Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Austin Film Festival Interviews Amy Talkington!

Writer/director Amy Talkington and Nick Stahl at the post-screening Q&A for AFF's 2006 screening of THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS

A writer and director, Amy most recently wrote the remake of VALLEY GIRL for MGM and is currently writing KICKED, BITTEN AND SCRATCHED for Summit Entertainment and the remake of PRIVATE BENJAMIN for New Line Cinema with Anna Faris set to star.

Amy wrote and directed THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS, which stars Oscar-nominee Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Selma Blair and was released by Image Entertainment in 2008 - and screened at AFF in 2006! Previously, Amy wrote and directed five short films which were selected for numerous festivals including The Sundance Film Festival and received a number of accolades including AFF’s Best Student Short.

In the television arena, Amy wrote the ABC Family movie "Brave New Girl" and co-wrote "Avalon High,” a children’s movie for which she won a 2011 WGA Award.

Originally from Texas, Amy graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College with a degree in Art History and earned an MFA in Film from Columbia University's Film Division.

Amy will be speaking on panels at this year's Conference, and we start the conversation here:

AFF: While working on new takes for both VALLEY GIRL and PRIVATE BENJAMIN, how much does the original source material influence your scripts? How will VALLEY GIRL and PRIVATE BENJAMIN differ from the originals and how much creative freedom do you have to alter the original source material?

Amy: In both cases the producers and I felt it was crucial to honor the original in spirit but not to be bound to the source material. For VALLEY GIRL, the concept that the producers brought to me was to remake it as a jukebox musical using all 80s songs. We use the framework of the original but expanded on it a great deal, working in a lot more character stuff as well as the bigger set pieces and musical numbers. For example, we gave Randy a lot more in the movie. He’s not just a guy who hangs out in Hollywood but he’s in a band (this of course also helps motivate some of the musical numbers). And, through him, Julie is exposed not just to her first love but also to cool music and art for the first time, sparking her own creativity.

We are departing further from the original in the PRIVATE BENJAMIN remake. The producers wanted to make a PRIVATE BENJAMIN set in the present day. Because the original is so much about feminism as it existed in the late 70s and early 80s, we had to rethink the lead character and her situation in a more radical way. We had to come up with a woman that felt more contemporary and had more contemporary problems than the Jewish American Princess who doesn't think she can live without a husband. Our Judy Benjamin is a victim of the "me generation," the "everyone gets a trophy" generation. She has been raised to think she's going to change the world but has never really lifted a finger. She has a very unrealistic view of her place in the world so being thrown into the Marines (where, for example, you cannot even use the words "I" or “me” during basic training) provides a lot of conflict and humor.

AFF: Working as a writer, director and producer, which of the three are you most passionate about?

Amy: For a long time, directing was my passion. I saw writing as a means to an end. I wrote things to direct or I wrote things to pay the bills (so I could direct things that didn’t pay the bills). But, more recently, my passion has shifted towards writing. Writing VALLEY GIRL really inspired me and showed me that I could write something that I was excited about within the studio system. I hadn’t previously had that experience and it really energized me and re-engaged me as a writer. I’ve been busy with assignments since then. I know I’ll direct again some day (hopefully soon) but at the moment, I’m writing my ass off.

AFF: As exciting as it must be to work on VALLEY GIRL and PRIVATE BENJAMIN, are you also anxious to again write and direct your own feature? We were so thrilled to screen NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS and wonder if you've already got in the works your next directing project.

Amy: I’m developing two projects that I want to direct but I’m taking my time with them. One of the great things about being so busy with these assignments is that I’m becoming a better writer every single day. I know that when I get back to my “personal” scripts, I’ll be able to look at them with fresh eyes and make them much better.

AFF: On that note, now that you've been in the industry for several years, how do you look back on NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS and the experience you had making it? Many filmmakers say they can't bear to look at their earlier works, how do you feel about it? Do you look back fondness and nostalgia, or do you only see mistakes?

Amy: I look back at the experience of making the movie with great fondness – I really loved my entire cast and crew. But when I look at the movie itself I only see my mistakes. I am definitely eager to direct another feature and use all that I learned from that experience.

AFF: What's your writing routine?

Amy: I like to write in the mornings before I get too distracted with life. Ideally I get to my desk by 8:00 AM and write until at least 1PM. Then, later in the day, I do meetings, conference calls, research or anything else I can do to distract myself from obsessing on how much whatever I wrote that morning probably sucks.

Thanks, Amy, and we'll see you soon!

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