EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Screening in the Narrative Feature Competition, writer-director-actor Mary Bronstein‘s “Yeast” is having its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival. Also starring Amy Judd, Greta Gerwig and Sean Williams, “Yeast” follows a maddeningly oblivious, tyrannical and emotionally stunted young woman tries her best to negotiate two toxic friendships. indieWIRE talked to Bronstein about the film and her aspirations for the festival.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
I first and foremost identify myself as an actor, and what attracted me to that is the desire to tell stories. When I decided to actually make “Yeast,” myself, I suppose it was that same desire that initially made me want to try to make this project. I had an idea and wanted to share it with people. I am lucky enough to be married to a talented filmmaker, Ronald Bronstein (“Frownland“) and be friends with other awesome filmmakers like Michael Tully (“Cocaine Angel,” “Silver Jew“), Josh Safdie (“The Pleasures of Being Robbed,” “We’re Going to the Zoo“) and cinematographer Sean Williams (“Frownland”) among others. All these people helped me tremendously towards making “Yeast” and also taught me a lot. So, I suppose the most important step I took was just going for it.
What was the inspiration for this film?
The initial inspiration for “Yeast” was all the thinking I’d been doing about friendship, female friendships in particular. I am the type of person who has never had a large group of close friends, usually I’ll have one or two very intensely close friendships. This was especially true when I was younger. I initially tried writing out a lot of the ideas that are explored in “Yeast” as a novel, but this didn’t work for a couple reasons: a. I am not a novelist and b. all of my ideas were very verbally and visually based, so they were hard for me to translate into prose. I wrote out an outline and tried to get my husband Ronnie to make it as his next project. When that didn’t work, I decided that I liked the ideas too much to give up and tried to make it anyway.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
I am actually very excited with how this project ended up getting made. After I decided to make the thing, I didn’t really know what to do. I approached Greta Gerwig about making a project together with the same themes, but sort of a different story. She had the awesome idea to set this part of the film on a camping trip. Then I thought I’d bring in more from my original outline and asked my long-time friend Amy Judd to be involved. I made another outline that combined the two stories and sent it to both Greta and Amy. They made additions, changes and fleshed out their characters and sent it back to me. We did this until I had something to finalize into a script. However, we used the script as a blueprint for doing the creative work of the movie within, rather than a master document of how the film would be. I would meet with the actors before a scene and we’d go through everything, the entire arch of the scene. Then, once on the set we’d film the entire process, from rehearsal to final take. Ronnie acted as assistant director, pushing the energy of the performances and helping me stay on track because…well, directing yourself is very, very hard! I plan on perfecting this off-set/on-set directing process for the next project.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
Since I was trained in acting and not filmmaking, my challenges were really in knowing which hat to wear and when. When was I the actor and when was I the director? For example, right before the take would happen, I’d be talking to Sean about blocking or discussing a part of the scene with Ronnie or making sure we had enough sandwiches for the impending lunch break…I didn’t have any actor prep time because I was also trying to be in charge. As the shoot went on, it got a little better, but I think I learned a lot in order to improve for next time.
What are your goals for the SXSW Film Festival?
My main goal is to have as many people as possible see “Yeast.” I haven’t thought about it much beyond that. I made this so people would see it. I want people to see it because I want to talk about it with them. Hopefully, having people see this project will lead to other projects…I just want to keep working, whether it be on self-generated films or in other people’s projects. I want to keep moving and hopefully SXSW will help with that. I know it did for my husband with “Frownland.”