Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.
Hilary Brougher directed “Stephanie Daley,” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Dramatic section. “Stephanie Daley” is about a young woman who denies killing her baby and the psychologist hired by the prosecution to find out what happened. Brougher developed the script at Sundance’s Screenwriters and Directors Labs. In 2005, Sundance awarded her an Annenberg Fellowship for this film.
Please tell us about yourself. How old are you? What jobs have you had? Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where do you live?
I’m 37. Have spent last few years mothering twins. That’s been my day job. Born Catskill, New York. Grew up in upstate New York (New Paltz, New York). I live in NYC.
What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker?
When I was little my parents took me once a week to a nearby “calendar house.” This was terribly exciting especially as we had no TV reception to speak of in our pocket of the woods. It was exciting back then because much less was written about these movies, so [we] would show up and have our minds blown by these “art” movies as they were then called.
The first thing I did when I was about 12 was subscribe to “American Cinematographer” because at the time that was the only magazine I could find about the making of movies. I was fascinated by it all — not the gadgets but the people who cared so much about the gadgets. At 14 I convinced my parents to buy me a used Super-8 camera and splicer. … My first films were out of focus and involved cardboard sets in the basement. They were a mess, but they are a big part of why I am still a filmmaker — because they gave me intimacy and autonomy with the process that I still carry around in some inside pocket. … In high school, I flirted with being a painter but realized I needed a medium involving lots of other people — otherwise I would be lonely and never finish anything.
Did you go to film school? Did you finance your own film?
I did go to film school (School of Visual Arts in NYC). I had a lot of fun there and formed some relationships that are still vital to me today. But just as important were the years I spent working in production after graduating — and then the full decade spent learning how to write functioning screenplays. I made my first feature in 1997 (“The Sticky Fingers of Time”) — and it has taken a number of years to make this film, “Steph Daley.” I never had the means to self-finance my feature films — and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. If I had, they never would have gone through the rigors of development that I think has been important to the journey.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
I was interested in denial (not the “was it real?” question, rather — “how do I get the experience on screen?”). I am fascinated by how screwed up we can get when confronted with something bigger than us, beyond our control. That collision of who we think we are with who we suddenly learn we are. Also around the time I began the screenplay a number of my peers were experiencing pregnancy — and I saw them experience profoundly scary and fascinating changes, around the idea of losing and finding self — a sort of midlife adolescence ever so hard to articulate — and therefore worth the trouble.
What are your biggest creative influences?
I love books as much as movies. I love the detail, density and structural versatility of novels. I think I’m always trying to work that into the wonderful tight structure of film. … I’m also crazy about kid books, both picture books and the lit — and I have been even before I had kids. … The narrative structure of them is different, and for me, it’s important to get out of my grown-up head because it’s full of dead ends. Also, I watch my kids — they are great teachers — they push hard when it matters and process the world with open heart and eyes. My kids have forced me to develop patience and efficiency, which turns out to have been key for me.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
This particular script wasn’t easy to write. I grew up a lot in the process. … It took awhile to get the balance right between the two women’s stories — and it was a new way of writing for me, more subtle and character-based than previous projects. The Sundance Institute — and the labs — provided a lot of craft guidance and emotional support as well nurturing the development side of things — it took awhile to find producers and financing. Many early readers felt the script was too ambiguous, subtle, genre-tweaked. Ironically enough, it’s these same qualities that ultimately attracted the right producers and ignited the energy of our cast and our key creatives. … And even though this script took forever to get financed — once that moment came, the film came together remarkably quickly — about six months from prep to print. The biggest challenge was that we never had enough time, and as a result we were very, very tired much of the time. Yet somehow we had more than enough collective love and skill to keep things smooth.
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with people that I haven’t seen in a long time and celebrating with people that I’ve worked hard on this movie with — I hope to have some real moments with people I don’t know yet. I want to see lots and lots and lots of movies.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
I suspect the most accurate description probably has something to do with how films are financed — but for me, it has to do more with the way things are developed — if you are developing stories outside of large-scale corporate consciousness, you are an indie.
What are some of your favorite films? What is your top 10 list for 2005?
“Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “In a Lonely Place,” “My Neighbor Totoro.” I don’t know why. I can’t make a top 10 list for ’05 because I’ve seen so few films in the last six months because of our intense schedule. Hope to make up for that in ’06.
What are one or two of your New Year’s resolutions?
Go to the gym. Make a decent living. Start an IRA or do something financially responsible. Sell the script I just finished. Finish the script for the project I’d like to direct next. See many films. Grow cucumbers and make dill pickles out of them with my kids.
[Get the latest from the Sundance Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Park City ’06 section.]