The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 212 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today, we will be looking at how you get your first movie made, with special guest Mari Heller, writer and director of Diary of a Teenage Girl. She’s three feet away from us and I cannot wait to tell her how good her movie is.
Craig: But don’t tell her yet.
John: No. But first, we have to do some follow-up, Craig. T-shirts. So sometime next week, we will have them up in the store for people to look at and pre-order. They’ll be available for pre-order for at least two weeks. We will be sending them out to you in your homes middle of October. So they should be on your body in time for the Austin Film Festival.
Craig: Oh, the Austin Film Festival is something that we’re both going to be at.
John: We will both be there. That’s the second piece of follow-up. We’re going to be doing two live Scriptnotes shows. We’ll do —
John: First is a normal Scriptnotes with some special guests. The second is a live Three Page Challenge.
Craig: Live Three Page Challenge, I believe we will be joined by Kelly Marcel. Is that correct?
John: She is going to be on stage with us looking through those three pages.
Craig: She asked me the other day, “You’ll have to tell me what’s involved in that.” And I said, “You read three pages.”
John: Yeah. So there’ll be three or four people. So it will be maybe a total of 12 pages to look at. Because you can skip the title page because we’ll tell you who that actual writer is.
Craig: I didn’t want to overwhelm her.
Craig: Can we talk about some of the people that we’re going to have on the other show or we should not?
John: I think we can talk about them because no one’s fully officially confirmed. But I think we’re going to have those folks.
Craig: Well, all right.
John: So, Andrea Berloff.
Craig: Andrea Berloff who has Straight Outta Compton in movie theaters right now.
John: A small independent film that I think has a shot.
Craig: Small tiny film.
John: She’s also running for the WGA Board.
Craig: So Andrea Berloff is a college friend’s cousin. It’s a buddy of mine from college. She is his cousin. He’s just a very Jewishy guy, just like me, but Jewisherer. And she’s his Jewishererer cousin. So like Andrea Berloff, I just, I’m still just — I just love the fact that Andrea Berloff wrote Straight Outta Compton. It makes me happy. It makes the world feel right. I love it.
John: I saw Andrea last night and I was telling her where we were going to go for dinner. And she was chastising me because she had once had dinner there and her salmon and her salad were touching, and that’s just wrong.
Craig: Do you understand what I’m saying?
John: [laughs] I do completely understand what you’re saying. She has to be somebody’s Jewish cousin.
Craig: She is Andrew Blaw’s Jewish cousin.
John: Our other guests will include Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber and a third guest who is not yet confirmed but I think would be great.
John: So that would be great.
Craig: All right.
John: Stuart Friedel will not be with us but I think we’re going to have a special Austin Stuart. So it’s got a lot of new things to look forward to.
Craig: Austin Stuart.
John: Austin Stuart, because there ends up being enough stuff that has to be done and dealt with when we try to do these shows. And I try to do it myself and I do a bad job. So you and I will have somebody —
John: A utility person.
Craig: My knuckles are looking forward to smashing into that person’s face.
John: But I’m mostly looking forward to our topic for today, which is Mari Heller. So, welcome to our show.
Marielle Heller: I am so excited to be here.
Craig: Mari Heller. Here’s how she comes to us.
Craig: So Mike Birbiglia, standup comedian, filmmaker, occasional radio commentator —
Craig: I was in New York and he invited me to come to his house in hipsterton. I believe it’s in the hipsterton section of Brooklyn.
Marielle: [laughs] Yes. All of Brooklyn is sort of hipsterton. But, yes, North Hipsterton —
Craig: This was like North Hipsterton.
Craig: But as the night was winding down he said, “By the way, you know who lives right on the other side of this wall in my duplex here in hipsterton is Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool,” because, you know, as I’ve mentioned on the show [laughs] many, many times, I think MacGruber is one of the great American films and should be in the Library of Congress.
Marielle: I totally agree.
Craig: And it’s awesome. But I didn’t really know much about you.
Craig: I was just very excited about Jorma. And he said, “Well, you know, Jorma and Mari are big fans of the show.” I was like, “Wow, this is great.” You know, and he said, “And she’s a filmmaker. She’s got this movie coming out.” And I was like, “Uh-huh, well, great.”
Craig: [laughs] I’m sure she does. Why don’t we get them both on the show? It’ll be terrific.
Marielle: But really, you just wanted to talk about MacGruber.
Craig: Mostly. I was like —
Marielle: Let’s be honest.
Craig: I had MacGruber in my eyes and I was really, really excited. Head back home to my hotel. And there is an email waiting for me from Dan Chariton, another friend of ours, who said, “Hey, weirdest thing. I was at the park. We’re having a little baby play day and Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller were there. And they were talking about how they’re big fans of the show.” And I was like, well this is…this is…
Marielle: It was weird.
Craig: It was weird.
Craig: So then we started talking. And then I realized actually that the movie you had made was supposed to be pretty awesome. And I was like, well —
John: But did Craig run out and see the movie right away? No.
Craig: Well, no, no. I don’t do that.
Marielle: No. I know.
Craig: Let’s just be clear. I don’t do things like that.
John: But you have seen it now because we both watched it last night. And it is fantastic.
Craig: Well, so this is the thing. And this is what I want to say to you before we let you start talking. Because when we let you start talking, then you go and you go.
Craig: And we won’t stop you. It’s better than MacGruber.
Craig: And I know — and I feel a little weird about saying it. And I know some people would be like, are you being sarcastic? I’m not being sarcastic. MacGruber is a great American film. This is better than MacGruber. And obviously it’s a very different film.
Marielle: Very different.
Craig: But you two together ring both sides my bell so great. I mean your kid is going to grow up to be an amazing filmmaker who really pleases — I mean just was blown away. So thank you, Mari Heller, for coming to talk to us on our show.
Marielle: Oh my God, I’m so happy. And there are so many other weird coincidences on the other side of all of those coincidences.
Craig: Okay, tell me.
Marielle: You just — well, Mike Birbiglia is the one who introduced me to your guys’ show. We moved next door to each other randomly. We knew Mike. We bought our place in New York and we’re in escrow, we were like — we didn’t even have the keys yet. And I happen to go into our agent’s office and an agent popped her head out, and was like, “Hey, I hear you’re moving to blah, blah, blah,” named our address.
And I was like, “How does she know this? We don’t even own the place yet.” And she was like, “I know who your next door neighbor is.” And we’re like, “Who?” She was like, “Mike Birbiglia.” And we were like, “Wait, we know Mike. He’s our buddy. We didn’t know him that well yet.” So we ended up moving in randomly, sharing a wall.
Craig: Sharing a wall.
Marielle: We’ve become such close friends with he and his wife. Like they are just some of our best friends now. They have a baby, we have a baby. It’s like — it’s amazing.
Craig: So when there is one screaming, crying on the side of the wall —
Marielle: Who cares?
John: Who cares?
Craig: I think it would actually be cool if you did care and you were constantly banging the wall.
Craig: And when your baby was crying, you’re like —
Marielle: You’re like, “Get over it.”
Craig: That’s a baby, ass.
Marielle: Exactly. Yeah, so that was random. And then he is the one who introduced me to your guys’ podcast and got me totally addicted. And we talk about it all the time.
Marielle: We talk about filmmaking. We talk about your podcast. We talk about — we watch movies together all the time. It’s this great little —
Craig: That’s awesome.
Marielle: We’re building a great little life in Brooklyn [laughs] together. And we have a little artistic —
Craig: You’re little kibbutz.
Marielle: Yeah, kibbutz, exactly.
John: Well, now that you’re here with us, I want to talk about your movie. And people who have not seen your movie, which is probably most of America because you’ve just come out —
John: I want to give a little bit of a back story on what this movie is so people know what the hell we’re talking about. So Diary of a Teenage Girl is a new movie out in theaters right now. It stars Bel Powley.
Marielle: Bel Powley.
John: Bel Powley as the titular 15-year-old Minnie living in 1976 San Francisco. And we have a clip from it. So we’re going to play a clip from the trailer so people know what we’re talking about.
Craig: We can do that?
John: We can do that.
(Video Starts Playing)
Minnie Goetze: My name is Minnie Goetze. I’m recording this onto a cassette tape because my life has gotten really crazy of late. I had sex today.
Female: What? So happy. [laughs]
Minnie Goetze: If you’re listening to this without my permission, please stop now. Just stop.
Female: I’m going to kill you.
Minnie Goetze: This makes me officially an adult. Do I look different than I did yesterday?
Minnie Goetze: Hey. It feels so good to imagine that he might be thinking about me. I wonder if anybody loves me who I don’t know about.
Minnie Goetze: I get distracted sometimes, overwhelmed by my all-consuming thoughts about sex and men.
Female: I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I think he’d be more into boys.
Male: What are you waiting for?
Female: You have a kind of power, you know. You just don’t know it yet.
