Interview with Laura Dern of "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film" on Lifetime - Primetime Article From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Laura Dern

Interview with Laura Dern of "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film" on Lifetime 4/15/13

April 15, 2013
2:30 pm CT

SPT PR: Welcome to the Lifetime original movie Call Me Crazy: A Five Film press conference call. The movie, produced by Sony Pictures Television, Echo Films, and Freestyle Pictures Company, premieres on Saturday, April 20th at 8:00 pm Eastern and Pacific. With us today is Laura Dern who directed Grace, one of the stories in the anthology. Operator, you can begin the call.

Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, we will now begin the question-and-answer session. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded Monday, April 15, 2013.

If you would like to register for questions, please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. You will hear a three-tone prompt to acknowledge your request. If your question has been answered and you would like to withdraw your registration, please press the 1 followed by the 3. If youíre using a speakerphone, please lift your handset before entering your request. Once again, thatís the 1 followed by the 4 to register your questions. The first question is from the line of (Mike Hughes) with TV America. Please go ahead.

Mike Hughes: Hey Laura, as I looked at these films it strikes me that maybe shorts are kind of like an underappreciated content, because as I look, there things you can do with short films that you canít do with full length films. It seems like every one of these is just much more intense in its style and more intense in this acting and its plot than you would ever be over a full length. So, are there some ways the shorts are just plain different and maybe better than full length films?

Laura Dern: Well, wonderful question. I certainly generally speak from my experience as an audience by saying that, you know, theyíve moved me and told me a complete story in a profound and different way than a feature film can.

Some of my favorite shorts (which are earliest pieces of work of director friends or directors I admire): Scorsese, greatest shorts of all time early on in his film school life. Alexander Payne did a short film for UCLA thatís still one of my favorite movies. So, I tend to agree with you and having the experience of directing one, the gift and the hindrance is only having a certain number of minutes to create a beginning, middle, and end.

In a way, short films have more room to be elusive, but they also tend to go to extremes more quickly because you have such a short time to tell a complete story. So whether its style, filmmaking, or performance, there is leeway to kind of do it differently than you ever would in an hour and half or two hours.

Mike Hughes: Okay, thanks. If I could ask just one real brief kind-of off-the-wall question here: are there some points where you just plain emphasize with Grace in your own mind? I mean you had, you know, a colorful outspoken mother. Are there times where you were kind of like Grace as a kid and thinking, ďgee I just had a dull mother like everybody else has.Ē

Laura Dern: Well absolutely. I think that, you know, far more of the world than any of us know because some of us are left with only our own experiences...

Mike Hughes: Yes.

Laura Dern: ...thereís nobody else to check in with in childhood...

Mike Hughes: Okay.

Laura Dern: ...and I think that as children, we desperately need our parents to be sane and safe, so we justify behavior all the time. My good fortune was, you know, endearing and complicated actors.

Mike Hughes: Yes.

Laura Dern: But in the case of many friends with addiction and mental illness in the home, thereís a lot of justification that the behavior is normal and appropriate because you donít want to think of your parent as crazy. So I think we can all empathize with craze even if itís in subtler degrees.

Mike Hughes: Yes. Okay good. Thanks.

Laura Dern: Thank you so much.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Jamie Steinberg with Jerryís Constellation Magazine. Please go ahead.

Jamie Steinberg: Hi. Itís such a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for your time.

Laura Dern: You too, Jamie.

Jamie Steinberg: I was wondering, what did you find challenging about directing this particular film?

Laura Dern: Well, the few things that come to mind first was that it was the first one we made and we had an extreme time constraint with very little time for pre-production, rewrites, casting, or any of the things youíd like to have time for whether youíre making a short or a full length feature. Getting your crew and cast together and doing a rewrite takes the same amount of time, so that was daunting.

And then, really trying to be true and honor with empathy the extraordinary challenge of living with bipolar disorder was something that felt like the largest challenge. Oddly enough, the thing I started thinking would be the hardest was actually directing, but it seemed to be the easiest of the challenges once we were there and making it. Everything seemed to flow, but getting it ready as quickly as possible and making sure that it contained a real acknowledgement and compassion toward the illness was the hardest work.

Jamie Steinberg: And what do you think it is about the film that will really connect with the viewers?

