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indieWIRE INTERVIEW: Jamie Babbit, director of “The Quiet”

indieWIRE INTERVIEW: Jamie Babbit, director of "The Quiet"

Jamie Babbit‘s drama/thriller, “The Quiet” centers on Dot (Camilla Belle), a young deaf and mute woman who is sent to live with her grandparents, played by Edie Falco and Martin Donovan, and their cheerleader daughter, Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). Dot’s arrival is a blow to Nina’s idyllic social life and triggers the unraveling of the family’s darkets secrets. Both Nina’s family and friends, including the school hunk Connor (Shawn Ashmore) develop a fascination with Dot and confide in her their troubling secrets. Jamie Babbit first received acclaim for his comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader” in 1999. Sony Pictures Classics opens “The Quiet” Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Please give the personal basics (age, where you have worked in the past etc.)

Age, 35. Director; former job/intern for Martin Scorsese‘s assistant on “Age of Innocence“; Script supervisor for David Fincher on “The Game“; Birthday party clown; Wedding caterer; Concessions at the Cleveland Playhouse Theatre; Sundance Film Festival ticket taker.

I was born in Shaker Heights, OH. My dad still lives in the hoiuse I gresw up in. [Now in] Silverlake in Los Angeles.

What were the circumstances leading to you becoming a filmmaker?

I was trapped in suburban Ohio until I was 18 and I couldn’t wait to escape. I did a good amount of acting as a kid at the Cleveland Playhouse and my high school and it was one community where you could find the freaks, outscasts, gays and misfits. I loved that community and knew it’s where I wanted to stay. I loved creating art and wanted to pursue that. When I went to college in New York City, I was exposed to so many great filmmakers and started thinking what a cool job filmd directing would be. I interned for Scorsese and Jon Sayles and met women filmmakers like Sally Potter and Nancy Savoca and I thought, ‘I want to do this.’

Did you go to film school?

No, I couldn’t afford it.

Talk more about how you learned the craft of filmmaking…

I worked in the film industry for ten years, first for free and later for union wages. It was a great way to learn the ropes! I was always making short films and trying to find my voice at the same time but the combination of the two was a great way to come up.

What other creative outlets do you take part in or enjoy?

I love punk rock girl bands. The anger and energy and talent coming out of Olympia, WA blows me away. I’m a big fan and hope to celebrate their music in a film soon (my next film in fact, “Itty Bitty Titty Committee,” which I’m currently editing!)

How did “The Quiet” come about?

I was given the script by an actor from “But I’m a Cheerleader,” and loved the complex characters and suburban horror genre.

What were some challenges with the production?

Thora Birch was originally the actress cast as Dot, but she dropped out at the last minute, so we had to find another Dot that could play Beethoven and learn sign language in less than a week. We were lucky to find Camilla Belle who had just finished “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” and just so happened to be a concert pianist.

How did you finance the film?

Burnt Orange, a division of the University of Texas, Austin‘s film program.

What are some of your personal creative influences?

Heavenly Creatures,” Abel Ferrera‘s “Ms. 45,” both these films inspired “The Quiet.” I love female revenge movies and suburban horror.

How would you give a definition to “independent film?”

Making a film without the corporate studio backing and all the strings they can require.

What are some of your all-time favorite films?

“Heavenly Creatures,” “Ms. 45” (as mentioned), “Muriel’s Wedding,” “Flirting,” “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.”

What do you like to do outside of film?

Listen to punk rock music and hang out with my daughter.

What are your personal goals as a filmmaker, how do you define “success?”

Keep working and being able to make a living as a director while at the same time following my interests and letting them guide me to personal film projects.

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