Damsels in Distress in released in UK cinemas on the 27th of April and it is a welcome return from Stillman after far too long away from director’s chair. Damsels in Distress is delightful, witty and a joyous pleasure. See it as soon as you can.
Read on for the second part of my interview with Whit Stilman.
You’ve lived in London at one point, right?
I’ve spent a lot of time here but I was really living in Paris and Madrid. I came here to try and set up my films, without great success.
Did you have any plans to make films actually in London?
It was curious because most of them were not set in the British Isles but there were a couple discussed that would have been. Most of them were far flung efforts that for some reason or another had a London connection. One was set in the People’s Republic of China but Film4 was backing it, under a previous regime, and then I had a project set in Jamaica, about the time of the Jamaican Independence and there was a lot of interest in that from here, and there were two companies involved in that from here.
That’s the one you intend to make next?
I’d hope to make it within twelve years [chuckles] but it won’t be the next film, I don’t think.
Do you have any solid plans at the moment?
In my career, solid is not a good word [laughs]. I do have the intention to make something else, that I’ve been keeping under wraps. In fact one publication I said that to, I think it was a copy editor that changed it to, “he’s next making a project ‘Under Wraps’”. [Laughs] Yet another film he’s not making!
I read a quote from you recently about a film idea that has really stuck in my head and I’d love to see you make. It was about the idea of a Gold Diggers film.
That is a total fantasy but it intrigues me, the idea. I think it would be so funny to come out with the Gold Diggers of 2015 and just try and do the same sort of thing but now. I mean, how would we do it now? It would have to re-imagined but…
…That’s a happy memory from my youth, I don’t remember the exact form of them. I remember that one of my favourite things of musical films was the Lullaby of Broadway episode. It’s magnificent, that sequence. It’s just so beautiful. So I don’t know how it would be done, because of the MPAA members. You might be able to do it if you had a member company working with you. I think you’d want an agreement with the company that made the original ones.
Going back to your comments about working with HBO; you directed a great episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, working with people like Michelle Forbes, who have worked a lot on television. Is television something you’re interested in?
Yeah, I was very interested in it. I love the experience of doing Homicide but I think I was kind of blacklisted after that and I’m in a sort of situation of conflict with television because some of the shows, they wanted you to accept a couple of episodes, like the racy shows, the kind of sexy shows. And I did get offered those directing assignments but they do things like, you have to take two episodes and you don’t get to see the scripts – although one I did get to see the script. And all the shows they put something in that was kind of disgusting, and I’d say ‘Oh my gosh, I like this other stuff but this disgusting stuff I don’t like so much’. So I didn’t do the sexy shows but I really liked Homicide and would’ve really liked to have done the cop shows and things like that.
Michelle Forbes came onto that television show and she was kind of a star coming onto the show and I know she had some problems with her dialogue and she mentioned the problems to the second producer and he changed her dialogue, based on what she said. I signed onto a script I liked and then I cast Chris Eigeman and another. There are two male parts, the grieving people in that episode… and someone connected with the show, I think maybe the executive producer, came in and turned the two white male characters into just horrible monsters. Here are these grieving crime victims, crime survivors, and there was this character played by Chris Eigeman and he became like the most hateful yuppie and y’know his wife had just been murdered. Why? And it just made no sense to me, the way it had been rewritten, and it really upset me, because I felt our obligation was to tell the truth about our characters and it just felt so completely untrue, the way the characters were supposed to behave.
So I mentioned that and I even said that I could try to rewrite it. And, oh my God! It was like the end of the world. A director… Because directors are really poorly regarded in TV. They’re just supposed to be traffic cops and for a director to question the rewrite of the executive producer, even though I was essentially protecting the script written by another producer who really liked what we did with it ultimately. So there was a compromise, where it wasn’t as horrible as they wanted to make it be but I think I seriously upset this executive producer. I had a feeling of being blacklisted from good shows, because they’re all interlocked. It’s kind of terrifying, the business, if you’re not doing your own thing because you’re really in a subservient role there and if you offend in any way anyone powerful – I mean maybe it’s my fantasy – but it just seemed like…
…Also, it could be that your agents don’t want you to do those things because it gets them nothing and keeps you from doing what they think will be their goldmine, where you do something on your own and it’s fresh and original. But in my case I think I’ve been no goldmine for any agent. I feel I’ve let them down.
Damsels in Distress is in UK cinemas this Friday.