Laura Dern: You know, I think what Jennifer Aniston, Sony, and Lifetime have come together to do is really beautiful. To take on this subject matter, I think, is the real gift at hand. The hope is that each short will connect to people and speak to people who are either walking through it and are very aware or are walking through it and havenít been so aware and are looking for something to connect them to it.

Iíve just scratched the surface as a layman of learning about bipolar disorder, but with the specialists who helped me, the books that I read, and the experiences Iíve had, you can see Grace. You can see the filmís silver liningís playbook, and you can have a family member whoís bipolar and still not recognize the disorder in someone else you love because there are so many different ways that it manifests. There are different versions of the disorder, so itís a very complicated thing.

Often, people who have had the disorder will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, so you think itís the addiction alone that youíre dealing with. My prayer is that people will reach out for themselves and for loved ones, and start to recognize in a new way any of the issues that weíre speaking of with the series. I feel grateful that Jen, Sony, and Lifetime are using their opportunities to bring voice to the subject of mental illness.

Jamie Steinberg: Wonderful, thank you.

Laura Dern: Thank you.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of (Brittany Wilke) with (unintelligible) Corner. Please go ahead.

Laura Dern: Hi Brittany.

Brittany Wilke: Hi Laura. How are you?

Laura Dern: Good. How are you?

Brittany Wilke: Good. Youíre kind of known for being more in front of the camera. What made you decide to go behind the camera for Grace? What drew you to this project in particular?

Laura Dern: I have always been interested in directing. I directed a short in my late 20s, and I loved the experience and have pursued a few pieces of material in terms of doing a feature. So it wasnít in the back of my mind to do another short, although to have the experience obviously would only prepare me all the more.

I was in the middle of working hard on a pet project/passion project at the same time, so ordinarily, I probably wouldnít have jumped at it, but I love Jen Aniston. Sheís a dear friend, Iím blessed to say. So, that was number one. It was very sweet and exciting to get to collaborate.

But in particular, bipolar disorder, as I mentioned in the answer of the last question, I find it very elusive and far more common than I ever realized. I have met people who struggle with it and I feel immense shame about why their life works in such a complicated way, but no recognition that there is a disorder.

I felt drawn to, you know, participating and exploring the subject matter because there is a stigma that comes with it like no other. It may be equal for men and women, but I think particularly women often get called difficult, reactive, or crazy, and this can make them shut down and move away from getting help.

Itís amazing how I know many people who are very comfortable saying that theyíre an alcoholic. Whereas, I know very few people who are comfortable saying that they have a mental illness. I know a few people who do and it is not something that they speak about openly, and thatís tragic.

And so, if this project can help create room for people to be true to who they are and what their struggle is, ask for help and get support, God, even 5%, wouldnít that be magical.

Brittany Wilke: All right. Okay great. Thank you. Something that I thought was really interesting watching Grace was the visuals with the snow globe in the opening scene and there at the end with her speaking while you see her motherís bipolar ups and downs at the end. Did you sort of play around with how you were going to work that out, or did you know going into it this is how we want it to look? This is the direction we want this to look like.

Laura Dern: No. We definitely played around with it. Itís something that I had a sort of vision of, the snow globe. After I read the piece, I just thought it was interesting to play around with the idea of perception. You know, she perceives her mother one way, and then everything is obviously blurry and impossible to reach.

So when considering what that it feels like as the only other person in the house, I thought it would be fun to play around with trying to get inside that feeling from her perspective. So, thatís where it sort of came from.

Brittany Wilke: Okay great. Thank you. Well, thank you so much.

Laura Dern: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Amy Steele with Entertainment Realm. Please go ahead.

Amy Steele: Hi Laura.

Laura Dern: Hey.

Amy Steele: I loved Enlightened by the way. I (could tell you)...


Laura Dern: Thank you Amy. Thatís hilarious. Not that Iím saying there are any similarities, but every time I meet an Amy now I feel so close to them because I love the name so much because I love that character. Thank you for (saying).

Amy Steele: So how did you prepare to direct on a small budget?

Laura Dern: You know, I mentioned earlier it was really run and gun. We actually were finishing Enlightened in the middle of this, so it was a really insane time for me. It was literally a matter of days.

I got the call and they needed to start immediately. Mine was the first one up. So it was literally a matter of --I think-- five days between, ďhey can we send a script overĒ and literally needing to be on a set with a cast, a crew, and a vision. So good news and bad news is I think I didnít have time to even figure out what I needed to know. I just had to go for it.

