In anticipation of the upcoming world premiere of her new feature film Tatterdemalion at Heartland Film Festival, filmmaker Ramaa Mosley took time to talk with #DirectedbyWomen Catalyst Barbara Ann O’Leary about the deeply personal motivations for blending elements of folklore and the supernatural with a young veteran’s search to reconnect with her estranged brother and reforge family bonds—a search that leads her in unexpected directions. Tatterdemalion was shot on location in the Ozarks. Much of the cast was drawn from the local community. These first time actors deliver natural, compelling performances.
During this extended conversation Ramaa Mosley shared what has been unfolding in her life and work in heartful, generous—sometimes raw—ways. It is an honor to be able to share this conversation.
DBW: Thanks for calling. I really appreciate it.
RM: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
DBW: I had a chance to see your new film and also went back, because I realized I had never seen The Brass Teapot. I loved it. So that was a little extra bonus for me.
RM: Nice. It always gives me a thrill to hear that people like my movie because I’m so hard on myself.
DBW: I just want to say that I work on a project that I created. It’s an initiative called #DirectedbyWomen, which focuses on helping the whole world fall madly in love with films by women directors. One of the things that prompted me to put my energy into this is that there are so many women making amazing films, but the overall dialogue is “Why are there so few women directors?” I realize that the story is that women aren’t getting the high echelon jobs and there are a lot obstacles, but I love to talk about women’s filmmaking. It’s always sad for me to think what took me so long to see The Brass Teapot. What a pleasure! I want to make sure people find out about your work and see your new one Tatterdemalion. Let’s talk about that, because Tatterdemalion is playing at Heartland Film Festival coming up this weekend. Where else is it playing? Where can people look for it?
RM: This is our first festival. This is our premiere festival. It’s this weekend and I can’t wait to see all the cast and crew.
DBW: Oh, my gosh. I didn’t realize that. Congrats.
RM: I’m really excited and we’re talking to distributors so it’ll be coming out probably in the next three to four months, but right now we’re going to go to a few film festivals and we really wanted to have a chance to do our premiere in a festival that was close to Missouri and so we’re really excited about Heartland.
DBW: So Tatterdemalion takes place in Missouri and you shot it there, I believe.
RM: Yes, we shot it in the Ozarks in a small town called West Plains.
DBW: It’s gorgeous. It really looks real. I grew up in St. Louis, so I used to go to the Ozarks quite a bit. So what drew you to telling a story set there in the Ozarks?
RM: My long time writing partner Tim Macy and I had been talking about wanting to make our next movie. We had gone in the direction of writing a very big action, supernatural, action script and that was proving difficult to figure out how to make and so we started talking about how we could make a film that we would be able to control and go out and get done without waiting around for years for people to say ‘yes’. And it hit a boiling point, honestly, Barbara. It hit a boiling point where I was just depressed. So depressed. It’d been two years since I’d made The Brass Teapot. I was really like “Why am I not getting the next opportunity?” I have to make this opportunity. So I called up Tim and I was like, “I have to make another movie. I am just going to go use my savings and go make a film, a small intimate film.” And he said, “Great. I want to do it too. Let’s write it.”
We sat down and this story kept coming up—partly because I was working through deep issues with one of my brothers, who I had been estranged from who was in the Air Force, and partly because Tim had been thinking about wanting to tell a story that was about human connection. Tim told me about this folklore he had heard about called Tatterdemalion, and as we shared our stories and we started connecting, it became really clear that this idea was percolating in and around a female veteran who returns home and is trying to find her brother and winds up finding this little boy, who people think is a Tatterdemalion. And so this story we were brainstorming back and forth and going over for about a week it all of a sudden hit the ground and we were running. We were running really fast. We passed the script back and forth between each other and we wrote it in about five weeks and it was just passionate. Like let’s just go make it. If anyone sees it, great. If it is just for ourselves at least we’ve gotten over the hurdle and it’s been cathartic emotionally.
