Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Road to Sundance: Spoonful, directed by Jenee LaMarque

Tell us about your film. What inspired you to make it?
My film is called spoonful and it's part of the U.S. Shorts Competition.  The film is inspired by the strange event that followed my best friend Craig's memorial service in New York back in 2003. 

On the day of the memorial, my friend Megan's breasts became horrifically engorged with breast milk.  Her daughter was back in California and she didn't have a breast pump.  She tried desperately to manually express the milk and was in tears about her failure to relieve her pain.  On the couch at our friend Helen's apartment, I took the liberty of poking Megan's breast with my pointer finger.  It was as hard as a knee cap.  So Helen and I decided that we would "help" Megan drain her breasts ourselves.  That sounds weird, huh?  It was weird.  But somehow---in the delirium of our grief---it made complete sense to us.  Grief sense.

It was an event that I've always looked back on with fascination and wonder, a tangled sort of mystery that I've always wanted to engage with.  So the challenge I gave to myself with making this film was to take this bizarre (and thematically rich) situation and fictionalize it.  I wanted to create a story where the central conflict would be the engorged breast and the "helping out" would be logical outcome for the three women involved.  spoonful came out of this challenge, and the three of us mourning our friend's death morphed into three sisters mourning the death of their father.

How long did it take you to make your film? 
I wrote for three weeks, we filmed for two days and then we edited for about two months.                              

How did you finance your film? I financed my film completely from my own savings.  Because both time and funds were pretty limited, we decided to shoot the entire film in one location.  We knew going in that the "special effects" would have to be the story and the performances.  We borrowed a lot of our equipment from friends and our fantastic producer Steven J. Berger fought to get us deals on everything else.   

What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging part was casting an actress who was a real lactating mother and also "got" what we were trying to do.  We overcame this by simply finding the incredible Robin Reiser.  I never dreamt we'd get someone as great as Robin.  She's an amazing stand up comedian and just brings so much life and light to what could have been a heavy performance. 

Tell us about your experience getting into Sundance. Are there any pointers for filmmakers for getting accepted?  
I found out that spoonful got into Sundance the night before Thanksgiving, and I promptly lost my mind with excitement.  There was screaming involved, there was jumping involved, there was a flurry of phone calls to the cast and crew involved.  God bless you, Kim Yutani, you made my year with that phone call!

It's important to me to make films that circle thematically around the things that I feel most strongly about.  Consequently, there's a lot that speaks to my experience of life in the film: my dark sense of humor, my feelings surrounding the loss of a loved one,  my strong belief in breastfeeding, and my experience of becoming a mother and fiercely needing to draw new boundaries with the people around me.  These are all things that I know were interesting to the wonderful women in the film as well.

Speaking of those wonderful women, I can't help but believe it was beneficial to spoonful to have some talented Sundance alums in the cast; Marianna Palka is the writer/director/star of Good Dick and Frankie Shaw is in both The Freebie and this year's End of Love.  Frankie is also one of my closest friends and Marianna is one of Frankie's closest friends.  There was already this lovely pre-existing intimacy in the cast and I think these real relationships helped to make the film what it is.

As a director, I also worked hard to create and maintain an environment where the cast and crew felt safe to take creative risks.   We ended up all feeling incredibly close on set and this manifested in a lot of laughing and crying together.  There were many, many boob jokes.  Boob jokes (much like poop jokes) somehow never get old.  At one point, we also sat in a room and all cried while listening to Luther Vandross's "Dance with My Father."  Truly awesome. 

If you had to make the film all over again, would you do anything different?
Yes!  I wish I would have had more time writing.  But we wanted to make the Sundance deadline, so we ended up shooting a script that wasn't totally ready.  It gave us some grief in the editing room which could have been saved by some simple script trims.  It's so much easier to edit words on a computer screen.  Now my motto is "be ruthless about editing your script down to the bone."  I hope I've learned my lesson.

What’s next for your film? Do you have distribution? If so, when and how can people see it and if not, what are your hopes for the film?
I have no idea what's next for the film.  I'm at the point where I just can't wait to see how people react to it.  Sundance is our very first stop, although we've started submitting to other festivals.  We'll see what happens!  Steven and I are in the midst of casting our first feature, The Pretty One, so after Sundance that's what we'll be mostly focused on.
Can you provide any advice to other filmmakers who dream of getting their films made and into Sundance?
Well, I'm sure everyone's path to Sundance is extremely particular to them, so I'm not sure how instructive I'll be, but I can say something of my thought process behind making the film.

I think it's 
important to surround yourself with like-minded people that share your values and aesthetics.  My collaborators (Steven J. Berger, Mattias Troelstrup, Emily Batson, Emilio Ramirez, and Heather Mathews) are all people that I truly respect and admire.  I absolutely believe that each of them is a visionary artist.  spoonful also marks my first collaboration with my husband (composer, Julian Wass), working with him was one of my long standing dreams.  I realize I am quite partial but I think he's a genius composer

It was also important to me to make a film that felt authentic to me and in some way represents my point of view and my deepest beliefs.  And I knew I could only accomplish this by letting my freak flag fly.  I figured if I wasn't going to get in, I didn't want it to be because I had held myself back.

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