THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE NAKED: A Goofy Pop Hit Is No Laughing Matter For Two Estranged Friends
Best friends share more than just their favorite interests, their most intimate secrets and their gravest concerns. Best friends also pursue their long-desired personal and career ambitions, even if the path that one person takes to achieving success isn’t the same as the other’s.
However, as seen in writer/director Ethan David’s new comedy short film This Is What I Look Like Naked, something as innocuous as a silly yet private childhood gag can rekindle fond remembrance and painful resentment between two childhood chums — one of whom has turned that gag into an inexplicable worldwide pop music smash.
Produced by Jorja Hudson, and next slated to screen at this year’s Chain Film Festival in New York and the Los Angeles Indie Short Fest (screening info for both fests to be announced), This Is What I Look Like Naked co-stars Kami Dimitrova as Zoe, a frustrated DJ who’s found her one-time pal Nevin (Nimene Wureh)’s hit song “This Is What I Look Like Naked” as the top favorite of off-key patrons at her Brooklyn bar.
As Zoe tries to deal with the disappointment she feels from having not reached the same professional heights as Nevin has, Zoe and Nevin are both forced to deal with the consequences of their separate life paths, while considering how a ridiculous yet incredibly popular song can actually be the one thing that rebuilds their once-joyous bond.
With its title song performed by Wureh, written by David and featured prominently throughout the film, This Is What I Look Like Naked is a project that gave the talented comedian/writer an ideal opportunity to expand his storytelling repertoire through filmmaking.
Giving David’s concept for Naked added layers of relatability is the connection between its two main characters, and the powerful role that music plays in that connection. Yet for David, his musical memories were just as influential a force in his decision to create This Is What I Look Like Naked as his desire to take his place behind the camera.
Chris Hadley: What (and/or who) inspired you to make This Is What I Look Like Naked, and how did you come up with the idea for this film?
Ethan David (writer/director, This Is What I Look Like Naked): I went to school for film and did a good amount of production work my first year out of college. I’ve since focused more on writing, particularly in the New York sketch comedy community, but I was starting to miss being on set and saw making a short film as a cool opportunity to gather comedians that I had met through doing live comedy in the city and work with them in a completely different format.
As for the inspiration, I remember going to one of those private room karaoke bars with some friends and thinking that it would be nice to rent out one of those rooms alone. The idea of doing karaoke in a karaoke bar by yourself with no one else in the bar to hear it was and still is very appealing to me, so when it came time to craft a story for the film, I sort of built out from there.
Another big inspiration for me came from the difficulty of finding a song that I could actually use in the film. Music licensing, as it turns out, is quite expensive. So I ended up writing and recording an original song so we’d have something that the character could actually sing. This in turn ended up inspiring the main premise of the film, so it’s good to have limitations!
CH: In what ways (if at all) have your own real life experiences/relationships inspired the story and characters you created for This Is What I Look Like Naked?
ED: I’m definitely a nostalgic person, and music plays a big part in that. I’ll hear certain songs that will trigger certain memories that I hadn’t thought about in over a decade. One that comes to mind is ‘The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance, which my friend and I had a dumb little dance for when we were in high school. It was basically just us pointing our fingers up and down in the air during the opening piano melody.
It’s such a famous song that millions of people have heard, but no one else in the world has that particular connection to it. That’s what I wanted to make this film about: the feeling of ownership people have over popular songs because of their own intimate associations with them.
CH: Were any of the characters/situations in this film based on real life, or were they exaggerated for comedic effect?
ED: I don’t know if there’s any particular scene in this film that I can point to and say, “that actually happened to me!” but I can definitely relate to the impulse to make someone else’s success all about me. What does their success say about me? What are they trying to say about me by being successful? Did they become successful as a passive-aggressive slight to me?
There’s a scene in the film where Zoe is talking about Nevin’s success and she says, “I’m happy for me that I’m happy for her.” I have this thought just about every time I like someone’s Instagram post about some new career milestone they’ve hit, so I’m definitely Team Zoe.
