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Land Ho! Director Martha Stephens on Her Raunchy Comedy About Two Old Men and Her Unlikely Muse

Land Ho! Director Martha Stephens on Her Raunchy Comedy About Two Old Men and Her Unlikely Muse

Land Ho! tells the story of two very different ex-brothers-in-law who
travel to Iceland for a holiday. It’s about life and regrets and coming to
terms with the fact that you are getting older. It’s got amazing locations in
Iceland that will make any traveller itch to get there. It is the first film
from Gamechanger Films, the company that will solely finance feature films directed
or co-directed by women.

Director Martha Stephens talked to Women and Hollywood about making a raunchy comedy about two old men, her unlikely muse, and the pros and cons of taking on a male co-director (in collaborator Aaron Katz). Land Ho! opens tomorrow on July 11.

W&H: How would you describe what the movie is about?

MS: Two ex-brothers-in-law take a holiday in Iceland in an attempt to
forget their troubles, and also to connect with one another.

W&H: How did you come up with the story?

MS: I was planning a vacation to Iceland with my husband and I guess I
had Iceland on the brain. Personally, I love natural landscapes, I love filming
outdoors, I love pretty locations, and I was seeing photo after photo of these
locations I was considering traveling to on my vacation, and I was just
thinking, ‘‘Oh man, if I could film a scene here, I would just be so happy.’’
So, I knew I wanted to make a movie in Iceland immediately. And then, I had
always wanted to make a movie where Earl Lynn Nelson, who plays Mitch, is the
lead. He’s been in my other two movies in smaller parts, and I knew I wanted to
do a comedy with him. So those two elements sort of came together.

W&H: Most people wouldn’t necessarily think Earl Lynn would be a
prototypical lead for a movie–was that a hard sell?

MS: I’m not the most conventional person in the world, you know; I
live in eastern Kentucky right now, I don’t do things by the book whatsoever. I
feel I have a pretty good intuition that guides me. In my other two movies,
usually the reaction I got was, ‘’Who is this guy? Where did he come from? He
needs to be in more things,’’ and I think he’s just such a magnetic personality
that people are really drawn to him. 

When I premiered my first movie at SXSW in
2010, David Gordon Green was in the audience–he’s an alumni from the same film
school as me, and he’s a really supportive guy. He came to the screening, and
afterwards he told me Earl Lynn’s performance was his second favorite
performance of the year, other than Mo’Nique in Precious, and that it would be a shame if I didn’t put him
in a leading role. So I really took that to heart–David’s sort of been one of
my heroes.

W&H: So, let’s talk about the process of you making the phone call
to your co-director Aaron Katz and saying, ‘‘let’s collaborate.’’ How did that work? Did it start
with the writing and then move into the directing also?

MS: Well, I was trying to make another movie and I wasn’t getting where
I wanted with it. I was having a slow time with it and I was itching to do something
creative. So when I thought of these things, I thought the more people
involved, the faster we can put our heads together–and we can find money
faster–so I was thinking of it in terms of a way to make something as soon as

Aaron’s been my buddy since I was eighteen years-old in film school,
so we have our own language and friendship, and we get each other and
understand each other’s tastes, and I thought it would be a fun experiment to
see what it would be like co-directing. 

It’s not that I want to do this as a
thing now. I always will be pretty individual, and I have my own tastes and
Aaron has his own tastes, but because we were making a comedy–even though
there are comedic elements in our movies–it was different than what either of
us had done. So, we looked at the whole thing like a fun experiment, and if we
drowned, we drowned together. If it didn’t go well, then we had each other. We
were both to blame; there was more blame to be spread instead of it just being

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in having a co-director?

MS: Making the movie, Aaron and I were very much in tune. We had a great
time making it. But I think the biggest challenge was–because Aaron and I are
not a team usually–you do have egos, and you do have to make sure that you
have equal ownership. Even though Aaron and I try to be pretty sensitive about
that with each other, not everyone else is always sensitive about that. 

I feel
like sometimes–maybe because I’m a girl, maybe because Aaron has made more
movies and been more successful than I have–you’ll read a tweet, or you’ll
have an interview where they only make eye-contact with him the whole time. You
just have to check your ego at the door and say, ‘’that’s just the way things
are going to be, I can’t take this personally.’’ 

I do think–being a girl
making a comedy with raunchy jokes about two men–people assume that it’s
probably more Aaron’s voice than mine, but Aaron’s way more prudish than I am!
I’m very much the Mitch in life, and he’s very much the Colin character. So,
you just have to disregard people’s assumptions about your project.

W&H: The movie happened so quickly. I’m sure there were great things
about having to move so quickly, and some really difficult things–can you give
me an example of each?

MS: The great thing is instant gratification. You’re not working on a
movie for four years and you don’t have time to question whether or not it’s
going to succeed, you just have to keep pushing through. We never over-thought
things because we didn’t have time to, which ultimately, I think, helped the
movie, and gave it a sense of breeziness that maybe we wouldn’t have had
otherwise, if we had over-thought things. 

And then the worst thing about having
to make something so fast is obviously you always wish you had more time on set
to get B-roll, or to shoot another angle, or whatever. Ultimately, we raised
the money we could to make the movie, and then you obviously have time
limitations. I guess I wish I had a little more time to do the editing, a
little more time to spend on the score, but I don’t think that any of the time
constraints really hindered the movie too much.

W&H: Talk a little bit about the role that Gamechanger Films played in
getting your movie made.

MS: If it weren’t for Gamechanger Films we wouldn’t have made the movie, I
don’t think. The way we looked at it, it was like a do-or-die situation. It was
like, ‘’if we can’t find the financing to make the movie this year, then we’re
not going to make the movie at all,’’ because it wasn’t Aaron’s, or my, pet
project. Gamechanger Films financed over half of the film.

W&H: What are your thoughts about the future of Gamechanger Films, with
the first movie out getting such a big pick-up from Sony Pictures Classics?

MS: I think that’s amazing, and I’m so glad we didn’t fail them!
Everybody over there has been so supportive and kind to me, and to Aaron, and I
hope that they continue to succeed because I hope that it will give women more
opportunities, because we don’t get enough of them.

W&H: What would your advice be to other female filmmakers?

MS: I would tell them to stay true to who they are, and to stay true to
their voice, and not to let anyone tell them what kind of movies they should
make because they are a woman, or because they are of a certain age. If you
want to make action movies, then make action movies. If you want to make horror
movies, make those. If you want to make romantic comedies, make those. Just be
true to who you are, and try not to let anybody pigeonhole you.

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