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SXSW '05 Interview: 'A Life Without Pain' Director Melody Gilbert

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Life Without Pain' Pitch: What happens when a person can’t feel pain? As we follow three-year-old Gabby from Minnesota, 7-year-old Miriam from Norway and 10-year-old Jamilah from Germany coping with this enormous challenge, we learn that pain is really a gift that no one wants, but none of us can do without.

"Three girls who literally don't feel pain."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
This will be my first time at SXSW. But I've been to many other festivals with my documentary Whole, which is about physically healthy people who are obsessed with the idea of becoming an amputee.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
I wanted to own a chain of ladies' clothing stores (just like my father).

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I worked in TV news for many years. I learned how to tell any story in a short amount of time, usually under two minutes. But I always wished there was more time to tell the really interesting stories, so I started working on "long-form" pieces (investigations, in-depth and artsy stuff) and I ended up doing docs..

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
More interns want to work for me.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
Nope. Just made the movie. Didn't even have time to seek funding. Just knew I had a rare opportunity to capture this time in the lives of these girls.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Since I do the filming myself, I just took my trusty Sony VX-2000 and started shooting. Didn't stop for about a year, shot forty tapes, edited as I went along (yes, I edit too). And I'm still editing!

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Take Dramamine if you're going to shoot in the fjords of Norway.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
I don't watch any movies when I'm in pre-production. They just make me depressed because I wish I had made them. So instead I just concentrate on what I'm about to do.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
I wouldn't want to make a film like that.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
I'm a doc filmmaker, so I don't work with actors. It would be so strange to tell people what to do and say!

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
The festival circuit could be improved by providing a small screening fee for every filmmaker, one that would (at least partially) fund their trip to that festival.

The best part of the ride is meeting up with other filmmakers who are doing what you do. When you live in Minnesota, that's very important!

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
When my documentary Whole was reviewed in Variety, I thought I had finally become a "real" filmmaker.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
Yes...but my editor made me do it!


A Life Without Pain, directed by Melody Gilbert, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information, and be sure to check out the official A Life Without Pain website!.

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originally posted: 02/22/05 17:33:59
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