Sarah Hyland & Graham Phillips on their new Netflix Original Film ‘XOXO’

Netflix is quickly becoming the go-to source for a variety of original film and television that manages to provide viewers with both a look at reality, and an escape from that same reality. Their projects span the range from cutting edge to lighthearted, taking a look at the human condition along with both hyper-real and ultra-fictional twists.

Today Netflix launches a new film called XOXO, set in the world of an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festival.

The official synopsis:
XOXO is an ensemble, coming-of-age movie about a group of early 20-somethings on a crazy adventure to the biggest EDM festival in America, XOXO. The film follows six strangers whose lives collide in one frenetic, dream-chasing, hopelessly romantic night. At the center is Ethan, a young DJ who gets a last minute slot to perform after his tracks go viral online days before the festival. This is a huge opportunity… if he can just make it there in one piece. XOXO will launch globally on Netflix on August 26, 2016.

XOXO is a story about those 20-somethings on the verge of moving from their college years to “real life”, and coming to terms with the reality of that change. It teaches them that life isn’t perfect, it’s a lot of work, but it’s important to continue find the joy in life. For those of us who are a little out of their 20s, there are even two “old men” (read – early 40-somethings) whose job it is to remind us to not let the real world jade us. That it’s still important to just have fun.

It’s also an excellent introduction to the world of EDM. XOXO manages to give a look at the world of these large festivals. It addresses what we’ve all come to expect – the drugs, the sex, the wild clothes – but it also dives into the love of music, dancing, and just generally leaving your cares behind for those few hours of bliss.

At a press event this Sunday we sat down with the film’s two stars, Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) and Graham Phillips (The Good Wife) to talk about the project.

Both stars confess to a love of the music, but one had a bit more experience with the culture than Director Christopher Louie expected.

XOXO - Hyland Phillips“I’ve been a fan of EDM music for a while,” confesses Hyland. “I have never been to a rave, so to speak, but I have been to places like Coachella, where there’s always the rave tents, so I’ve kind of experienced something like that before. It was really cool to just indulge myself in this culture; it was great.”

“I, too, have enjoyed EDM for a really long time,” added Phillips. “I’ve sort of been drawn to more of the sweeping, symphonic vibe of EDM, like Above And Beyond or Mateon. It feels a little bit more. Whenever they can integrate some organic sounds as well into all the electric sounds, I tend to really like that. I came from a musical theatre background, as did Sarah, so maybe that’s why. I actually started DJing my freshman year in college, just to meet the social chairs of the eating clubs at Princeton, and just because, as a freshman male, you’re at the bottom of the social ladder and you can’t really get access to any of these clubs until you’re in a fraternity or whatever.

I learned to DJ, and they needed DJs, and I was like, “All right. I’ll learn to DJ, I like the music anyway,” and I did start liking it more and more, and I started throwing some parties in Orange County with some of my friends who actually liked the music even more than I did. They were the people who were finding these new tunes as they were coming out, so I loved hosting parties. I still do. That’s kind of what it grew from, and I guess sophomore year kind of petered out, but when I got this script at the end of my sophomore year, I was like, “This is so funny; this is what I just experienced on a much smaller level, and actually, Chris [Louie], the director, didn’t even know that I had any DJing experience when he cast me, so that was kind of a fun surprise for him; when he didn’t have to teach me everything.”

Phillips experience also meant Louie didn’t have to worry about providing Phillips with equipment he’d then have to teach him to use. “I actually used almost all my own equipment for this. I just brought it to the set and said, “can I please use this instead of something completely foreign?” They’re like, “Yeah, sure,” so it did not require a lot of research for me. It was really nice, because a lot of the shots we grabbed at real festivals where we had a 5-minute slot of a stage in front of 80,000 people.”

XOXO Festival ShotTo get the authentic feel of being at a real EDM festival the film took advantage of the numerous festivals around the country, taking a few minutes here or there between sets to set their scenes with a real EDM crowd reacting. Of course, that presented its own challenges.

Phillips confesses that sometimes filming in those crowds was “Kind of annoying, because most people thought we were filming an after-video for the festival.”

