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SXSW Women Directors: Meet Leigh Janiak

SXSW Women Directors: Meet Leigh Janiak

Director Leigh Janiak’s first feature, Honeymoon, came out of the NYU grad’s desire to tell “an intimate, grounded genre story.” Shot in North Carolina, the thriller owes its existence to some fun writerly sadism: Janiak and her co-writer Phil Graziadei wanted to explore “how seemingly beautiful, happy things can become ugly and monstrous, so we took a couple deeply in love and then saw how far we could push and rip at them before they started falling apart.”

Honeymoon will make its SXSW debut on March 7. 

Please give us your description of the film.

Young newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway, Control) and Bea (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones) travel to remote lake country for their honeymoon, where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behavior increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods.

What made you write this story?

I wanted to tell an intimate, grounded genre story. My writing partner Phil [Graziadei] and I were interested in how seemingly beautiful, happy things can become ugly and monstrous, so we took a couple deeply in love and then saw how far we could push and rip at them before they started falling apart.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

“I remember a time before the rains….” This was a joke on set at first, and then a terrible, constricting truth. We were shooting in western North Carolina in the spring, and about a week into production the sky just exploded. We shot out all our interiors, but we still had three exterior cottage scenes that required sunny, happy daylight and an entire week of boat work that would be impossible with the thunder that was driving our sound guys crazy. We got lucky — it stopped right before we had to wrap out our cottage location — but the stress I felt then, so at the mercy of the weather, had me wishing for a sound stage.

What advice do you have for other female directors?

If you have a great script and want to direct it, then do it. Tell people you’re the director. You have to be the first one to make the decision.

What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

I think the only misconception about me right now has to do with people assuming I’m a man. That’s what a gender-ambiguous first name gets you!

Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

I’m excited about the possibilities that lie in streaming (even though I love going to a movie theater). So many precedents in film and TV have been based around blocks of time — the amount of time people can reasonably be expected to sit in the theatre, the amount of time networks can sell to advertisers per hour, etc. I think streaming may be able to unfetter us from these conventions and open up new opportunities dictated by content.

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

I’m a huge Kathryn Bigelow fan because she also works in genre and tends to tell the kinds of stories I’m also interested in telling. I grew up watching Point Break, Strange Days, etc. I think the cold precision of Zero Dark Thirty is perfect. I also really love Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. I like the dingy, raw aesthetic, and the desperation and the sex throbbing through all of the character interactions is extremely effective.

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