AT LACMA Mon 5.11.2015

Psychological Thriller Every Secret Thing Spotlights Conflicted Female Characters

Documentary director Amy Berg has made the leap to dramatic features with Every Secret Thing. The film is a psychological thriller about a detective searching for a missing child with the prime suspects being two young women previously convicted for a infant’s death.

Best known for West of Memphis and Deliver Us from Evil, Berg sat down with Film Independent’s Elvis Mitchell and cast members Danielle Macdonald and Sarah Sokolovic to discuss the film following a Film Independent at LACMA screening Friday evening.

Berg said after reading Laura Lippman’s novel and Nicole Holofcener’s (Please Give) screenplay, the transition from documentary to feature director didn’t seem that difficult.

“The characters felt very real and the story felt like it was based on truth in every way,” she said. “However, making a feature is different than a documentary, which I learned on the set.”

During the 21-day shoot, Berg said she had to make choices on the spot rather than the option of shooting, editing and shooting more footage in the fashion of most documentaries. She also had to whittle a 140-page plus script down to about 110 pages.

One thing Every Secret Thing shares with documentaries is the multiple points of view, including Macdonald’s portrayal of Alice, one of the suspects. “Our motto on the set, was ‘Alice always tells the truth,’” Berg said. “It was tricky for me to track how Alice was going to reveal herself.” Alice and the other major characters reveal themselves through flashbacks with different point of view. Macdonald said Alice’s complexity drew her to the character.

“There’s so much in her head. You might think she’s manipulative and evil, but she thinks she was done wrong and that’s why she’s the way she is.”

Sokolovic, who plays the mother of the missing child, said Berg’s directing style also allowed the actors to explore and give their best performances. “We felt loved and taken of. As an actor that’s all you need to share every aspect of the character,” she said. “That allowed us to move forward with no fear because the story called for us to be fearless and ugly in places and not judge the characters.”

Berg said the story appealed to her because the female characters aren’t clichéd and are at the center of the narrative. The cast includes Diane Lane as Alice’s mother, Elizabeth Banks as the detective seeking the missing child and Dakota Fanning as a teenage criminal. Frances McDormand also served as one of the film’s producers.

“One of the big issues for me is we don’t often see conflicted female characters portrayed in films,” she said. “And I don’t think a studio would have made this film.”

Once editing wrapped, Berg discovered something about her previous works. “I didn’t realize I have always portrayed females as victims,” she said. “I’m making a commitment to really do females that are strong and not average. Actors are looking for these kinds of parts.”

Glen Golightly / Film Independent Blogger