|SXSW '07 Interview: "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" Director Jamie Babbit
|by Erik Childress
Winner of the 2007 South by Southwest Jury Prize for Narrative Feature, here’s the “Itty Bitty Titty Committee" Pitch: The movie is about a girl who transforms and becomes a punk rock womyn with a "y".
How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
JAMIE: Myself and Andrea Sperling wrote a treatment after making But I'm a cheerleader in 2000. We developed the script with Power Up-a non profit devoted to empowering lesbians in film. We hired 2 writers to write the script from our treatment. Power Up financed the movie and we crewed up with all women and shot the film over 25 days in January 2006. We edited the film and premiered it at the Berlin film fest in Feb 2007where we were nominated for the teddy award (best gay film). Everyone worked for free and our film shoot in many ways mirrored what was going on in the film-guerilla shooting, lesbian romance, feminist empowerment.
Your first film, But I'm a Cheerleader, was about suppressing sexuality. Now, Itty Bitty Titty Committee is about its characters shouting it out in anger. Can we ever find a middle ground in this country?
JAMIE: There is plenty of middle ground but does that make an interesting film?-not to me. I find pleasure and comedy in the extremes.
Has Reverend Ted Haggard proven you wrong and that some people can be "cured?" You've got the mike now - so what do you say to Teddy come face-to-face with him?
JAMIE: No one can be cured. People can abstain from sex-women have for centuries "lied back and thought of England"-but you can't escape from mental desire. You can learn to hate yourself or rather you can be trained to hate yourself by people like Ted (many of the hate trainers are in fact gay) but its a new world and people all over the world are ready to accept love in all the ways God created us to share it. Homo we go, Lez be on our way!
Are radical organizations, whether they be for human rights, gay rights or whatever, always the best idea in achieving goals? If you were a member of such a group, how would you address those on your side who may not approve of your methods?
JAMIE: Radicals are needed in every movement to push the middle forward. Years ago, it was the radicals who deemed people should come out of the closet. Now that's not radical anymore-that's middle of the road gay politics. What the radicals are saying today is what the middle will say tomorrow...and that's why we need them.
As a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
JAMIE: I love talking with people about the film-getting their reactions and interpretations good or bad. It’s fun to create art and watch it have a life of its own. I hate the money side of it all but what artist does...?
Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
JAMIE: I always wanted to be in the theatre, and in many ways that is where I am.
Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
JAMIE: I was very involved in theatre (as an actor and stage manager) at the Cleveland playhouse and at my various schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The first film director I worked for was Martin Scorsese (as an intern) while he was shooting The Age of Innocence. I picked up his laxatives and sent his girlfriend presents.
Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
JAMIE: Miss Piggy - but sadly of all the characters she is the only girl so what's my choice. In feminist politics there is something called the "Smurfette syndrome" - the idea that often in animation there are lots of male figures "Dopey Smurf", Bashful Smurf" or in the Muppets "Big Bird", "Kermit", "Grover", "Oscar the grouch", giving boys lots of options to relate to but only one female character "Smurfette" or "Miss piggy" in Henson's case who is blonde and pretty. This limited idea of what girls are -blonde and pretty - really constricts what girls have to aspire to. Animation and kids programs are one of the most sexist arenas out there. I will say at least Jim Henson made Ms. piggy loud and difficult-if girls only get one character at least she wasn't a pushover!
During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
JAMIE: I really looked forward to playing this movie at the Castro theatre in San Francisco while we were
shooting. Luckily, we were offered closing night of their gay festival in June. I think San Francisco has the highest concentration of radical political people and I hope they make it to the film.
If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
JAMIE: You can make a movie for 5 cents. Be persistent and make what you're interested in!
What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
JAMIE: Jane Campion's frames in Sweetie, Peter Jackson's obsessive lesbian love in Heavenly Creatures, Lizzie Borden's extremism in Born in Flames (her lesbians blew up the World Trade Center).
Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
JAMIE: Born in Flames only with humor, Le Tigre's music only in film form.
What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
JAMIE: Paul Giamatti.
Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
JAMIE: Shutterbabe, a great book about a female war correspondent, Herland the book by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Things Fall Apart the famous African novel, a biopic about Emma Goldman, or the sequel to Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
JAMIE: Carly Pope - she's a great actor, very intelligent, has a great look, and is beautiful inside and out.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
JAMIE: A theatre director
Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
JAMIE: I'm making a living as a director and doing projects I'm interested in-I've made it. But of course there is more success to be had...an academy award, bigger budgets, great actors, great scripts. I'm always pushing for more and being grateful for what I've got.
Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
JAMIE: Of course they help a film get distribution and a filmmaker get notoriety but they also hurt so many films that may not have been made for the white males that usually review them (i.e. my F in Entertainment weekly for But I'm a Cheerleader).
You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
JAMIE: The cervical cancer vaccine! - Especially in TEXAS!
You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
JAMIE: It happened to me on But I'm a cheerleader...I cut the scene like every filmmaker would so people can see it today-but I also spoke out about the injustice in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated.
What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
JAMIE: Film By is a necessary credit. Directors are treated so badly in the TV world and writers are treated so badly in the movie world - this credit fight seems more about this age old struggle than anything else. When writers give up the "Created by" credit in Television and stop giving EVERY writer a producer credit, Directors will give up the film by credit in movies.
You've directed several episodes of Gilmore Girls, which has been a favorite of myself and several of my colleagues over the years. But we've been disappointed with the direction of the series ever since last year's finale when Lorelai dumped Luke for good and fell right into the arms of Christopher. How do you feel about all of this and is there anything you can say that will soothe our anger?
JAMIE: I'm sure Lorelai will rekindle with Luke and Chris will again show his flakey nature. If she were with Luke all season there would be no tension...
In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
JAMIE: Funny, outrageous, and good music.
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originally posted: 03/22/07 14:20:18
last updated: 03/22/07 14:21:47