Abe Sylvia just had a very, very good Toronto Film Festival. His first time at the fest, with his very first feature, “Dirty Girl,” Sylvia saw his film quickly become one of the most buzzed about titles at the fest.
The raunchy, 1980s set “Girl” details the story of smart, slutty Danielle (the transformative Juno Temple) and overweight, gay Joel (newcomer Nicholas D’Agosto), teenagers who end up on a road trip together that evolves into a life-changing experience for both. Drawing warm reviews – and one of the festival’s biggest sales – Toronto successfully launched “Girl” as a film, and Sylvia as a director to look out for.
“I started out in the theater,” Sylvia said when he sat down with indieWIRE in Toronto. “I did my undergrad work in the theater, and then I was a Broadway dancer for six years. What I realized very quickly when it sort of became my paid job was that what I actually loved was production. As a theater kid, I loved building sets and making costumes myself. But once I was a dancer on Broadway, they wouldn’t let me do anything but dance, and it got really boring, really quickly. So I started writing on my own, and those ideas started becoming important to me.”
Sylvia decided to drop everything and head to film school at UCLA, where he wrote “Dirty Girl” during his coursework. But his inspiration came elsewhere.
“The inspiration actually came from when I was dancing in the, uh, cult classic ‘Bedazzled,'” Sylvia smiled. “And I took with me ‘Shooting To Kill,’ Christine Vachon’s book. I read this book in between takes and I realized it’s not this ‘pie in the sky’ thing. If I just learn how to do it, I can do it. So when I finished the script, it got to [producer] Rob Paris and he said ‘who would be your dream producer?’ And I said ‘well, Christine Vachon…””
It turned out Paris knew Vachon, and sent her the script. Vachon came on board very quickly, and finally – over five years later – “Dirty Girl” made its way into production, Vachon in tow.
“It’s shocking,” Sylvia reflected. “It’s really great. The entire team of producers, actually, have been amazing. They made the script that I wrote even though we had a lot of people weighing in – many of them with financial stake in the film… But they all wanted to make the script as it was. And that was really cool.”
Sylvia denies the film is autobiographical, despite some similarities.
“I had a weird upbringing,” he said. “I had hippy parents, and we lived in Oklahoma. They grew up in California, so there was a very strange disparity between my family and everyone else’s. And I was overweight and in the closet, and very shy. So while the story is not a true story, it’s certainly influenced by those experiences and the juxtaposition of where you want to be in your life versus where you actually are.”
Check out the full interview with Sylvia here. “Dirty Girl” will be released in theaters in 2011 through The Weinstein Company.