I love working with actors. Iíve done it my whole life. Iíve been raised by them so I donít have a lot of fear about that. It feels quite natural to me, I guess. I felt surprised by my awareness of where the camera should be. That seemed natural too oddly and luckily for me I had the brilliant DP, Gail Tattersall, who came and shot it. He and I were in sync about the vision as he supported me immensely.

The part that I think was hardest was just, you know, scheduling the day (time management), making sure actors had the time in something this emotional and shifting locations and all of that. Just the real producerial managing of getting your work done in a very, very short window is probably the area I learned the most from and had the most to learn about.

Amy Steele: I mean in the really manic scenes, there is a very clear difference when sheís depressed, when sheís having depressive episodes, and when sheís having manic episodes and real quick scenes during her manic scenes when she takes Segall shopping and everything. How did you do...

Laura Dern: Yes.

Amy Steele: ...different scenes? What approach did you take for the different scenes...

Laura Dern: You know, relying on a totally brilliant actor like Melissa Leo. You know, really spending time talking through it before we started and really spending time speaking to specialists and someone I know who has the disorder. You know, (did not manifest) differently than this character. Making sure that Melissa felt comfortable with really understanding the highs, the lows, and the in-between. You know, the medicated version which was important to me that when we did the medicated version, itís not healed.

Itís all about degrees with the disorder and really trying to stay true to that, when someone comes off a manic episode like how they come down off of it. So in a very short time, there were scenes which dealt with every single one of those things, so I think it was more spending time with Melissa and making sure we knew exactly what that was and hoping to capture that in at least one take in each area so that people could really feel the differentiation.

Amy Steele: Great. Thank you.

Laura Dern: Thank you.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, once again as a reminder, it is the 1 followed by the 4 for questions. Our next question is from the line of Melissa Chapman with Lifetime Moms. Please go ahead.

Melissa Chapman: Hi Laura. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Laura Dern: Sure.

Melissa Chapman: I actually wanted to ask you about the mother/daughter relationship. I mean the mother/daughter relationship is such a hard one to begin with, but adding in this extra level of disorderÖ did you draw on any experiences from your own relationship with your mom just being a daughter or - because itís such a powerful relationship that they have in the film? How did you - like where did you come to that? Like how did you try to bring that out?

Laura Dern: Well itís interesting you bring that up and given, you know, Lifetime Moms and writing...

Melissa Chapman: Right.

Laura Dern: ...for women specifically in this way, my hope Ė honestlyómy greatest hope from the series is not that a disorder is necessarily recognized or empathized with, itís when something doesnít feel right, when something doesnít look right, that we speak about it. You know, tragically 8 year olds are put in that position.

The hope is that even they will have the foresight and the intuition to say, mom you seem sad all the time. They could have a mother with bipolar disorder; they could have a mother whoís an alcoholic. Frankly, they could have a mother whoís had a baby and had post-partum depression and...

Melissa Chapman: Right.

Laura Dern: ...doesnít realize it. You know, they could have a mother going through a divorce and doesnít realize that sheís clinically depressed at this moment and may not be in six months. I empathize so much with that feeling of being an only child raised by a single mom, because we went through all of it together - ups, downs, divorce, losing jobs, getting jobs, her being in love, her being heartbroken, and youíre the person there witnessing it all.

I wish for that relationship, that these pieces are a reminder because itís specific to the mother/daughter relationship, that we are unafraid to admit what weíre feeling because it isnít a failure. In fact, it might be a disease where there is help for us, or it may just be pain and we need someone to talk to, a group to talk to, or a program to go to. So, that would be my greatest hope: that it would open dialog. God, itís so funny that makes me say, I realize like youíre down a lot. Like, you sleep late every day, and that feels like me because I know people who have gone through a phase.

I mean, I have a very dear friend who went through a very difficult post-partum depression and thought she was bipolar because she was so confused. She didnít know what it was not (thinking) that she had this horrific hormonal shift and really needed support. So it, you know, you just run from it and the hope is that it opens the story for all of us that we can talk together and support each other.

Melissa Chapman: Do you hope that, you know, like obviously hoping that mothers and daughters will watch this together, that mothers and sons will watch this together? You know, you feel so bad for the Sarah Hyland character because for some of these kids, youíre supposed to lose your childhood in a sense. You know, how did...


Melissa Chapman: Well yes, will there be any kind of place for these kids to go? Like resources or something, you know, I just...


