AN INTERVIEW WITH ALLISON ANDERS
What are some
of the movies and filmmakers that
made you fall in love with the
Well, I guess when I first decided
that I wanted to make movies,
the biggest inspiration was Wim
Wenders. However, there are movies
from every single period that
inspired me in all ways, not just
in my pursuit of movies, but in
my life as well.
What did you
do to pursue filmmaking?
I was in Junior College at the
time, and I went to my counselor
and said, "I want to transfer
to UCLA film school." She
gave me a huge list and said,
"Take all these classes and
come back to see me." It
was, like, two years of classes.
And she said, "Oh, only 9
percent of the people who apply
How did film
school affect the kind of filmmaker
you are now?
Well, UCLA had a reputation at
the time for really preparing
film students to become film makers.
They did not prepare them to work
in the industrythey do more
of that now. But the deal was
that you do as much of the work
yourself as you can... you write
your own script, edit your own
piece, but you do all of that
Did you end up
doing a feature in school?
I did Border Radio while we were
still enrolled at UCLA. It was
one of those things that people
knew we were doing it but they
pretended not to know because
we weren't supposed to be doing
it. So it was a sort of passive
encouragement... we had to scam
equipment, but we did it so we
set a precedent that everybody
How have you
approached working in Hollywood
as a career?
I think I've been lucky... it's
kind of felt like sort of a fairy
tale, and a bit of a prank. Sometimes
I can't quite believe that I get
to do this for a living. I haven't
felt that I had to make any concessions...
so I can still have a lot of fun.
Which isn't to say that I don't
have a lot of pain and anguish,
but I think it's worth it.
Do you consider
your self a director first or
I think there's a point at which
I consider myself a director first.
But I think that my need to write
is pretty intense, and I might
not always be able to direct,
but I will always be able to write.
And there is a kind of gratification
I get from writing that I don't
get from just shooting.
How do you approach
beginning a script?
Well one thing that I do each
time when I start writing is I
make a very long audio tape of
music, that I consider the world
of the movie... Some ideas sit
a long time with me like the film
I'm working on now, Grace of My
Heart. I had long loved the music
from the early Brill Building
period in New York City. And they
had a bunch of teenage song writers
there, and I was particularly
excited by the idea that these
kids were working all together
in the Brill building at the same
time... and I thought that must
have been quite a time.
The story that
came out was about a female songwriter?
That's right, yes.
How is Grace
of my Heart going to play off
what you've done in the past?
Grace of My Heart is a sort of
a musical and dramatic film. In
Grace of My Heart I worked out
a lot of grief, but also tend
to make prophecies about things
that happen to me and my work.
Has that process
occurred in other films you've
Yeah, Gas Food Lodgingthere
was a lot of personal stuff...
There was a lot of unrequited
love stuff that I used in the
film. My biggest fear was that
I was going to end up with some
guy like Hamlet Humphrey, a really
dopey guy that sells satellite
dishes. And in Ma Vida Loca some
things did come to pass. I always
though that one of the gang kids
would end up dying before the
film was released, but I always
thought it would be one of the
boys. Shortly after the film one
of the girls died, not of gang
violence but of a drug overdose.
You've said that
filmmaking is a responsibility.
What did you mean?
I think that, for me, I feel responsible
to put things on the screen that
maybe don't get on there very
often, you know? I try and show
women in a variety of different
ways, for example.
When you approach
a project do you have an agenda?
Or does it just come out that
It does just tend to come out
that way. I'm extremely opinionated
about how women are represented
on the screen...
Are you a feminist
Yeah ... I don't really mind the
label, either. I was a very proud
feminist at seventeen. But when
I became a feminist it was a consciousness
raising movement. It was against
patriarchal values. It wasn't
let's go out and be like guysso
it was very bizarre to me when
that came up in the 80s, like
La Femme Nikita. That's not what
we were supposed to be doing.
Would you write
your screenplays differently for
someone else to direct?
Yes, I would. If I wasn't going
to direct, I probably wouldn't
give things that were very personal
to me. Sometimes you get into
problems with this. In Grace of
My Heart it occurred to me that
I was putting all these personal
things into the script, but the
studio owned it, and it was disturbing
to think that Jonathan Kaplan
could be directing the script.
And I thought "this is really
I've heard you
label your genre Melodrama. What
Well, for me, melodrama is not
to be confused with the adjective
melodramatic. But melodrama is
a genre of film which... basically
tells the story from the inside
out. It charts the interior journey
of a character, and their actions
happen as a result of what's going
on inside of them. In most films
you have the action going the
opposite way. The action happens
and affects the character. In
melodrama the action happens from
the inside out.
You've said people
desperately need to see melodramas.
Because it's the thing that speaks
to that part of their lives. I
think that's the reason for pop
psychology and people on spiritual
quests. I think it's all very
heightened by people's need to
address their spiritual yearning.
Both GFL and
Ma Vida Loca begin with a montage
and voice-over to set up the story.
Once again, it's a melodrama device,
where you go outside to go inside.
And the voice-over helps you to
get inside, because you're starting
in someone's head in a way. And
you've seen the environment and
you're outside and you're going
If you could
triple your budgets, would your
films be different?
No.... Would I have bigger stars?
I don't even think that would
be the case. I think that someone
like Katherine Bigelow, her vision
is very big. My vision with melodrama
and family films is much more
easily contained. I would like
to have a bigger budget...(laughing)
I think I could think of things
to do with the money. I would
never know how to do a high concept
movie. I wish I did because I'd
be a lot richer.
Your friend Bill
(William Ewart), one of the producers
of GFL, says you were in every
one of the characters in that
I think that all of those characters
really were me, which confused
my mother terribly, because she
thought they were all her.
How do you balance
the autobiographical with the
It's a really odd thing. In each
of my films, even Four Rooms,
there's very personal stuff there.
But even in my set dressing I
use things from the characters
and from my life and the actors
life... Most people's lives are
a bit meandering. But even if
you have a meandering narrative--which
I do in my films and my life--you
find that to create meaning you
have to take them into a totally
different context. And you often
have to take them out of order
El Duran (the prisoner/poet from
Ma Vida Loca) was basically a
way that I worked out an unrequited
love affair. So I came up with
a solution when I was broken hearted
that I would shoot him... in the
script. (She laughs) What's more
interesting than the fact that
it was me working out my stuff
was that he was a character who
was truly a melodrama character
who had two sides. In his case
he's writing letters from a prison,
he's sending poetry and he's Mr.
Soulful... and that's not untrue,
he really is those things. But
when he gets out of prison, he
has this other persona as a playboy
and gangster. And his tragedy
is not being able to bring those
two together to really be who
is he at the core.
Do you have any
suggestions/advice for first time
screenwriters struggling to get
that first script finished?
You really just have to... as
silly as it sounds, you really
just have to finish. You have
to plow ahead. Novelist and screenwriter
Allison Gold taught me this. I
said I keep getting to page 60
and I can't write any more. And
she said "What happens?"
And I said, "I think that
everything I wrote before that
is shit." And she said, "What
if it is? You just keep writing
through it." Often you'll
find that it really wasn't bad.
As dumb as it sounds, you just
keep writing through it.