John: So the film also stars Kristen Wiig who you just heard as Minnie’s mother. And Alexander SkarsgÂrd as the mother’s boyfriend with whom Minnie begins a very complicated affair which is really the bulk of this movie.
John: The film debuted at Sundance this last year to —
John: Huge acclaim. It is 94% Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just crazy and it’s really, really good. So thank you very much for —
Marielle: Thank you.
John: Coming here to talk to us about it.
Marielle: Yeah. And I also went through the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Directors Lab with the movie.
Craig: With Scott Frank.
Marielle: With Scott Frank was one — so that was another connection.
Craig: So that’s another one. So Scott cast you in Walk Among the Tombstones.
Marielle: And cast me in A Walk Among the Tombstones, which I largely was cut out. I did have a scene where I was sort of alive, almost like a ghost and then —
Craig: You were briefly alive.
Marielle: And then I got cut out.
Craig: He sends his love. So he was one of your advisors.
Marielle: He was.
Craig: And he said he just thinks the world of you and is just —
Marielle: And I feel the same about him, yeah. I texted him at some point when you guys were talking about him on the podcast. And I was like, “I just heard them talking about you on Scriptnotes.”
Craig: Oh, yeah. He’s like, he hates all the — you know how I hate podcasts?
Craig: He really hates podcasts.
Marielle: I can imagine that about him. But that makes me love him even more. He’s a great guy.
Craig: Obviously I agree.
Craig: Obviously I agree.
John: Talk to us about your movie. So where does this movie come from? So I know it’s based on a graphic novel. And did you find the graphic novel and that was the start? How did this movie come to be?
Marielle: This project has been like an eight-year total passion project for me and actually was the project that started me writing. I was a theater actor mostly. And I just read this book that my sister gave me. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. And I fell in love with it. And I had been thinking about writing. And I had wanted to write something for a while and the right thing hadn’t come along, I hadn’t had the idea that I felt like was the right thing.
And reading this graphic novel, I was so blown away by this character. She felt like the most honest depiction of what it really felt like to be a teenage girl. There’s a lot of movies and a lot of books about teenage boys and not a lot what it really feels like to be a teenage girl.
Anyway, I was so blown away by it. I actually closed the cover and called the publisher. Like Googled the name of the publisher, picked up the phone, and started rambling about, “I want to make this into something.” And I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even have an agent at the time. So I was just trying to get the rights myself.
I got kind of shut down by [laughs] her agents at some point who were like, “Who are you? No.” And then just kept pestering and stalking the author and her agents until they eventually gave me the rights to it.
And first, I wrote it as a play, as a stage play. And then —
John: Did you end up performing it as a stage play?
Marielle: Yeah, we did the stage play in New York in 2010. I played the lead character. And I wrote it, produced it. I had other people direct it and I was in it. Kind of put it away for a little while and then started to think about it as a screenplay because meanwhile the project had sort of sparked me to writing. So over the course of the many years it took me to put the play up, I started writing screenplays, I started working with a writing partner.
We wrote a number of screenplays and kind of started getting work on, we wrote a couple of pilots and wrote a few screenplays, none of which got produced sadly. But, you know, we were like making our living as a writer. So I had gotten that bug and then I started thinking about this as a screenplay and started writing it. And somebody early on said, “This is going to be a really hard movie to make.”
John: Yeah. You set a very — you set a very low bar. So it’s a 15-year-old girl exploring her sexuality —
John: In period San Francisco.
Craig: They do those all the time. That’s all Fox makes now.
John: Yeah. It’s 100% —
Marielle: Yeah, yeah.
John: They have a whole specialty label that it’s just those movies.
Marielle: I know. God, it’s like every other movie.
John: But what was it that sparked to you about this idea? Because we’re all too young to have actually lived —
John: As a teenager in those times. And yet, there’s a specificity to what you’re trying to do with this experience.
Marielle: But I did grow up in the Bay Area. And the Bay Area has a really specific culture. And there was just something about this girl’s voice that felt really, really authentic. And I have this pet peeve about the way all teenagers but mostly teenage girls are depicted mostly in movies and TV where they’re always either — they’re just two-dimensional. They’re really quippy and they have like a perfect response for everything, which is just not how it felt to be a teenager to me.
I was really dramatic and everything felt like it was life or death. I was not able to cope with the world with everything rolling off my back and some little sarcastic response to everything that happened. It was actually a painful time of life for me. And I felt like this book kind of captured what that really felt like, even though it wasn’t my exact experiences. It was just, it captured what it felt like to be a girl starting to have sexual thoughts who doesn’t know what to do with them. And it just felt important for that reason.
Craig: Well, before we get into some of the interesting writing challenges that you had in the movie and how I think you sailed through them beautifully, let me just say I’m glad that you found writing and I’m glad that you found filmmaking because this is what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m sure that you were great on —
Marielle: Thanks, Craig.
Craig: I’m sure that you were a fine actor on stage. I’m sure. However, there’s like a billion of those people, right? There’s precious few people, honestly, who can do what you did. And what’s so interesting when I was watching the movie was every now and again — and, by the way, it’s not always when it’s the same writer and directors, because writer/directors can fall into traps as well.
But every now and then, I see a movie and I think it’s all of a piece. I don’t see the separation between the filmmaking and the writing and the writing and the directing and the acting and the dialogue. It’s all of a piece. It feels perfectly integrated. You did a spectacular job. I mean, you have such a good eye —
Marielle: Oh, thank you.
Craig: By the way. Just a remarkable eye. I mean, these are things that I don’t think anyone can teach. I know they try and teach these things but I think it’s a waste of time. You know how I feel about all that stuff.
I just love watching movies where I think, “Well, I couldn’t have done that in a million years. I don’t even know — why did she put the camera there? I don’t know. I’m glad she did. I would’ve never put the camera there.” So I just wanted to say right off the bat, you’re supposed to be doing this.
Craig: So don’t do other things. Do this now, okay?
Marielle: I appreciate that. And this is what I want to do now.
Marielle: So —
Craig: Well, many people will be calling and offering you Transformers sequels but we’ll work on what —
John: [laughs] We have a lot of creative advice for like sort of which projects to tackle next.
Marielle: I appreciate it.
John: Yeah. But that’ll be off air.
John: Talk to me about then moving from the play to moving to a screenplay. What were the writing changes that happened there? And then how did Sundance get involved? What were the next steps there?
Marielle: I sort of started from scratch when I started to think about it as a movie because obviously, it’s such a different — the play was sort of this distilled version of the story. It was five characters, it was a really intimate play. We performed it in the round. It was very theatrical. I thought the whole time when writing it, why does this have to be a play?
And I tried to write a version that couldn’t be a movie, that couldn’t be just a book, but that needed to be a play. And then had to basically toss all of that to start thinking of it, “Okay, now why does it have to be a movie? And what are the ways in which it’s inherently filmic? What are the ways in which it’s visual?”
It’s based on a graphic novel, so that sort of led to this animation. The graphic novel isn’t a traditional graphic novel. It’s not all comic book panels. It’s diary entries with full page illustrations and comic book sections. So it’s sort of a hybrid, so that kind of gave me the inspiration for the movie to be a bit of a hybrid and have mixed media all kind of playing with each other.
Yeah, and the world can be so much wider when you write it as a screenplay. You can have more than five people who speak.
Craig: Yes. Unless you’re the movie Ghost.
Marielle: Right, right. [laughs] I enjoyed that episode very much. Yeah, obviously I knew the material so inside and out after working on it as a play and I had written so many drafts of it as a play. So I had the material really already. It was all memorized also because I had played the character. But I really did kind of start from scratch when I started writing it as a screenplay.
And then going through the Screenwriters Lab was really key for me, too. It really changed a lot of things and kind of clarified — I was so clear about the story and all of the things that were important to me. But the ways that those were functioning the way I wanted them to be and the ways that I was failing at how I wanted it to function just became really clear.
John: Talk through the experience out of the Screenwriters Lab for you. So, you come into the lab with a finished screenplay.
John: You’re sitting down with a bunch of advisors, you’re up on a mountain in Utah.
John: What is the, I don’t know, psychological process of going through and talking with the different advisors about this thing you’re trying to make?
Marielle: I mean, it kind of breaks you down and sort of destroys you mentally in a really good way but I think forces you to learn how to take feedback. You sit down one-on-one with advisors who’ve read your script in a more detailed way than I’d ever have anyone read a script for me.
I was so used to having these really surface-level conversations with people who had done a really loose pass of reading the script and given me their first thoughts. And they would get the names wrong or they would miss whole sections when they were remembering how it had been. This was not like that. This is sitting down with people who are like, “On page 15, you have this moment where you,” and you’re like, “Oh, you are serious about this. Okay.”
John: Is that Susan Shilliday?
Marielle: [laughs] I did have a Susan Shilliday. But everybody there, everybody has read it in such a thoughtful way and is there just to help you make your movie the best it can be. There’s no second agenda there. It’s just to help you make your script as good as possible. But that doesn’t mean everybody agrees with each other, too. So you’ll have like a three-hour meeting with Scott Frank. You’ll sit down, he’ll give you all of his thoughts about the script. And you’ll leave going, “Okay, I know exactly how I’m going to rewrite.”
