g The Film Panel Notetaker: SXSW- A Conversation with Helen Hunt - March 9, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SXSW- A Conversation with Helen Hunt - March 9, 2008

SXSW Film Conference & Festival
A Conversation with Helen Hunt
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Austin Convention Center – Room 16AB – 3pm

Christy Lemire moderates a discussion with Helen Hunt at SXSW.

Christy Lemire - Movie Critic, Associated Press

Helen Hunt – Director/Writer/Actress - Then She Found Me

Lemire: What’s it been like screening Then She Found Me?

Hunt: The fun part is to have other filmmakers see it.

Lemire: Your film has been 10 years in the making. What made you decide to direct the film?

Hunt: I wanted to wait to find the right story and to create a character that was me. It would take too much time to tell other directors what to do.

Lemire: How did you know you could direct?

Hunt: I didn’t know. I worked with a lot of different directors.

Lemire: Who influenced you?

Hunt: Jim Brooks. He holds a place in my psyche about movies that appeal to me. This movie is hopefully a funny movie about betrayal. I learned from Brooks that you have to have that one magic sentence. It took me at least a year to get to that sentence. It was a painful topic. Other directors who shall remain nameless have shot down the camera operator’s opinions on a film set, for example. I wanted to be brave enough to hear other people’s ideas. I was very alone. The Coen Brothers have each other. I had just me. I wanted my character and the audience to feel betrayed over and over again. The color of Bette Midler’s suit spoke to the one sentence about betrayal. How do I get all the fun out of Bette, but trick the audience? I hired good actors. I looked at The Rose and her broader work.

Lemire: Why did you cast Salman Rushdie as the gynecologist?

Hunt: It was to introduce the notion they weren’t praying to any particular G-d. I hired someone to play the doctor who is Indian. I auditioned actors and doctors, then Rushdie wanted to read the part.

Lemire: How does being a mom yourself resonate with you?

Hunt: The movie couldn’t have existed without my being a mother. You need the magic sentence of the movie and what the protagonist wants: a baby. It’s filled with potency.

Lemire: What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the offset?

Hunt: Every member of the crew matters. Make sure you get along with them and they give a shit. Ask them all to take it personally. It’s the last 10 years of my life.

Lemire: Does it help coming from acting as a director?

Hunt: I suggest any potential filmmaker take an acting class. It’s a definable learnable skill.

Lemire: Are women directors making strides?

Hunt: Yeah, the election. I don’t understand why it’s so disproportionate. One of my biggest strengths was I knew the movie well enough. I just wanted to get my movie made. My pride took a back seat. If I had been asked to take four great parts this past year, I wouldn’t have been able to make this movie. It’s better for having been smaller.

Lemire: Would you do it again?

Hunt: I wrote a script based on original material that’s similar in tone. It’s a comedy about some things that are funny and some things that are not so funny.

Audience Q&A:

Q: When you go ‘No’s,’ what kind were they?

Hunt: Every kind. Bette & I – No. Screenplay – No. People felt it fell in between in terms of its size. In the end, I just backed into the budget. It was very small.

Q: What was one of the main issues you had with music licensing?

Hunt: I didn’t have any. Had a friend who is a composer, but lost him, then found Dan Mansfield to do the music. He was a child prodigy. I wanted an acoustic score to drive the movie. Dan used my friend’s guitar. There was one cello player also we hired in New York.

Q: Did winning an Oscar help you?

Hunt: It probably helped a little, but I didn’t get a “yes” till many years later.

Q: How much trouble was it to get distribution?

Hunt: I assumed I wouldn’t, but I was invited to show it at Toronto. Here at SXSW, we have a cool little indie distributor called ThinkFilm.

Q: What’s the overall career message you learned?

Hunt: If you think you can write something, write something.

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