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Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast: ‘Beach Rats’ Director Eliza Hittman on Why a Director’s Sophmore Sundance Film Can Be More Difficult Than the First (Episode 19)

After breaking out at Sundance 2012 with "It Felt Like Love," the director says her road back to Park City wasn't easy.

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“Beach Rats”

Courtesy of Sundance

“It Felt Like Love” was a no-to-low budget film that announced the arrival of major filmmaking talent. Premiering in the NEXT category at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Hittman shot it using available light and a skeleton crew (often just cinematographer Sean Porter) and delivered a film filled with visual poetry  grounded in a working-class Brooklyn rarely seen onscreen.

READ MORE: How These 20 Sundance Festival Films Got Their Start in the Sundance Labs

Recognized as a directing talent to watch, it might be assumed Hittman would have little difficulty making another independent feature on a slightly bigger canvas.

“The murky period between films is very challenging,” said Hittman when she was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit. “On one hand, I made a film that was a festival success, but it wasn’t a box-office success and it didn’t have [name] cast, so I wasn’t attracting a certain level of cast that would want to be in the next film.”

Hittman said there also weren’t offers to work in television, although that door has started to open with “Beach Rats.” She admits that she went through a “lost period,” having trouble determining what people expected from her with a second film.

“It Felt Like Love”

Gravitas Ventures

Hittman says that if it wasn’t for non-profit support, specifically Cinereach and Sundance, she doesn’t know if she would have been able to make “Beach Rats.”

“Those were the two worlds that really welcomed me and supported me,” said Hittman. “Cinereach has incredible fellowship program and they take in a handful of filmmakers who are in the same unknown territory of what they want to do next and they try to support the filmmaker versus pushing or forcing a development process, so in this fellowship I workshopped several project ideas.”

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

It was during this fellowship that Hittman decided that she would return to the same areas, both location and themes, of “It Felt Like Love.”

“I decided to write another script in the same world, not knowing if I would have a bigger budget or more support,” said Hittman. “Just really thinking about wanting to make something and enabling myself to get it made, rather than assuming I’d have all these resources to work with.”

“Beach Rats” then got into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, where the project was able to take another step forward.

“I think [Sundance was] in this moment of realizing that filmmakers really needed help between [feature] number one and number two,” said Hittman.

While on the podcast, Hittman also talked about how “Beach Rats” expands on the themes of sexual identity and class that she explored in “It Felt Like Love,” shooting super 16mm with French DP Hélène Louvart, the use of location and telling a story through landscape, and how she used sound to build a world outside the frame.

“Beach Rats” premiered in U.S. Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival


The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud and Google Play MusicPrevious episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

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