And then you’ll sit down with Dana Stevens and she’ll tell you something totally opposite. “Oh no, I loved that part, I hated this part. This is what I think about this.” And then you leave going, “Oh my god, now I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
Craig: That in and of itself is great training and you almost have to have a meta awareness of how this all works because we — I think we’re all sponges by nature. That’s how we do what we do. We can’t really talk about the world, describe the world, describe humans if we’re not absorbing the people around us.
Dangerously, however then, we absorb strong voices. Look, I’m writing a movie right now for Scott to direct and Lindsay Doran is the producer. They don’t always agree.
Craig: But boy, they’re convincing when they’re talking. And what happens, you have to be really careful about is that feeling where suddenly you realize, “Where is my compass?”
Craig: “Where is my vote? I’ve lost — “
Craig: “I’ve lost my vote in here somehow.” And now I’m just kind of chasing. And then that’s a great time to step back and say, “Everyone, shut up.” [Laughs]
Marielle: Let me digest this. Let me figure out —
Craig: Now it’s my time.
Marielle: How it’s sitting.
Marielle: And what they do so smartly at the Writers Lab is they don’t let you write.
Craig: That is a great thing because you have to absorb, absorb.
Craig: And then you can’t write towards anyone, you go away. Because here’s the thing, you also learn a lesson there, which is, they can’t all be right.
Craig: They can all be brilliant but they can’t all be right. They can only be right for the movie that they would make of your movie.
Marielle: Exactly. There isn’t really a right. All there is is who’s helping you get closer to what you want it to be.
Craig: And unfortunately then what that means is the movie that you want it to be, your understanding of what it’s supposed to be, ultimately comes down to something that is inherent to you, is not teachable.
Craig: Right? So there needs to be some core of substance there that people can work upon.
Craig: They can’t make it for you. So —
Craig: I love the story because I love listening to people getting the disparate views and then synthesizing them through themselves.
Craig: It’s the only way we get stuff done. Because you’ve gone through these iterations.
Craig: I’m wondering, did you ever feel like writer Mari was having an argument with director Mari or vice versa? And how would those arguments be litigated? Or did it all feel like —
Marielle: I did feel like I had those moments mostly actually in production. Up until then, I was really much more in my writer place for so many years. And then I had this weird moment where I would be just sitting and talking with the actors and they’d go, “You know, could I change this line?” We did a lot of rehearsal, which not everybody gets to do on their movies. But I come from theater, I love rehearsal. I really wanted to rehearse with the actors. And I had great actors who wanted to rehearse.
But we would be sitting around and talking about a scene and, you know, maybe Alexander would say like, “I don’t know, the way this line is coming out of my mouth isn’t feeling quite right.” But what I loved about working with him and with Bell and with Kristen is they wouldn’t just change it. We would talk about it and I’d go, “Okay, let me rewrite that.” And I’d come back the next day with new pages based on their thoughts or their notes.
But sometimes they’d go, “Could I change this line in this?” And I’d go, “Yeah.” And then in my mind I’d go, “Wait, this is the final rewrite.” Whatever we’re deciding right now, I’ve done 85 drafts of this script over these many, many years. And it’s always felt fine to try something new and to shift something, “Yeah, let’s change that line,” because it was never a final choice.
Marielle: And then to suddenly be in production and to go, “Oh, wait, whatever choice we make right now, that’s the final rewrite.”
Marielle: That felt really scary all of a sudden. So I would have those moments where my writer-self and my director-self would kind of bump up against each other.
Craig: Yeah, I’m very familiar with that. You know, I don’t blame actors at all because they only see what you give them. They don’t see the mile behind it of stuff. And frankly, sometimes either they’re right because their perspective is new or it doesn’t matter, they have to say it.
Craig: And if it doesn’t come out right from their mouth —
Marielle: And their version of this character is maybe different than the version you had in your head, at least a little bit. Shade is different. And I had actors with great instincts. So often, if they came to me and said, “Something about this isn’t feeling right,” they were right.
Craig: Yeah. I think that you have to find some ego gratification in the sense that, look, I did this for all this time and now this person is coming and going, “Can I just change it?” and not think to yourself, “Oh, is it that easy? We’re just going to change it, la-la-la.” But to think what they’re asking to — their change only exists as a result of what I’ve done —
Marielle: Right. Right.
Craig: You know, and the current text around it.
Marielle: And what I grew to love about the way the actors were approaching it was they felt really protective of these characters because they had felt like they knew them based on all the work I had done. They felt like these were characters who they loved and they wanted to protect and they wanted to do right by. So if they wanted to make a change, it was because they were invested. And that was a good thing.
Craig: Right. They cared.
Marielle: They cared.
John: So you had many years to work on the writing of this.
John: How did you learn about directing? Because you seem to be a very quick study. It’s really, really well-directed. I mean on every level, on production design, on shot design, it’s all really smartly done and performances you get are astonishing. What was the process of learning how to direct?
Marielle: Well, I didn’t go to film school. I went to a theater school.
Craig: Good. I’m telling you, good.
Marielle: Yeah. But as you said, my husband’s a director. And so I’ve been on a lot of sets and I’ve been around and honestly wasn’t that interested in directing for a long time.
Craig: Watching him you were just bored to death.
Marielle: No, no, I mean I was kind of like, “Okay, this is interesting,” and I enjoy being on set. But I was never eager to talk about like lenses with him or like how you were going to set up a stunt or anything like that. Mostly because I’m really character-based in the way that I get excited about things, too, and some of the technology felt like, “Well, this isn’t the thing that’s driving me.”
But as I started to imagine my movie being directed by somebody else, I was like, “Oh, no. I have to direct my movie. This is my movie.” So I just had to figure it out kind of. And I sort of used the Sundance Directors Lab as like my sort of film school.
John: So talk us through that because people might not be familiar with that part of it. So the screenwriters lab — were you the winter’s lab?
John: Because you were up on a snowy mountain.
Marielle: Snowy mountain just in your head.
John: Just in your head, a bunch of writers.
John: It’s really small. Directors Lab is a much different experience.
Marielle: Directors Lab is like so physical. The Writers Lab is just this totally internal heady experience where you’re having one-on-one meetings. And then the Directors Lab is five weeks where you get a small cast, you get a small crew, you take the hardest scenes of your movie and you workshop them. And you shoot them.
And it’s almost like a reality show because you do like one day of prep, one day of shooting, one day of editing, and they limit your hours. So at 5 o’clock, someone knocks on your edit door and is like, “You’re done.”
Craig: That’s miserable.
John: Yeah, but you probably learned a lot there. So which scenes did you pick to be the ones you wanted to — ?
Marielle: So —
John: They don’t say your hardest scenes, they say the ones that scare you the most.
Marielle: The ones that scare you the most. And these will only make sense if somebody’s seen my movie. But pick the scene where they do acid.
Marielle: Which was one of my hardest scenes through the writing process, [laughs] the shooting process. Every part of the process, that was a really, really difficult scene to nail because it’s a drug sequence. People have done drug sequences in movies forever. Sometimes they’re done really well, sometimes they’re done really poorly.
I didn’t want to do the same version that I’d seen before but it’s also a really critical turning point. And both of the characters have a major emotional moment that happens that has to be treated seriously, so you can’t just be laughing at them through the whole thing either like, “Ha-ha, they’re on drugs. Isn’t this hilarious?”
Marielle: You actually have to believe the emotional build that happens throughout the scene, too. So that was a really complicated one. That was the one I failed the most at when I was at the labs.
Marielle: I did a scene where they have a big fight in the car and she ends up going into this sort of fantasy sequence in the bath tub.
Marielle: And sinks down into the —
Marielle: Into the —
Craig: Into the ocean.
Marielle: Yeah, yeah. So I did that sequence kind of trying to mesh a really realistic, difficult emotional scene with this sort of fantasy.
Craig: You shot even like the wide shot of her.
Marielle: I didn’t get the wide shot of her.
Craig: You didn’t get that one, right.
Marielle: But I did like in the bathtub and we did all of these practical effects and we did it in this really small way at the labs. That’s part of the fun thing about the Directors Lab, it teaches you how to do things really practically. And that was really good for me.
Craig: I was fascinated by the general, let’s call them the technicals of this movie. And there were a bunch of things that I watched over again just to watch and see. Like for instance, that one. I guess I saw it and the best of it is you don’t notice it. And then after it goes by, I think, “Wait, hold on, where did that ocean — ” I want to see like what’s the line there. And I watched it and so I can see what’s happening and I assume it’s a pool or something —
Marielle: It was a pool, yeah.
Craig: There was a big light. But I loved the way the light worked behind it.
Marielle: That was a pool with garbage bags lining it.
Marielle: And a giant light over it.
Craig: A big light.
