By Karen Kemmerle
Lola Versus enjoyed its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, which couldn't have been more fitting for a movie about New York shot entirely on location. The main character Lola (the beguiling Greta Gerwig) is jilted by her fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) just before their wedding, after the two had been together for nearly a decade. With her best friends Alice (co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones) and Henry (Hamish Linklater) by her side, Lola struggles to come to terms with her post-breakup reality.
The film does not pull any punches about the challenges faced by a single woman in her late 20s in the big city, and its uniquely authentic depiction of realistic relationships serves as an antidote to the cloying and glamorized romantic fare that typically confronts movie goers.
Director and co-writer Daryl Wein spoke to us about his second collaboration with his real-life partner Zoe Lister-Jones (their first film was the SXSW hit, Breaking Upwards), representations of women on screen and why he chose to shoot Lola Versus on 35mm.
Tribeca: You previously attended the Tribeca Film Festival with your short film Unlocked in 2007 and the World Premiere of your latest film, Lola Versus, was at this year's Festival. How would you describe your experiences at Tribeca?
Daryl Wein: It was amazing to have the world premiere of Lola Versus be downtown in the city that I love and live in. Plus, it's truly a New York movie. We shot on location all over the city, and to be able to show the film to a New York audience first was great. They are so energetic and opinionated that I just felt at home. They obviously get the humor and the tone really well because they are New Yorkers, so it feels, in a way, very authentic.
Tribeca is such a great Festival, and it was really exciting to be there in 2007 with my short film. To come back with my first studio film brought it back full circle. I shot my short on video, but to come back with a full-length feature shot on 35mm and have it play in a 1000-seat theater... it was so cool.
Tribeca: What inspired you and Zoe Lister-Jones to write Lola Versus? Did you intend for Lola (Greta Gerwig) to give Generation Y a voice in the same way that Lelaina Pierce in Reality Bites spoke for Generation X?
Daryl Wein: I definitely wasn't thinking that the character of Lola would constitute "a major statement on modern womanhood" or anything like that. [But] I felt that there was a real need to portray an authentic, complex woman on screen, one who is single and going through real-life experiences that audiences have not seen depicted on screen as much as they should. There are not a lot of authentic women of this age portrayed on screen, with the exception of HBO's Girls, which is great.
Zoe, Lena [Dunham] and I are almost like kindred spirits. We're so used to these highly glamorized, heightened versions of women, which are just another form of escapism. I think it was our intention to write a character that women can really relate to. It's a universal thing to go through a breakup and then all of a sudden be forced to be single again after a long-term relationship. Most people go through something similar at some time in their lives.
Tribeca: The film marks your second collaboration with Zoe Lister-Jones. How does your collaborative process work? Is it more difficult or less difficult to write with your partner in real life?
Daryl Wein: I think it's easier. We know each other so well, and we're so on the same creative wavelength. It can be taxing sometimes on our relationship, just because work stresses us out and we have to constantly be taskmasters to make sure we stay on schedule and finish scripts. There are definitely moments where I don't want to write and Zoe doesn't want to talk about this or where we get into little screaming matches [laughs]. As partners, we've been together for eight years, so we're almost like one voice.
When you're writing by yourself, you can sometimes get yourself in a cave, you know? You're not sure where to go or even if what you're writing makes sense, so it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off.
Tribeca: Your leading lady, Greta Gerwig, is gaining a lot attention from her performance as Lola. I did want to mention the rest of the cast, however. You have screen veterans like Debra Winger and Bill Pullman playing Lola's parents, and you also feature recognizable New York theater actors like Hamish Linklater and Ebon Moss- Bachrach. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process?
Daryl Wein: As director, I'm always looking for smart, fresh and interesting new talent -- actors who have not been overexposed and who make smart choices with their careers. These actors feel less conventional than the actors you may normally think of for some of these roles, but that's a good thing. Ebon, who played Nick the Dick, is such an intriguing, understated actor and brought an interesting perspective to the role.
Tribeca: I remember seeing him in Three Sisters at CSC last year.
Daryl Wein: Yeah, he's been on stage and in lots of independent films. He's so cool and was actually in our last movie too; he's so funny and just perfect in the role. As for Hamish Linklater, we saw him in Shakespeare in the Park. He's a great example of an actor who is not overexposed but is so talented and intelligent. Debra Winger and Bill Pullman, a great pair of veteran actors, round out the cast. All of our actors felt so authentic in our New York world; that's what we were really striving for. We wanted to have this relationship movie feel really authentic for young people our age and not be broad or stereotypical.