And so what was funny though is that from the beginning we knew it had to be set in the Ozarks. That was partly because we knew we had to make our next movie in a place where we would be received by friends. Since Tim had been raised near West Plains—his dad lived there—we knew that we could go back there and that most likely we would be able to make this movie in a very intimate with people who really cared about filmmaking as opposed to doing it in a bigger city where it was going to be an issue about money, so we knew we had to make it in West Plains, so we just went there. We literally went there and started talking to people in the community and they opened their arms and welcomed us. And I said OK ‘Here we go’. I’m moving here for however long it takes. Basically it was like making rock soup. I was like look I have got this project. I’ve got this great soup. I’m making this film. The train is leaving the station. Here’s the date we’re going to shoot it. ‘Jump on board’. And what was so funny is that industry people in Los Angeles and New York, when they heard about our film just started coming on board, casting directors, agents, actors were calling me. Plus everyone in West Plains was so generous, letting us use their homes and willing to be in the movie and even cooking for us, but when it came to getting other people on board like actors it was like once I said OK the train is leaving the station and we’re shooting on this date and here’s our script, people came on board and someone was like I have some carrots and I have some meat and here’s some potatoes and next thing we knew we had a full on production. I’ve never made anything quite like that in that way, but it was truly magical, really.
DBW: I was thinking about the theme of magic and what is magic? One of the things I really appreciated about the film was the lack of certainty about whether the boy who arrives—you know, she discovers him in the woods—is he a real boy? Is he possibly a spirit creature? These questions can seem in some films to be a little bit contrived, but in a situation like this it’s a real question of what are the risks of taking in someone you just discover and you don’t know anything about and also what are the dangers of not doing that. And when you go to a situation like you’re talking about where people say “Come in and be part of our community” and you can explore this in a more intimate way it helps ground that story.
RM: Yeah. Exactly. And because I was working through issues with my own brother—and this movie is truly dedicated to him—I was also though thinking a lot about xenophobia. Tim and I talked about it quite a bit—about how some people all over the world look at children and individuals from other races as others and think that because they are different there is something wrong with them. There’s this thing called ‘othering’ where as opposed to seeing all the points in which we are connected people look at all the points where they’re disconnected.
A friend of mine had just gone through this. She’d met a five year old girl, who did not have a family and wanted her to adopt her. This friend of mine, who was in her mid thirties and never thought she’d have children, was scared because she thought what if something’s wrong with the little girl because she was abandoned. I was just thinking so much about how children are stigmatized. First a child is a victim of not having a parent for whatever the reason whether they’re given up at birth or whether they are taken from their parents because the parents can’t care for them. Then children are stigmatized, because if you are over the age of two people think that they’re really troubled, so all these thoughts were swirling in my head and in Tim’s head too and we were wanting to bring this out in a way that wasn’t exactly on the nose about it, which is maybe a problem that we have or I have, which is that I tend to like movies that are ‘tweener’ movies, meaning they are not specific, not cut-and-dry. I like movies that bring up questions and that are cross genre. I think it’s because as a kid when I grew those movies were really beloved. I look back on when we made The Brass Teapot and I was watching The War of the Roses and The Witches of Eastwick, movies that now wouldn’t get made as big studio films because they were dark comedy. As a young child they made a big impression on me. And so this Tatterdemalion in many ways is like that too, because you can’t say it fits into a specific genre. Many people will look at it and think is this a horror film? or is it a thriller? or is it a psychological drama?
DBW: or a story of a returning vet trying to reintegrate into America.
RM: Yeah. It’s true. In some ways it is all of those. That’s the ‘follow your bliss’ part of filmmaking to be able to do that, because obviously you can’t go out with hundreds of millions of dollars and make a film that is a question mark. People don’t get to that or very few, but as a filmmaker who is playing right now—because I decided to make this film and because I was willing to make it with no money and very little crew, I was able to make this film. It’s unusual. It is an unusual story that we got to tell.