Marielle: I mean it was —
Craig: It’s amazing how that works, right?
Marielle: And it was dirty. The pool got dirty and the particles ended up being like this beautiful —
Craig: Filter, right?
Marielle: It was amazing.
Craig: I mean first of all, I’m fascinated by the look of the movie because — did you shoot digital and then filter the hell out of it?
Marielle: No. We shot digitally but we shot anamorphic. And we shot with these beautiful lenses from the ’60s.
Craig: Okay, so you shot —
Marielle: So we shot on the red epic —
Craig: Vintage lenses.
Marielle: But we shot with vintage lenses.
Craig: Fascinating. And then, but color-wise too, I mean it’s like —
Marielle: So this is a little tidbit I love. Brandon Trost who was our DP, shot movies like The Interview, Neighbors —
John: So I was looking at his credits and I was like — it was such a great lesson to like not necessarily judge a person’s artistic abilities based on the things they had done before —
John: Because none of these things would ever suggest to me that he could do the DP for your movie.
Craig: MacGruber was shot brilliantly.
John: Yes, but as a comedy.
Marielle: Brilliantly. And what’s really funny is I think Brandon sort of became the comedy DP because of MacGruber. But the whole reason that Jorma wanted him to do MacGruber was because he didn’t look like a comedy DP. He didn’t do this like blanket lighting, really bright —
Craig: Walmart lighting.
Marielle: He shot it like an action movie. And that’s what Jorma wanted for MacGruber. So he hired him because he was the anti-comedy DP.
Marielle: And then it ended up leading all of these people to be like, “I want that guy.” And so he’s done all of these comedies —
Craig: Yeah. This movie is going to change —
John: Oh, yeah.
Craig: That for him.
Marielle: The way people see him. I know.
Craig: Because, I mean it just was beautifully done. And then on your end of things and with your effects team, the way that the animation was integrated was really gorgeous and I loved how simple it was and —
John: Well, it looks simple. But I was watching this last night and thinking like, “Oh, she must have been so excited when she like wrapped production.” It’s like, “Oh, now we have to make an entire animated film on top of this movie.”
John: I mean that was —
Marielle: We actually started the animation really early. That was the first element that I started. It was all done essentially by one animator, Sara, who’s an Icelandic animator who lives in New York who’s amazing. And she hand-drew everything.
So I brought her on creatively like a year before we started filming because I was like, “This is huge and I think we need to figure a lot of this out before we film.” Just so I could shoot based on what we needed for the animation. Some stuff we found later but a lot of things were planned out ahead of time. But also, she just had so much work to do with it.
Craig: There was a moment in the animation that I almost felt was like, “Is this rotoscoped?” And I couldn’t tell. When the guy is telling her you’re too intense and that, you know. And in animation, she’s holding the monster and just looks away and a tear. Was that rotoscoped or was that — ?
Marielle: The tear or the face?
Craig: Yeah, the face and the tear at that moment.
Marielle: The face was rotoscoped in that moment but not the tear.
Craig: Okay, but I knew the face were —
Craig: Because it was great.
Craig: All right, so rotoscoping, for those of you playing at home, rotoscoping is when you take film, live action film, and then you — it’s a process where you draw over it. And there are a lot of good examples of rotoscoping in movies where it’s essentially they’re animating real live footage. So it has that funky look to it. But there was something about that moment where it’s like it had to be because it had to be real.
Craig: You know? And god, that look away that she does there is nuts.
Marielle: That’s one of my favorite kind of plays between the animation and the live action, too, is that sequence because it kind of really — there’s something about it. She’s having this experience with a boy who’s kind of shaming her and making her feel really bad about herself sexually and then she’s imagining herself as this gross big monster stomping through the city.
That’s how you feel emotionally in that moment and it was just personifying that. That was one of the moments that I was happy with how it came out. And I thought you were going to bring up the moment in the acid trip where she kind of turns into a bird, because that’s another rotoscoping moment.
Craig: Yes, that was rotoscoped. Correct. It was rotoscope because it needed to be rotoscoped —
Craig: Because it was on her.
Marielle: But it was rotoscoped in maybe a way that you wouldn’t even know. What we discovered when we were doing tests for that was that in order to get the movement of feathers, it’s really difficult to do that animation-wise in a way that felt really real. So we did all these tests and she realized, you know, this looks better if we have real feathers moving. So then our costume designer had to hand-sew a bird suit where she sewed every single feather on in a way that they could all move. And so it was the most difficult —
Craig: And then you rotoscoped on top of it.
Marielle: And then we rotoscoped on top of — every single feather got rotoscoped.
Craig: Wow, well that works.
John: So before you had rotoscoped those feathers, you actually had to raise the money to put this movie into production.
John: And that’s the thing I was sort of most curious about watching this last night because, as we talked about, it’s such a difficult movie to get made.
John: So you’re dealing not only with period, you’re dealing with a young girl. You’re dealing with a really, potentially uncomfortable — I mean this would now be statutory rape, so —
Marielle: It would have been then, too.
Marielle: I mean age of consent was 18 at the time in San Francisco.
Craig: She’s 15?
Marielle: She’s 15 and having sex with a 35-year-old man.
John: Right. And in certain markets like in England, you have like a harder time getting released.
John: Here it’s a rated R movie.
John: So these are all things that a financier would look at and say like, “Well, what is the upside of making this movie?”
John: Like basically you wrote a movie that has to be just like brilliantly perfect. And good luck and congratulations it is but —
Marielle: And a lot of it was going to ride on execution and tone because some people would read the script and would find it incredibly dark. And what I’m proud of with the movie is I actually think there’s a lot of humor in it and there’s a lot of lightness. It’s a tough subject matter but it hopefully doesn’t make you feel horrible about the world.
John: What were the conversations? So like who were you sending this to? Were you sending this to small production companies, like what were the — ?
Marielle: I was sending it to small production companies or people that I was hearing were excited to take risks, who were interested in interesting projects rather than — obviously this was not going to be a giant budget movie. So coming out of the labs, I felt really like I’m ready to make this movie.
Jorma already had a relationship with a commercial company called Caviar and we knew they were wanting to start making movies. So we sent them the script and they were the first people who came on financier-wise. And they were really just excited about the script and felt like this is a project that I want to get involved with.
But actually, the way that the process really went was I actually got the actors involved first. So I got Kristen Wiig involved before I had even really set up the money.
Craig: Which helped?
Marielle: Which helped. And it was a juicy part. It was something she could get excited about. And it was kind of a backdoor way of getting the movie made was sort of getting the actors involved and then getting the money to follow basically.
Craig: What was the budget for this film? I have a guess number.
Marielle: I can’t really talk about it.
Craig: Oh, you can’t?
Marielle: I think I’m not supposed to talk about it, yeah.
John: You never supposed to talk about with Sundance movies —
Craig: You’re not allowed to talk about it?
John: They’re never supposed talk about it because —
Marielle: Because it’s Sundance, it’s a Sony and like —
Craig: Oh, that’s right. You have to sell the movie. But it already sold.
Marielle: It’s sold but I’m still — I don’t know.
John: Yeah, you still don’t ever say.
Marielle: I’m still not supposed to say.
John: With The Nines I never say what the budget was.
Marielle: But I can tell you after.
Craig: Yeah, let’s see if I was close.
John: But you can tell us about sort of the challenges of production because —
Marielle: It was a small budget. I will say that. It was a very small budget and we shot the whole movie in 24 days in San Francisco.
Craig: Wow. That’s remarkable.
John: But shooting in San Francisco, you know, is notoriously one of the worst places on earth to film.
Marielle: So apparently if I had gone to film school, I would have learned a lot of things that I was not supposed to do on my first movie. Not set it in a period, not have 38 locations, which is what I think we had, not shoot in San Francisco. What are the other big mistakes I made? But I didn’t go to film school, yeah —
John: But you also had a lot —
Craig: And no dogs.
Marielle: A cat.
Craig: Oh, you had the cat.
Marielle: I had a cat.
Craig: And the cat had to hiss on —
John: That was good luck.
Marielle: That just happened. That was my cat.
Craig: That cat nailed it.
Marielle: I know.
Craig: Nailed it.
Marielle: I know.
John: You also had situations where you had to shoot night for night because you were in this apartment and windows were looking out of the whole city.
Marielle: Oh, everything had to be.
John: But that was all great production design and production value, you know, out of that.
John: How early did you have a production designer, art designer on to find all of those yellows you have in your movie?
Marielle: Our production designer, Jonah Markowitz, who is brilliant, came on four weeks, eight weeks?
Marielle: But maybe I met him eight weeks before we went in and we only had four weeks to prep. It was crazy.
John: So —
Marielle: Yeah. I mean, on such a small budget, we had so many sets and they had to basically take an apartment that existed in San Francisco, which did have the bones that felt like a real ’70s apartment. But every single thing you see in that movie, every piece of wallpaper, every piece of furniture, every rug, every little detail, they did. They painted, they, you know.