As far as characters go, Nimene Wureh, who plays Nevin, is an incredible singer in real life, so I tried to showcase that as much as possible to make the case that Nevin would be this mega-famous pop star. Partway through the film, there’s a flashback to Nevin singing a song to Zoe that is actually one of Nimene’s original songs, which I was very grateful she let us use. Kami Dimitrova, who plays Zoe, is actually a really great singer as well, but I thought it’d be more funny for the film if her character wasn’t as good a singer.
CH: What was the production process like for it, including for the title song that’s featured prominently throughout the film?
ED: We actually recorded the song ‘This Is What I Look Like Naked’ a couple months before the script was even finalized. The song came out so much better than I had ever anticipated, which really pushed me to get the rest of the film underway. I wrote the lyrics and it was produced and composed by Doug Widick of Sweet Tea Studios in Brooklyn.
Of course, Nimene Wureh did an amazing job with the vocals. I just sat in the corner of the studio taking pictures while Nimene and Doug did their thing. It was definitely one of those instances where the best direction was no direction. They were the pros and it was an honor to just be in the room.
As for the film, most of it was shot at a great bar in Brooklyn called The Way Station that has unfortunately since closed because of the pandemic. The school flashbacks were recorded at an elementary school in Harlem and the music video was done at a studio in Chelsea. It was a relatively small crew on a film with a lot of moving parts, and I give a lot of credit to our producer, Jorja Hudson, who really went beyond the scope of her producer duties to make sure everything ran smoothly.
The film is pretty dense so we had to adhere to a relatively tight schedule, which is why I’m super grateful that the cast was off-book so we could play around with the dialogue once we got the scripted takes in. As a director, I like to hold off on yelling “cut” to encourage the actors to keep going.
I think the lull of silence that comes after the last scripted line is a little uncomfortable for actors used to performing on stage, so they’ll naturally try to fill the void with more dialogue. I myself will use that time to start throwing lines at the actors, who were all quick to take it and run with it. When you’re on set, you’re suddenly hit with a million ideas you couldn’t have thought of just sitting at a computer typing, so it’s helpful to have a talented cast and crew to keep up with changes happening on the fly.
I’ll say the trickiest part of the whole production process was probably timing the animations of the karaoke lyrics on the screen to the actors singing, which, because of sound, they had to do without the music playing underneath like it would be if you were really singing karaoke. It’s another testament to how great the cast and crew was because watching the film, it does feel like this silly song we made is actually playing at a karaoke bar with everyone singing along.
CH: Besides the fact that this is a very heartfelt comedy about the friendship between two people, in what ways do you feel people can relate to both characters and the plotline of This Is What I Look Like Naked?
ED: I think people will really resonate with the arc of Zoe and Nevin’s friendship. Kami and Nimene and I were on a sketch team together a while back, so I knew they would have a good rapport in the flashbacks to when they were young and at the height of their friendship.
What I didn’t anticipate was how much that back-and-forth dynamic would carry over to the less playful scenes, where we’re starting to see them starting to grow apart. The two actors were really great at staying on the same wavelength and I think people will relate to the frustration of trying to hold onto old friendships as you get older.
CH: In terms of viewers, who do you think would like to watch This Is What I Look Like Naked? How will this film appeal to them?
ED: I think this film will appeal to people around the age of Zoe (30) who may not be exactly where they want to be in their lives and find themselves reflecting on faded friendships. I think it’s common for people to compare themselves to others in a way that they know is unhealthy but do it anyway.
Zoe is projecting her insecurities about her own inability to break free from this longtime karaoke gig onto someone else. It’s easy to feel resentment towards those in our lives who we feel have “outpaced” us, which is something the actors and I talked a lot about when we did the table read for the film.
I also hope the title of the film is appealing to them. It was harrowing sending so many emails asking people if they wanted to be a part of a project called ‘This Is What I Look Like Naked.’ I hope the title doesn’t scare people away from clicking it when we eventually release the film online!
CH: What do you want audiences to take away from seeing this film?
ED: Whether they love it or hate it, I hope our song ‘This Is What I Look Like Naked’ is stuck in their heads for days on end.
For more information on This Is What I Look Like Naked, visit: