Spirit Awards Fri 12.26.2014

SPIRIT AWARD SPOTLIGHT: Anja Marquardt on Writing She’s Lost Control

One of the things that makes the Film Independent Spirit Awards so special is that it gives us a chance to discover and shine a light on exciting new talent. There’s no better place to find your next favorite filmmakers than by checking out the innovative work by nominees in the Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature categories. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we’ll be posting Q&As with the writers and directors who are up for  those awards so you can learn who they are, what they do and how they managed to get from point A (dream of being a filmmaker) to point B (under the tent in Santa Monica alongside some of the most inspiring filmmakers of their generation.)

Director/writer/producer Anja Marquardt is up for  Spirit Awards in two categories, Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay, for her work on She’s Lost Control. The film tells the story of  Ronah, a fiercely independent woman who works as a sexual surrogate in New York City, teaching her clients the very thing they fear most–to be intimate. Her life unravels when she starts working with a volatile new client, Johnny, blurring the thin line between professional and personal intimacy in the modern world.

Here, Marquardt talks about being inspired by “a certain poetry” and steering clear of the sex worker cliché.

How did you come up with your premise and what was the most difficult aspect of achieving it?
The idea (on a thematic level) was really that there’s this extreme degree of professional intimacy that the protagonist (Ronah) is exercising, and that it has become easier and more intuitive than the real thing. For Ronah, it’s all about control. My job “finding” her became easier once I looked at it from an angle of: she’s really lost control long before the movie starts. So what are the tell-tales, now?

Did you have any cut scenes that were really hard to let go of?
There was this scene in the script where the neighbor, Claire, shows Ronah her leaking bathroom. It was always meant to be a surreal moment, somewhat of a micro-homage to Weir’s The Plumber (and also taken straight from my own life, from my days squatting in Greenpoint). Production designer, David Meyer, came up with this incredibly simple, yet elaborate way to double up the ceiling and produce sudsy water on command. Shooting it was an equally surreal experience because the bathroom location was so small. In the edit, Nick Carew and I played around with a couple of different ways to keep that beat, but ultimately the film was stronger without it.

Did you have a specific actor in mind for your lead when you wrote this script?
I always do when I write. It’s not necessarily any particular actor that I’d actually consider casting for the role. Sometimes it’s a younger version of someone I like. Sometimes it’s a mix between different actors.

During the draft process, what was your most valuable note?
The thing that needed most tweaking and specificity was Ronah’s behavior and professional demeanor. I really wanted her to be as far away from the sex worker cliché as possible.

Did you have any go-to music while writing this script?
Various Strokes albums and The Social Network soundtrack, on loop.

What was the first story you ever wrote?
I think it was about an encounter between two strangers at a train station in Berlin, after the wall had come down.

Do you have an easier time writing character or plot?
It really depends. The films that made me want to become a filmmaker really find a way to push both. Ultimately, whenever in doubt I focus on behavior.

What writer has had the most influence on your work, and what about his or her work do you aspire to?
That’s a tough one to answer because I’m easily inspired. Sometimes it’s a fierceness, a rhythm, a certain poetry. An honest insight into human nature. As a consumer of any form of media I like to immerse myself in the experience. Sometimes I end up analyzing what worked and what the hell just happened, but sometimes it’s all intuitive and impossible to verbalize. In the land of actual books on a shelf, definitely Kafka, Kundera, Dostoevsky, McCullers. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

What is the greatest line of dialogue in the history of cinema? 
For some reason I have to think about that one moment in The Limey when Terrence Stamp is confronting the DEA agent, played by Bill Duke, about his daughter’s death. There’s this slick, unexpected, innate understanding between two guys who couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface. Duke says: “Procedure becomes whatever you gotta do on the day.” (Which was prefaced by: “Personally, I prefer the heroin.”) It probably isn’t the greatest line in the history of cinema, and much of it is in the nonchalant delivery, but for some reason I’ve found this line to be a useful source of clarity when taken out of context. Especially in situations that require any kind of re-thinking. On She’s Lost Control, it definitely came in handy. (Not the heroin, but the mantra.)

JB Bogulski / Film Independent Blogger