Craig: And boy, does it look great.
Marielle: I know.
Craig: It reminds me because I mean, look, 1976, I was five. I can remember it
Marielle: We looked through a lot of our families’ pictures and kind of tried to really — because growing up in the Bay Area, there’s a specific vibe there. It’s different than Ohio in 1976 or New York in 1976. And so we really wanted to get that right of like, “There’s a lot of stuff from the ’60s still hanging around. It’s not just the newest thing that came out in 1976.”
Craig: That’s right. That’s a mistake that people make —
Craig: When it’s definitely like, “Look, everybody, it’s disco.” No, people actually don’t like — by the way, I had that tape recorder. I had it. I saw it and my heart just —
Marielle: Oh, I love that.
Craig: Exploded, with the stupid mic.
Marielle: Yeah. I mean, didn’t we all do that? Another thing I really related to about this character was being a kid who just makes projects out of anything.
Craig: Of course.
Marielle: You’re an artist. You’re always like recording things or recording yourself or pretending you have a radio show or —
Craig: Oh, my god. My sister and I —
Marielle: We didn’t know podcasts yet but —
Craig: My sister and I would record interviews with each other.
Craig: It was insane. We would put on shows all the time.
John: So what scenes did not make it into the movie? What stuff that you filmed isn’t in the movie we watched last night?
Marielle: There’s a whole story line where Pascal, who’s Chris Meloni’s character in the movie —
John: I had a hunch he had more.
Marielle: Sleeps with Minnie’s best friend, Kimmie.
Marielle: And Minnie finds out that they’ve been sleeping together. And has a huge breakup with her best friend, basically. So on top of everything else in her life kind of going really wrong —
Craig: I could see —
Marielle: She also has this breakup.
Craig: I knew why that’s there. That would make me really tense because I’m like, “Oh God, if that’s a problemó”
Marielle: Right. She has nobody.
Craig: But the truth is I also can see why you don’t need it.
John: So at what point did that storyline, you know —
Marielle: I cut it out in the edit, probably like, eight weeks in the edit, maybe more, where we had watched a number of cuts of the movie. And it was running a little long, but it was also kind of taking us off track emotionally. And I had fought to keep it in in the script.
Craig: Of course.
Marielle: There had been people who had suggested it going earlier and I wasn’t ready. And we shot it and I’m —
John: It was Scott Frank, wasn’t it? Scott Frank is the —
Craig: Well, it’s funny that mentioned, because Scott, I had a moment with Scott where he had shown me his draft of A Walk Among the Tombstones in script stage. And I said, “Look, here’s the storyline between Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson’s son that could probably just go.”
Craig: And he’s like, “I know.” And he fought for it and he kept it and he shot it.
Marielle: Got cut out in the edit.
Craig: And the thing is there are times when people say, “You don’t need this.” And you fight for it. And you did need it.
Marielle: Yes. And I totally had those moments.
Craig: Right. But then, there are those times where it’s like — and it just goes to show you can’t be perfect. That’s kind of why I love the way that you were able to sort of start making the movie before you made the movie. If everybody gets the chance to do that, because the truth is most people go and make the movie, they don’t have your experience at Sundance. So they can’t shoot the LSD scene —
Craig: Three or four times. They just shoot your first bad version of it.
Marielle: Right. Exactly. And then, they go into the edit and they go, “What do I do?”
Craig: Pretty much.
Marielle: “This is not what I want it to be. This isn’t telling the story I needed to tell.”
Craig: I know.
Marielle: I also found it really helpful that I did a number of readings of the script, which Mike Birbiglia does those readings. There’s something about just hearing it out loud that I want to do for every movie I ever do also because you do just hear things and recognize problems when you hear — it’s so different than when you’re just writing something.
Craig: Every stage that gets it further away from text —
Craig: Is informative. The reading is informative. Watching them do it on set is informative, so you go, “Okay. This next take, let’s try something else.” Your first — watching your first cut is informative. And then as many times as you’ve seen the cut, watching it with other people, it’s like you’re seeing a different movie.
Craig: Every single time, you learn more.
Marielle: It’s true. Yeah. And I’m never going to get to have the experience of going to the Sundance Labs again with my movies, unfortunately. I wish I would, because you just learning as much as you possibly can before you’re shooting. Because shooting is so fast —
Marielle: It happens so quickly.
Craig: And final.
Marielle: And it’s final. And there’s that weird feeling of this is final. I want to take as much time as I can before you get to that phase of getting to know all of your problems.
John: Yeah, I think sometimes people are afraid of doing the prep work because it’s like, “Oh, you know, I want to be bold. I want to make big bold choices.” But I find that, honestly, if you don’t do the prep, you’d end up sort of making way too safe of choices sometimes.
Marielle: I think that’s right.
John: You over cover things because like, “I don’t know how I am going to do this. I’m just going to shoot it a thousand different ways.” And you’ve lost that great shot you could have gotten because —
John: You didn’t trust yourself.
Marielle: You don’t trust yourself to just, “Let’s get this as one big oner.”
Marielle: That’ll be so fun. And you if really know, if you’ve worked it out, you can trust that’ll work in my edit. I know this will work. And Sundance does that really well. They push you to take crazy chances —
Marielle: When you’re shooting your scenes and to make mistakes.
Craig: Yeah, if you’re not prepared, you end up making other people’s choices.
Craig: You end up making the AD’s choice or the DP’s choice —
Marielle: You get swayed by people on set. You get —
Marielle: Swayed by your actors. You’re like, “Oh, look at that really funny thing the actor is doing. It doesn’t have to do with the original scene, but maybe that will be great.” And sometimes it might be great and sometimes it might take the scene totally off course.
Craig: They’re all trying to sabotage you.
Marielle: Or, “Oh, look at that cool lighting that just happened.”
Marielle: “Maybe we should shoot the scene like this instead because of that cool lighting.” All of those things are problems that —
Craig: They all see their own movie, right?
Craig: And the actor’s movie is about their character.
Craig: And the DP’s movie is about the look.
Craig: And the AD’s movie is about getting out on time.
Marielle: Yes. [laughs]
Craig: Which is their job and they’re all important, but only you see all of it.
Marielle: Yeah. And the props department cares about that lighter. And whether that lighter gets used right —
Craig: Only about it.
Marielle: Yes. And you need everyone to care that much about their jobs in order to do a good a job, but you have to be the one who keeps it all together and doesn’t let yourself get —
Marielle: Swayed by all of those.
Craig: Because in the absence of your choices, they will fill in. Oh, my god, will they fill in.
Marielle: Yes, it’s so true.
Craig: And then, you’re at the mercy.
Marielle: It’s true.
John: So one of the biggest things in preparation you probably had to do is figuring out all of the sex scenes in the movie.
John: Because you have — there’s a tremendous number of sex scenes in the film.
Craig: So many sex scenes.
Marielle: So many sex scenes.
John: So much sex.
Marielle: There’s a fair amount of — there’s a fair amount of boning.
John: I think there’s like 12.
Craig: 12, really?
John: I bet there’s 12.
Marielle: I don’t think there’s 12. I think there’s probably about six.
John: Six. All right.
Craig: Yes, that sounds like —
John: Or maybe sequences.
Marielle: Well, it depends on how you can —
John: Yes, exactly.
Marielle: We have a little montage. [laughs]
John: I’m accounting you to the little shots of the montage.
John: But you had to think about sort of —
Craig: The thing in the bathroom doesn’t count as a sex scene for me —
Craig: That was a transaction.
Marielle: Right. Right.
John: But within the sex scenes, you have to figure out sort of, obviously, where you’re at with the characters emotionally.
John: But also, where, as a movie you are with the nudity, where you’re at with the relationship.
Marielle: Yeah, it’s a really fine line to balance all of the amount — how much nudity you’re going to see, how much sex you’re going to see.
John: So what are the conversations you’re having internally? And then, what are the conversations you’re having with your crew and with your actors and sort of how you’re going to do all of this.
Marielle: Well, I kind of made rules for myself while I was writing about — I never wanted the nudity to feel exploitative and I never wanted it to feel gratuitous, but you can’t make a movie about coming of age and a girl’s sexuality without showing some nudity and having some sex scenes. So I sort of just laid out certain guidelines, which is like, the scenes where you see the most nudity are non-sexual situations. So she’s examining her body in the mirror. They have a big fight, where she’s almost totally naked. They’re not sexual. And then, the sex scenes tended to be therefore sort of where there’s less nudity, you see less. There’s more implied. There’s actual sex happening, but we also wanted the sex to be more truthful. And so it’s not like shot with quick cuts and really sexy angles. It’s much more straight on.
Craig: I was surprised by the lack of saxophone.
Craig: Really shocked.
Marielle: Especially after seeing MacGruber. You’re like —
John: Yeah. [laughs]
Marielle: They love saxophone.
Craig: Oh, God, MacGruber. The sex scene in MacGruber. Sorry.
Marielle: The sex scene in MacGruber —
Craig: May be the greatest sex scene.
