Tag Archives: interviews

‘Damsels in Distress’ roundup

I haven’t come across many new reviews of Damsels in Distress this week, but let’s have a look at what there is…

Carrie MacLemore and Ryan Metcalf
Damsels in Distress: Carrie MacLemore and Ryan Metcalf

At Buffalo News Jeff Simon loved the movie at first but then felt it lost its way:

I found myself sitting heavy-lidded after those first 45 minutes when it’s clear that Stillman and his kids are comically oh-so-tastefully dressed up with no place in the plot to go. A lot of marking time is done here. …

I wouldn’t have missed Stillman’s extended set-up to his extended gag. I do think, though, the punch line needed work.

Jeremy Kibler at CultureMob had similar feelings:

Dialogue extraordinaire Whit Stillman was the Diablo Cody of the ’90s and continues here writing sparkling, arch dialogue that can feel “written” and self-conscious. The filmmaker goes for a retro, affectedly odd vibe with his idiosyncratic characters living inside a heightened reality, a bubble of a campus that isn’t far off from Stepford. It’s fascinatingly ethereal and pretty funny for the first half-hour, until it’s just off-putting and goes a long way.

But Josef Woodard at the Santa Barbara Independent is more all-round positive:

Depending on your perspective and particular sense of humor, Whit Stillman’s brilliant and dryly funny new film may inspire uproarious laughter, gentle sniggers, bemused smirks, yawns of apathy, or, well, all of the above. For this filmgoer, the responses included everything but apathy, and an awakening sense of rediscovery of one of America’s brightest and least productive directors, this being only Stillman’s fourth feature since he debuted with Metropolitan in 1990. We need much more of this kind of smart, subtle artistry in American film.

Finally, Whit Stillman is interviewed by Haden Guest in the latest issue of Film Comment, although the article isn’t available online unfortunately. I thought I’d pull out a paragraph in which Stillman expands on the idea of “flit lit”, referenced in Damsels, but which I don’t think he’s elaborated on at such length elsewhere:

[Harvard professor Walter Jackson] Bate described a trend in criticism in touch with 18th-century traditions. In Damsels we talk about the dandy tradition, the “flit lit” tradition—that is deprecating college slang for something that is important – this tradition that comes down from Johnson to Laurence Sterne to Jonathan Swift, and then to the Oscar Wilde era and eventually Evelyn Waugh, and separately Jane Austen. But Austen is in a sense a female fictional flowering of Dr. Johnson. And then for us the other huge impact was J.D. Salinger and mostly his short stories, like Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and those in the Franny and Zooey collection. When Salinger wrote about his influences, he evoked this great train of dandy literature going right back. I would just add Salinger to this list. Because it’s the people you hysterically admire that really influence you.

Thanks to Jesper Larsson for that tip.

And that’s us all caught up. Have a good weekend!

Even more ‘Damsels’ interviews

Has Whit Stillman got anything new to say about Damsels in Distress? Have interviewers got anything new to ask him? There’s only one, quite laborious, way to find out…

We’ll start off with this six minute video of a pin-striped Stillman being interviewed on Bloomberg Television by Tom Keene (who admits he knows nothing about films, but has been well briefed):

Stillman reveals that the movie, including post-production, cost around $1.5 million, which I think is new to us, and that it’s gradually opening up on to more screens and is likely to keep screening over the summer.

At the Montreal Gazette, Jeff Heinrich interviews Stillman, although Heinrich doesn’t seem to think much of the intellect of the potential audience:

There are a lot of big words in his movies that some people might not understand, I tell Stillman. Like what, he asks? I check the notes I made while watching the film: “foreboding,” “incumbent upon,” “immutable,” “incalculable.” As the list goes on, Stillman looks a bit out. “Those aren’t big words to me,” he finally says.

Well, quite. The Gazette also has a page of quotes from Stillman’s movies if you want some light relief.

