On Collaborating as a Couple

Partners in life and in work, Olympic Dreams' Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher have teamed up for unique success in both film and athletics.

We met as undergrads at Dartmouth, the same way most college kids meet – at a party. Jeremy was a Film and English major, and Alexi was an English major and Arabic minor. It was during a pivotal time in both of our college careers: Jeremy was starting to dive into his thesis short film and Alexi was starting to kick her track and field career into high gear. We were both focusing and buckling down, and sometimes that can be hard to do when you’re young – to take yourself seriously. We enabled each other in the best ways. We’re very focused people, work was our individual priority, and so we naturally took an interest in what the other person was working on (and valued the other person’s thoughts). Though our relationship initially revolved around hanging out at parties, once we keyed into each other’s creative drive, collaboration became inevitable.

Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher: two Dartmouth kids.

The first big project that we worked on together was Jeremy’s thesis short film Foursquare Day, after which we also collaborated on a play that Alexi wrote and directed, The Lonely Boy Eats Lunch With His Lunch, and then Jeremy’s debut feature, Tall as the Baobab Tree, which was inspired by a Student Academy Award-nominated documentary that Jeremy had made in rural Senegal. The film combined several true stories into one fictional patchwork quilt. We wrote the script together (in collaboration with the people whose real stories we were adapting) – and when Jeremy went to Senegal to shoot, Alexi was on call every day to check in on the script. This was our first professional collaboration together, and came about a year into our relationship.

As writing partners, we have a good system which we developed through years of trial and error. Sitting together in a room with one shared keyboard is important, but it’s also equally as important and necessary to each have time alone to write. In the early stages, we talk and take notes, focusing on big picture stuff: who the main character is, what she wants, what happens in the story, how the story begins and ends, etc. It feels like a two-person writer’s room.

Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas at the Family of Woman Film Festival in 2014

After Jeremy converts our notes into a three-act outline in Google Docs, we pass it back and forth several times, usually meeting to review each other’s notes together between rounds of edits, before the other person takes their turn doing a pass. Once we have a detailed treatment of between 15 and 20 pages, with every key story beat covered, we’ll share it with our inner circle for fresh eyes and notes. Jeremy will change the treatment into script format, then Alexi does a pass and starts filling in dialogue. After several back-and-forth passes in Google Docs, the document will evolve into a scriptment, and finally a script.

This outlining method developed naturally over time, and it’s only recently gotten to the point where we’ve noticed that we’re taking the above approach for every new project. So probably that means we found a method that works for us! Each film’s writing process comes with its own challenges, especially as we’re drawn to work that blends fiction with reality, but the core steps of our process remain constant.

Our writing collaboration feels very different than our on-set collaboration. Whereas with writing we are equal partners in the same task, on set we find it beneficial to separate ourselves into our distinct roles; for example, on our new film, Olympic Dreams (which plays today at BAMcinemaFest), Jeremy was focused on being the director and cinematographer, while Alexi was fully focused on acting. This enables us each to dial in and really play to our strengths.

Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas on the set of Tracktown

When we’re not on set or actively writing a script, Jeremy focuses on the more producorial day-to-day maintenance of our various projects, and Alexi is a professional runner. Alexi is the Greek national record holder in the 10,000 meters, with a personal best of 31:36 set at the Rio Olympics. She ran at Dartmouth and also ran for the University of Oregon as a fifth-year student, leading the team to two NCAA victories.

Running and filmmaking require very different types of energy. If we manage our time properly, they can each fuel and motivate the other. In terms of our personal dynamic as collaborators, the big picture is the same for everything: success in athletics will only help our film career, and so it’s all part of this house we are building together. Of course, with athletics, Alexi is the one who needs to step on the line and perform, so Jeremy is very much in service to that (and has become a very proficient amateur physical therapist and home chef).

Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas in the Pyeongchang Olympic Village filming Olympic Dreams

Alexi’s personal experiences as an athlete have both inspired us creatively and also opened doors that would not have been otherwise available. In our second film, Tracktown, we used Alexi’s actual Olympic training facilities as our set. Tracktown’s storyline is all about a young woman trying to make it to the Olympic Trials – an experience that very much hits close to home for Alexi. The themes touch on what it feels like to dedicate yourself to such a singular goal, and Alexi was certainly able to draw from her personal experience to enrich her writing, co-directing and acting on that film.

After Tracktown premiered at the 2016 LA Film Festival, Alexi competed in the Rio Olympics. For Alexi, going to the 2016 Olympics felt like meeting someone you’ve looked up to for your entire life and having that person exceed your wildest expectations. Competing on the world stage and running a PR, living in the Athlete Village, being surrounded by thousands of fellow athletes – it was awe-inspiring. For Jeremy, who was also in the Olympic Village, the experience was a fascinating glimpse into a world that most non-athletes never get to see.

Our experiences in Rio directly inspired the idea for Olympic Dreams. In Olympic Dreams, the main character is wrestling with the huge question of what to do with her life after her life’s dream has already happened. What comes next? That’s the unspoken question that’s floating over every athlete’s shoulder like a little gargoyle, and it was a fascinating phenomenon to explore.

Our greatest strength as a partnership is a true selflessness on either side because we know that a rising tide lifts all ships and, ultimately, we are on the same ship. It seems like competing egos and money complications are the main threats to any creative partnership, and being in a position where we truly do benefit from each other’s success in every way is a big strength. In terms of our personal relationship, being in a situation where you are rooting for your partner to succeed is always healthy and good. Of course, there are also challenges to being partners in both life and work – it’s easy to forget to close our laptops and just hang out without talking about work. Then again, even if we weren’t a couple, we’d probably each have this challenge in our personal lives regardless. We’ve both built careers where our work is our greatest creative passion, so it’s always tough to turn that part of our brains off and just chill.

We’ve always followed the indie film mantra of “make the films you can make” – and our surroundings are often a big factor in that. Now that we’ve started to have some success, the scope of what we can make has ever so slowly started to widen. We are both constantly generating ideas, and usually the best are the ones that excite and inspire both of us. Though we aren’t able to share any details yet, there are some really cool projects in the works that will be a big leap forward for us in terms of scope. Onward!!

Alexi Pappas is a 2016 Olympian and an award-winning actor and writer. Alexi co-created and starred in the film Olympic Dreams alongside Nick Kroll, premiering at SXSW 2019. In 2016 Alexi co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in Tracktown, with a cast including Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley. Alexi is currently writing a book of essays, Bravey, in partnership with Random House. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, Lenny Letter, and many more. Alexi has been profiled on the cover of the New York Times Sports Page, in Rolling Stone, on NPR’s All Things Considered, and was also featured on the cover of Runner’s World‘s 50th anniversary issue alongside Kevin Hart, named as one of the two faces of the “new boom” in running. A Greek-American, Alexi is the Greek national recordholder in the 10,000 meters with a personal best of 31:36, set at the Rio Olympics.

Jeremy Teicher is a director, writer, and producer whose work blends fiction with reality. Jeremy’s third feature film, Olympic Dreams, which stars Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas and is the first ever narrative film shot in an Olympic Village (at the Winter Olympics in South Korea), premiered to critical acclaim at SXSW 2019. His second feature film, Tracktown, co-directed with Alexi Pappas, starring Alexi, Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley, premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival and was distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, Orion Pictures, and Sony International. Jeremy’s award-winning first feature film, Tall as the Baobab Tree, which was inspired by true stories from Jeremy’s Student Academy Award-nominated short documentary This is Us, screened at over 50 festivals around the world and was distributed by Sundance Artist Services in 2013. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Jeremy was in 2013 named one of Filmmaker magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.