INTERVIEW: More than "The Girl": Director, Distributor, Karate instructor Sande Zeig

by Aaron Krach

(indieWIRE/ 04.17.01) -- She's been an actress and a playwright, taught self-defense to feminists and programmed film festivals on both coasts. She's promoted and distributed independent films and documentaries and is currently the president of Artistic License Films. She is Sande Zeig, a renaissance woman. If you ask her who the real Sande Zeig is, she will answer; "I feel like I'm a director." And with the release of her feature debut "The Girl" this Friday in Manhattan, she is certainly right. As she continues at Artistic License (which just celebrated their 7-year anniversary with a retro at the Screening Room), helping dozens of films find their audiences, she will continue to be much more.

"The Girl" is a unique film, perfectly suited to Zeig's eclectic taste and unconventional background. A lesbian love story set in Paris and layered with neo-noir complexities, "The Girl" resembles an old school art house classic. There are dramatic locales, sultry accented beautiful actors dipping in and out of their clothes (and each other's beds). There is melodramatic dialogue that doesn't sound so melodramatic because it is spoken inside smoky cabaret lounges filled with would-be assassins. Zeig sat down with indieWIRE to talk about her art film, the trouble with shooting in a foreign country and what it's like to lose your financing three days before production.

"Three days before I left for Paris, the $350,000 I had in place was reduced to $35,000. So I have to say that some very good friends really helped me make this movie."

Sande Zeig: Three days before I left for Paris, the $350,000 I had in place was reduced to $35,000. The actors were ready, everything was ready and the production company pulled out. So I have to say that some very good friends really helped me make this movie -- some very [heavy emphasis on the very] good friends and family. People told me never to do it that way, but every summer that passed and I hadn't made the movie, well, after five summers like that I said, 'That's it. We've got to shoot it." So we went ahead and basically what happened was that every day after shooting I'd go and make finance calls. We made it work.

indieWIRE: "The Girl" may be an English language film, but everyone in the cast and crew-except you-is French.

Zeig: And Dolly Hall, the producer, she's American too.

iW: And I heard you speak very fluent French on the phone. What's your relationship to France?

Zeig: I'm not French, actually. But I'm very comfortable there. I'm from New York. I went to school in Wisconsin and majored in theater. Then I decided to go to mime school in Paris to study with Marcel Marceau's teacher. That was it. I met Monique Wittig there. She was in the feminist movement there. The story we tell is that I met her in a karate class I was teaching. Since then I've just been going back and forth. So all the places we shot were places I knew, or discovered there.

iW: Why didn't you make "The Girl" in French?

Zeig: Because Monique wrote the story in English. It was an exercise for her to write in English and I wanted to be true to the story, which I found very sexy and romantic. I guess it's been called -- by people who actually didn't like it that much -- an 'English language foreign film.' But it's true. I wanted to make an art house film. I guess we have to suffer the consequences of that choice, but that is what the material demanded.

iW: Co-writing a script with the author of the original material can be tricky. How did you structure your collaboration?

Zeig: It was very back and forth. She lives in Arizona, so we did a lot via telephone. The story itself is very elliptical. That's the way she writes, in small paragraphs, each on a separate page. I knew I had to take it and make it more chronological. That was the question, whether we wanted to make it more narrative or keep it experimental. I decided I didn't want to make it too experimental. It was already going to have accessibility issues.

"It's true. I wanted to make an art house film. I guess we have to suffer the consequences of that choice, but that is what the material demanded."

iW: How did you coordinate a shoot -- from casting to booking a crew -- from here, even though it was going to take place over there?

Zeig: We actually went over about three years before we shot and found two actresses I wanted to use. Then went back and one was busy and the other was available, but they convinced each other to do the project together. We hired a French company to line produce. The shoot was 24 days. I was there for about three months, two of which were for prep and I came back almost immediately.

iW: All the while you were still holding down Artistic License. Can you give a little insight into how Artistic License chooses a film to get involved with?

Zeig: We have a unique situation here, because we don't always go out and do acquisitions. A lot of times filmmakers come to us with a film and say, we'd like you to distribute the theatrical and we'll do the television and the video. We do a lot of service deals. When we buy films -- like we did with "After Life" -- we have outside investors who come and work with us. Mostly the movies that we choose have a lot of heart. We still go to festivals and watch, but we've been very lucky

iW: What's your strategic plan for getting "The Girl" out there?

Zeig: We're opening up at the Quad (in Manhattan) first. We don't have a lot of prints, so probably what we'll do is open in New York and then play the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Festival and then open it there. Then it's very likely we'll play the festival in Los Angeles and open there. I'm going to the Women's Film Festival in Boston, so I'll probably try to open there and in Chicago first, then wait for LA and San Francisco in June and July.