December 6, 2007

December 6, 2007

Interview with Tamara Jenkins writer and director of The Savages

Women & Hollywood: What made you write this film?

Tamara Jenkins: Little impulses go into writing. People think there is a light bulb moment. When it comes to writing it is a slow accumulation of obsessions or repetetive thoughts and things that haunt you. I had my own personal experience with two family members with dementia who lived their last days in a nursing home. I also had a simultaneous desire and interest to write about grown up siblings and they merged into this screenplay.

W&H: Did you always intend to direct the screenplay?

TJ: Yes

W&H: What do you want people to walk out of the theatre thinking?

TJ: To feel a sense of connection with the subject matter. Once the film started screening I realized it was a subject lots of people are dealing with but also don't talk about -- it's sort of on the margins of discourse because its so uncomfortable almost taboo. An interesting by product has been that people have started sharing their experiences and that's been amazing. One of the things that is nice when you make a movie is that there is a sense of community, a sense of connection, that you are not alone out there.

W&H: Why did it take you 8 years between films? (her first film was the cult hit- The Slums of Beverly Hills)

TJ: It was a combination of things. My first film was the first time I had ever dealt with the world of commerce. Before that I was in film school and before that I did theatre. I was making art in an isolated way and entering the world of commerce was very strange for me. There was a huge learning curve in terms of holding onto your own intentions and getting enormous input, comments and pressure and negotiating that minefield is complicated and tricky. I personally don't think I am cut out for all this. It's not a natural fit. (Impressive that a director would actually admit this.) I'm older now and I've learned how to deal with it but its still not easy for me.

I made my movie and afterwards got sucked up into other projects that never transpired one of which was a film based on the life of Diane Arbus. I worked with a producer who ended up making a totally different movie with a totally different director on the subject matter. He owned the rights and I was invited to work on it and devoted many years to it. I call that period the Bermuda triangle period. But, in a kind of weird way it prepared me for this. The disappointment was very profound and made me very fierce. When I found my way to this story I was very protective in a way that was inspired by professional disappointment.

W&H: Do you and your fellow female directors ever talk about it being harder for women directors?

TJ: All the women I know bristle that every time we go to a film festival and if you wear a bra you are subjected to a women in film panel. They don't want to be a part of a ghetto or special Olympics. There is no denying if you look at the numbers it's pretty grim. What are we going to say? Yup it sucks- it's still depressing. I wonder if there is a weird post-feminist self loathing that occurs in regards to feminism & film making?

W&H: What advice would you offer a young woman who wants to be a director?

TJ: In a weird way I would tell her to learn how to write because I really think there is power there. Materials and scripts are gold and there is not a lot out there. If you can find your voice as a writer with the intention of making your own thing I think that's important and could create an environment where you could find yourself directing. I feel that writing has saved my life many times in all different ways. I think that personal storytelling is really interesting and hopefully you are interested in being a filmmaker not because they want to straddle a dolly and act macho but because you have something to say.

The Savages is currently in limited release. Here is W&H review:
The Savages

The National Board of Review handed out its awards yesterday. Female winner include: Best Actress, Julie Christie for Away from Her; Best Supporting Actress, Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone; best original screenplay, a tie between Diablo Cody for Juno and Nancy Oliver for Lars and the Real Girl and Ellen Page won the breakthrough actress award. Body of War co-directed by Ellen Spiro won best documentary. Award ceremony will be in January.

Diablo Cody: From Stripper to Screenwriter (LA Times)