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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "Green" director Sophia Takal

Green - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"Genevieve, a New York intellectual, moves to the country with her self-involved journalist boyfriend, Sebastian, while he works on his latest project about sustainable farming. Bored and neglected, Genevieve turns to Robin, a working class local, for companionship. When Sebastian forms a bond of his own with Robin, Genevieve finds herself overpowered by jealousy and insecurity. Tensions mount between the two women and soon reality and paranoid fantasy become inseparable in this haunting examination of the female psyche." Director Sophia Takal on "Green" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

Yes! This is my first film at SXSW and I'm going to be down in Austin for all the screenings. I have some other festival experience, a film I produced, edited and acted in, "Gabi On The Roof In July", played a lot of festivals last year and I went to almost all of them.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

Probably the most crucial things to know about me are...growing up I was obsessed with Judy Garland, watching her movies was my entry point into filmmaking. I studied film studies in college where I met Lawrence Levine, a TA in my movie musicals class, who later became my fiance! We make movies together; sometimes he directs them, sometimes I do. In the case of "Green", I directed and he produced.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

For a really long time I wanted to grow up to be Cinderella. Then I wanted to grow up to be Stacy McGill from the Babysitter's Club. Eventually I settled on wanting to be an actress.

How did this whole project come together?

"Gabi" involved a large cast, an unwieldily number of locations, an enormous amount of rehearsal, and not much of a budget to support such an endeavor. Once the project was completed, I really wanted to make a film that was just as complex emotionally, but much simpler organizationally. I wanted to cultivate a more relaxed creative process. I figured the best way to do that would be to keep the production simple and close to home. Over the course of shooting "Gabi", I’d developed a very close friendship with one of the other actresses in the film, Kate Lyn Sheil. After the film, she moved in with Lawrence and I and we began discussing ideas for a project.

At first, all I knew was that the three of us were going to act in a film that would be shot in as few locations as possible with tiny crew of close friends. Intimacy was of utmost importance. The highs and lows of "Gabi" reminded me how essential the process is, not just the results.

I wrote an outline for "Green", then sat with it for several months, not sure that I was ready to confront the disturbing issues that film would address. After some conversations with Kate and Lawrence about themes and characters, I delved deeper into the outline I had written. The result was a combination of scripted dialogue and detailed scene descriptions. Scenes that were meant to be more abstract were intentionally left vague, with no dialogue written. We shot the film during two periods, each consisting of a week. Once the first week of shooting was wrapped, I reviewed the footage and scripted the scenes that had been previously been improvised. I wanted them to feel spontaneous, but I wanted them to be concise as well. Some improvised scenes can feel rambling, which I didn't want.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

As I set out to make something relatively simple to produce most of the challenges arose from emotional issues. The film is about jealousy, so that was an issue. Casting my best friend to play my fiance's girlfriend was either really masochistic or quite emotionally mature. I still don't know which. And then there were the usual boyfriend/girlfriend fights on set. But production-wise the film came together relatively smoothly.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
The cinematographer, Nandan Rao, became a close friend of mine through the festival "circuit" last year. A film he shot, "Bummer Summer" played a lot of the same festivals as "Gabi" He shot that film on the Canon 5D and I thought it looked absolutely gorgeous. I knew I wanted to use the same camera for a lot of reasons: I didn't have money for lights, I didn't require a lot of camera movement, I wanted wide shots, which I thought looked really bad on previous cameras I'd worked with, and I really didn't want to deal with getting permission to shoot in public places and I knew the 5D would not draw attention to itself.

This was my first time directing a feature and Nandan was almost painfully patient with me. He knew exactly what I was trying to convey with each shot, and asked the necessary questions to help me articulate my vision. I really couldn't have asked for a better DP! And luckily I don't need to - I'm working with him again! Later this month he's shooting a feature I'm acting in in Argentina, "The International Sign For Choking".

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

My biggest inspiration is probably Lawrence, watching him direct "Gabi" was really eye-opening. The way he works with actors is so impressive. He really inspired and encouraged me to jump off the cliff and direct something on my own. He also introduced me to a lot of filmmakers that were profoundly inspiring to me: Eric Rohmer, John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Maurice Piallat, Elaine May, Rob Nillson. So many! I'm probably forgetting a lot.

After I finished shooting "Green" I tried to reflect on what my influences were. I realized the only films I'd seen more than a few times were every Judy Garland movie, "Annie Hall", "Minnie and Moskowitz", and this Ingrid Bergman/Cary Grant romantic comedy "Indiscreet". I thought it was pretty funny that "Green" was possibly a reflection of those influences.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I really just want to keep making movies. I don't have a master plan. I have ideas for big budgets and ideas for little budgets and ideas for medium sized budgets and no budget at all. I love independent film, I love the freedom of making a movie with my own money and no outside opinions that I have to listen to, but I also love some of the ideas that I have that would require a bigger support system.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I have a lot of ideas for businesses. I'm a latent entrepreneur. Every other day I have a new idea for a business that would make a lot of money. I just need a venture capitalist to take me under his or her wing!!!! Lawrence is always annoyed that I have all these ideas for businesses and no ideas for how to make our movies make millions.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Jay-Z has a lyric that I try to keep in the back of my mind, from a really obscure song "99 Problems" which most people have never heard. The lyric goes something like this "I'm like fuck critics you can kiss my whole asshole. If you don't like my lyrics you can press fast forward." I usually try to repeat that to myself after I've read a review that hurts my feelings. I've never thought about the critical response in relation to a film's success or failure because usually I'm too busy crying about something mean they said about me.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

I don't want to choose just one! I want my movie to play in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE THEATER IN THE WORLD. "Gabi on the Roof in July" played at a great theater, ReRun, which is in Brooklyn and run by Aaron Hillis. I loved that we played there; it's a great space and a great support system for movies that are outside the mainstream!

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

I'd just say "aren't you tired of seeing the same movie over and over again?"

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

I'd probably ask Lawrence to tell them to be quiet. And then he'd tell me that I need to learn to not be so afraid of confrontation and assert myself. But then he'd do it anyway.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

I love the people I meet when I'm making films. I've made so many close friends who are talented, exceptional filmmakers that I admire completely. This community is so inspiring and I'm lucky to be a part of it.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

First I'd say: just make a movie and don't spend any money on it, just do whatever the hell you want. Then I'd say: don't listen to anyone who gives you advice, we don't know what we are talking about.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

I can't answer this! Too many movies! Can't pick one. If anyone cares to hear my list of favorites they can e-mail me and I'll send them my recommendations!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 16:44:38
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