Did you ever consider not setting the film in the world of working in film?
No! It was there from the beginning. We did play a lot with what Martine’s art was going to be. We changed it a few times and thought about it. Bugs was our original idea, then we tried a few different things, and went back to bugs. We were, like, bugs are right.
What else did you try?
A more performance-based, almost Cindy Sherman type video, her in costumes playing different parts. But bugs felt right. Not only because of the metaphorical aspects of it, but for her character, mainly. She’s the kind of girl who really would be interested in holding a Bolex camera in the desert shooting a close-up of a bug. It’s a very specific kind of person, you know.
I know that kind of person.
And for me, there was a scene in You Wont Miss Me, where I had to ADR the whole scene from scratch. And I thought, this is amazing. The whole process with the actors, creating live from scratch, creating all the ambient sounds, everything. It was like a whole new level for me in terms of the creation of sounds, and I felt that hadn’t really been explored enough yet in enough other films—there is Blow Out and The Conversation. But I wanted to really explore that.
But it’s also interesting, in terms of the conflict in the film, where the John K. character admits that he just got carried away with the work. That the sexual relationship was an offshoot of that. And I thought that it was really interesting. Because there is an inherent intensity and intimacy in film work.
And, I’ve read articles that suggest that intensity and intimacy—and the social aspect of film—is part of what eventually leads to some of the gender disparity…
I think in terms of working relationships, especially in creative mediums, it gets intimate really fast. Because what you’re doing is so personal, and not regular hours, you’re not even in a regular office half the time. Work gets personal really quickly, and that can be really complicated. And those dynamics are fascinating.
The relationship between the two main women, Martine and the wife played by Rosemarie DeWitt, with rivalry and camaraderie, and also understanding, was really interesting. At some point it really becomes the wife’s film. That’s an interesting way to shift from innocence to experience. Was that always the intention, or did that emerge in the performances?
I think that was always there, in terms of who you aligned yourself with. But I don’t know, sometimes people align themselves with the 16-year-old girl, Kolt, who I think is very appealing. She’s kind of the “looker” of it all; she sees all and is the witness. But I think one of the things that I’m interested in is about the transference of alliance to the characters and when you change your allegiance. I think part if that is the way it’s done; Rosemarie DeWitts’s performance is so grounded and captivating, that the audience does gravitate to her. But she’s also saving her family. She’s saying, you’ll never hear from us again. I think the audience is going to naturally gravitate towards that. Because everyone wants a hero. And I don’t think Martine emerges from that story as a hero.
There are no heroes?
Julie (DeWitt) does become the hero, though, if there was one to be had. Because she made a moral decision. And in all this immorality, it’s nice to have someone drawing the line in the sand. And it’s interesting. Because we do need that, for life, for love. How are we going to love unless we know what’s ok and what’s not.
Can you talk a little bit more about what inspired the film? It’s a very LA film, and your last film was a very NY film.
Everything I do is about wanting to do something different and challenge myself. I looked at a lot of Los Angeles films, from Los Angeles Plays Itself to The Long Goodbye to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. So I was looking at a lot of cinematic history of Los Angeles, particularly of the 1970s. And artists too, like Ed Ruscha, and Eames, all that stuff. The language and psychology of all those iconic images was something I got really into. It was important to me that the landscape and city be another character in the movie.
How did that manifest, then?
I think everything from the colors to the kind of house that they live in. Also the easygoing flow of their life—there’s an element of California liberalism. Sure we can invite a stranger to live in the poolhouse and it will all be ok! There’s an openness in a kind of 70s way.
There’s another LA 70s movies that I heard you mention, a really interesting comparison to this, Shampoo. Yours really is kind of an inversion of that, but when it’s a woman instead of a man, it’s not funny. It’s kind of heartbreaking.
Oh, yeah Shampoo! I always forget to mention that one. That’s one of the films that I came to late, after I had already written the script. But I showed Shampoo to the cinematographer in terms of the extreme softness of the image. But I do think Warren Beatty is kind of an extreme player in the way that Martine is, and he does break up a marriage, and he does break girls’ hearts, but there’s so much kind of charm and dandyism to him. But with Martine, we’re so much more likely of an instinct to go with the femme fatale. Is she evil? Is she really going to do the worst to this family? Whereas with Beatty it becomes more lighthearted.
So you were thinking of those classic Los Angeles noirs, too, like Barbara Stanwyck’s femme fatale in Double Indemnity?
I think I was aware of that, but I was interested in an Altman kind of paradigm, in terms of character, and seeing people based on their actions and interactions. You don’t always know what people are thinking, and I’m ok with that. That was my interest in this movie, but every movie is really different for me.