He continues, “People thinking that it was the after-video that we were shooting would, and rightfully so, just get in the camera and go like, “Woo! I love festival XYZ or whichever one we were at,” and I’d just be like, trying to continue to be Ethan while there’s people who are literally blocking the entire shot, so that was a little frustrating, but being at the festival was amazing for us, because how else can you simulate that energy if we somehow could have replicated that?”

“It was definitely worth it,” adds Hyland. “These people also, as soon as you would say something to them, they were also very respectful, because they don’t fuck- They don’t know. They’re on whatever. They’re on planet Zombo or something like that, and they were just trying to have a good time, and they were. I am a huge fan of people-watching, so I thought it was a lot of fun. It was annoying when we had to, like, really do something, and we only had a certain amount of time to do it, but some of them were really respectful once they were told “no.”

“I think that was the funniest 180,” says Phillips, “Is when you would tell people who were acting so drugged out, right in the camera, really going all-out, and then we’d say, “We’re trying to film something,” and they’d be like “Oh, oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to-” They’d scamper off and they’d be so respectful, and I think that’s kind of part of the thesis of this film, that this rave culture isn’t just aggressive and sexual; there is a lot of unity about it. We’ll have peace, a lot of respect and love.

“Peace, Love, Unity, Respect,” clarifies Hyland. “All the PLUR you can find. It’s all about the PLUR.”

The characters of the film all experience a sort of transformation from beginning to end. One could say it’s the death of innocence, or perhaps just a more genuine understanding of the reality they’re facing at a transitional period in their lives. Both Phillips and Hyland play what could be considered the most innocent characters of the film.

Sarah Hyland in XOXO“I really liked Krystal from the get-go,” says Hyland. “ I liked that she was the innocence of the movie- Sorry. She was the innocent of the film, and that’s something that a lot of people haven’t seen me do. Haley [Hyand’s character on Modern Family] is the type of girl that would wear a thong and pasties to this music festival and be balls of the wall, but Krystal was very different; she very much stayed true to herself, and she goes in with really high expectations and kind of finds herself in a position to where she never thought she would be, and she kind of has to look within herself to find answers and maybe put the phone down and look around her, and really see the beauty in the world that she’s never really seen before, and the beauty within herself, so I think that that was really nice about her.”

“I think Ethan’s romantic idea about what the potential of his music was actually held him back initially,” explains Phillips. “He really felt like there was going to be this world where his music was ready for someone else to hear, but the truth of the matter was, it was never going to be ready until he accepted it himself, or what it was, so in a way, I think he might have actually just transformed into a romantic by the end of the film, maybe more so than the beginning as a romantic, if that makes any sense.”

Hyland adds, “I think it’s the opposite for Krystal. At the beginning of the film, she was too much of a romantic, and that’s the only thing she really cared about. She just put all of her attention and everything; all of her energy into this one guy, to where she wasn’t able to really experience anything else until she had him, and once that didn’t go as planned, she kind of had to turn everything that she was putting out into the world into herself, and become romantic with herself into which- Isn’t it always the case that as soon as you stop looking for a guy, the perfect one shows up right around the corner?”

Hyland famously got a tattoo after she performed in HAIR at the Hollywood Bowl in 2015, the production left such a lasting impact on her emotionally. On her takeaway from this film, Hyland had this to say. “HAIR and XOXO, ironically enough, are, I think, very similar. It’s 2 different, very different cultures, but it’s kind of all about the same thing. Peace, love, harmony, following your heart. It’s a great correlation between the two, because they have the same message.”

She adds, “There’s this war going on in HAIR that people are trying to fight against, and I think- Is it too much for me to say “war on technology?” The thing that I loved about this music festival is that everyone just kind of puts their phone down and just is in the moment, and I think that’s really great.”

XOXO launches on Netflix today, August 26th. The film stars Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), Graham Phillips (The Good Wife), Brett DelBuono, Chris D’Elia (Undateable), Haley Kiyoko (Jem & The Holograms), Colin Woodell (Masters of Sex), Ryan Hansen (Party Down, 2 Broke Girls), Ian Anthony Dale (Hawaii Five-0) and Ione Skye (Say Anything), is directed by Christopher Louie and written by Dylan Meyer.