Melissa Chapman: ...for these kids to have nothing.

Laura Dern: I know.

Melissa Chapman: Itís like you were saying before. As a child, all you have is your parents, so youíre going to love them no matter what they are, but you really - you could see in this film, itís like she has no childhood. She...


Laura Dern: Yes.

Melissa Chapman: So how did you feel doing that? You know, how was that you?

Laura Dern: I mean what was most exciting was that I learned how many programs there are.

Melissa Chapman: Oh great.

Laura Dern: So when someone figures out that they have a problem, there are, for example an alcoholic mother, there are incredible teen Al-Anon programs. Suddenly youíre in a room and a group of teenagers learn what is normal based on their experience...

Melissa Chapman: Right.

Laura Dern: ...and what they can do with it, and what their responsibility is and isnít. In the Grace piece, in the voice over she says, ďYou know, I didnít cause it, I canít control it, and I canít hear it.Ē Thatís a profound gift for all of us whoíve ever walked through any challenge with parents because thatís the truth of being a truth. We didnít create their story and whether theyíre mentally ill, have an addiction, have narcissism, are going through a divorce, or going through whatever their challenges are, it is not our responsibility to reach out and find programs that remind them of that is really exciting.

Thatís why I think everyone involved wanted the end of Graceís story to be that she can love her mother, but not stop her own life by feeling so responsible. That she has to live her life and that is of course what her mother would want. So, hopefully thatís the message within it.

Melissa Chapman: Thank you so much.

Laura Dern: Thank you.

Operator: We have a question from the line of Mike Hughes with TV America. Please go ahead.

Mike Hughes: Oh hi. Yes, just a follow up. Youíd mentioned the time many times, but I wondered if you could be a little specific. Roughly how many days do you think you had between when you got the go ahead and when you had to start filming? How many days did you have to film it and how long did your portion end up being?

Laura Dern: Oh God. Maybe Lifetime can help me with this a little bit more. I - oh God. Itís sort of like childbirth.

Mike Hughes: Yes.

Laura Dern: Itís all a blur now.

Mike Hughes: Okay.

Laura Dern: Wasnít it - I believe it was 3-1/2 days or 4 days of prep.

Mike Hughes: Okay. Oh boy.

Laura Dern: I think each of us got about four days to film.

Mike Hughes: Oh boy. Thatís good work for four days. The other thing I was going to...

Laura Dern: Itís pretty quick. I believe...

Mike Hughes: Yes.

Laura Dern: ...and Lifetime may be able to confirm that for you, but I believe thatís the case. The post-production process was sort of a couple of days in an editing room, although, that extends a bit as you continue to mix and work on a little more and loop things.

Mike Hughes: Okay. And did they have - if it was done so quickly, did they have the casting all set? Did you already know it was going to be Melissa Leo and Sarah Hyland...

Laura Dern: No.

Mike Hughes: ...when you signed up? Oh you didnít.

Laura Dern: No.

Mike Hughes: You had to decide that already too?

Laura Dern: All of it.

Mike Hughes: Okay...

Laura Dern: Yes. So Iím not trying to be wimpy here when I say I was just trying to figure it all out. It moves quick.

Mike Hughes: Okay. So...


Laura Dern: These are the same decisions you have to make on a two-hour feature when you have a ten-week pre-production.

Mike Hughes: Yes. So Melissa Leo, thatís no surprise because we knew she could do big. But Sarah Hyland, we hadnít seen her do kind of a quiet sensitive drama role like that. Did that surprise you when you cast her and she was able to do it or did you know ahead then if she could do it?

Laura Dern: You know, I was really hopeful. I mean I think that her instincts are really subtle and really pure. I think thatís why she is so funny on Modern Family. Her humor is sort of just being kind of an idiot at times, but not playing it. Thatís what so kind of adorable and infectious about her. I think to make the piece work, we needed to have someone we really loved who was delightful as well as honest, and I had seen some footage of her doing some more dramatic things. But I just felt like she was a wonderful actor, and the hope is a wonderful actor can do anything, you know.

Mike Hughes: Okay cool. Thanks a lot.

Laura Dern: Thank you.

SPT TV PR: Okay. Thank you so much everyone for participating in the call. Thank you Laura. Have a great day everybody.

Laura Dern: Thank you.


Operator: Ladies and gentlemen that does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your line.


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