PJ Media have an audio interview with Stillman by Ed Driscoll. I haven’t listened to the whole ten minutes, but he does say that Criterion are talking to Warners about making Barcelona available for release on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Paul Byrne has a good, and fairly long, interview with Stillman in Ireland for Movies.ie, which is worth a read. They talk about Stillman’s failed attempts to make movies out of a couple of books and Stillman says:

But I’m staying away from books now. Original stories all the way. I’m also thinking about not accept script commissions anymore. Try to write the script myself, don’t sell it.

At the Telegraph in the UK, David Gritten interviews Stillman although by this point I don’t think there’s anything here that we haven’t read before. The same goes for Charles Ealy’s interview at Austin360 and Miles Fielder’s at The List.

At the Miami Herald Rene Rodriguez talks to Stillman and makes a point of saying what a nice chap he is:

Despite the tony airs and sophisticated palette of his pictures, Stillman remains a thoroughly accessible, friendly and chatty fellow, completely devoid of any airs or pretension. “I find arrogance so offensive,” he says. “There’s a filmmaker who made a film last year that I loved. I saw him at one of these luncheons where they’re trying to get people votes for the Oscars. I went up to him and said hi, and he was so rude and full of himself. I was going to vote for his movie after the lunch, and then I thought ‘You know? He’s such a stuck-up guy, and he’s going to get nominated anyway. I just won’t bother.’ And I didn’t.

Caitlin Moore has a fairly good interview at Austinist and Stillman hints at the actors for future projects:

Moore: You’ve used a lot of the same actors in some of your movies. Do you feel like there are any from Damsels that you’ll use again?

Stillman: I love them. Absolutely. A whole bunch from this film. There’s many actors in this film I’d like to work with again. I’m already trying to think of shaping this script that I have where they could work – because, and that’s one of the exciting things – when you’re still working on a script, you can still shape it for performers. And I really like to do that. So Greta and Adam would be the leads and then there are other people that I would like to bring back.

Moore: So that’s a technique that you’ve used a lot?

Stillman: It helped me with Barcelona because I already had the idea for Barcelona before I started working on the script about the two cousins in Barcelona, and then I met Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman shooting Metropolitan, and saw how well they got on together and that became the basis of Barcelona.

Stillman also reveals that a couple of imposters on Twitter were removed:

Moore: Do you use Twitter or anything like that?

Stillman: I don’t use Twitter. I’ve had to take down two imposters who weren’t good imposters. If they’d been funny it would have been ok, but they weren’t funny at all. And so I still won’t do Twitter so that I’m not imposted.

Finally, the Economist’s Prospero blog interviews Stillman and, among other things, they discuss the tone of his new film:

Economist: The little love story in Damsels between Violet (Greta Gerwig) and Charlie (Adam Brody) could almost be from one of your earlier films, except for the daffy way Violet talks… Then we meet the bunch of troglodytic frat boys she wants to save from being thrown off the campus…

Stillman: The first two-thirds of this film is in the mode of my other films; the last third is a cartoon. All the people who played those parts—the dumb frat boys—knew exactly how to play them when they came in and read. Ryan Metcalf, who plays Frank, said, “I’m thinking of something that’s rather broad. Do you want to see it?” I said, “Yeah, show me ‘rather broad.’” And he knocked it out of the park. Then Billy Magnessun, who ended up playing Thor, came in, and he was bouncing off the walls.

That’s all the interviews for the moment.

Whit Stillman Interviewtastical

Not so long ago, a single Whit Stillman interview would have made for an exciting blog post. But now, with Damsels in Distress in cinemas, we’re cramming plenty of the things together as if they’re nothing special.

Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman on set

We start off with Daniel Anderson at Click who, first, has a look back at Stillman’s earlier films, moving on to some background about the current release:

During the making of Damsels, Stillman put himself under more pressure by taking on extra writing – something he regrets. “I made a huge mistake in this film where, to make money, I also had an HBO writing assignment. I did a draft before we shot the film and right after. That was a mistake – particularly the draft beforehand. Afterwards maybe it’s a good to take off from the film for a few weeks but both were very bad ideas and I think we recovered from it but it took me a while.”