DBW: When you’re talking about that it reminds me of what Ava DuVernay was talking about in her Film Independent keynote a few years back when she talked about ‘what did she have’. She had money she thought was going to go for a down payment on a house, but she spent it on I Will Follow, which was the first feature film she made. She looked around at who she knew, locations she had and what could she do with them instead of thinking ‘what don’t I have’, and she was able to start making the work she wanted to make and also interacting with people in ways that aren’t the standard ways that people make films. So like you said “Stone Soup.” People bring support to your work. There’s something about the way Hollywood makes movies, which kind of keeps people out. I don’t just mean who gets hired, but once a project is going it is an insular thing and it is not something people can contribute to.
One thing I wanted to talk to you about, Ramaa, is… I was looking at these two films—The Brass Teapot and Tatterdemalion—and one of the obvious things that connects them is an interest in myth and folklore and how that lives in our lives today as opposed to something that you just learn about from the past, but the tone of these films is so different. And the way they were shot. Tatterdemalion has this very rich… I feel like I’m in the woods with them. I feel like I’m in those cabins, in those very rural environments and the tone of the whole film visually invited me into that and with The Brass Teapot it was a brittle, bright, definite comedic quality even when you were going very dark. Can you share a little about how you think about that and how you went about it?
RM: One of my greatest desires as a filmmaker is to make movies that people would see. Starting off that was really the focus. I fell in love with comic books at the age of 10 years old. By the time I was 13 I knew I wanted to direct. I wanted to direct HUGE movies. I couldn’t wait for the next Star Wars films, because I was sure I would direct one. It was just a question of how I would learn to direct and get opportunities. At 16 years old when I started making my films and commercials, my big goal was to make films people would see in big theaters. I wanted to be like a female Steven Spielberg. I always would say I’m not going to be an independent filmmaker, but over the years that term has changed a lot. So when I made The Brass Teapot, I kept thinking about how I really wanted it to be a studio film. I wanted it to be a movie that people would sit down and watch, and that it would entertain and would also inspire them, because really at the very base of what that story is about is greed and really about how we don’t need all the things we think we need and the question of how far we will go to achieve these things that we think are so important.
And so I set out very clearly with my love of comic books. We started with the comic book. We wrote the whole comic book and from there we built the screenplay and from there we set out to make the movie. It was this ‘follow your bliss’ vibe, but it was also tactical in that I wanted to make a film that was like a big studio film but as an indie. I knew that there had been other movies that were made about the issue of pain like The Box for example. It was very dark and in the horror genre and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to tell a different kind of story and have it be a parable that was in many ways was like The Magical Fish. I don’t know if you know that fairy tale. It’s a story about this fisherman, who catches a fish and wishes for food and the fish gives it to him and he keeps wishing for more and more and more until finally he gets nothing. As a child that really impacted me – the idea of being grateful for what we have. As a child that story wasn’t super dark, but it was entertaining and yet that stayed in my mind. So that was what the exploration of The Brass Teapot was about—something that would make you laugh, but also make you walk out and think and talk about how much stuff do you really need to have to be happy.
When Tim and I went to make Tatterdemalion, we already knew that where we really like to dive into is in the supernatural and sci-fi world. That’s our favorite area to play in, so we knew we wanted to have that as an element, but we also wanted to explore really strong performances and human issues that were more dramatic. Yet we wanted it to be in the world of the supernatural and so we just decided to go toward something that would be deeper and potentially would be more quote unquote meaningful, and that’s why the tone shift, but staying still within this question of the supernatural. Of course without giving it away to readers, we definitely turn it on its head, but the two movies are united in the fact that they explore magic and folklore and myth. Both movies are about myth, but they’re totally different when it comes to genre, because they go about it completely differently. One is dark comedy and the other is a dramatic psychological thriller.
DBW: I was thinking in terms of Tatterdemalion. There are little moments… i don’t want to tell anybody what happens, because the whole point of watching the film is to discover not only what happens but I feel the way you go through… I mean when I was watching the film I kept asking myself what were my beliefs about this little boy and what was happening. And I wasn’t sure. And then as I watched the way the people in the community nudged her beliefs in different directions based on their certainty or their lack of certainty. To me that goes back to what you were saying about the xenophobia. It is so easy to be swayed by other people’s perceptions through very small moments when you’re interacting with somebody and they start to ‘other’ someone and you don’t even notice it happening and it starts to build up. I feel like that’s a really interesting aspect of the film that you have.
