Quinn Shephard may be only 27, but she’s already a veteran of the film festival circuit. At 22, she was lauded at Tribeca for her feature debut, “Blame,” which she also wrote (she started the screenplay in high school) and in which she starred with Chris Messina. Shephard began acting when she was 3 years old. “I just grew up feeling really comfortable on sets; like sets were my happy place,” she says, burying any clichés about troubled child actors. In middle school, she started making short films. “Film was the intersection between all the different kinds of art. I always loved visual arts and music, performance, writing — like just all the kinds of storytelling — and film was the one place where you could kind of do everything.”
Her sophomore feature, “Not Okay,” debuts July 29 on Hulu. The sharp satire explores the impact of notoriety and ambition via social media, specifically through privileged 20-something and wannabe online influencer Danni (Zoey Deutch), who writes an essay for the publication she works for (called Depravity), then finds fame when her fake story about surviving a terrorist bombing goes viral.
There are so many ideas in this movie; how did you distill them into such razor-sharp ideas?
It’s been a tense couple of years. I’m living in America, and I think, for me, the idea just came very much out of the echo chamber of anxiety about the way people use the internet right now and have been for the last handful of years. I just remember being online and reading about horrific acts of violence, and swiping [the phone screen] and seeing, like, skin care ads and swiping and seeing an influencer party and swiping and it’s a scammer story that’s gone viral. And it’s just the way that I think we’ve all learned to digest the horrors of our culture and then just distract ourselves.
You convey a lot of information through the costumes and production design. Did that come from your experience living in Brooklyn?
[Costume designer] Sarah Laux and [production designer] Jason Singleton were really incredible collaborators. I definitely came in with a pretty strong vision for the world, but I think that we were all able to work together to really build on that.
Danni’s look is a mix of trends. How did you decide on her look?
So much of Danni’s aesthetic in the film was about being impacted and influenced by the internet and microtrends but not having any real sense of style herself. Everything like the hair and the nails and the jewelry she wears — all of the clothes — almost every single piece is tied to some niche internet reference. So she has a dress by a designer who’s always dressing the Kardashians; she has a top from like a niche, cool Brooklyn girl-type designer that’s worn by influencers.
What did Deutch bring to the character?
It’s a very complicated, tricky and, I think, scary character for an actor, so I knew that we needed to find somebody who could bring the humanity to the character. Zoey is an actor who isn’t afraid to play, as the opening in the film jokes, an unlikable female character. Which I think, unfortunately, we just don’t have a lot of room for in media right now and we absolutely should.
How did her performance influence you?
If anything, she dared me to go as hard as I wanted. … It’s allowed me as a filmmaker to make the version of the story that I wanted to make. And I feel like we’re really partners.
Why didn’t you wrap up the film in a neat bow at the end?
I have very much always really enjoyed and related to [stories] that blend a lot of humor with a lot of darkness, like “American Beauty,” “I May Destroy You,” “Sorry to Bother You” and “Fleabag” — stuff with a complicated tone. It’s so tricky with a character like Danni. What are we supposed to do with people like Danni?