Women and Hollywood: What drew you to this project?
Mary Harron: It was the intense focus on young girls friendships, handled within a gothic framework, which was something I hadn’t seen before. I have two daughters and watching them grow up had me think a lot about adolescence, so the book The Moth Diaries struck a chord.
WaH: We are starting to get some more explorations of girls and friendship and desire. Why do you think this is such unmined territory onscreen?
MH: Well, there are a lot of films about these subjects, but they tend to be romantic comedies. They usually put the focus on the girls feelings about boys, whereas I think for a lot of girls their deepest and most meaningful relationship is with their best female friend. There is a lot of sexualization of young girls in our society, but we often ignore how much anxiety teenage girls feel about sex. That’s why they pour a lot of their emotion and even romantic feelings into their best friend — because they’re not ready for sex.
WaH: You said in your statement about the film that you “loved the book because the supernatural is a parable for all the things girls go through in adolescence.” Can you elaborate on that?
MH: I always think that for teenage girls adolescence is your own personal horror movie because your body is transforming so rapidly and your moods swings are so intense. This is also a time when girls form extremely intense friendships, sometimes with the effect of one girl ‘taking over’ another in a vampiric way. The ‘wasting away’ of young victims in gothic fiction is parallel to anorexia. The supernatural is a way of expressing those inner fears – about sex, about the body.
WaH: This film is a bit of a departure from your previous films. Was that intentional?
MH: No, I never plan anything like that! I take my cue from the source material in terms of style.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge on the film?
MH: It’s very hard to do visual effects on a low budget. And the schedule was very tight. We had to cut a lot of scenes from the script during shooting in order to make the days.
WaH: You are a writer and director. Do you feel that you need to write the scripts in order to get to direct the types of movies you want to make?
MH: In some ways it’s easier to just try and write something yourself, because then you are thinking about how you would film it as you write. But obviously can be harder to get it made than signing on for a script that already has financing. In television I actually enjoy working on someone else’s script because you have to ‘find it’ in a way that you don’t if you’ve been writing it for years. It’s a very interesting process of discovery.
WaH: What is the difference between directing film and TV?
MH: In television the writer/producer rules, because television drama is all about these complex long running story lines. The director of the pilot is very important for setting the style, but directors who come in later have to fit in with that. On a movie set the director rules, particularly if you have written the script. However, I really enjoy doing TV, because the writing is great there right now and you get to work in so many different styles. It’s more like being a director in the old studio system where a director would go from a comedy to a western to a film noir…
WaH: The film business has changed a great deal in the last 15 years. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to get into the business.
MH: Persistence, persistence, persistence. It was never easy to get a film made, and it is even harder now that most of the independent production companies have been swallowed up. The good thing is that digital has made it much cheaper to make a film, and to distribute it through video on demand. So you can always pick up a camera and go shoot if you don’t mind working on a micro budget.
WaH: What’s next on your plate?
MH: I am attached to a project called ‘Wicked/Lovely’ which has a fantastic script by Caroline Thompson who worked a lot with Tim Burton (‘Edward Scissorhands, ‘Corpse Bride’ etc). It has a lot of visual effects so is expensive to make and the producers are still working on the financing…