And also with the social worker: the recognition that you encounter people in different situations and see them in completely different ways. I don’t want to spoil anything about that either. I found that really interesting. You introduce a character and we see them in a different context and we get to know them more fully. And I think that’s one of the things that I noticed too with the relationship between your lead character and her brother. Those interactions evolve in totally different ways through the film and we start to have opportunities to understand the dynamics and what’s behind them. In fact those also are mythical, because as children they absorbed the situation that they were in and created their own myth about what was happening and then to try to deconstruct those for themselves in their adulthood makes for a very interesting layer of your film I feel. So thanks for that.
RM: Oh, yeah. That’s very kind. Thank you. I don’t really know what to say.
DBW: I don’t know what to say either. I’ve just been thinking about… I really appreciate what you were saying about your shifting from one tone to another, because sometimes I feel with filmmakers people start to expect—even if you’ve only made one film—the next film should be like your previous film.
RM: Yes. I always love seeing directors play with different genres. I think it’s exciting to be able to experiment. Especially when a female director gets to go from comedy or drama and do sci-fi that’s it’s really awesome. I want to make big sci-fi and supernatural action films and I also want to be able to make a movie like The Constant Gardner.
DBW: … and if it deviates from that there’s a sense of “what’s that about.” if you look at the thread of a person’s career… so for instance when you’ve made your fifteenth film—if you choose to—then we’ll look through your entire filmography and we will discover things you probably have no idea are even there about the themes that recur for you and that sort of thing, but sometimes it makes it hard in the film industry when you’re creating structures in your films that are genre bending, but maybe in subtle ways. Like I think of Tatterdemalion as very subtly merging different streams of kinds of story, so it gives your promo people some work to figure out how to tell people about it.
RM: That’s right.
DBW: But I think a story where a young woman doesn’t know what is next in her life and is returning to her roots and is confronted by an unexpected challenge. Anyone can relate to that. So many of us go through our lives not knowing where we are in our lives, what happens next and who we’re going to bond with—and to me that’s really at the core of your story.
RM: Yeah, it is. A big part of what this story is about is also about families that have had challenges and are separated and are trying to find each other. And in a way this was very much a mythical story told in a realistic way about the search to come back together as a family. And I think that is something that people can also connect with and for me I was searching for a way to connect with my brother and he committed suicide two weeks ago.
DBW: Oh, Ramaa, I’m so sorry to hear this.
RM: This story was very important, because he wouldn’t speak to me. I had to make it in some ways a love story. So the story of the veteran on one hand it’s me and on one hand it was my brother, because he was in the Air Force. This story of the main character trying to reach out to her brother to get him to connect with her was so personal for me. I was so hurt and I was so angry that my brother had pushed me away for so many years. The whole time we were shooting I was talking to Leven about what this feeling was like and she was using it. I was describing it daily because it was so painful for me being estranged from my brother. At the time I didn’t realize my brother was suffering from mental illness. Now that I know the whole story of my brother’s life I know it was mental illness. It just looked like anger and I couldn’t figure it out. And Cecil, the boy in our film, really represents who my brother really was at the core and my desire to try to help him and heal him. And I didn’t even know. That’s the thing, Barbara. I didn’t even know. As a filmmaker, as a storyteller so much comes from our psyches and I was working through it. I knew I was working through my issues with my brother, but I didn’t know the depth of what it was and then two weeks ago my brother died by suicide. It’s just becoming so clear to me that this film was my way to try to reach out to him — and that moment in the film—I don’t want to give anything away, but in that end moment of the movie that is me reaching my brother and finally holding him in a way that I couldn’t do in reality.
DBW: Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry for your loss and for the struggle your brother has been through and your family. You know, I really do feel that what arises in our work when we allow… like when you said, “Let’s go make this film and not wait” … that being present and allowing that to let that happen is going to be a great gift to you going forward I’m sure, because you will discover in it even more as you move through this grieving process which is very fresh at this time and grief has its own path it takes and every one is different, so I hope… You are in the process of releasing your film to the world and that’s an enormous expenditure of energy and focus but to take time for yourself to really be allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel and not to overdo is really important as I’m sure you know.