Marielle: Ruined sex
Craig: It may be the greatest.
Marielle: So many people have said to Jorma like, “Wow, that sex scene really kind of ruined sex for me for a while.”
Craig: No, that sex scene —
Marielle: Enhanced sex for you?
Craig: Absolute — it’s like all —
Marielle: Oh, that’s a problem. That’s a problem, I think.
Craig: “Uh, uh, ohh, ooh, I’m going to shoot.”
Marielle: “I’m going to shoot.”
Craig: “I’m going to shoot.”
Marielle: Oh, God.
Craig: I say that to my wife all the time.
Marielle: There’s one shot in MacGruber where you can see Kristen during the sex scene as starting to laugh.
Marielle: And she has to turn her head away from the camera.
Craig: I know that, too. I know that well. Of course, because I’ve seen it many times.
Marielle: And it — but it was such a good take of Will, you couldn’t cut away from it. It was too important.
Craig: And I’m sorry to hijack this, because we’re going to talk to Jorma about all of this. But also the look on —
Marielle: Ryan Phillippe?
Craig: No. no, no.
Marielle: Val Kilmer?
Craig: No. His dead wife.
Marielle: Oh, Maya Rudolph.
Craig: It’s so weird because I’m like literally Minnie Riperton’s daughter. That’s how like the mind works sometimes. We’re you’re like the obvious name is gone. The trivia is there.
Craig: Maya Rudolph is making this face when he’s having sex with her.
Craig: And it’s like — it’s not disgust, but it’s almost disgust. She’s like looking down her nose. I think she’s into it. It’s hard to tell.
Marielle: So she was eight or nine months pregnant —
John: Pregnant, I know.
Marielle: While they filmed that.
John: She’s basically always pregnant. [laughs]
Marielle: Yes, she’s had four kids. [laughs] She was so pregnant shooting the grossest sex scene in a graveyard.
Craig: So great. So great.
Marielle: [laughs] And then they had to like digitally take out her belly. It was so ridiculous. And I was — we were all sitting there during that sex scene when that was being filmed, just being like, this baby, like what is this baby’s experience of this?
Craig: I know. The baby is like, “Why?”
Marielle: This is so insane.
Craig: She will always have that moment on film.
Craig: Well, I think that you accomplished what you were setting out to do because the truth is I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with that much nudity where there was no arousal whatsoever on my part. There was nothing arousing about any of it. And it wasn’t like it was off putting either.
Craig: It was more — I was really invested entirely in what was going on emotionally with the characters.
Marielle: Well, hopefully, you’re more in her perspective.
Marielle: I mean —
Craig: Yes, 100%.
Marielle: That was sort of the point. It was like, being in the teenage girls’ perspective more than being — we tend to see sex scenes from a male perspective. That’s how they tend to be shot.
Marielle: That’s how they tend to be written. And this was a movie that we were just trying the whole time to not be in the grown up perspective and to not be in the male perspective. We wanted to be in the teenage girl’s.
Craig: Well, let’s talk about this for a moment because you succeeded on that level. And you also managed to — because sometimes when I have seen scenes from the — they’re strictly from the female perspective, that sex is then automatically a problem. I don’t like this.
Marielle: Oh, no. No.
Craig: Or this is, you know — she does like it.
Marielle: This is a character who’s totally into it.
Craig: She really likes it. And so, I guess the larger question is, it seems to me that you very cannily avoided tropes just everywhere you could.
Marielle: Oh, good. Yeah.
Craig: However, there is a risk when your primary goal is let’s not do what other people have done because, of course, at the heart of every trope, there’s something that’s real that connects to people. That’s how they became tropes in the first place.
Craig: So, did you ever worry that you were essentially wandering off the reservation to the extent where maybe people would not be able to recognize themselves in this character or —
Marielle: Well, the particular trope that teenage girl characters tend to fall into, which is that they don’t like sex and that the narrative that we’re given as teenage girls is like boys are going to want us to have sex with you and you’re going to have to decide when to give it up.
Marielle: But you’re not going to want it yourself. That particular trope is just not true.
Marielle: And so for me personally that always felt like something that —
Craig: That was an easy one to smash.
Marielle: It was like this isn’t truthful and when you’re a teenage girl and you’ve never seen that told in a truthful way, it’s actually really damaging because you think something’s wrong with you, if you think about sex. And the only examples you have in movies are like boys think about sex, girls don’t think about sex.
Marielle: So for me, that made me feel when I was young, like, maybe I’m a boy? Or like, maybe something’s wrong with me because I think about sex. And so that was like no question. This is a trope that needs to go. This is a teenage girl who thinks about sex and —
Marielle: Wants to have sex. But I did worry, I suppose, about the whole movie being so specific and so about this one time and place. And I thought, I hoped that the specificity of it would make people connect to it more. But I guess I did worry that it might be a movie for a small group of people.
Craig: Well, it is — I think you made a movie that I would show anyone. And by the way, this is a movie I would show my daughter, not yet. She’s 10.
Marielle: How old is she? No. Yeah, not yet.
Craig: But here’s the interesting thing. What this character does is it reminds me a lot of movies, if I were to translate it over to the boy zone, where there are movies about teenage boys who do outrageous things that I go, “Okay, I understand why you did those outrageous things, I understand the spirit of those. I share that spirit and that impulse. I don’t do those.”
Marielle: You don’t have to act on all of those impulses —
Marielle: In order to relate to them.
Craig: Exactly. And so —
Marielle: It’s like Into the Wild. Like I never ran away from entire my life but there’s something about the humanness of that impulse to like get — just to leave your whole life, your parents, everything you grew up with, all of the rules that you’ve been taught your entire life and throw them to the wind and to just like go out into the wilderness. I’d never do it but I relate to the impulse.
Craig: I related. You know, that’s the thing. Even when she was doing things that were dangerous, I’ve — one of the best choices in the movie is when she and her friend, after the bathroom scene, say we should not have done that.
Craig: Because I needed that.
Craig: I literally needed it or I was going to start —
Marielle: You need the remorse.
Craig: I was going to start to lose her.
Craig: You know, I needed it because she’s making terrible choices over and over and over.
Marielle: As most of us did when we were teenagers.
Craig: That’s what —
Marielle: Even if they weren’t like that extreme, we all still probably made some pretty bad choices.
Craig: We all made some bad — well, this is the thing. Children, we tend to idealize children in movies, when in fact, children are the worst of us. I believe.
Marielle: Right. [laughs]
Craig: Basically, they are the worst of us. If children ran the world, it would just be flames and broken glass in the next five minutes. But we then doubly do it to girls.
Craig: Because we ask that our female characters are more moral.
Marielle: We do. Particularly, teenage girls, we want them to be examples of how we wished teenage girls were. We don’t want to see what they truly are.
Craig: And, you know, so you don’t have a sister, do you?
John: I don’t.
Craig: So my sister is a year and half younger than I am. So when I was in high school, and we shared a bathroom. So when I was in high school, I would, you know — when I would go to the bathroom, she’s got her Seventeen Magazines all stacked up. So I would sit there flipping through Seventeen Magazine. And it would make me laugh because every Seventeen Magazine gave girls the following two messages. Here’s how to look as sexy as possible. Do not have sex.
Craig: Well —
Craig: How can we expect any girl to not lose her mind?
Craig: So I loved all — I mean I just thought that you managed to avoid tropes but at the same time, there was — it was also you made a new trope. I don’t know, it’s like weird way of saying it, but like, a new thing that’s true, a truism, that people just weren’t ready to talk about.
Marielle: Mm-hmm. Interesting.
Craig: Which is the way that female sexuality is so scrambled up at the age. Anyway, you did a fantastic job.
John: You did a fantastic job.
Marielle: Thank you.
John: Has the TV show Girls come up in any of the making of the movie, the discussion of the movie? Because I —
John: I look at this character and you can see a Hannah Horvath character if she was transported through, you know, time and space and put there, some of the same issues and struggles that she’s facing. And has that been a useful thing for you as a filmmaker or a frustrating thing when those comparisons come up?
Marielle: Well — oh, no, it’s been useful. I mean, I started working on this movie before Girls came out.
Marielle: But I remember when Girls came out kind of feeling like maybe this will help me because people will be a little more open to this conversation right now.
Marielle: And it felt like I was sort of cluing into, I don’t know, this bigger conversation happening in our society about female sexuality.
John: That there’s an audience, there’s an eagerness to talk about —
Marielle: And it’s always nice to think when you’re writing something, I don’t think you can plan it this way, but when suddenly you recognize that there’s a bigger conversation that you’re sort of stepping into and becoming a part of and it has to just — the timing has to work out right. And it felt that way with this. It felt like, “Oh, we’re sort of becoming part of the conversation.”
Craig: I have to say, though, this is why I love that movies are still here and I know that television does great work in — and has done better work lately than ever before, but this is the kind of thing that a movie does best. Because when you have television and the characters must continue on, what ends up happening is a sort of ultimately a trivialization of these incredibly I’ll say traumatic and yet wonderful experiences that happen to us in our lives.
