Interview: Whit Stillman: Damsels in Distress
It has been fourteen years since writer/director Whit Stillman last ventured behind the camera. But now he is back with Sony PIctures Classics' Damsels in Distress. Stillman sat down with us to discuss his long hiatus, finding his leading star, and just what is behind all the buzz for Sambola - the new international dance craze!?!?
College Movie Review: It's been over a decade since your last film. Things have changed drastically in terms of filmmaking. How different was it with this time around?
Whit Stillman: The [entire process] was very different. We shot the film in 28 days.
CMR: Wow, that's quick.
WS: It actually isn't. When you aren't [dealing] with unions and are working on a smaller scale you are able to get more. We got [close to the same amount of time] that most $4 or $5 million films get.
CMR: Greta Gerwig plays your leading lady, Violet. She is absolutely fantastic. But what really impressed me was the work that the cast did together. Their chemistry was strong. Did you work to find the entire puzzle all at once, or were you constantly looking to piece everything together throughout the casting process?
WS: That's a very good question. I wrote the script without any [particular] actors in mind. We were going through the audition process in New York and we just weren't having any luck. We had good auditions, but nothing seemed right. Then Lena Dunham came in and she really wanted to be part of the film. Lena was friends with Greta [Gerwig] and Aubrey [Plaza], and everything started coming together.
CMR: The music you've compiled for the film is truly remarkable; in some ways it crafts a character in-and-of itself.
WS: Yes. I actually edit to the music. [Musicians] send in their demos and I will edit around them while they record the final [cut]. Then [laughing] they go and get a symphony to record it and there are a few minor tweaks that force me to go back and rework the film. Sometimes the raw [aspect] has different cues. But the music is very important to me in how the film comes together and plays.
CMR: In the film Violet is fascinated with starting an international dance craze.
WS: The Sambola - yes.
CMR: I googled it and the dance itself doesn't exist. I have to ask, did you come up with the movements?
WS: Yes I did. [Laughing] My choreographer said I could have co-choreography credit for it. But the dance is actually a greatest hits of dance moves. The long walk from the tango is in it, [as is] the Cha Cha Cha...so I took some of the most [recognizable] moves from dances and put them together.
CMR: I'm not too involved with the 'dance' community. Has it become the craze that Violet hoped for?
WS: Of course.