An Interview with ELIZA HITTMAN Writer/Director of Sundance Smash Feature It Felt Like Love
In Person with Cast for Fusion’s OPENING NIGHT Thursday, 7pm @ Cantor Film Center
This week I had the privilege of speaking with writer/director Eliza Hittman, about her groundbreaking film It Felt Like Love, opening March 21 at IFC Center in NYC.
The film paints the coming-of-age of female sexuality in a boldly honest light. Hittman holds nothing back when speaking about her film’s intricate and controversial themes, and what it is like being a woman director and independent filmmaker.
The story she tells about the making of the micro-budgeted film, made fiercely on her own terms, is inspiring story for all young filmmakers, male and female alike. And it is a story Eliza will be happy to share more when she joins us for a Q&A with cast members Gina Persanti and Giovanna Saliemeni on Fusion’s opening night March 6 at 7:00PM at Cantor Film Center. (Fusion screenings is free and seating on a first come basis.)
You’ve written in your production notes that your focus for It Felt Like Love is to show the “outtakes from childhood” and the disillusionment of a true-coming-of-age story. Do you look at Lila’s story as a cautionary tale, or more a realistic portrayal of adolescence?
There’s no moral attached to this story and it’s not a cautionary tale. It’s about a transformative borderline violent and painful moment in a girl’s life that she instigates. I think American films that deal with coming of age themes like sexual awakening tend to depict these emotions in a very generalized fashion and perpetuate myths about romantic love. I wanted to create an unsentimental film about that shatters that moment. A lot of the elements from teen movies are there, but I think and hope I subvert clichés and also the audiences’ expectations.
How did you manage to deal with sexual taboos with young actors and help them deliver such amazing performances?
I didn’t have a traditional rehearsal process for the film. I felt it was more crucial to spend time with each other and hang out before shooting. We did several read throughs of the script, but on our longest rehearsal we went to Coney Island and hung out on amusement park rides. I like the performances to be fresh when the actors get on set and feel there’s a danger in overworking dialogue that’s meant to sound very conversational and natural. To stage the scenes, I prefer to walk through them alone from the perspective of each character, to make discoveries about camera position, movement, and framing. In a sense, I act out the script by myself and then again with the cinematographer and then finally on set with the actors. Each time, I discover something new. Gina wasn’t on set for the more taboo moments. I was her body double. Those were my hardest days, Gina’s easiest.
Do you think that your bold, unsentimental approach is important for the portrayal of young female characters?
I think most people regardless of age and gender feel the pressure to represent themselves as being happy. The main character is lonely and trying to appear otherwise. Thematically, the film explores self-deception, the process of lying to ourselves and other people because the truth about ourselves or our relationships can be difficult to acknowledge. I think that’s an important character to exist on the screen. It connects audiences to that part of themselves.
How would you describe your style as a filmmaker?
What inspired the use the unexplored locations of Brooklyn’s Gerritsen Beach?
It Felt Like Love was shot in working class neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Gravesend and Gerritsen Beach, areas that are rarely pictured in the popular imagination of the city. There’s something unfamiliar and unrecognizable about where the film takes place, and that’s what I was going for. There are parts of Brooklyn where you can get lost in nature, places I remember from my own childhood that have a certain resonance with kids. There’s a wild beauty to the landscape that I wanted to capture.
Your production notes reference NYU undergrads as interns in your camera department. What kind of learning experience did your set provide for these students who are dreaming of bringing their own independent film ideas to life?
George Itzhak and Frances Chen worked as camera assistants to our cinematographer Sean Porter. Since the crew was so small and barebones, they had a totally hands on and immersive experience. It was probably a smaller size crew then most NYU undergrad shoots. I hope it empowered them to realize they can make challenging and successful work without millions of dollars and huge crews. It’s about the quality of the story and the success of the collaboration.
As Fusion is a festival that celebrates women behind the camera, we’re always curious: what’s it like being a female filmmaker at this moment in our industry?
It’s super challenging! I think unfortunately women are expected to create romantic comedies and be the next Lena Dunham and that’s the only way the industry thinks they can monetize the female voice. I’d like to make work that’s more radical and subvert those expectations.
Interview by Danielle Massie
Attend the Industry Screenings in the Cantor Film Center (36 E 8th St) at 7pm on Thursday, March 6th to hear more from Eliza and see her amazing film. Visit her site for more information on It Felt Like Love.