Craig: This is what movies do best, is they focus in on those moments — the big change moment of your life. Television will ultimately have to trivialize it.
Craig: Because they have to keep doing it over and over again.
Marielle: Well, television has to be about more mundane things in order to kind of keep us involved.
Marielle: And it can’t — it can’t — if the stakes were that high all the time in TV, you’d get burned out.
Craig: You’d get burned out. I mean, you — and the fact is just by repetition of seeing a certain circumstance over and over and over, you’d become burned out. This is what movies do best. And there is a — you know, this moment when your childhood breaks apart and you slowly put yourself back together, movies will always do this better.
Craig: I mean, it’s a terrific coming of age movie. And I honestly feel like everybody over the age of 15 [laughs] should see it.
Marielle: Thank you.
John: Can we talk about the nature of your role now after you made this movie? The movie comes out at Sundance, it sells.
John: But you were still on a treadmill for quite a long time to —
John: Make this movie out. So, you know, we are friends through friends and that’s why you’re here, but you were on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. You were —
John: You were talking. And this is going to be continuing all the way through the award season. So, your job continues.
Marielle: Nobody talks about this. How long —
John: So let’s talk about this.
Marielle: The period of —
John: Let’s talk about this.
Marielle: Movie making is.
John: It’s a haul. Especially —
Marielle: It’s a halt.
John: When you have a January Sundance movie that’s coming out the next year.
Marielle: And when you are first time filmmaker and so it’s the little film that really needs that kind of word of mouth and it needs the hustle behind it in order to get it seen.
Marielle: So, yeah, we’ve done the festivals circuit, so we did Sundance. We got bought by Sony Pictures Classics there, which was amazing and so much more than I could have dreamed. Then, we went to Berlin. I should mention, I had a 5.5-week-old at Sundance.
Marielle: And then he was eight weeks by the time we went to Berlin.
John: This is a human child.
Marielle: Human child.
John: Not a dog. This is a human child that she gave birth to.
Marielle: Yes, yes, yes, exactly.
Craig: And then let’s also point out then all of the pregnant time prior to that?
Marielle: Right, so I wrapped filming and got pregnant within about a month and then was pregnant all of post.
Marielle: And then —
Craig: So you weren’t throwing up after you saw that first assembly because it was bad.
Marielle: Right. Who knows? Who knows why I was throwing up?
Craig: It may have been bad.
Craig: It may have been the baby.
Marielle: It may have been the baby. It’s hard to know.
Craig: Either way, you’re puking.
Marielle: Yeah, I was puking, puking, puking. Exactly. Yeah, there was — I had, I had a meeting set with distributors for the day that I went into labor. It was all like, it was all pushed up to the limit.
Craig: That happened to me.
Marielle: Yeah, I know it’s a classic story.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
Marielle: So then we did the festival circuit. We did New Directors, New Films at MoMA which was a really cool festival. The movie has travelled to even more festivals than I’ve been able to go to because it’s gone to like Sydney and Seoul and it’s gone all over the world. And I’ve been able to go to a certain number of festivals. Bell has gone to a certain number of festivals, the lead actress from the movie. We’ve gone to some together. Alexander’s gone to some with us. So kind of through the fall we did the L.A Film Festival. We’ve done a ton of festivals. And then we sort of started the bigger press roll out. So we’ve been doing press in L.A. and Dallas, and San Francisco.
Craig: The movie is out in theaters now.
Marielle: It’s out in theaters now. We just expanded this weekend.
Craig: This weekend, okay, this past weekend.
Marielle: This past weekend, right. This comes out on Tuesday’s. I know you guys, I’m a really big fan. So at this point, I think were in about 30 cities.
Marielle: So it’s getting much wider.
John: So this is sort of the Whiplash plan where like it’s a very slow rollout.
John: And there’s no video-on-demand. It’s strictly theatrical.
Marielle: It’s only theatrical and the hope is that word of mouth helps build, you know, helps to build an audience because it is such a small movie. It’s not going to be the type of movie that we blast everywhere all at the same time but build slowly.
Craig: I hope that you’re getting a lot of attention from people at our movie studios because I if were running a movie studio, I would be saying to you, “Please, please even these are the movies I’m making pick one and do it.”
Marielle: I got to say I am getting a lot of attention.
John: Good, that’s fantastic. I put you on a list this morning.
Marielle: You did?
John: I did.
Marielle: Thank you. It’s a funny time to be a female filmmaker. There’s a lot articles being written, a lot of conversations, the ACLU hearing that happened. There’s a lot of conversations about how underrepresented women are behind the camera. 9% of Hollywood movies are getting made by women. That number hasn’t changed in 30 years.
So right now in this moment, though, I think public opinion has started to shaming the studios into catching up and there’s this feeling of like, “Oh, we got to be doing more. We need to be hiring more women.” And kind of am getting one of the [laughs] —
Marielle: I’m getting to see the benefits of that.
Craig: I’m going to disagree with you slightly. I do think that they are right now making an aggressive effort.
Craig: I do because I think they are embarrassed. I don’t think that’s why they’re calling you.
Marielle: Thank you.
Craig: I have to say, as one of the, it’s one of the unfortunate side effects of any kind of effort to improve diversity statistics is that then if they go up, there’s always that question are you —
Marielle: Of like did it happen because they were good or did it happen because they were just a girl?
Craig: Are you in here because affirmative action? Are you here because you’re a girl or you’re in here because of quota or whatever?
Craig: And that sucks, it sucks all around, but I will say that in your case I truly believe that because, look, they just love money more than anything. They love money and I think they look at your movie and they look at you and I think this is an incredibly assured filmmaker with a voice and an eye and she writes. We can make money off of this person. That’s what I think it’s about.
Marielle: I think that’s probably true. I mean I feel I can tell the difference between the calls that are about people who truly love what I’ve done and the types of stories that I want tell and the people who are like what are the women? Who are the women? Who we’ve approved? Who do we put on this list? Let’s find a woman for this.
Craig: Just make sure that Mari is not like some European guy.
Marielle: Yeah, [laughs] exactly.
John: “That is a woman, right?”
Marielle: Like I did get a call, I think it’s okay for me to say this. There was that moment where the director of Wonder Woman fell out, there was like that one day scramble and my agents called and were like are you a huge Wonder Woman fan?
Marielle: Because your name is coming up and I was like, “Wow, they are really just pulling any woman that they can.” There’s just trying to find a woman director who they can — yeah. And I —
Craig: It was certainly there was — it appeared that there was like — there was that panic that day. Yes.
Marielle: For that one day, and now they have a wonderful woman involved and who probably should be and whatever but it was a funny moment where I was like, “I’m just getting this call because I’m a girl right now.”
Craig: Yeah, probably [laughs].
Marielle: Yeah, [laughs].
Craig: I think so [laughs]. That one, I’ll give you that.
Marielle: That one, yeah.
Craig: I’ll give you that.
John: I would step back and take a look at, you know, Colin Trevorrow coming off of Safety Not Guarantee jumping up to Jurassic World.
John: Like your movie and his movie, they’re similarly like really well done versions of tiny little indie movies.
Marielle: There, that’s a big conversations that’s happened out of Sundance is like why is it that the white male directors who come out of Sundance who make a million dollar movie get offered hundred million dollar franchises and the women very rarely. They might get their next movie is the $3 million movie. Why is that leap not happening?
John: Maybe, maybe break that pattern.
Craig: Well, in part, it will require you to want to make one of those movies.
Craig: You know, Colin Trevorrow wanted to make Jurassic World. And so here’s my secret hope because as again, I love MacGruber. So you know the kind of movies — I mean I love this movie, I love MacGruber. I love lots of movies.
Marielle: It’s a great double feature [laughs].
Craig: It really is amazing. By the way, the best of all.
Marielle: Which one should go first?
John: I think the mashup version is really good.
Craig: The mashup would be great no. You have to Diary first, to get everybody really like, “Wow.” And then just hit them with MacGruber.
Marielle: Yeah, and just get — the laughter just leaves you.
Craig: Take these broken wings — okay, anyway, so we’ll have that episode. But I hope you that actually you can find a movie, you know, because they open up their big cabinet and they’re like look at the stuff we stuff we want to make.
Craig: A lot of times what they want to make is horrendous. But sometimes in there there’s something great and I hope you find something that you can get a budget for and you can get a big movie with, and you can get all the toys to play with and that you want to do.
Craig: Because that would be the best thing of all. I mean I really — this is what you should be doing, do this for sure.
Marielle: I want to. I mean I really did enjoy it and this, there was something about directing that just felt really natural to me because I am an actor and I love actors and I love working with actors and I loved — and being on set is just so fun. It’s so infectious like it’s just a great experience. It’s so stressful, it’s so hard [laughs]. The whole thing is so difficult but it’s also so great.
Craig: You did a fantastic job.
