Why This Scene:
I chose this scene because it exemplifies the juxtaposition between what someone says and then does. Olive tells Bobby that he can be the President of the United States, and then moments later she steals a dress because “she has a date tonight and nothing to wear." This is Olive, a contradictory character with a big personality, loud clothing and a baby-blue Cadillac. She is at odds with her surroundings -- an outsider who chooses to live large rather than blend in.
The scene also gives some sense of the relationship between Olive and Bobby, loving but dysfunctional: Olive as a mother, an actress and a criminal, but also Olive as a foreigner in a strange land. She is an immigrant who comes from limited means and wants what she believes is best for her son. Her idea about America is a very skewed one, however, one based on films rather than reality. I wanted a highly stylized and visually interesting feel for the movie, aiming for something Baroque rather than a stripped-down realism. We start the film with strong, saturated colors and change the color palette once the story takes a turn. We see the film through Olive’s eyes. Her America in the beginning of the story is an artificial one and the colors reflect that. After her arrest, she starts to get a sense of what the place and its people are really like and the color palette becomes somewhat more realistic.
I like the music in this scene and the soundtrack throughout the film, oscillating between Americana folk/country and classic Ukrainian songs, starting with Milla’s rendition of "Proud Mary" in Ukrainian and culminating with the Flaming Lips singing "Amazing Grace" phonetically in Ukraine.
Behind the Scene:
I wanted to shoot on film, which I managed to do. But not without considerable effort, as the film’s budget worked against me. I wanted the look and feel of something timeless, closer to a fable than stark realism. Oklahoma and its landscape inspired much of the story and reminded me of “Bound for Glory” and many of the films that I grew up with and loved. I made so many scouting visits to Oklahoma before we even had the financing and that saved time and money when we finally did go into production.
The scene in the car was shot on the first day of a 20-day shoot. It was murderously hot in August and we were toward the end of the day. The first day jitters were, by that time, somewhat gone and I had a good sense that Milla and Spencer were finding the characters, even though they had only a few days with one another before the film started to prep. I knew that the story could not work without that relationship, it’s the heart of the film. The other element that was really important to me was the foreigner aspect. Milla wasn’t sure she wanted to do the film with a Ukrainian accent at first. To me, personally, the story wouldn’t work without that. To Milla’s credit, she dove in and did it. And seeing Milla and Spencer together that first day was a dream come true. All that prep, all those years of trying to raise the money and putting the movie together (which ultimately happened with the help of my producing partner, Sofia Sondervan!) came to fruition. It was a glorious feeling, albeit fleeting as we were on a very, very tight shooting schedule and there wasn’t a moment to dwell.
The baby-blue Cadillac took some effort. We couldn’t find one that color and we weren’t allowed to paint the original one we used in the opening scene. We ended up finding an almost identical one, which we had to buy and paint in the color that I had envisioned. I had an image of a Christmas tree from a Diane Arbus photograph in my director’s book. A tree too big to fit the room it was in, with the top cut off. Dina Goldman, our production designer, recreated that photo almost to a T. That image was very telling to me about who Olive is; this ostentatious, larger-than-life woman who lives in the moment and doesn’t worry too much about the future — a woman who will do anything to spoil her son.