Fantastic Fest Interviews Movies

Fantastic Fest 2018: A Conversation with “Ladyworld” director, Amanda Kramer

Fantastic Fest 2018 is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. that highlights films in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and more. It kicks off on September 20 – 27, 2018 and will be held at its home, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

Maya Hawke in “Ladyworld” | Noel David Taylor

Director Amanda Kramer is proudly premiering her feature film, “Ladyworld” at Fantastic Fest. “Ladyworld” is about a birthday party that quickly devolves into chaos when a mysterious earthquake traps eight teenage girls alone in a house, challenging their friendships, identities, and eventually their grip on reality.

The Los Angeles based writer and director has a number of creative notches on her belt, including short films and novels. We caught up with Kramer to discuss the bizarre world of “Ladyworld” and the finer points of creating such a visceral project.

CONTENT WARNING: Brief mention of concepts of sexual violence and assault.

Your first film project “Paris Window” was more of a personal project versus something with a little more size and scope, like “Ladyworld.” What were some other key differences between those two processes?

Amanda: “Ladyworld” was the first script I wrote, about five or six years ago, that I really loved. I think it’s very corny to go around saying “passion project,” but it was my passion. Writing that script and attempting to get it on screen would be a “years in the making” process and during that time, because of the frustrations of the industry and because of the challenging material of the script, I got a little claustrophobic in my own artistic space and had to make something. I felt a bursting energy inside of me. If I was going to wait until the perfect cast came together and a little bit more money came together… I just didn’t want to stop myself from directing. I do think that in order to be a filmmaker you have to make film. It’s not enough to just imagine making a film or be about to make a film.

So, while waiting for “Ladyworld” I was able to flex that skill and think about everything I care about: framing, color palettes, all the things that matter to me in making work and to do that intimately in my own home. I shot “Paris Window” in my own apartment. It was all just a precursor to “Ladyworld” and all just to satisfy certain urges and to get me into the headspace for what I would consider the most challenging artistic work I ever made.

You have a theatrical background. Did any of those classical influences play into “Ladyworld” and if so, how? 

Amanda: Well, it’s the space that I feel most comfortable in. I’m not a technological person. I’m not a digital person. I’m not on social media. I really don’t touch cameras or take photos. I’m not a very filtered person. I don’t like to see the world through lenses and I don’t like to see the world through technology. I like immediacy and breathing and the intensity of theatre. I encourage my actors and everyone on my set to engage in that way. I have the propensity to stand next to the monitor but never look in it, because I want to witness the acting myself. I want to be in the room with the acting and I want to feel all the crucial feelings while watching all the actors say the things and do the things. I hope that that immediacy translates into the final project. This idea of the stage. That’s why I like those long, unbroken scenes so that you can see the acting. I don’t like to cut up or chop up what these women are doing. They’re doing something quite incredible by holding and engaging for such long periods of time. That’s not just about memorizing lines but about charged energy between them in a small room. How do I teleport that to an audience if things are quickly cut and all “close up, close up, zoom in, medium shot?” How do I provide the sense that I’m getting in the room? That my stomach is in knots and my throat’s closing? That is a theatrical approach. That’s a big wide shot and a long take. So that your eyes can go wherever your eye wants and I’m not manipulating it. Your eye is going all around the shot and seeing all the girls and their bodies and their body language. That’s why I love theatre.

Still from “Ladyworld” | Photo by Noel David Taylor

Were there any particular theatrical pieces you were pulling from for influence, when it came to “Ladyworld,” or was the focus solely on your theatrical interpretation?

Amanda: I like a distancing approach and I like to create that distance with an audience. So when I’m working with the actors I encourage them to manipulate time and tone. If they think that they’re gonna be funny in a moment that wouldn’t normally be funny, I encourage them to do that. I think that there’s traditional storytelling which is “We laugh at those who laugh, cry at those who cry” and then there’s the other approach, which is, “We laugh at crying and cry at laughing” and we feel these opposing emotions and that’s what makes it so vivid.

There’s something almost vibrant in that mentality. And, the way that Fassbender does his framing: encouraging stillness, encouraging this sort of mannequin-esque posturing, encouraging a sort of choreography within the actor. Some of those things are so highly blocked that they have tape all around their feet and they can’t move. That’s so I can get everyone in place and so that I can create a really architectural look with where they are sitting and standing. I can make them look like buildings, like a skyline. I am not sure if that’s holding them back or if that sets them free. I guess we find that together.