Anderson has also posted the full transcript of his (February) interview with Stillman at Click, which is a nice touch and gives us plenty more interesting material to read:

WS: Everything [about making a film] can be bad! I think there is… I used to find the editing phase the best. But even that can be bad if things aren’t quite working. I find starting out… the idea of the script is normally a happy thing then getting started is very difficult. Then there’s a point when things are going well with the script and everything’s exciting. I think probably everything has its downsides. So yes the casting thing is great because you’ve finished the script and people want to make it – that’s kind of cool. But then there’s also the terror that you won’t find anyone to play some parts. We had a very hard time finding the males for Damsels. The French actor Hugo Becker we didn’t get his visa until the last three days of the shoot. And everyone thought I was crazy hanging on for this actor, they wanted me to recast.

DA: So you had to do all of his stuff in the last three days?

WS: The last three days of the shoot.

Next, Ellin Stein interviews Stillman at the Arts Desk (don’t miss the easy-to-miss “next page” link at the bottom of the article):

Even Stillman’s ability to keep costs down didn’t help. “I remember talking to a producer about how inexpensively I could make a movie and logically that should be good,” he recalls. “If you can make a movie for 1.5 million that will return 3 million, that’s fantastic. But that’s not the psychology people have. They say, ‘The film has to cost five million so I can charge my $250,000 producer fee.’ My best friend, who was also an investor in Metropolitan, said, ‘People talk in the film business the way the gang about to knock over a bank talk, except in the film business they divide up the loot before they do the job.’”

I didn’t even know at the time that Whit Stillman was in London (where I live) recently, but Michael Leader interviewed him here for Den of Geek. Stillman tells us about film-making on a tight budget:

Leader: As the director and producer, how did you keep costs down?

Stillman: You don’t do things the industry way. I was a little too maniacal about it, because I am such a cheapskate emotionally that I would get out of control where any expenditure upset me. But I felt we were a very comfortable production, because we could have a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee run twice a day. There’s one in the afternoon, too. So I felt that was quite luxurious. Having good coffee on set was quite a treat.

He also discusses shooting the film on digital RED cameras, which I don’t think I’ve seen him talk about before:

Leader: The film does have a very striking look. Those backlit shots, with the sunlight cutting through the frame, are beautiful. And I don’t think many cinematographers would do that.

Stillman: It’s amazing. Some people really criticise that. I think it’s fantastic. It’s transformative. I think that digital photography, by people who know how to use it, has gotten far superior to film. Far superior. I love it. I mean, I saw a famous RED film last night on TV. It was one of the first big-budget films made on a RED. I don’t know what they did wrong, but it looks so god-awful. And I think the RED wasn’t very good when it started. And, also, I think on post-production, if people don’t colour time it properly… You have to have proper people working at every stage.

Interesting that for such a film-maker who many think of as somehow old-fashioned, he’s so keen on the latest shooting technology, when plenty of directors are stubbornly holding on to celluloid for as long as possible.

And that’s all the interview action for the time being.

Two Stillman interviews

To get up-to-date we have two interviews with Whit Stillman about Damsels in Distress.

Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman on set

First, Craig Skinner doing a long two part interview at at Hey U Guys. It’s better and deeper than the average, so worth a read.

Skinner: Do you have any solid plans at the moment?

Stillman: In my career, solid is not a good word [laughs]. I do have the intention to make something else, that I’ve been keeping under wraps. In fact one publication I said that to, I think it was a copy editor that changed it to, “he’s next making a project Under Wraps”. [Laughs] Yet another film he’s not making!

Skinner: I read a quote from you recently about a film idea that has really stuck in my head and I’d love to see you make. It was about the idea of a Gold Diggers film.

