Writer/director Hilary Brougher‘s drama “Stephanie Daley” centers on 16 year-old who is accused of murdering her newborn. Stephanie (Amber Tamblyn) claims she never knew she was pregnant and that the child was stillborn. Meanwhile, a forensic psychologist, Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is hired to determine the truth behind Stephanie’s continuing state of denial. Lydie, however, is pregnant herself and also graplling with her shaky marriage as well as a growing intuition that something may be going wrong with her own pregnancy. “Stephanie Daley” has won several festival awards, including best director at the Jackson Hold Film Festival as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Tamblyn also received a best supporting actress nomination at the 2007 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Regent Releasing opens the film in limited release Friday, April 20.
Please introduce yourself…
I was grew up in the Hudson Valley in New York state. We weren’t a TV friendly house–we had a little black and white set which got very fuzzy reception, and if you were lucky, you could barely make out Sesame Street. But there was an excellent art house cinema just across the river. My parents brought me there about once a week to whatever was playing and this was where I glimpsed life beyond my own little perimeters.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? Did you go to film school?
When I was an adolescent I got my hands on used a Super-8 camera (this was pre-home video) and a splicer and a projector and vanished with them into the basement for the next few years making arty Super-8 epics all involving a lot of glitter, cardboard, my cat and often my little brother. Then I got extremely lucky and got a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York. This enabled me to work with bigger cameras and splicers (16mm) and more importantly make friends and learn about what it is to work with people (other than my brother and cat) which is I think what filmmaking actually is– working with other people.
After film school I worked in various below the line positions on New York productions and absorbed some of the machinations of “real” sets. I think this was as important as any other party of my training–it was also a lot of fun. Then I spent a bunch of years surviving on odd jobs, while writing, or more specifically learning “how” to write. It took me a long time. It’s not that screenwriting is rocket science–I just took the long road to it–resisting the very mechanical nature of structure as long as possible, until at last we came to terms and have been happy together since… In 1996, I made my first feature “The Sticky Fingers of Time” and a year or so after that began working on the script for “Stephanie Daley” and 7 – 8 years later… the film got made. Other things happened in between these two films. My kids being the highlight.
How did the idea for “Stephanie Daley” come about?
My first feature (“The Sticky Fingers of Time”) was a playful sci-fi yarn, more concerned with plot and structure. So I began thinking about what would become “Stephanie Daley” with a clear mandate to do something naturalistic and actor-driven. Something that would force me to work with actors and the present moment in a more exposed way–no cleverness to hide in–and I was terrified of doing this, so I figured it was the right thing to do.
I began with the idea of someone living with a secret and how this experience could be shared with an audience–how much could be said without saying a word–and how deep and specific a story about a moral/factual “gray area” could go. I began with the notion of a concealed adolescent pregnancy and that’s where Stephanie, a fictional 16 year old [came in] While I was thinking about this story-line, Lydie, the grown woman with a secret about her pregnancy, crept in and took hold. It took a long time for me to figure out how to balance and interweave these two storylines so that they moved each other along (rather than bumping into each other). My guardian angel was the Sundance Institute. The script went through the writers lab and directors lab in 2001. There, I worked out a lot of the script problems, and also got through a lot of my anxieties about the material. It was hugely important for me to stop trying to make a great film, and just work on having a meaningful process. And due to the psychological terrain of this particular script, it turned out to be exactly the right mind-set.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project and securing distribution?
It took awhile to find producers. A subtle story about two troubled pregnancies is not the easiest idea to sell. Through an introduction from Lynn Auerbach at the Sundance Institute, I finally found the right match with Redbone Films. They brought on Dickson Arbusto Casting and then Silverwood Films as a producing partner. While financing was being secured, we attached Tilda Swinton (as Lydie and also as an Executive Producer) then Amber Tamblyn and Timothy Hutton. Then we assembled the rest of our cast out of New York City.
The funny thing about this movie is it took about seven years to write and develop. But then from the moment we had our financing, everything happened very very quickly–prep, shoot, and post happened in six months all told, and then we were projecting at Sundance ’06… There was an incredible combination of professionalism and heart on this set. I couldn’t have asked for anything more at any budget and I think the two groups of producers really deserve the credit for pulling this cast and crew together and tending us so well.
What are some of your all-time favorite films?
My all-time list is long. Here are some that I always come back to for a re-charge. “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (outsider seeks love) followed by Herzog’s “Nosferatu” (outsider seeks love), “Juliet of Spirits” and “Kurasawa’s Dreams” (both about sentience of our dream-mind), “My neighbor Totoro” (a perfect film) & “Princess Mononoke” because it is so brave about what is right and wrong among humans.
What are your interests outside of film?
The day-to-day adventures and tasks of family. When I’m worn out, I draw pictures for the kids or read.
What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I’m always trying to figure out how to be more efficient, and at the same time, keep an open heart and mind. I want to make movies worth both making and watching.