John: It’s come time for One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: So, I actually have a One Cool Thing this week and I’m going to do it — while I’m talking about it, I’m going to do it.
John: Do it.
Craig: It’s so cool and actually weird and I got before I saw your movie, Mari, but it kind of flows into it. So this is called, VHS camcorder. And it’s like, I don’t know, four bucks or something. And so I’m going to do this, so it’s got this like little thing. And it basically turns video into like — into VHS and you can even change the — but it really actually does look like it. I mean it’s the weirdest thing.
John: So for people who are at home who can’t see this.
Craig: Put this up. Say hi.
John: There’s time code in the bottom and it very much feels like —
Craig: Now I sound like a crazy man. [laughs]
Craig: And there’s John.
John: And I’m here.
Craig: Hello and welcome to Scriptnotes and even though it says August 21, 2015, really?
Marielle: Does it look like the beginning of Elf?
Craig: It looks [laughs] do a head turn for me like you’re on Elf. Starring Mari Heller.
Marielle: Wait, wait. I have to be — I have to be on the phone.
Craig: Okay [laughs]. Okay, that’s perfect. Anyway, it’s a great app and it’s fun and it’s cheap. And I don’t know, for kids like I showed it to my kids, I’m like, “Look, this is what Daddy’s videos used to look like.” And they’re like, actually my son was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” Like because, you know, for them now everything is like add vinyl noise to my, you know, my electronic music track, so anyway that’s my One Cool Thing.
John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is an article I just read this morning. It is called I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago by Rachel Ward. And it’s a true story so she’s a producer for Morning Edition and it’s her talking through the last two years after her husband died. So she’s, you know, a young married woman.
Marielle: Oh my God.
John: Her husband died in a very sudden —
Craig: Literally coughed to death?
Craig: Just like he started coughing —
John: And then died.
Craig: Just randomly?
John: Yeah. So, it goes into sort of what actually happened or to the degree to which they understand what actually happened. But on the podcast, previously, we talked about sort of how those moments of death that we see in movies and sort of the ambulance coming or the coroner like are never quite the way it is in real life. And so she talks through what that reality is, but also in a very smart way talks through what it’s like to have to introduce to yourself to new people as like, “I’m a widow.” Like it’s a strange thing.
John: So what I’m bringing it up here is that she’s kind of actually kind of like a great movie character. You can very much envision sort of this is the start of a movie story and sort of what that is. So I thought it was just a really well written piece.
Marielle: It’s kind of like The Year of Magical Thinking.
John: Yeah it is, but a very, you know, young version of that which is so different. Also just fascinating to see it on Medium which is such a weird medium for it to be in because you’re used to this being like if it was a New Yorker article, you sort of know what that’s supposed to feel like but Medium where there’s like a comments like midway through and stuff. It’s an odd format for it but also very relevant at the time. Mari, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Marielle: I do, you guys I agonized over my One Cool Thing. I’m such a big fan of the show that I was like texting people being like I have to come up with a One Cool Thing. I don’t know that I came up with the best one but it’s a parenting thing and you guys do talk about parenting on here sometimes. I’m a parent of a young, young baby, 8 months and there is an app called Wonder Weeks that I have found to be really useful.
It kind of goes through the major cognitive leaps that a baby goes through, it’s really focused on brain development. And babies do tend to follow pretty clear patterns like between six and eight weeks this major leap happens to them, they learn to see patterns in the world or whatever it is.
At this point at four months, they’re able to understand the concept of something going inside of a cup and something coming out of that cup [laughs]. You know, these really kind of basic leaps but they — what happens is when a baby is going through a major leap, they tend to have a lot behavioral problems, their sleep gets disrupted because their brain is making this major leap and they’re figuring things out and they’re practicing when they should be sleeping, instead they’re like practicing things with their hands or their minds.
So it’s really helpful to know what those leaps are as you’re going along so that you can be a little patient and you can have some empathy for what your baby is going through and you can go, “Okay, this is just a normal leap they’re going through and in a week, it’s going to settle back down.”
Craig: Do they have that app for teenagers?
Marielle: They should. [laughs]
John: That would be awesome.
Craig: Because I would really like that.
Marielle: I don’t know if it’s as predictable with teenagers as it is with little babies. But yeah, I found it to be, to make me a more patient parent where I can look at this app and it has a whole calendar listing of where all the different leaps happen. It’s just, and it makes me kind of, it makes me empathize with him and what he’s going through and how much he’s growing and learning.
Craig: They don’t have the fear of the unknown.
Craig: So why is he shrieking all of a sudden for last three days?
Craig: And usually people, the immediate thing that parents think is what did we feed him, what did we feed him?” He’s got — most kids are fine. You feed them whatever they want, they’re like goats. But that makes sense that they’re — that cognitively because think about it, it’s like it’s brain damage in reverse.
Craig: I mean every time your brain changes, it’s traumatic.
Marielle: Right. And my kid just started scooting. So he’s just figured out how to move and it has totally flipped his brain out. I mean he’s so excited, but he can’t go to sleep because he’s like trying to scoot around everywhere and it’s —
Craig: Boys by the way are — they’re just so hyper.
Marielle: He’s so hyper. And he wakes up just bouncing off the wall, so excited because his body can suddenly do things that he’s clearly wanted to do for so long.
Craig: I’m so glad I didn’t have two boys. If I had had two boys, honestly, I would just — all right, I —
Marielle: Jorma and I were talking about that this morning. I was like, I have to say my biggest fear of us having a second kid is that I’d have another boy, and I’d just be this one lone woman in a house full of boys.
Craig: Yeah, in a house full of — yeah.
Marielle: It’s scary to me.
Craig: Yeah, especially during the teenage years. My daughter — I mean that’s other great cure for panic over what’s going through your baby’s mind is having your second baby, because then you’re like, whatever. It works out.
Marielle: It works out, I know.
Craig: I know what’s on the other side of this at the very least.
Marielle: I also just find it kind of interesting to understand what they’re going through and that babies do fall into such clear patterns and that almost every baby does kind of follow these patterns. It’s so crazy.
Craig: All those — you know the things that like this, this thing that the baby does, whatever they call it —
John: The Heisman?
Craig: They call it, yeah, the fencing maneuver, it’s like and then the startle thing, all babies do this.
Marielle: Yeah, that’s called like moray.
John: Yeah, reflex.
Marielle: Something reflex, right and it’s not moray, that’s when —
Craig: Yeah, but they think — they do that and no one can see because it’s a podcast. This is why I don’t listen to podcasts because you can’t see. Anyway, yeah, we’re all incredibly similar
Marielle: Well, and that one I heard the startle reflex is from when we were apes or when were — it’s evolution when we were having to hold on to our mother’s backs and the hair.
Craig: Wait, evolution, you believe in evolution? [laughs]
Marielle: No, no [laughs]. But that when that babies needed to hold on to their mother’s hair if they were falling, so they would do this in order to not fall off.
Craig: That would work with you though, you actually have incredible hair.
Marielle: My baby pulls on to my hair and uses it as ropes to lift himself up, yes.
Craig: I bet he does.
John: Good stuff. You can find that information about Wonder Weeks and VHS Camcorder apps and this article I talked about on our show notes on the show page, johnaugust.com. You can also find this on the iTunes store. We are at Scriptnotes, just look for us there, you can also find the app. Our outro this week is composed by a young composer named Jack Mazin.
Craig: Oh yes, my son has —
Marielle: How cool.
Craig: He’s been working — he’s starting to do like electronic music and stuff and this is one of his first compositions.
Marielle: That’s so cool.
John: Yeah. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. And Mari Heller, thank you so much for coming and talking to us about directing.
Marielle: I want to keep going, I just don’t want this to ever be over. This is such an exciting moment for me.
Craig: We’ll have you back. I mean this isn’t the end. This isn’t the end.
Marielle: I’ll just come back when you have Jorma on to talk about MacGruber and I’ll just listen.
Craig: By the way, you have to be here. That would be great.
Craig: And we should also put in the show notes just because it’s not like — there aren’t billboards out there, let’s put a link in for people to go get tickets to go see on Diary of a Teenage Girl.
John: Absolutely. So we’ll have a link to the website which will have all that information and to the trailer.
Craig: Great job, Mari. Mari, you were an excellent guest.
Marielle: I’m so happy.
- Later this week, Scriptnotes shirts will be available for pre-order in the John August Store
- Scriptnotes and a live Three Page Challenge will be at the 2015 Austin Film Festival
- Marielle Heller on IMDb
- The Diary of a Teenage Girl official site and the trailer
- Scriptnotes, 121: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’s Screenwriter, with Mike Birbiglia
- Sundance Institute Feature Film Program
- Director of Photography Brandon Trost on Wikipedia
- Rotoscoping on Wikipedia
- Mari Heller on NPR’s Fresh Air
- VHS Camcorder
- I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago by Rachel Ward
- The Wonder Weeks App
- Outro by Jack Mazin (send us yours!)