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An interview with Gina O’Brien, writer and director of ‘First One In’ on tennis and comedy

Gina O’Brien talks about ‘First One In’.

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Audiences tend to love a good underdog story. Especially when it is wrapped inside a heartwarming and funny plot. First One In is a comedy set inside the world of tennis and real estate. The movie follows Madi Cook who has accidentally killed an endangered animal on national television. Recently, AIPT spoke with writer and director Gina O’Brien about her film.

AIPT: How would you describe First One In?

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Gina O’Brien: First One In is about, very simply, a woman who has lost her confidence and tries to regain it and she does so through tennis. God, that sounds so boring. I’m going to read this to you. She thrown off a popular reality show in disgrace. Unemployed real estate agent Madi Cooke teams with a group of misfit tennis players in a do or die match against Bobbi Mason, who is this overachieving tightly wound real estate shark, and her tennis playing minions.

AIPT: What was the inspiration behind First One In?

O’Brien: Well, it’s pretty much my life, although I haven’t been on a reality show. You write what you know and I do play tennis poorly with a group of women; we’re not pros, we’re club players. It’s rife with comedy every every time we’re together. So it was perfect. It was perfect to make this little film and I think it provides a lot of laughs.

AIPT: I’m actually glad you mentioned that, because I was going to ask why you chose tennis as the sport?

O’Brien: I should have chosen a sport that I’m actually good at. Because I think tennis is something that gets in your blood. You challenge yourself personally each time you’re on that court. I mean, you do the same with other sports, but it’s really a head game, which is why in the film, we do spend some time in Kat’s head, in Madi’s head. It’s just the nature of the sport.

AIPT: Early on, also it seemed like there was going to be like a message about people take reality TV too seriously type of thing. But for the most part, it’s just a straight out fun comedy. Was that what was always intended to be more about the comedy than the message?

O’Brien: There was opportunity for it at one point to go that way, but I’m glad we reigned it in and did not. Absolutely. I just wanted to write this screenplay, basically to make a little fun of ourselves. Laugh at ourselves a little bit. That’s what I set out to do and I think we did that.

AIPT: It wasn’t until it was over that I realized that I was like there was no romantic subplot here. Was that always the intention?

Gina O'Brien talks about 'First One In'.

O’Brien: You know what? It was tough to do because we’re so used to, as audiences, watching women in romantic comedies end up with the guy or in a relationship that they always wanted to be in, married have kids, whatever. But this I wanted to be just about these women and their friendship or their hatred for self, depending on who you’re talking about. But yes, my answer to that question is absolutely is what we set out to do. There was opportunity for it at one point to go that way, but I’m glad we reigned it in and did not.

AIPT: We’ve kind of touched on Bobbi Mason. How did you get Georgia King for the part?

O’Brien: I prayed. I lucked out so much with Georgia. Oh my gosh, she’s just such a pro. She knew exactly who this character was. She could have played it in such a way where we really hated her. But what I think she did was, she became the character that we actually loved to hate. Every time she’s on screen, it’s amazing, her talent and what she brings. So lucky to have her. My casting director, she was really wonderful in giving me this opportunity to get Georgia King. So thrilled to have had her in the part. She was perfect.

AIPT: You kind of bring something up that I thought about the character. I think she does a really good job of walking a really fine line. She’s laugh out loud funny, but you still dislike her. How difficult was it to write the character?

O’Brien: Oh, it was easy. It was easy to write that character and it was so much fun to write that character. Then in tennis, there are a lot of personalities and this is probably a combination of several types of women that I’ve played tennis with. But of course, taken to the next level. She’s super competitive and tennis is competitive, but so is real estate. So I think together we created a monster.

AIPT: There is a lot of characters in First One In. Did you ever think that there were too many characters?

O’Brien: Oh my gosh. My producer thought there were too many. Yeah, there are a lot of characters in it, but you kind of need that to have tennis tournaments. One of the things that will bother me forever and that I have learned, is when you have a lot of characters like that, you can’t really use them all to their potential because you just don’t have the time. I would have loved to see more done with some of the extraneous characters. For instance, Preeti who plays Aneesh.

I would have loved to have more time with her. Ashalee, played by Sufe Bradshaw. Oh my gosh. She came on very late and I think I probably would have rewritten some of the scenes, if I only knew. So yes, in that sense there were a lot of characters I wish I could have used them more. But then again, if you’re doing team tennis, you have to have a lot of characters. But I have promised that next time around, I’ll try to stay away from popular music and a lot of characters.

AIPT: There is a recurring character. A little boy. I won’t get too much into his jokes, but how fun or difficult was it to write his character?

first one in

O’Brien: Oh my gosh. So easy. I love children, although with this particular character maybe, it seems like I don’t love children. But I think kids can be so funny. I have kids of my own, they’re grown now, but it was an opportunity to inject some humor in certain scenes. This movie, hopefully it will appeal to a general audience, but it really has a niche audience of women playing tennis. Many of those women have kids. So it was fun to just do something unexpected.

AIPT: One of the things I found most refreshing about the movie, is that there was a message behind it, but it was so funny. It was comedy for comedy’s sake almost. Did you ever stop and think things should be toned back?

O’Brien: No, I thought, just go for it and don’t worry what people say. I mean, I hope I don’t hurt feelings, but I do think that we live in a time where maybe we need to step back and just remember to laugh at ourselves a bit.

It’s like going back to the ’80s with this film, where not that nobody cared, but it was a different sensibility.

AIPT: What future plans do you have?

O’Brien: I wrote First One In pretty quickly. I had dropped something I had been working on, wrote this and then it snowballed into, okay, I’m going to direct it and then making the film. So I guess I’ll tell you, maybe a year and a half, two years ago that I was in the middle of writing something and so I’m going to pick it back up. But it has to do with the Borscht Belt of the 1950s. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that area of the Catskills in New York. But I’m going to go back to that. That’s all I’m going to say about it because otherwise you’ll be disappointed.

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