She’s a little runaway:

An interview with filmmaker Floria Sigismondi

April 14, 2010

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning
From The Runaways:
Kristen Stewart, left, and Dakota Fanning

After establishing herself as an artist and music video director (her resume includes Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People,” among many others), Floria Sigismondi is making her feature film debut as the writer and director of The Runaways (review), the story of the 1970s all-girl rock band, starring Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett.’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Floria for a quick chat about the movie. Starting with Sundance, for the past couple months you’ve been pretty steadily promoting this movie. Do you ever get tired of talking about it? Did you get up this morning kind of dreading having to do another round of interviews?

Floria Sigismondi: [laughs] Were you reading my mind? [laughs] I always think that there’s a new way to talk about it, there’s a new question. You know what? It’s funny because normally when I finish a piece of artwork, I don’t talk about it. Doing the artwork is the expression. Do you know what I’m saying? The thing came out of me, and to talk about it you have to put your mind in a different place. So it is quite challenging. That’s a great question. [laughs]

Are there any questions that you’re just really sick of having to answer?

Well, you know, just the typical what drew me to it. I can see why people would want to ask those questions, but it’s kind of an automatic kind of question.


Is the pressure on?

Yeah, I guess so.


As you were trying to get into making features, did you find that people have a stigma against music video directors?

Well, I did in the beginning. I’ve been trying to make a film for a while. Either it wasn’t the right project or just nothing happened. But I did feel that. Not this time around, maybe because it was this movie. But I didn’t feel that at all. I said, since this is kind of happening, I just kind of felt that the stars were lined up and it was the right thing to do and things were clicking and things were moving ahead. (There is) a lot to do in a film, and you obviously have to have a complete determination. It really is a miracle because so many things can go wrong in a film and it can fall apart at any moment. To have actually watched it go through and then we’re speaking about it right now is pretty amazing.

Were you inspired any other rock ‘n’ roll movies as you were making this?

Well, I watched Sid and Nancy a lot. I was really inspired by Christiane F. more so, a German film that was made in the 1980s about a girl in the ‘70s. That had a really great look to me and a feeling of youth, and I think this story kind of has a big youth theme in it. But I just watched all kinds of films. I even watched Klute. I watched Straw Dogs. I watched a lot of things just for sort of grabbing the feel of the time. I just surrounded myself with different kinds of things. But another rock movie? Actually, when you start to think about it, there aren’t that many rock movies from the ‘70s that aren’t comedic or anything like that. So, yeah, I really didn’t see anything like that to pull from. For me, this was more a coming-of-age story in the rock world.

When you were writing the movie, how much research went into it?

I had done a lot. I had done numerous interviews with Joan and Cherie and Kim [Fowley] and people that were around in the scene. So I had done all that research. Then I’d researched hundreds and hundreds of articles that were written about the girls, which was really great because I was able to hear their voices when they were 16 and the way that they talked. Then I researched the scene, what was happening around and things that I liked in terms of aesthetics. I covered a large room—8-by-8, maybe—floor to ceiling in photographs, and I’d laid out my script so you could kind of see the form the movie was gonna take and also what was happening musically around them. You could see when punk was coming in. You could see when things were starting to go down and sort of the look of the girls got harder and darker. I think that was really helpful for the actors and the crew in general.

You can talk to a bunch of different people who were all involved in the same events and they’ll all have a different view of it and maybe they’ll conflict at times. So how did you decide which version you were gonna go with?

Well, you could say this specifically for Kim Fowley, his character. His character had to dance a line because Cherie saw him as a bit more menacing and manipulative and she was probably looking, I think, up to him as a father figure that he obviously couldn’t be. So he was the most destructive on her. Joan thought he was funny and thought of him as this partner in crime—they were gonna go out and do this thing and they would get all hyped up and they had the same dream. So they saw him completely different in the same situation, where Joan would laugh and Cherie would be completely hurt by it. So with his character specifically, I had to sort of create him in that humorous but smart way, and I thought Michael Shannon did a great job in portraying him.

Floria Sigismondi
Floria Sigismondi

Yeah, it’s kind of going through the motions and kind of going through the story and picking things that were more the essence of the truth rather than, in this scene this happened—because whose version are you gonna do? So for me, it was like, they all have a different version of how they broke up and who walked out and who came two minutes late. But for me, it was like, yeah, but what is it? What is the truth to that? Cherie didn’t want to be in the band. It’s like, they wanted to go on and they were hard on her, so it’s like creating the scene and getting down to the core. So that’s where I kind of made my decisions.

The focus obviously is on Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. Was that purely a rights issue or did you make that decision?

Well, it’s a little bit of both. I was drawn to them because they were both the singers in the band and Cherie’s story is so intriguing. She gets plucked out of a bar for the way that she looks and she gets incredibly famous, and all that happens in 13 months. I was very drawn to her story. Also, I had more details with her story because I had her book that she’d written [Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway]. And Joan was the perfect balance—being iconic obviously—because she was so different. They were nicknamed Salt and Pepper. So I was really drawn to that. I was drawn to the fact—and it’s kind of carried through my work for a long time, sort of being drawn to complete opposites and throwing them together and seeing what happens. And that’s what these characters are. They’re very different and it was kind of magical for a moment when they met in this band, and then they couldn’t sustain it. That friction and that complex and that love—all these things—is what drew me to focus the story on the two of them. And, also, I think I looked to make it a little more personal, rather than making it just strictly a band movie.

What did you do to have your cast prepare for their roles? Did you put them through any kind of rock ‘n’ roll boot camp?

Yes, I did. They obviously had tons of music to listen to at home. I put Dakota in front of my husband’s band [Living Things], actually, because I wanted her to feel what it was like to sing. You can be subtle as an actress, but as a singer in a rock band, you can’t. So I wanted her to feel live amps and drums and guitars, all that energy behind you and the loudness of that and how it’s a very physical thing. You don’t just go up there—it’s not Leonard Cohen. You have to use your body, and I wanted her to feel that. We had done that maybe four or five times and we were waiting for Kristen to get back from—we shot between the two (Twilight) movies—and then we put the whole band together. Every day, they rehearsed for maybe four or five hours a day, for a week or two. We had them go through guitar lessons, drums lessons—whatever they needed to do to perfect their instrument because for me it was very important that they could play because, especially since at the time people couldn’t believe it and were sort of taken aback that they were so young and could actually play their instruments.

Cast of the Runaways
From left, Alia Shawkat, Scout Taylor-Compton, Stella Maeve, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.

And also, what we did, Joan’s band came in to put the instrumentation down for some of the tracks that they were gonna be singing, and the girls, both Kristen and Dakota, sang their own vocals. So I think they had all this experience behind them—being in the studio, being at rehearsals, bonding as a band—so that by the time we got to shoot, it was sort of part of the making of their characters. I think it was very important to have that.

I think I’m about out of time here, so just one more question: Do you have another film lined up or another project lined up after you’re done promoting this one?

No. I don’t have anything right now. I’m just reading and kind of getting my radar back out there and figuring it out. But first I need some sleep. [laughs]

Related links:

LiveMetal Reviews:
Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway
The Runaways movie review

Photos courtesy of Apparition Films