Five Questions with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night Director Ana Lily Amirpour
Another vampire flick? For her debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Ana Lily Amirpour shrugged off suggestions that the genre’s been tapped one too many times in crafting a Lynch and Leone mash-up that gets to the root of our fascination with the timeless character. Shot in black and white and set to a distinctive soundtrack, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night unfolds in the depraved (and fictional) Bad City, where a vampiric young woman and loner forge an unlikely love story. Filmmaker spoke with Amirpour about the stylistic influences and flourishes in the film, as well as its accompanying music and graphic novel.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night premieres today in Sundance’s NEXT section.
Filmmaker: Some would say the vampire trope has reached its saturation point. What is it about the ubiquitous genre that made you want to explore it further?
Ana Lily Amirpour: A vampire is a serial killer, a historian, an addict and a romantic, all in one. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to explore this mythical creature? Coppola went there, Herzog, Bigelow, Jarmusch…it’s not just for the mainstream. The Vampire is simply a juicy type of character ripe with possibility. Also, if you think about how we are fascinated in this culture with preserving life, and vampires defy death, it makes perfect sense that they seduce us. I personally hate death. I grew up on Anne Rice vampires, which are really contemplative on time passing; the world changing and these creatures get to stick around and see it all. I always wanted that. I have this greedy thirst for life. I used to think if I was given the choice, I’d turn. Yeah, it might be agonizing to live forever, like working in a nightclub or something; it’s always the same, never seeing the sun, etc. But I’m not one of these people at peace with the “cycle of life” and all that. I love life and don’t want it to end! Anyway, it’s not really about the device in the end. It’s about the story. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is really a story about battling loneliness. And vampires are the loneliest.
Filmmaker: You spoke about your desire to make an deeply Iranian film, albeit one set in California. How, in your opinion, does A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night achieve this?
Amirpour: It’s not that I set out to make “a deeply Iranian” film, but I did want to tell an Iranian story. That is, my version of Iranian. Because I’m not an Iranian living in Iran, I’m an American via Europe living in California, so that’s a real mash-up. And I feel that this film really is a true mash-up too. When you’re so many things, it’s great because then you don’t really have to be defined by any one thing. You pick from what means something to you and what turns you on, and makes sense. That’s really what I did in making this film in order for it to be something that turned me all the way on.
Filmmaker: Your short A Little Suicide strikes its unique tone by pitting stop motion animation and live action against one another. How is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night stylistically a departure for you?
Amirpour: To tell a particular story, you have to figure out what that story needs, and it’s always different, insofar as the filmmaking, I think it’s always a departure. With A Little Suicide, I had to tell a story about a cockroach, and stop motion felt like the best way to bring him to life. It’s not like I was coming from a background in stop-motion, I just knew it had to be stop-motion, so I figured out how to do that after the fact. I come from a background in art and sculpture, so I’m sure that played a part in my confidence about taking on a stop-motion project, which is a real bitch.
I knew A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night had to be shot in black and white. That was the first big choice and gave us a certain look that’s very graphic and surreal, and also displaced reality, which gave me space to break the real-world rules and let the Vampire exist. I was looking a lot at certain movies as a jumping off point: Coppola’s Rumblefish, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. I really love a Lynchean character, out of time and place, and also completely surreal in how they look and talk. But they are consistent and true to themselves and to the universe of the story. That’s something I really loved and wanted to absorb into the characters and world of AGWHAAN; that it’s not real, but somehow it is. The film is really like a dark fairytale.
Filmmaker: Your graphic novel Death Is The Answer is being released concurrently with the film’s premiere. How did you come to the decision to create an ancillary product — was it a result of a wealth of content, or a means of connecting with a larger audience?
Amirpour: When I was writing the script, I had to answer all these questions about the vampire’s history, and it became hundreds of years of backstory. I suddenly had in my hands this whole universe that really turned me on and was clearly wanting to be a graphic novel which I’ve always wanted to do. I started in illustration and painting, and I’ve always loved the idea of doing something cerebral like Crumb, Frank Miller, Charles Burns, and skateboard artists Jim Phillips. But it’s really hard to make a graphic novel: the artwork alone is so laborious and there’s no real easy market for them. And then last year, I was lucky to partner with Radco (Ben and Jon Conrad), who were also involved with the film and loved the idea of the graphic novel. So we went for it. We’re launching the series which we’ve been working on for the past year. The artist we’re working with (Michael DeWeese) is so amazing, and I’m really so excited about how it looks. Book One of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is made up of 6 issues. Issue #1 is called Death Is The Answer. Since we finished the first issue around the time we heard from Sundance, we thought it would be a great place to show people the first issue. Everyone at our premiere will get a copy of issue #1.
Filmmaker: Music is an important element in the film. For you, how do audio and visuals best compliment each other?
Amirpour: Music is an important element in the film because it’s an important element in my life. I love music more than anything. How can you explain a song? It’s impossible. You have to hear the song. And then you feel what you feel. And everyone is feeling something different. And it moves you, like, it literally makes you move. Dancing is one of the greatest things in life. Except sex and probably the love a parent feels for their kids. I used to be in a rock band, and now I enjoy DJing and lots of electronic music, and it’s the only thing in life I love as much as filmmaking. Dancing and music. So the music is there when I’m writing. I make playlists for each character’s vibe. I play songs while I write, or sometimes I go on walks or runs and think about the story and the moments while listening to the music. I can’t imagine making a film without the music, it’s simply leads the way. And not just for me, but for everyone involved: the actors, the DP, the production designer, the editor…everyone. It’s just so incredibly powerful. And so what happened with the soundtrack of this film is that every song was specifically written into those scenes. I reached out to all of these musicians when I was writing the script and got them onboard to use these songs, and that’s how the film was made.
I don’t like this idea of putting together a soundtrack or score at the end of making a film, all herky jerky. Even if I do a score in a future film, I would want to work with the composer well in advance, and sketch things out at the script stage. You can start to create a map and it can change, but if anything, the music would guide my choices and lead the way, and not the other way around. For the next script I’m writing, a cannibal love story called The Bad Batch, I’ve already got the soundtrack mostly worked out and the script’s not even all the way done!