HERE FOR SIFF this past spring, Patrick Stettner cheerfully fielded questions after screening The Business of Strangers, then sat down to chat. Where did he find inspiration for the driven character of Julie? “I worked as a temp for many years,” he chuckled of his old bosses. Was All About Eve an influence? “No,” he answered, rolling his eyes. “But I’m completely flattered by that.” Stettner drew his biggest laugh by pointing out how the festival was using a clip from an old student short of his—The West Wing‘s Allison Janney on a park bench pulling some geezer’s hand into her blouse—in its in-house trailer without asking his permission. Since Strangers was invited to the festival, he added, he wasn’t about to complain.
Later, recalling his stints in the office world, Stettner continued, “When I was a temp there was a really interesting dynamic where . . . I would assume there was this kind of instant—for lack of a better word—sisterhood, but there would be instead a little friction between the ages. The younger ones who had no desire to be in the business world looked down on the older businesswomen, and the older businesswomen had contempt for the younger women because they had worked their whole lives. And I was kind of fascinated by that dynamic and these different generations of, so to speak, pre- and postfeminist [women].
“A large inspiration for this film was this [New York] Times article on businesswomen in Detroit. I had this picture of where business was usually done, and it wasn’t done in restaurants or hotel lounges but in strip clubs. They have this picture of this woman, and she’s talking to some guy from Florida or wherever about seat belts, and behind her is this nude woman! And I was looking at her like, ‘Where does she put all that baggage?'”
The baggage for Julie, Stettner concluded, ultimately has its pros and cons, its losses and accomplishments: “The sacrifices that she makes really allow someone like Paula to choose ‘No’ in that sense, where that choice wasn’t even available before.”