At first blush, the synopsis of Dylan & Zoey sounds like a warm and uplifting tale of a rekindled connection. With only 24 hours left in Los Angeles, Zoey (Claudia Doumit) reaches out to her estranged best friend Dylan (Blake Scott Lewis). He is initially dubious, but the pair soon pick up where they left off, laughing and drinking, as they embark on a night that will truly change their lives.
But there’s also a dark side to Dylan & Zoey that writer-director Matt Sauter, who was born and raised in Brighton, Colorado, was intent on bringing to the fore of the film.
“I was molested as a child,” Sauter says. “I’m very open about this. I would speak to my friends ad nauseam about it. They would often tell me to write about my take on it. But I didn’t feel comfortable telling my story at the time. So it was a bit of a waiting game, trying to find the right time to talk about it.”
Sauter finally felt ready after watching Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy. Written by the celebrated director alongside co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the three films revolve around a couple who fall in love, rekindle their relationship, and then deal with the realities of marriage.
“All of the films opened up my eyes to a story between two people that’s very intimate and in real time. They were just so charming,” Sauter says. “I knew this was how I wanted to tell my story. Because, whenever I told it to people, it was in a one-on-one situation, and in a very intimate setting. That’s what Dylan & Zoey is: intimate conversations, going back and forth between two old friends.”
When it came time to write the film, Sauter ventured back to Colorado from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for years while working as an actor and writer. “You can leave Colorado, but it doesn’t leave you,” Sauter says. “I keep finding myself back here to recharge my batteries. This is where I get my writing done. This is where Dylan & Zoey was written. It’s my sanctuary.”
The Centennial State is also where Sauter’s passion for storytelling and acting was born at a very young age. After performing in his first play in the third grade, Sauter became a theater major at college in Wyoming, then went to the renowned Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles. This is where he met both Doumit and Scott Lewis. It was around this time that Sauter started to write more.
“Acting was the foundation that everything else was built upon,” he says. “But I just had this passion to tell stories in my own vernacular.”
Sauter got encouragement from others in his acting class, which is where he met the crew that would eventually work on Dylan & Zoey. “The tentacles from the people in the class reached out to other people that we brought on board. That’s how I built my community,” he says. “I always tell people who are trying to break into the industry, if you’re moving to a new town, get into a writing, acting or directing program. It’s a great springboard to meet like-minded people who all want to work in the industry.”
At the same time, Sauter says creative people in smaller states should all band together and form their own artistic communities, too. Especially in Colorado, where he says the film scene is lagging behind artforms like music and comedy. For the time being, anyway.
“I feel like we’re ripe for Colorado to have its own little renaissance in film. That’ll come with tax structures in the state and tax incentives,” he says. “But there are great directors from Boulder and a lot of creatives of all ages in the state. And, of course, Colorado has a beautiful backdrop for film.”
Sauter says his Colorado roots have enhanced his writing, especially when it comes to finding empathy in all of his characters, whether he likes or agrees with them. “Being from Brighton, you don’t judge people on their thoughts on issues. You judge them for their heart and who they are,” he says. “That’s something as a storyteller I’m very interested in. I want to have empathy for a wide breadth of people and not just be, ‘Oh, well, you think this way. That doesn’t jive with where I’m at.’ Colorado has always had a very communal and accepting community.”
Sauter is hopeful there are lessons to be taken away from Dylan & Zoey, too, especially when it comes to giving a voice to people who have gone through sexual abuse.
“I believe that if I talk about it this way, there’s got to be other people out there who have the same feeling about it,” he says. “Most films deal with it in a very serious way. I appreciate those stories. But I wanted to show people just talking about it, making jokes about it, and dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully it’ll make people not feel alone in that regard. Even if it’s just one person.”
ON SCREEN: Dylan & Zoey is playing in select theaters and available on demand through Prime Video.