The Women of SXSW: We’ll Never Have Paris Director/Producer Jocelyn Towne
Following “The Women of Sundance” article in our print and online additions, Danielle Lurie continues her coverage of female filmmakers with a series of pieces highlighting women directors at SXSW. In this email interview, she talks with one half of the directing team behind the Narrative Spotlight film, We’ll Never Have Paris, Jocelyn Towne.
Filmmaker: Why this movie? Why did you decide to do it?
Towne: Well, it’s a personal story, one that my husband/co-director [Simon Helberg] wrote about our disastrous engagement years ago. When he asked me to direct it with him I was excited, but nervous. I was so scared the first time I read the script, I wasn’t sure what was fictional, what was real, and of course, some of the scenes I personally experienced. I was worried I wasn’t going to find it funny, but his retelling of it made me laugh. I felt like this was a wonderful opportunity to look at something from a different perspective, to take control of this story and find the humor. And getting to work on it with Simon was the most rewarding part. It was certainly challenging, especially taking our work home with us each night. Qe never really got a break from it, but it really taught us how to work together on a level I hadn’t yet experienced.
Filmmaker: How did you go about raising funding for it?
Towne: We did a lot of pitch meetings with financiers, but it was very challenging. We were really under the gun to raise the funds only a couple months out from pre-production, and that was a lot of pressure on financiers who were interested but not ready to commit overnight. Our agency put us in touch with a producer, Robert Ogden Barnum, who liked the script, and basically he came in and saved the day. The man doesn’t sleep. We all went on the financing roller coaster ride. Qe would have the funds, then they would fall through, within a matter of days, sometimes hours. But Rob and Simon made it happen by sheer force of will.
Filmmaker: What is an anecdote from the making of this film that should be legendary? ]
Towne: Simon and I definitely had a low point during pre-production. We had moved ourselves and our family to Brooklyn for the summer, not knowing whether or not we were financed. Then we flew ourselves to Paris to scout for the film, thinking that we had financing. We get a call in the middle of the night that all the financing has fallen through. We are hiding in our hotel bathroom while our 14-month old daughter sleeps in our room, Simon’s sitting on the bathroom floor, on the phone hearing the details, I’m sitting in the bath tub using a manual breast pump because my electrical one didn’t work in Paris, and we just had an “all is lost” moment. But we kept on going. Rejection means nothing, it just bruises the ego. No matter how many no’s you get keep looking for that one yes. You only need one and you might get a million no’s before it. This movie was a real “If you build it, he will come” experience.
Filmmaker: How much of your crew was female? Was hiring women a consideration for you?
Towne: Most of our key positions on the film were female crew members: d.p., production designer, costume designer, editor, line producer. We had a couple of female grips on our crew. Honestly, it was not a consideration, we just hired the best people for the job and they happened to be women. When we interviewed each of them, they owned the interview; it was their job from the second they started speaking because they all had a confidence and passion that we were inspired by.
Filmmaker: Do you think a male director might have handled the making of this film differently? In your opinion, how did being a female filmmaker affect how this film got made?
Towne: This film is co-directed by a male director so we found a balance in the way we told this story. It was interesting because I had a protective eye on how the story was told. Simon wrote the script and starred in it, and he has a lot of guilt about this time in our lives, and I felt that as an actor he was tending towards a more damning portrayal of himself because of hindsight and his judgment of himself. I felt that we needed to soften this, and I tried to find ways to do that that were in line with where his character was at that time in his life: a younger, less knowing version of himself today. It’s hard to say whether that’s truly a female perspective or just my personal one.
Filmmaker: In what ways do you think being a female filmmaker has helped or impeded your trajectory in the film industry?
Towne: Hard to say. I tend to focus on what I have control over. I know that I could be more outspoken and confident. I find it personally empowering to give myself this control over my career by examining the ways that I can grow. It’s no secret that most acting roles are geared towards men and most directors in the business are men. I would like to be part of the change in this trend by focusing on my work and working with confidence and passion.
Filmmaker: How can we get more women making movies?
Towne: By pursuing our own dreams and supporting others on their journey. I have certainly felt supported by other female filmmakers and would like to do the same for my colleagues.
Filmmaker: Of the big blockbuster movies out there, which do you wish you had directed?
Towne: This one is so hard to narrow down, and I’m thinking about this through time, not just recently so… If it had been a horror film, Alien would be my choice. I can’t stop myself from watching it when it’s on TV and yet, to this day, I still don’t want to watch it alone. And no one has succeeded in making an alien look more frightening to this day! How is that possible?! The architecture of the story, the sets, the characters, the alien, all just perfection.
Filmmaker: What’s next?
Towne: I’m having a baby in a couple of months so I will be focusing on family for a while. I am looking for new material to direct, impossible to say what genre. It has to be a strong story. It’s all about the script.
Filmmaker: What do you hope to gain from being at SXSW? Who would be your dream person to meet while there?
Towne: I’m so looking forward to seeing other people’s films. I’m sure I will flip out for someone’s movie/performance and then just hope that I will run into them so that I babble to them about how I loved their work!
Filmmaker: What is a question I should have asked but didn’t that you think is relevant to your film?
Towne: Q: Was there someone who you felt inspired by during the shoot?
A: I have to mention this actress because Simon and I were so blown away by her as a person and actress on our film: Judith Light. We worked with her for one day. We were both nervous to meet her and direct this Tony-Award winning actress whom we both admired. She walked on to the set, took us by the hand and said, “You can say anything to me. I love line readings!” Way to knock down the walls of intimidation. I wanted to jump for joy. She probably doesn’t love line readings, but that was the fastest way she could communicate to us that we could say absolutely anything to her and she would listen.