RM: Yes. I’m doing the hard work of grieving and part of that is to talk about it and so in a way I was thinking about this interview with you, Barbara, and I was thinking about what to say and sometimes I am able to compartmentalize, but I just can’t when it comes to this film. You are the first person I have talked to. We haven’t done press. We’re just at the beginning. I felt like I wanted to tell you. So much of what we do as women is we stomp down the emotions, because we’re trying to fit into what is ‘the box’ of what a filmmaker looks like. You know, you don’t cry on set. You have to hold yourself to this incredible standard that not even any man would do. After 20 years of directing … I have been on hundreds of sets. You know, crazy stuff happens. And I’ve held myself to a standard that no male could ever do. It’s like being superhuman. But yet as women one of our greatest values is our connection with emotion and so to be able to connect with that deep emotion and have it be expressed both in the process of writing a film but also in the actual day to day shooting, every part of it is so important. It’s what makes us unique. I did bring that forward in the filming. I did bring that energy forward in terms of the space for people to have their emotions. I talked about my brother during the filming and now it’s a process of being forthcoming with actually what this whole story at its root was for me and the reason I felt the urgency to make it, you know?
DBW: As you say with for one thing something I would love to share with you that I feel that in this particular time in the world there’s a lot of need for women—and men—who are in touch with their richness of who they really are to find new ways to do our creative work… everything basically about how we interact and not to throw away anything that’s been useful in the past, but to evolve our awareness about how we can work and live and express ourselves and that’s a beautiful thing and we don’t have to be perfect about it. But to model that.
I was thinking about Alexie Sherman the writer who recently had to step away from his book tour, because he was finding the emotion of talking about his mother, whom he had lost recently and who was the subject of his book, because he was feeling the rawness of it. Then he wrote a beautiful statement about this. You can make all different choices, but there may be times when you are at an event and you feel you need time for yourself and you should feel free to let people know that and not try to press yourself, because it’s just what it is. You’ve got to deal with… I feel like when you go to a film festival on the best possible day and you’re there for a few days, it can be overwhelming. You’re experiencing people’s art. You are experiencing the filmmakers and the audiences and that alone even when you are feeling on top of things you can feel very… I have to go and take a break, because I’ve absorbed so much.
I was interested in the fact as you’re saying this that in a way you have three characters in your film at least who have some resonance with your brother. You have her main character, who is the military veteran. You have the brother and you have the little boy, who even the brother recognizes as connecting with him. I can’t remember the exact line, but there’s a line where he talks about how folktales like this can be used as an excuse not to care for a child in need and he recognizes that as something he had to contend with in his childhood and that was a very very powerful moment in the film, because I had a sensation that is not something he goes around saying all the time. That just popped out—that raw awareness in him. I think if people go to see your film and allow it to wash over them, there are these moments in the film that can really help them connect with their own awarenesses about things, because I think the movie has many different facets.
Some of the performances are really wonderful, like the country doctor. Is he a local?
RM: OK, this is the thing I wanted to tell you, that’s so important to tell you about, because we’ve talked about the story. There are only 3 people in this film, who had ever really acted before. That’s Leven, and Taylor, who plays her brother Billy, and Jim Parrack. Our young boy Landon had never been in front of a camera before. He’d not acted. He’d not done any performing. His mom saw a paper that was up at his school, because our casting directors went all over the Ozarks. And his mom just thought this might be fun and she brought him in. It was just remarkable, I mean it was incredible when he stepped in front of a camera what happened. He was very connected to his emotions. This is something I find as a director. I don’t have to work with trained actors. It’s really obviously a great luxury when you have people who really are trained—like Leven was incredible. What I need is people who can connect with their emotions, cause if you can access your emotions, you can bring it. So I worked with this boy Landon and I asked him to talk about things he loved. First of all he loved hunting. He loved being in trees. He was happiest if he was in the forest and so he was already Cecil. But he also talked a lot about being very protective of his mom and his sisters. So we did some scenes where we were playing with this idea of protection, because I wanted to see what he could bring and then I asked him to tell me about something sad, you know what was sad, because he needed to be able to access that fear and that sadness. He closed his eyes and he thought about it and he said, “The saddest moment was when my cousin told me he couldn’t hunt with me no more because he was moving. He left.” And I saw his eyes get red.
