SXSW Interview: The Runaways Director Floria Sigismondi

The Runaways: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and Floria Sigismondi

I was able to see The Runaways here at SXSW, which is kind of a cool experience. One minute you are watching some kick-ass girls rock out on the big screen, the next minute you can see some of the impact those girls had on rock n’ roll out on the streets of Austin. I loved the film, and I was pretty excited to be able to speak with the woman behind the curtain. When sitting with The Runaways director Floria Sigismondi I could tell that she was very much in control of how to tell the out of control stories of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett.

Film School Rejects:  I am a big fan of rock and roll, so I think you did a great job kind of putting that to the forefront.  So speaking of music, what is it kind of like to go from doing music videos to doing like film?

Floria:  I’ve been wanting to do a film for a while now.  When this one came up, I felt very comfortable in the musical aspect of it and the musical performances.  It was very important to me, because I had worked with musicians, how authentic it was; how the girls fingers were in the right places, and how, you know, they would do their own singing and stuff.  So I think that kind of helps me kind of…because I already kind of new the world and I could kind of focus on the acting.

Now, how much collaboration was there between Joan and Cherie and Kristen and Dakota?

I think they spent a lot of time together, you know, getting to know each other and being on set, too.  I think it was a lot of support for the actors, you know, since they are playing real live people and having that responsibility to do that right.  So that was great to have them around.

How about the casting process?  You know, you can make one of two choices: either go for something really authentic with their ages, or was there temptation to go with a little bit older actresses that, you know, would cut down on limitations, possibly?

Well, I’d…Dakota became of age…became 15.  I think I met her when she was 14 just on the cusp of becoming 15, and I thought that was really important.  Not only is she an incredible actress, probably the best actress for her age in Hollywood or the world, so I was incredibly happy she was interested in doing this.  But also, being the right age, I think, really helps tell the story of this young girl who gets caught up in things too fast and kind of gets in too deep, you know?  And it kind of really helps that because you know her age.  You know her age, so that was really important for her character, I thought.  And also, you know, as more of an innocent character.  And that kind of helps, I think, with the arc, you know, where she kind of goes too far.  And then you kind of…”Wow.”  So hopefully it resonates on a deeper level with audiences.

Did you shoot any scenes that kind of went a little more in depth with like Lita or any of the other members of the band?

No.  I made it a very early decision that the story was going to be about Cherie and Joan.  So that was already in place by the time I was shooting.  And so that was a conscious effort, you know, to kind of really focus it and make it more personal on the two of them and their relationship.

Did you work at all with Kim Fowley or did you mostly come from the perspective…like Cherie’s perspective for the film?

I interviewed Kim Fowley.  We have his rights, so I interviewed him.  And that was an amazing interview. [laughs] It went on for hours!  And he brought lots of books, and photographs, and film.  He had a soundtrack that he made for me to play in the background while he spoke.  It was quite a theatrical experience.

And so, you know, how his character evolved in the script is basically…You know, I was juggling a lot of things, a lot of perspectives.  Joan has a very different perspective on him than Cherie does, and so that kind of formed the character in sort of how to take him.  But he is a little bit of all those things.  You know, Cherie looked at him maybe like he could have been a father figure, because her dad wasn’t really around.  And he obviously could not be a father figure, so she took things very differently from him.  And he was obviously very hard on them.

And Joan kind of looked at him as a friend-thought he was funny.  So, you know, the same experience could be experienced in totally different ways.

What you were talking about-how his character evolved.  Do you think that the film evolved at all from what you set out to create at first and what it ended up becoming?

No, I kind of…I was pretty close to the script, so it didn’t change.  I think I had to maybe omit some stuff for budgetary purposes, but I had other scenes that kind of said the same thing, so I think in the end it was OK.

How did you really want to set out to shoot the film visually?  It seemed like the stocks changed a little from time to time.

No.  I shot on Super 16 because I wanted to be very authentic ‘70s looking, and I wanted it to feel…you know, like you could almost smell the emotion.  I wanted you to feel what it was like with the texture very kind of tangible.

And what I had done is I designed the film so it had slowly changed a look.  And it, you know, started out in California in the valley-bright colors and, you know, a little bit more sunshine, and as the band kind of goes on tour.  And when they came to Japan it really starts to change, and the skin tones start to get cooler, and draining out some of the warmth tones.  I wanted to kind of really depict through the wear and tear of that one year; you know, what it has done to them.

How do you feel kind of going forward as a female director and seeing, like, Kathryn Bigelow, like, winning the Oscar?  What is that like for you and where do you think the direction is going for female directors?

Well, hopefully it opens up some doors.  It is so fantastic that she won the Oscar and, you know, most importantly because the work is so good.  But it is amazing how we are still talking about this and we are in the year, you know [laughs] 2000!

But hopefully it opens up doors.  You know, maybe it will encourage some girls to follow their dream.  It is possible.

Where do you think the next door is for you?

Yeah.  I want to…I think I want to still do film…I don’t know.  But I would like to do something fiction, something a little bit more fantasy based.  I am not quite sure right now.  I am just starting to read.  And after I rest up, I will start to figure that one out.  And I just finished a music video, actually, for Jack White’s band The Dead Weathermen.  So that should be coming out any minute.

That’s cool.  Now, the question I always like to ask, especially when you have to go through these press days, is there anything that you haven’t gotten to talk about with the film, or anything that, you k now, you haven’t really had the chance to elaborate on that you would like to talk about?

No.  I don’t know.  It is all a blur.  [laughs]  I’ve been talking about it for 10 days now!  You know, I had never written before, and so I was writing and directing and I found that I really, really enjoyed the research part of it.  You know, kind of going in…You know, that was obviously staying on the authentic track, but also what it has done to me kind of going back into my childhood and coming up with the feelings.  Like, how do I interpret certain feelings?  What does it feel like to be 15 and feel these…?  It is a time where you are changing and things are confusing.  And also, just being housed in the rock and roll world, which is the house of angst, isn’t it?  Like teenage angst and rebellion.  So there is, you know, I think a lot of me in there, too.  You know?

So what is it like as a director debuting the film at Sundance and then coming here at South By and having this musical crowd here?  Is it just as nerve-racking as Sundance was?

Well Sundance was more nerve-racking for me because I had never shown it before. So I didn’t know what to expect.  And the film wasn’t completely done.  You know, we had done just tape to tape transfer, and so I went back home and just got off the plane and just worked for a whole month and got it finished, and did a better sound mix and stuff.

But here I found the crowd really lively.  It was really amazing to experience.

As far as the film goes, would you say that it is more a rock film, like a girl power type film?  I mean who do you think you want…Like, what audience do you think you really want to identify with the film?

Floria:  Well, I don’t know.  I kind of don’t kind of step outside the film in that way.  But I think it is an inspirational story from both sides of the story, whether it is Cherie’s side or Joan’s side.  So hopefully it is inspirational for girls.  But, you know, it is just a relationship about these two girls in rock and roll, so the world is completely rock and roll.  So, yeah, it is a kind of coming to age story in the rock world.

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