Getting a first feature off the ground if no easy feat, but couple that with making a movie centered entirely around the perspective of four young women, and you've got a mountain to climb. "Tanner Hall" marks the debut outing of filmmakers Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg, not only did they beat the odds, they also managed to luck into a dream cast. Even though stories about women are difficult to finance, not only did the directing pair get their story told, but they rounded up a cast that includes current "it girl" Rooney Mara, Brie Larson, Amy Sedaris and in a surprising dramatic (and partially comedic) turn, Chris Kattan. With the film arriving on DVD and BluRay this week, we caught up with the filmmakers to talk about the movie, and the talent Lisbeth Salander showed in her first leading role.
"Rooney is such a witch, she has a such a wealth of internal life," Furstenberg said about the attributes the young actress brought to the film. The story tracks the coming-of-age of four girls at a boarding school, including Mara's character of Fernanda, whose journey involves a romantic and wrenching emotional dalliance with the charming, older and married Gio, played by Tom Everett Scott.
"We cast her as our lead and she had never been in a feature before. She was very nervous about taking the part, she was like 'Just give me a smaller part, I don't know if I can carry a whole movie.' But the thing about [Rooney is] she's so strong, and she's so brave," Furstenberg said, praising Mara. "She did the storyline with Tom Everett Scott the first week. She is not a 'Look at me' attention starved actor at all, it really all does come from within. She's like a conduit…she doesn't care about whether she gets [camera] coverage or not…she's inspired by what she's doing, and she's absorbing everything in the world around her and she's recycling it back. She's such a brave person, I'm not surprised [at her rise to fame]."
But it wasn't just Mara who enlivened the script from the directors, but really the cast as a whole in the story that not only sees Fernanda experiencing her first real relationship, but a British newcomer to the school named Victoria goes to some extreme lengths to forge close friendships. "We had so much luck in casting…Brie has such a sharp playful intelligence and is so sunny. And Georgia King who played Victoria, does have this outsider [persona]. She really is British, she really was walking into America for the first time," Furstenberg said. "They brought the characters to live. We took our time with casting, it was the department we took the longest with, and we didn't cast 'players,' we weren't the puppeteers."
"We really cast their essence," Gregorini added. "I think there's no four better girls who could've been in our film, and the dynamics between and all of it, really."
And it really is the interpersonal chemistry between the leads, and a seemingly genuine connection that powers the film. And as the directors reveal, they pretty much sequestered their actresses to get the desired effect. "Strategically we put them in a separate hotel from the crew and everyone else, because we didn't bond with their PA [instead]. We put them together so they had to create mischief. We did try to create that similar situation and in addition to that, we didn't have any trailers," Furstenberg said. "We were very communal…you couldn't just go back to your dressing room, it felt like boarding school in a way."
Boosted by a pretty solid soundtrack, including a healthy collection of songs by Stars, "Tanner Hall" certainly captures the closeness and heightened emotions that come from young love and the whirling, shifting alliances between a close knit group of friends. We'll be curious to see where the directors so next, and Furstenberg already has her next project lined up, "Emanuel And The Truth About Fishes," a story about teenage girl who becomes obsessed with a neighbor who looks like her dead mother. And while it was previously reported that she would reteam with Mara on the film, both the director and actress decided that she was too old for the part of a 17 year-old. But the project pushes on and is expected to shoot in 2012.
Until then, you can catch up with "Tanner Hall, as it arrives on DVD and BluRay on Tuesday, December 13th.