And I said, “OK. Let’s work on that. Let’s do that.” So in front of the camera I said to him—I was playing his cousin, right? We were improvising—I said, “I have to leave.”
His eyes just filled instantly with tears, his lip was trembling and he just said, “Don’t go. Don’t leave me.” It was such a great, powerful moment. I knew that was our Cecil. We have all these tapes and someday maybe someone will want to see them.
And then there is another amazing actor Kip Collins. I can call them now actors but before this they weren’t. He was literally baling hay, working with horses and working on the land and being the brilliant person that he is. He’s an amazing man who lives in West Plains, who never thought about acting but he’s such an incredible personality. His sister went and pulled him out of work baling hay and forced him to come to the audition and he was like “I don’t know what I’m doing here” but the moment he got in front of the camera and he started reading he was Fig. He isn’t Fig from a personality point, because he’s the sweetest, most loving, tolerant guy, but from the ability to just manifest that personality he was able to do it.
DBW: Fig is the one who is in the forest with the fires?
DBW: Sometimes I forget the character names.
RM: Kip was instrumental in our filmmaking process, because he knew every part of West Plains. His family had been there for hundreds of years. He took us to this place called the Whipping Tree, which was where they actually used to bring women out and whip them, if they found that they were adulterers, if they cheated on their husbands. We actually filmed a scene there. There was an old graveyard where Kip’s family is buried where we shot the graveyard scene. Kip and all these other West Plains folks were ambassadors to the Ozarks but also became very important in becoming key characters in the film. It was quite remarkable.
DBW: That’s interesting. I was thinking of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank the young woman who stars in that. Arnold just saw her on a train platform or something. That’s where she found her. That young woman is amazing in the film and she has never done any other acting as far as I know. Perhaps that isn’t what she wanted to do, but her work is incredible. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn how to act, but there’s something inherent in humans that allows storytelling and emotion to come through.
RM: That’s right.
DBW: Speaking of Andrea Arnold one of the things I always like to ask when I’m talking with women directors is who are some of other women directors whose work you really appreciate and if you know some who aren’t already world famous that’s even more wonderful.
RM: Here’s the thing. There are many female filmmakers. Of course Ava is one of the biggest ones, in part because I got to meet her. When my film premiered at TIFF, she was there. Jane Schoettle, who is the TIFF programmer who programmed my film, put together a dinner and so I got to sit with Ava. And this is before Ava had done Selma or even knew she was going to do Selma. I remember at the time… here she’d won Sundance as best director and I was asking her what was happening. I was imagining so many great things were happening for her, but she said, “Nothing.” She’d just done the ESPN with Venus Williams, but no one was calling.
DBW: Yes. Venus Vs.
RM: Her story was so inspirational to me, because within a year everything changed for her. It was because of her incredible talent and also her willingness to just commit and not give up and that really inspired me. In terms of her filmmaking of course I just think Selma is an incredible film.
I mean Mira Nair – her films are so moving to me and inspiring. And I can’t help it. I know I’m talking about famous people that everyone knows, but these people are meaningful to me. Like Patty Jenkins – what she did with Wonder Woman. Those are the types of films I want to make. I grew up passionate about comic books. I grew up passionate about big movies. To see her do it and do it so well is incredibly inspiring.
DBW: It took her time. She did Monster and then years went by.
RM: Yeah. Year’s went by. Jane Campion’s The Piano is one of my favorite films of all time. And Kathryn Bigelow because of her path doing action and doing it so well with The Hurt Locker. My commercial work and my movie work has had a lot of action in it, so I look to these women and I study them, because that is incredibly inspiring. There are so many amazing female directors who are coming up and for me Ava, Patty, Mira and Katheryn Bigelow have been my greatest inspirations and there will be more.