Tribeca: You have a degree from Tisch in acting, so how did you utilize what you learned at school to work with your actors?
Daryl Wein: It's really helpful to come from an acting background, because you know how actors think and what they are going through. It makes it so much easier to be able to relate to their process. Also as an actor, I know how I would want to be talked to by a director. You want to be in positive spirits while you're acting, and it's nice to have a director who gives you positive and intelligent encouragement, which I hope I gave [laughs]. I can [also] be more specific with notes and whatnot.
Tribeca: You acted in Breaking Upwards. At any point, were you going to play a role in Lola Versus, or have you completely made the transition to behind the camera?
Daryl Wein: I think I've made the transition to directing, [but] I wouldn't turn down an acting thing if someone came to me and it was a cool project. I've always loved acting, but I prefer to be behind the camera. As a performer, I just get so inside my own head and everything becomes so cerebral for me that it takes me out of the moment. What's essential to being a great actor is staying in the moment.
I prefer to have a little more control. It's better for me to be behind the camera telling my stories that way as opposed being just a piece of the puzzle. I like to assemble the whole puzzle myself.
Tribeca: Lola Versus is also your first studio feature. Your previous film, Breaking Upwards, was shot on a micro-budget of $15,000. Can you talk about the differing experiences?
Daryl Wein: Breaking Upwards was so fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants and so guerrilla in comparison. We didn't have a lot of resources and only had a few crewmembers. Most of our crew actually came from Craigslist [laughs]. We made dolly tracks out of PVC plumbing pipes and a dolly out of wood and skateboard wheels. We shot on video instead of film.
With Lola Versus, all of a sudden we had this union crew and trucks and different departments with different creative capacities. Before, Zoe and I were just pulling clothes of our closets and doing everything ourselves. It was amazing to have the luxury of a support system and all these different resources to draw on.
Tribeca: You also shot Lola Versus entirely on location. Being New Yorkers yourselves, did you and Zoe already have those places in mind before pre-production began?
Daryl Wein: Well, we had a great location manager and team of scouts who were really wonderful and found a lot of wonderful locations. I definitely had a vision of places where I wanted to shoot, and you don't typically get to shoot on as many locations as we did, but we really strived to double the amount that you normally see for a movie with this kind of budget.
We were just jumping all over the place, which made it harder on our crew because they had to shoot more pages of dialogue each day. We went from uptown to midtown to the Village and everywhere in between. I wanted to show a variety of locations. We were the first film to ever shoot on The High Line, which was really exciting. Plus, we were the first film to shoot inside Russ & Daughters in 100 years. We tried to show off the city the best we could, and shooting it on film made it all the more beautiful.
Tribeca: In the new digital age of filmmaking, shooting on 35mm is becoming rare, especially for young filmmakers. People have become obsessed with pushing this new medium to the limit, but it's interesting that you chose to shoot on film. Is that always something you wanted to do?
Daryl Wein: It's always been a dream, though it was always something I thought was unattainable because it is so expensive and it does take so much equipment and processing to make it work. However, I don't understand why any filmmaker wouldn't want to use film if they have the ability to do so. It's a dying art form, but I hope it doesn't completely die out; it's an incredibly important medium to preserve. It's so rich and unique and textured compared to digital, which doesn't have the soul that film does.
Tribeca: Could you talk about your next project?
Daryl Wein: We're developing a script with Fox Searchlight called Motherf***er, which is about a guy who falls in love with his girlfriend's mother. It's a May-December romance film in which we explore whether an older woman and a younger man can be together and if that relationship can really work. It's obviously a very taboo relationship from the perspective of social conservatives.
Tribeca: Breaking Upwards was a movie about a couple in crises. Lola Versus is about a woman dealing with a traumatic break-up. Now Motherf***er explores the relationship between a younger man and an older woman. Are you interested in making a film some time in the future about something other than the complicated relationships between men and women?
Daryl Wein: [laughs] Yes, I am. I'm just being encouraged and prodded to make these types of films, which I do love to make. I think it's because people are relating to them. I would love to jump into another genre. It doesn't matter what it is. I think I fell into this world. I live in an open relationship with Zoe, and for Breaking Upwards, we felt at the time that that's the kind of story we wanted to offer our generation. It's a twist on the typical breakup movie because you don't usually get to see a couple strategizing their breakup. For Lola Versus, we felt there was a need for a female-driven relationship movie at present. As a filmmaker, I want to explore stories that feel relevant and interesting, and make movies that I myself would want to see.