For her feature directorial debut, Marti Noxon turned to familiar material: her own life. Her Sundance premiere “To the Bone” is loosely based on her own experiences with eating disorders and recovery, framed around the darkly funny journey of a young woman battling anorexia named Ellen (Lily Collins) as she attempts a radical treatment that offers her what is likely her last chance at survival.
Noxon is already a major name in the television space, best known for writing and producing series such as the beloved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (where she was mentored by Joss Whedon) and more recently “UNreal.” She’s dabbled in film before, including penning scripts for Rick Rosenthal’s late-’90s romantic comedy “Just a Little Harmless Sex” and the 2011 remake of “Fright Night.”
After its well-received Sundance premiere, Netflix snapped the film, guaranteeing a wide audience for Noxon’s original, heartfelt, and very important new feature.
IndieWire asked Noxon about her experience bringing such a personal story to the big screen – a journey that took years – and this is what she shared with us.
There are sort of two parts. The first part is knowing that you have a story that you could tell, but not knowing how to tell it. That went on for a long time: telling various tales from my experience being anorexic and bulimic, and having people say, “You’ve got to write this, you are a writer,” and me not knowing how to approach the material.
Then, finally, I think having enough perspective on it and realizing that I didn’t have to tell the whole truth, I finally had a revelation.
Then, the second part of it, which is: you write the script, and then putting the film together, especially a film about a topic that, in some cases it seemed like male producers didn’t understand. I was told a number of times that it was just too small a topic. I was like, “What? Really?” Half the movies that get made are about some really talented white guy who understands jazz, you know?
Courtesy of Sundance
So many of the indie movies that get made are not about topics that touch millions and millions of people. Part of the reason I wanted to make this film was to ignite a discussion about body image issues and eating disorders. It’s not just a film for people with clinical eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. I think many people expend a tremendous amount of energy on self‐loathing and self‐flagellation, as well as getting caught in a vicious cycle of dieting and gaining the weight back. Part of the reason this is happening is that big corporations make billions of dollars on selling us food that is bad for our bodies and then selling us the “fix” — which is not a fix at all.
Seeing Donald Trump run for and then win the presidency only enhanced my commitment to helping people free themselves from ridiculous body standards and disordered eating so they can use their gifts for more fulfilling things, like being of service and enjoying this beautiful world.
There were a lot of challenges. Probably the hardest was finding Lily. Ellen needed to be played by the kind of amazing actor who could have an off‐putting disease and yet still let the audience in and charm them, even when she’s being a dick. Which is often.
Also we needed an actor who could go there physically and not lose herself to the terrible head‐fuck that any conversation around weight loss can be for a woman. We never asked Lily to lose weight for the role, that was something that she decided was important for this character and how she approached the role. We wanted to be supportive of her process and help her do so in the safest way possible. Lily looked like death‐warmed‐over during parts of the shoot and women would come up to her and say, “What’s your secret? You look amazing!” If she’d told them she ate a brick and it was agonizing to pass it every day, I think half would have said, “Which brick? Can I get it a Trader Joes?” That’s the sad reality of our society right now, and so much of why we hope this film starts a deeper conversation.
There are people who don’t understand people with eating disorders. There are a lot of men – more men than women – a lot of men have expressed to me that they think it’s an issue of vanity. I was writing to try to help people who don’t understand, who can’t relate to why someone would starve, or throw up, or just spend their life obsessed with food, or obsessed with their body size. I wanted those people to walk out going, “Oh, I have that with something else. I have a way that I use a thing not to feel.”
People talk about control as an issue with anorexia, especially, but control is just the top layer. What’s underneath that is not wanting to feel your feelings. We all use stuff not to feel our feelings.
For me, control’s always been about, if I’m controlling it, then I can keep the panic at bay, and the fear at bay. For me, that control is just a way not to feel those things.
A lot of the language of the film isn’t very clinical, but what’s amazing is people who’ve been through it know what we’re talking about, and people who haven’t finally say, “Oh, I get it.” That’s what I hope.
“To the Bone” is now streaming on Netflix.