The soundscape in “Ladyworld,” is haunting and it’s straight bizarre at times. Can you talk about your process in regards to sound in this film? 

Amanda: Callie Ryan absolutely, doubtlessly deserves all that credit. She’s a good friend of mine and she has the most arresting voice of anyone I know. We discussed her doing the score for the film. It’s a challenging thing to tell someone that you want a nearly acapella score. The voices are challenging because they are so guttural and inescapable and tense and manipulative in that great sense that it really moves you into the scene and provides you with a lot of fear and suspense.

I played her a tone of Meredith Monk and all these sorts of avant-garde sound samples and just said, “What can you do?” She could be in her bedroom screaming. Holistically expelling and exorcising demons. We went rounds and rounds, back and forth, and I almost feel that she’s a character, in a sense. She gives a voice to all of the girls. She brings this godly sort of narrative to it. I feel that if you took her voice out of it, you would have a very different film, entirely. The score is as much a part of it as the actual script.

Ryan Simpkins in “Ladyworld” | Photo by Noel David Taylor

Do you consider “Ladyworld” a feminist piece?

Amanda: I think feminist work now if we’re getting really pure about the term, is that women working in this sphere want to consider themselves feminist because they are there to show that equality is possible. They’re there to show that women make brilliant work and deserve to make brilliant work along with and alongside men. I think that my feminism comes from a place of challenging traditional storytelling.

I think that the linear narrative is patriarchal. The way that we watch films and the way that we read novels and the way that we come to understand everything comes from a male place. I think women are more esoteric and mysterious, so when I think I’m able to capture that I’m able to do something feminist. I’d love to think of it as a feminist film, but not because of its message. What’s that adage? “If you want a message, go to Western Union.” I don’t have a message, but I have a style that is inherently female.

It was so interesting to see the juxtaposition of feminine hysteria and psychosis alongside this very real and timely message of rape fear in young women and how young women grow into their bodies.  Was there a conversation among the cast about how to go about this sensitive material?

Amanda: Of course, everyone says amazing things about their cast but my cast is something I never could have expected and exceeded all of my expectations. I feel that at a certain point they were studying each other and studying me, for more than they were studying their own character. They were engaging in these group dynamics and not being selfish about their own work. They started to understand what I was looking for. They’re young women, they’re not my generation, so I did have some worries that some moments in the script could be seen as anti-woman or maybe we were suggesting that women were cruel to each other. Which I don’t think is a problem to suggest. But I’m not their age and they have a different struggle.

I do think there were moments where our conversations were very heady. The scene where everyone is sort of torturing Dolly and taking her clothes off, we referred to that as “The Rape Scene” so that we all understood the intensity of that and that we needed to be very respectful of that moment. That was an incredibly hard scene to shoot. But that was the moment where they stepped into the role of predator and perpetrator and pervert and they understood that this material really needed that kind of… urge. I had a hard time shooting the scene but now I love watching it. I think it’s one of the most captivating things I’ve ever shot.

Do you have any memorable moments from filming?

Amanda: You might watch this film and think that it’s incredibly dark and you might feel very dark feelings, but those girls were laughing and dancing and having an amazing time. Anytime we weren’t shooting they were just the most vibrant and alive young people. Every day was a wonderful day to come to set, just to see them goofing off and to spend time with that kind of energy.

One of my favorite moments was when we were shooting the cat dance scene. They were wanting to know how to approach the scene; which is to act like cats but not to be sexy. It wasn’t about sexuality so much as primal urges. They’re in their underwear, of course, and silky robes and they’re all stunning! I said we’d just try it once and see what it looks like. It was the most unexpected thing! They were so unhinged and we did it in one take and I just lost my mind. That, for me, is one of the coolest things in the film.

How does it feel to be bringing this film to Fantastic Fest?

Amanda: I’m really excited! I love this fest, I attended in 2016 with a short film and being there again is gonna be so fun. Austin is an incredible place to show films. Austinites want to be engaged, they want to be in conversation, they love watching, and that’s such a fun place to be, for a filmmaker. To be with an audience that is not jaded or cynical and just wants to really enjoy themselves. I can’t wait!

You can catch “Ladyworld” at Fantastic Fest on:

Stay tuned for more Fantastic Fest 2018 coverage on Shuffle Online! 

Featured image credit: Noel David Taylor

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