local landmarks.
“It was a pretty scrappy production,” Raineau said. “We had a lot of ground to cover. I would recommend to not make a road-trip movie as your first feature. I learned that lesson the hard way.”
Raineau wrote the screenplay with Lauren Schacher, whom he started dating after making the 2016 short Candy Apple. Their relationship deepened as they collaborated, and by the time the cameras rolled, they were married.
“We realized that we worked well together,” Raineau said. “Bailey and Darla go on a journey where they start off as strangers and really get to know each other quite intimately. My wife and I basically did that over the course of writing this script. That process infused the characters.”
Although the film has elements of a broad sex farce, Raineau wanted to keep the story and characters grounded and relatable.
“This is not a sex comedy with heart. It’s a heartfelt comedy about sex,” he said. “Tonally that’s a very specific delineation that was important for us to make. You just let the comedy come from the reality of the situations.”
Although its planned theatrical release was cancelled, Hooking Up will be available on streaming platforms beginning Friday.