Director Michaela von Schweinitz Discusses Love Songs of a 3rd Grade Teacher

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Jan 28, 2010 07:54 AM EST

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Director Michaela von Schweinitz Discusses Love Songs of a 3rd Grade Teacher
The rain was coming down lightly as I left my house to head over to Santa Monica for my interview with Michaela von Schweinitz, director of the new film "Love Songs of a 3rd Grade Teacher."  By the time I got there, there was a full force gale beating down on the coast.  So much so that, on the five minute walk from my parking spot to the restaurant, the wind was blowing the rain into my face so that I could barely open my eyes and when I entered the Broadway Deli, I went into the restroom to wring out my clothes.  Cold and drenched, I sat down to talk to a warm and sunny person.<

Marco Duran: What drew you to this script?

Michaela von Schweinitz:  The surprising honesty of this woman, and that it was so different from what I thought that Hollywood was all about. This is not merely a nice, pleasant picture! It's about those things you do that are not so happy and that are actually not so good for you.

MD:  Did you do any rewrites on the script?

MVS:  We did a few.  I wish we had done more, but Sabrina wanted to shoot.  She had waited so long.  It's her first project.  It's her story and it's very personal so she was pushing.  I said "Hey, why not?  Let's have that experience!" And indeed it was good to have this experience because you learn a lot.  What I saw in the script, I think is there. It's all on the screen. Having had more time would not have changed that.

MD:  In the production notes it says you were able to pull everything together in five months from when you were contacted to be on this project to when you started shooting.  Five months?!?  That's pretty impressive.  How'd you do it?

MVS:  I went to the Filmmaker's Alliance, presented the script and I asked if they'd help me produce it.  They said yes.  Most of the people Sabrina had already cast. And she had the equipment.  So what I had to do was to make a shooting script and a schedule. But she already knew most of the locations she was going to shoot. I actually cast one person, Richard, the computer nerd.  I met him at a party while we were in pre-production. And I said to him, "You know what?  I have a role for you."  Who doesn't love to hear that?  Then we found Jimmy, the lawyer.  This was in the last few minutes.  We were looking for someone who could, you know, bring his own car.  James Rutherford did not only that but he also provided us with this great location in Los Angeles.  So we shot in his parent's apartment with this beautiful view.

MD:  In the movie there were two different types of film that were used.  I noticed that while they were gigging, they were playing, the band was playing and you used a different type of film.  Was this stylish or was this out of necessity?

MVS:  Out of necessity. We got additional footage shot by Kevin O'Connor.  He's a big fan and so whenever he went to concerts he was picking up his camera. But it was not the right format. We shot 16:9 anamorphic and he was shooting 4:3.  So I had to blow it up.  That's why it looks different and I think, it's okay - it works.  I like the colorfulness and that it is awkward and it is, kinda, amateurish.

MD:  In the ending credits there is a long shot, a sunset on the beach.  After a while someone comes out of the ocean.  Who is that?

MVS:  What do you think who it is?

MD: (Laughs) There were a lot of shots of the beach and there was a lot of serenity with the shots that you got.  The waves coming in and there were no people, there was nothing chaotic, and I thought it was something that set her emotions apart.  When she was on stage it was very chaotic, it was very emotional, but when she went to the beach it was to contemplate.  So thought it was either her or the guy that she met.

MVS:  Yes, it was her.

MD: It's her?  So what were you trying to say with that?

MVS:  For me, this is the moment where she has arrived at a certain point in her life. For me, it tells me that this woman is now at peace. She's complete by herself now.  Being completed by someone else, she's complete by herself as well.  But actually, I'm amazed that everyone looks at the woman.  I'm always looking at the pelicans!

MD:  Yes I did see the pelicans and it reminded me of the end of Barton Fink.  I don't know if that was a happy coincidence?

MVS:  Yes, a happy coincidence and a lot of patience.  I did not have an animal wrangler. 

MD:  How many days did you shoot?

MVS:  About thirty.  The first day of shooting was actually before we started principal photography.  Sabrina told us "You know what?  I just heard my principal at my school is going to be out of town tomorrow.  Let's go in and shoot our school scenes."  So we pulled it together, got our equipment and we drove to the school and learned that, oh wait, the principal is still in school.  But we went to shoot anyways.  So we sneaked the equipment inside the school, shot the entire morning, all the scenes with the kids were shot in one morning.  Then, there was a lunch break, the kids went to recess and we sneaked back out again. 

MD:  What do you feel was the most difficult part of shooting?  Or, of the whole filmmaking process?

MVS:  (Long Pause) All the challenges, well, I love challenges.  No….well…there is that other thing.  The editing. That's why I hired my daughter Eva von Schweinitz as an editor, because I was too close.  I thought, whatever I could do from my perspective, it would never change.  So I needed to have a fresh pair of eyes.  Probably that was the most difficult part, to surrender.  I was being asked, "Would you do this?" and I could not say no.  I could not say no to being the director.  I could not say no to being the cinematographer.  I could not say no to being the editor, while I was saying all along that we should get someone else.  I was an easy target, you know.  I love filmmaking! And Eva did a terrific job not only editing but retelling the story.

MD:  What are you planning on doing with this film?  Distributor?  Festivals?  Both? 

MVS:  Festivals, of course.  I submitted it to the LA Film Festival. At our cast and crew screening we got overwhelming responses.  People loved it because it was funny.  They really enjoyed it.  They had a good time.  And I was being told that I should take it to Germany, because they would love it there.  German television networks are looking for things like this.  So I'll follow up with that one. And we'll probably have more private screenings.  Because I know that if anyone asks me if I want to use a venue, I know that I will say, "Yes, of course."  It'll be another moment to share this with people. 

MD:  What's next for you?

MVS:  Writing.  We actually started working already, um, yesterday.  My writing partner is here from Portugal.  She came for the screening and I thought, "You know what?  Stay a little longer and let's work on this first draft."  I'm very happy to have found her.  We have an amazing time.  It's working really great.  I hope to get a nice script finished and independently produced, but let's take one step at a time. 

MD:  Can you tell me what it's about?

MVS:  It's a comedy.  A romantic comedy.

MD:  One last question.  I've heard it's very difficult for female directors.  There aren't many.  Have you found it difficult to work here?  Have you felt any prejudice, any roadblocks that might be there because you're female?

MVS:  Ever since I came to America, I haven't seen any roadblocks, but I have to say, I'm not quite up there yet with the rest of the others.  Then it might get crowded and the roadblocks might show up, right? I do not feel any disadvantage. I'm still fairly comfortable doing my little thing here and not bugging anybody.  I guess once that happens, the roadblocks will show up. I have not tried to get a directing job where I'm competing, you know, with a male director.  So I don't really know if there is a roadblock there.  But I'm convinced that when I have my project and I ask people to read it and they will read it and if they love it and if they want to give me money, then they will give me money. I want to write a good script that I can be proud of.  Then, basically, nothing can stop me.

By the time our interview finished, the rain had dried up and the sun had come out.  So I bid my goodbye and drove home to hang up my clothes to dry.

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