By Anna Weinstein.
Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke has directed six features since her award-winning debut Thirteen in 2003. Her most recent film, Miss You Already, is now in theaters, starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore and written by British screenwriter and actress Morwenna Banks.
It’s unlikely anyone can escape this film without crying. It lures you with the familiar characters and then quickly grabs you by the throat, much like Thirteen. But it’s more similar to Terms of Endearment or Beaches, in the end. Or maybe Stepmom. It’s a film that we’re comfortable knowing where it’s heading, and we want to stick around and see the journey unfold because we’re certain we’ll learn from it.
And with Miss You Already, we do learn. We’re reminded of those things we already know about best-friendship, but the film also bares some subtle truths about bravery. About the courage it takes to let people in, to allow those we love to see us for who we really are. Something we all strive for, of course – but rarely do we think about the ultimate outcome of reaching this goal. In daring to share ourselves openly, are we effectively coercing our loved ones to miss us when we’re gone? Are we daring to be worthy of being missed? Or would we be that regardless?
No matter the answers, the film poses the questions. Anna Weinstein spoke with Hardwicke about her career, her disappointment after the success of Twilight, and why she’s drawn to stories with a deep emotional core.
What did the journey from production designer to director look like for you?
Well, I started on Roger Corman movies, and I clawed my way up and got to work on two movies with Richard Linklater and then with David O. Russell and then Cameron Crowe and Costa-Gavras and Lisa Cholodenko – just learning from all these talented people. And between every job I would take an acting class, a directing class, a writing class, making a short film, writing a script. And finally, I wrote a script that was low-budget enough that I could actually get it made. That was Thirteen.
How many scripts had you written before Thirteen?
I had two scripts optioned. Two completed and budgeted. They were very far along – scouting locations even – but they didn’t get made.
And at what point did you decide you were going to go toward directing rather than writing?
The only reason I was writing those scripts was for myself to direct them. I never perceived of myself as a writer. I was just writing my own projects because I couldn’t afford to pay a writer. Of course, with Thirteen, I wrote it with Nikki Reeds. I was inspired by what she was going through, so that was an organic process.
I’d love to talk about that process. Laurel Canyon (2002) was the last film you production designed, for Lisa Cholodenko. How did the writing of Thirteen fit in with your work on Laurel Canyon? They were both at Sundance at the same time, right?
Yes, they were! I loved watching Lisa work, but I didn’t have a lot of free time to write during Laurel Canyon. I was hanging out with Nikki on the weekends, though, and I saw all this turmoil that was going on in her life. So I was trying to find some way to help her. How could I be a friend to this family that I loved, that I saw being ripped apart by this seismic change when she turned 13? I wanted to help her.
So the second we wrapped Laurel Canyon, I started writing with Nikki. And we wrote it in six days over the holidays. And then the producer from Laurel Canyon – Jeff Levy-Hinte – he saw how I worked on that movie, and he was the first person to step up and say, I want to help you make this movie. So he found some of the financing, along with Michael London.
Could we talk for a moment about your experiences as a female director in mainstream cinema? I read a comment you made recently about noticing the bias against women after Twilight (2008) came out. What did you mean by that?
Well, that’s when I really started to understand it, because before that, with Thirteen, people seemed to like it, and Lords of Dogtown (2005), a lot of people liked it. But those movies didn’t make a lot of money. So I thought, OK, I understand why I don’t get called for the top jobs. I thought, I can understand why I’m struggling.
But after Twilight made $400 million dollars, I thought more doors would open and I’d have more chances to do the projects I wanted to do. But I found that not to be the case. So I realized that it was the unconscious gender bias – that was one of the factors at work. And there are endless levels of this. It’s crazy. If a woman cries on a set, then the woman is emotional. But if a man does – this has literally happened – there’s a standing ovation because he’s so sensitive. If a woman fights for her vision, she’s difficult. But if a man fights for his vision, he’s passionate.
But now people are brave enough to speak out about it. Jill Soloway, director/producer of the series Transparent (2014- ), has spoken out about the emotional thing. Not too long ago, women were told, go in the closet if you’ve got to cry. Go in your car, go in the bathroom. But she says, if people can’t cry on my set, I don’t want them on my set, because I’m making stories about human emotions.
Your new film, Miss You Already, it’s a comedy drama, but it’s really a very emotional story. Would you say that you’re most often drawn to telling stories that have an emotional core? Is that something you’re looking for in a script?
When scripts come to me, I read every script as carefully as I can. I think, could I put a year or two of my life and my heart and soul – my grey hairs, blood, sweat, and tears – into this movie? Because that’s what it takes to get a movie made. So as a director, you’ve got to care about it passionately to do a good job. So I always think, is there enough there that it’s going to sustain that drive, that work ethic needed to get the movie out into the world?
So if it’s a violent story about a serial killer killing women? No, that’s not the kind of thing I want to put out into the world. Or a revenge tale where we go and murder a bunch of guys? Not in this time of violence, no I don’t want to glorify that on the screen.
But if it’s a human story, adding lightness to the world, shining a spotlight on different peoples’ stories that aren’t what we see every day. Yes. Is it worthy of the audience’s time to go see the movie? Will they get an experience that will change their life in some small way?
I want to try to do that. I won’t always succeed, but at least I want to try.
Anna Weinstein is a frequent contributor to Film International.