Stillman: That is a total fantasy but it intrigues me, the idea. I think it would be so funny to come out with the Gold Diggers of 2015 and just try and do the same sort of thing but now. I mean, how would we do it now? It would have to re-imagined but…

…That’s a happy memory from my youth, I don’t remember the exact form of them. I remember that one of my favourite things of musical films was the Lullaby of Broadway episode. It’s magnificent, that sequence. It’s just so beautiful. So I don’t know how it would be done, because of the MPAA members. You might be able to do it if you had a member company working with you. I think you’d want an agreement with the company that made the original ones.

Oh, and Hey U Guys also have a competition to win a Damsels poster signed by the man himself.

And now, an interview with a difference. At McSweeney’s, Joel Rice talks to Stillman about skateboarding:

JR: You anticipated one of my other questions, which was, “Have you ever tried skateboarding?” So the answer is yes.

WS: Yeah. I must have been present at the creation. The first months that skateboards were around I had one.

JR: Was your family supportive of it?

WS: Oh, yeah. But it was a really innocuous thing then. It was after you did your homework you go out… We were living in Georgetown, Washington, then. Behind the townhouse we lived in, there was an alley leading to the garages in the back. And it was at an incline, so I could go from the garages in the back and slide down to the alley in the back and turn down the hill. The sidewalks were brick. So you got a bit of a bump as you went down.

OK, it’s not all about skateboarding, and the non-skateboarding parts are also worth a read, managing to avoid all the usual questions Stillman’s been asked dozens of times already:

JR: My sense is that every year youth culture gets more and more extreme. Your characters often blanch at the coarseness of contemporary life and…

WS: No, I don’t think that’s true.

JR: You don’t think that’s true. Okay. Please go ahead.

WS: I think everything has multiple directions. So actually things are less extreme now than when I was in university. The university was much more extreme when I got there in 1969, when I first got there, than it is now. It was very extreme in September 1969, I can tell you. On college campuses now, there is more ’50s stuff going on than 1969 stuff.

And there we go, we’re now bang up to date. For a few hours, at least.

Greta Gerwig interviews

Only a couple of Greta Gerwig interviews about Damsels in Distress have appeared over the past week.

Greta Gerwig
Damsels in Distress: Greta Gerwig

First, Steven Rea at Philly.com has a horribly ugly article – swamped in ads and split over three pages – but I include it in the interest of completeness:

Gerwig says that at the first of the table reads, before production had started, she found herself struggling. “It felt in a way like I was preparing for a race. I would always start out pretty good, but then it would be like I got winded. Not literally winded, but I would run out of steam for the character. … I would start off strong and feel like I was kind of distinguishing the points she was making, and finding it, but it was so tiring that by the end it was all running together. So I had to take whatever initial spark I had, or instinct, and then just train myself to keep that going and make it work.”

An then “Bsimon” at ShockYa has a fairly long interview with Gerwig:

ShockYa: He also has a very specific pitch and meter to his dialogue. Did he talk about that a lot?

GG: Not per se. He wouldn’t give us specific direction regarding sound, but I would say the big thing for me, because I had such an idea of other people doing his dialogue, was getting those voices out of my head – like getting Chris Eigeman out of my head, or Kate Beckinsale out of my head. I didn’t want to be doing an imitation of the way they sounded when they did his dialogue, which is what I think what happens a lot with writer-directors with a very strong voice. In their later films, when people know what they’re doing, it’s what happens in Woody Allen films where they do an imitation of him. But when he was making films in the 1970s people weren’t doing imitations of what they thought it was. I think sometimes when things become iconic, the rhythms get set in a way that’s hard to break out of. The big thing for me was that I tried to come at it internally. It’s so tempting when you get a big monologue to score it almost like a musical score, and say, “Here’s the first thought, here’s the next,” to block it off and underline operative words and really prepare it because it’s a large chunk of text. But I tried to almost memorize it without meaning beforehand, and then find the meaning as I’m making my point to another person, so that I didn’t do this intellectual rhythmic process before, which would have been based on what his other actors had done. I tried to find the words spontaneously based on the thought pattern, if that makes sense. (laughs) Other people may do other things.