DBW: Yeah. That’s great. By the way, if you haven’t seen Megan Griffiths Room 104 episode The Fight. It is worth checking out. It was on HBO Friday. I don’t know if you’ve seen that show. The Duplass Brothers have been bringing in different filmmakers to make these basically they are little short films because what unifies the series is that they all take place in the same hotel room, so every single episode is a completely different genre, different characters, different story and this one has martial artists fighting each other in this hotel room. Both are women and it’s really quite dramatic. And Megan said… I had a chance to talk with her because she came to Indiana University Cinema last month and she said she had always wanted to do fight scenes, but hadn’t had occasion in her work, but she did them with this and it’s quite stunning what she did with it. I really love to watch filmmakers trying to expand what they’re doing and not staying with the same thing that they did previously. So it’s really exciting.
RM: I’ll check that out.
DBW: She did one other episode for them called The Missionaries. That’s also two people. They are two young Mormon missionary young men sharing a hotel room.
DBW: It was also quite wonderful. Very different. I love what’s happening with TV. Have you thought at all about exploring TV work as a director?
RM: I have the project that Tim and I worked on prior to making Tatterdemalion and I’ve also have three feature film screenplays that I’ve written since Tatterdemalion and I have two pilots for television series that I’d like to make that are limited series, so I’ve been exploring how to do that and what the next steps will be. There’s so much good TV and I think in many ways that’s the path. What I really want to do is create the shows, because as a writer/director I feel like creating the shows is what excites me, creating the worlds, and so again it is all about opportunity. What is that opportunity? How to get in to create that opportunity. That’s what I’m exploring at the moment.
DBW: I’ve been very excited about what Ava DuVernay’s been doing with Queen Sugar—inviting women who’ve made independent films like yours that demonstrate the storytelling, the technical skills, working with actors, all the different components that make for someone who can work in this very high pressure setting and bring forward things that people can relate to. So women have been having difficulty having people give them those opportunities, but things are starting to shift as more showrunners and creators are making very overt choices to bring women directors onto their teams like Ava with Queen Sugar, which is all women. Some are trying to do greater balance. I think that things are going to start opening up. but particularly if we envision that happening. Not feeling the obstacles so much. In the past you can get beaten down by the lack of opportunity as Ava says why go knock on the door where you’re not wanted. Let’s go build our own house and have our own doors, our own opportunities.
RM: I love that. That’s so Ava all the way and that’s what’s so inspiring to see her do it. It’s really saying we can all do it. The truth of the matter is that it is so much more fun when there are more people in the room getting to play. I love that premise. I think about building the house. I made Tatterdemalion in that way. I am curious to see if I can make work in television in that way, but I do think that there’s a certain truth to the statement that you need a proxy. You need representation so that is the next course for me is working on representation to help me get into the room.
DBW: Yeah. Right, and having the kind of representation that can recognize the multi-facetedness of what you can bring. I think that is sometimes tricky to have a variety of ways that you can approach story. It’s good but on the other hand people say that sometimes they’re looking for someone who did exactly what they did before, but once you get through that obstacle, which maybe isn’t as much of an obstacle perhaps in the future as it has been past, then you can start to explore and then bring your own stories. Working inside other people’s stories can be really interesting too, because you learn a lot about what their priorities are and how they shape the story and bring that back once you’ve worked on other people’s projects. It’s so insightful. And you realize you never would have thought of that.
RM: Yeah, totally. So true. Am I going to get to meet you in person?
DBW: Yeah. I hope so. I should be able to come to the screening on the 15th.
RM: I’d love to meet you.
DBW: I’d love to meet you too. I really thank you very much for taking time to talk with me. Much love. See you in a few days.
Tatterdemalion screens twice at Heartland Film Festival…
10/14 – 2:30 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14 *** WORLD PREMIERE & AFTER PARTY ***
10/15 – 12:45 pm at AMC Traders Point Theater 12
Check the Heartland Film Festival schedule for list of
filmmakers scheduled to attend each screening.