Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nancy Savoca on "True Love"

How did you get interested in filmmaking?

NANCY SAVOCA: My family says I started talking about it when I was really young, but I don't remember that. But I think it was in high school, during that last year when you can take whatever you want. I was taking things like Folk Poetry and Music Theory. And there was a History of the Movies class. That was the first time I understood what a director did. It was explained that there was actually one person who was in charge of putting all the different elements together in a film.

And that was something that was really interesting, because I think in my teenage years I was really interested in the arts -- I loved music and I loved drawing and I loved watching actors perform. There were so many things that I loved, yet I didn't feel that I was particularly good at these things. But I was a great appreciator of good music and good performance and good photography -- I could appreciate it.

So I realized, when I learned about filmmaking, that that's what a director does. They are the ones who say, "Oh, that's the piece of music we need to use," and "That's the take we need to print." Basically we're there to cheerlead all these great artists and get their best work and put it all together.

When I found out that's what it was, I was like, "Oh, sign me up! That sounds good. I can do that." I was about seventeen at the time.

What did you do when you got out of NYU film school?

NANCY SAVOCA: Right after film school was finished, we started writing True Love, that summer. I remember one of the things that sort of upset me were rules. Like people had these ideas, these rules. Like one person said to me that summer, "It's great that you're writing your first feature, but you usually have to direct two shorts to do a feature." And then somebody else said, "No, no, no, So-and-So just went out to LA. You have to get an agent and write two screenplays for other people, and then you get to direct your first feature."

And I thought, "Who made those rules? I've never heard of directors who follow these rules. Is someone making up new ones just so we can jump through hoops? This is stupid."

So Rich and I co-wrote True Love in a couple weeks in a cabin in Vermont, which was so bizarre because we were writing about the Bronx and we were in the middle of nowhere in Vermont.

When we came out with it, basically nothing happened. We were showing it around; we didn't know. I didn't even have, at that time, the vocabulary to say this is an independent film or not an independent film. I just wanted to make this story because I hadn't seen it before. It was the old 'write what you know,' so I wrote what I knew, which was my experience, which happened to be right before we started film school: Which was that I got married, and that year that I got married, everybody in my neighborhood got married. So we went to a lot of weddings and witnessed a lot of the things that ended up in the script.

So basically it was six years of trying this, that and the other thing. About every six to eight months we'd take the script out and polish it up. But for whatever reason, there was just nothing else I could think to do. I just knew that this was the story. Whether that was smart or not, I can't tell you. But it was six years.

So what was it that finally got True Love off the ground?

NANCY SAVOCA: John Sayles.

What happened was I was sort of half-ass shooting this documentary that wasn't working. And one of my friends said, "What are you doing shooting a documentary? You have this script." And I said, "Yeah, but I need money to shoot that script and we don't have money." But it put this idea in my head and we decided to take what tiny little money we had to do the documentary and take that money -- which was basically all the savings we had at that time -- and do a ten-minute sample reel, which is sort of like a long version of a trailer.

So we put an ad in Backstage and did casting, found a crew that was mostly commercial people or people who had worked in independent films and were working a step below and wanted to step up. And since everyone was working at one level higher than normal, nobody needed to get paid, which was great, because everybody was doing it for their reel.

So we shot this thing, we cut it, it looked great, the performances were great -- we got these great actors -- and we started sending it to all the people who had rejected the script, and we were universally rejected again. After spending all the money we had.

We were just depressed. And then we decided to do a screening in Manhattan and -- because, during those six years of working -- we had met so many people in the film business. So we just cast the net really wide and we invited everybody that we knew to invite everybody that they knew.

We had wine and cheese and ten minutes is painless. I don't know why, but people showed up. Diane Keaton showed up. I don't know why. But because it was New York and it was such a little closed community, for some reason, people showed up.

What happened after that was that I got a phone call from John Sayles and he said, "Look, if you want to do this movie down and dirty, guerilla style, I'll be your first investor."

So how did you feel on the first day of shooting True Love?

NANCY SAVOCA: Great. Nervous as hell. Ready to puke -- I couldn't tell if it was morning sickness. But nobody knew I was pregnant. Nobody knew because I found out two weeks before we started shooting and the one thing you don't want to tell everybody who'd investing in you on your first film is, "Oh, by the way, I'm pregnant."

I think today it might be a little easier. Or maybe not. Who knows. But I definitely knew to keep my mouth shut.

I was nervous on one level but also just like -- excited, but relieved. It was like, "Okay. Well here I am. Let's go." And it was that leap into the void of "Let's go. I don't know what's going to happen here, but I'm here. You're here. Let's go."

Tell me about your experience at Sundance with True Love.

NANCY SAVOCA: It was pretty amazing but I wasn't there. I wasn't even there.

We finished editing the movie in late 1988. John Sayles said there was a festival we should look into, called the United States Film Festival in Park City. We did a temp mix on the soundtrack and sent it in and we got accepted.

The festival was the last week of January and my due date was the 27th of January, so I wasn't going to go. So one of the producers went, with my lawyer and the music supervisor.

I was at home and I started going into labor one evening. And the phone rings while I'm in labor. My husband picks it up and then he says, "Oh my God. Oh my God. I'll put Nancy on, but I'm not sure she can breath."

So I take the phone and say, "What?" And everyone was screaming. It sounded like Beatlemania or something. Everyone was screaming. And someone was saying, "We won! We won!" And I said, "What?" And they said, "The film won!"

But I really didn't understand what had happened, because nobody could talk really, and also because I was hugging the wall and breathing. And so I said, "I have to hang up because this kid's going to be born." I hung up the phone and we went to the hospital.

The next morning the baby was born. And the midwife said to me, "What happened to that little movie you were working on when you were pregnant?" And I turned to Rich and said, "Did we win something last night?"

We came home with my son a day later, and my house looked like a funeral. Everybody sent flowers. It was a small apartment and there were flowers everywhere. Disney sent a t-shirt for the baby that said, "My Mom is the world's greatest director." Every single major studio was acknowledging the award and the baby.

I was flabbergasted because independent film, before that night, at Sundance, a new wave began for independent film. It was born in a different way that night. I didn't happen to be there, but I was a part of it. And that particular year, they changed the name from the US Film Festival to the Sundance Film Festival.

I have a poster that says "True Love: Winner of the United States Film Festival," because MGM didn't realize that they had changed the name. And that was the year that all the studio executives showed up. There had been rumblings; the year before a lot of great movies were there and they were saying, "Oh, I guess something's happening at Sundance, so we have to go." And that was the year that they all went.

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