From writer/director Alison Bagnall (“Buffalo 66”) comes the poignant comedy “The Dish & The Spoon.” Greta Gerwig is Rose, a woman descending into an emotional tailspin after her husband admits to an affair. Hell-bent on revenge, she drives to a boarded-up Delaware beach town to hunt down the other woman. Instead, she discovers a stranded British teenage boy (exciting newcomer Olly Alexander) marooned on the beach. This lost boy becomes her constant companion and caretaker. The mismatched pair stumbles through a series of small adventures that build towards an unconventional romance in this funny and affecting film. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
“The Dish & The Spoon”
Director: Alison Bagnall
Producer: Peter Gilbert, Alison Bagnall, Amy Seimetz
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander, Eleonore Hendricks, Amy Seimetz, Adam Rothenberg
Screenwriter: Alison Bagnall, Andrew Lewis
Cinematographer: Mark Schwartzbard
Editor: Darrin Navarro
Sound: Gene Park
Music: Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips, Anthony LaMarca, Olly Alexander
Responses courtesy of “The Dish & The Spoon” director/writer Alison Bagnall.
“My one skill set”…
I’ve tried to do other things. Filmmaking is like acting. You should only do it if there is absolutely nothing else that you can do. It’s so impractical and often painful and statistically impoverishing. But it seems to be my one skill set. The skill set is a specialized one. Shamelessness to ask for huge favors and freebies from strangers and loved ones. The level of narcissism required to believe that the world you carry around in your head is interesting enough to re-create for others. A modicum of lovability and charm to keep a few fellow humans around you despite the aforementioned traits. It also helps to have the tendency to spend months or a year mentally living inside the world of a movie you’re conceiving of, and have that world be much more vivid – and compelling – than the world outside.
I was interested to explore how crazy people can get after a betrayal. Most movies focus on the affair itself, but fewer on the aftermath, and the stages of emotions that people go through. I thought that it could be funny and compelling to watch Greta playing a woman in this position. And that she could make it comedic, but also poignant. Greta has a way of taking a moment from goofy and comical to wrenching. She just reaches in and tugs a piece of her insides out when you’re not expecting it, and the camera glimpses it and you’re crying.
I had seen Olly and Greta improvise together for another project I had been developing and when that other project didn’t come together, I wanted to think of a story for just the two of them. I loved the way they looked next to each other and seeing them act together, and I wanted to think of a situation in which this unlikely pair could cross paths. So I guess it was also very much a Greta and Olly vehicle.
Working on a small ship…
I wanted to make a film with the least amount of crew possible, so that there would be no bored crew members standing around the craft service table chatting and munching out of boredom – I’ve been there myself – which always kind of bums me out on sets and can feel like a drain on the energy you’re trying to create. So we only had five people on the crew, that’s including the DP and one Sound Recordist and gaffer. And I was attempting to direct the film like I was a child making a painting, gesturally and without processing it too much through my brain and without trying to be clever. I thought of the film as the intersection of a few simple ingredients – like Italian cooking. I had Greta, I had Olly, I had these Delaware beaches in winter, and I had this emotionally charged situation of a woman in the throes of a freshly discovered affair. So I tried to let those elements play themselves out and capture what was most compelling or beautiful of each of those elements – especially the beauty of Greta and Olly – and crystallize them into a movie. I didn’t expect that the movie would feel tightly crafted. I just wanted it to feel pure and like itself and fun to watch. I wanted to create a world that a few people might want to live in for an hour and a half, and create characters that they could hang out with and get to examine each contour of their faces. Just soak in the film rather than experience it intellectually. You’re meant to have a romantic response to the film – if it is working for you – more than a cerebral one.
Taking a leap of faith…
Making a movie is such a leap of faith. But as you leap you have to bring all of these people with you. So you’re making them leap too. And the odds of the film coming out well are slim. And the odds that you’ll make a financial return slimmer. So you’re taking investors’ money. And you’re putting actors’ reputations on the line. You’re asking your crew to give up a month of their lives for little or no pay. For what may end up a disaster. You have to believe that it can be wonderful and that it will all be worthwhile for those involved. And yet at the same time you must believe that it will just as easily be garbage because if you’re over confident it probably will be. And the actors look to you to tell them, ‘Was it good? was that a good take?,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Well maybe it’s a good take, but do I really know? I don’t know until I put it together with the scene that came before, and with everything else.’
So as a director you’re kind of faking it, you’re saying, ‘Oh yay, this is going to be great guys.’ But the cast and crew are smart too, and they’re on to you. Sometimes they’re thinking, ‘This movie is not going to work and this person doesn’t know what she’s doing,’ and other times they seem to feel, ‘Oh wow, this director is inspired, this project is worthwhile.’ But it all feels like a sleight of hand. The biggest challenge for me personally is making all the hundred decisions a day that the director has to make, and having to make them publicly, and quickly. It works best when I get comfortable with being honest and humble, and with being able to say, ‘I don’t know.’
Working with someone else’s words…
would love to direct some material that’s written by somebody else. Something comedic. Or quite romantic. Or both. I also have two story ideas that I’m developing that I like, one of them called “The Mendicants.”