New Director: Elizabeth Orne
Editor at large, Lyndy Stout, scours the globe for fresh directing talent so we can find out what makes them tick.
In the first of a continuing series of interviews shots’ editor at large, Lyndy Stout, scours the globe for fresh, new directing talent so we can find out what makes them tick and, of course, take a look at their work.
Elizabeth Orne’s Crazy Glue played out at the Telluride Film Festival over the weekend in its official selection. The piece, which she submitted as her NYU thesis film, tells the story of a married couple’s bid to get their relationship back on track and involves a tricky stunt which leaves the viewer hanging.
Describing her Telluride experience as “overwhelmingly amazing”, the director speaks to us on the festival’s closing day about her career so far, joining a new production home, and words of wisdom from Spike Lee.
Tell us about your background…
I'm a thirteenth-generation American. My ancestors came over in Winthrops Fleet, just ten years after the Mayflower. They eventually settled in Northern Vermont, where the winters are long and cold, and they coped with the isolation by telling each other stories. Tall tales, true tales, absurdist yarns (complete with talking raccoons), and uniquely American war stories (Paul Revere is an ancestor) were my inheritance.
Yet, I was drawn to visual storytelling in a way that was unheard of in my family. I studied Art History in undergrad, and went on to work in art galleries in London, New York and Los Angeles. While in LA, I started taking classes from Judith Weston, author of Directing Actors, and directed some plays for her theatre. I was completely hooked. I applied to NYU Grad Film, got in, and did it. I only just recently graduated. Crazy Glue was my thesis film.
You’ve just signed to Interrogate for commercials. What would the ideal script be for your first job?
Oh yes, I am so excited to be working with Jeff Miller and George Meeker at Interrogate! They are so wonderful. An ideal script would be something with a spark of magical absurdity. I love to surprise and delight an audience. I like dry, character humour. I love gorgeous colour and well composed frames. Anything that combines those elements gets me really, really excited.
What were the key lessons you learnt from directing Crazy Glue?
I learned a lot about stunts, specifically hanging people from wires, and more specifically, hanging people from wires while kissing. If you have an upside-down kissing spot, I am your director. I learned that stunts look fake, until they don't. You aren't going to walk away from a complex stunt with several perfect shots to choose from, particularly if you're simultaneously dollying the camera.
Also, hanging someone upside down requires several minutes of recoup time, so you can't go again right away. Doing this with the no-budget-clock ticking... it's not for the weak hearted. But, if you are resolute and very precise in your directing adjustments, there will be a glorious shot when it all comes together - the stunt, the camera move, the performance and the effect will be magical.
What’s the best piece of advice you've been given about filmmaking?
Spike Lee was one of my teachers at NYU. He always says "by hook or by crook!" meaning that there’s no excuse for coming back without your shots. In fact, there’s no excuse for not having nailed your shots. Either you’re a director or you aren’t, and what’s in the can determines that. Being mentored by Spike Lee is like being raised by a very strict father!
You directed, produced and edited the film. Which part of the production process did you enjoy most?
Directing. My days on set directing are the best days of my life. Directing is the part that feels like playing. While shooting, a film is a living organism. I try to deliver some of that energy through in the final edit. Our job as storytellers is not to just communicate the dry bones of a story, but to engage an audience, and leave the story resonating within them. When I accomplish that, I feel I’m practicing the storytelling craft my grandparents taught me.
What were the main challenges of the shoot?
The stunt, and working with such a limited budget to create a stylised film. Its hard work to maintain a colour palette on a shoestring budget!
You also adapted the short story by Etgar Keret. What did he think of your film? Did you liaise with him during scriptwriting?
He OK’d the change of sexes before shooting (in his story, a woman has the tube of glue), but other than that, he wasn’t involved. I intended to adapt it religiously but, in pre-pro and while shooting, I began to see that the emotional development was unfolding differently in images from on the written page. I added some dialogue and adapted the end. When I sent him the final film, I was on pins and needles.
In my opinion, Etgar Keret is a literary genius. Worse, he is also an accomplished director - he and his wife won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 for their film Jellyfish. Fortunately, he was incredibly gracious. The letter he sent me was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Is there anything sweeter than intellectually connecting with the people in this world who you think are living geniuses?
What is your latest project, American Venus, about?
I actually shot American Venus before Crazy Glue, but it got put on the back burner when Crazy Glue came along. We are composing music for it now. It’s a character comedy about an absurdly repressed couple whose lives are upended when the husband’s wild teenage daughter comes to live with them. It was shot for a class where we were required to shoot SD, and with a ridiculously low budget. Nonetheless, it’s the chair of NYU Grad Film's favourite film of mine. Val Blazek, who plays the teenage girl, gives an amazing performance.
How would you sum up your directing style?
Emotionally true yet delightfully entertaining.
What would you like to be doing in five years time?
I'd love to be collaborating with more world-class geniuses, of course!
Image: Nicholas LaClair
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