Interview with Floria Sigismondi, Director of The Runaways

I was given the opportunity to interview Floria Sigismondi for her directorial debut in the new movie, The Runaways. Previously, her work has consisted of music videos and photography. Look for our review on the film here. This interview was what is called a round-table interview, in which other critics/reporters and myself try our hardest to confuse and embarrass the talent we are interviewing. Just kidding, you will hear other voices though, that I can not name. For the sake of continuity, all questions asked by others will be known as Reporter, and then there are a couple from ME, Angela. Scroll to bottom for audio.

Floria walks into room.

Good Mornings are said to everyone.

Floria jokes, Should I take notes too? (in reference to the notepads that have been placed in front of all of us.)

Me: I’d like to know what drew you to this movie about The Runaways over any other kind of band or musician?

Floria: Well they’re the first American all girls band and there was something really great about that; sort of being 15 and like anything is possible. And you know, hitting that alone, they hit a lot of walls, ya know… that they broke down, one would hope. But also the story of Cherie and Joan really was captivating to me and how different they really are and how this moment in time in coming together was very special for them, you know.

Reporter: When were you first introduced to the novel (Neon Angels)?

Floria: Brian Young, who is my manager, but he is also executive producer on the project brought me in to meet the Linsons and they had bought the option for the book. But then I just used Cherie’s book [Neon Angels] for her side of the story and then I interviewed Joan (Jett) and interviewed Kim (Fowley) and talked to a lot of people about Sandy (West) to find out about her character, unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk to her, and then just tried to figure out what the story was from there, you know. I mean it’s hard when you’ve got someone’s life, never mind all these people’s lives to kind of find a… you know, how to portray that.

Reporter: Were there contradictions between the different accounts you had to kind of iron out?

Floria: Oh yeah, definitely, and that’s why I played certain things the way that I did. But Cherie definitely looks at the world very differently than Joan looks at the world.

Reporter: I’m probably the only one in here who’s old enough that actually saw The Runaways…

Floria: Ahh, lucky you!

Reporter: and the Ramones and everybody and it felt realistic. That was the best, it felt like that time. How did you get it… most rock movies don’t feel right…

Floria: Well I did a ton of research, but also that’s the period that I love in music so I’ve always looked at photographs and been interested in music from that genre of that time. For the girls, I just sort of went back into my childhood and picked at things that I remembered and felt right and I grew up in the 70s, but I was much younger. But there were vivid, vivid imagery that I had. But that’s great that you say that.

Reporter: Why do you think so many rock and roll stories end? Always through different circumstance but they always kind of end at the same road so many times with destruction and tragedy and everybody breaking down and it just not holding together.

Floria: Well there are very few bands that hold together, Well I don’t think that’s necessarily the norm, right? So that most bands ended in something like this (The Runaways). I think this ending is inspirational, I don’t think it’s a down ending at all, I think Cherie’s story is very inspirational. She listens to herself, and gets out when she can. I think it would have ended the other way if she had stayed.

Reporter: Tell us a little about the casting process where you’re nailing down who is going to play Cherie and who is going to play Joan. Because both of the leads are just so powerful, and probably the best performances that either of them (in my opinion) have ever gotten on film. Tell us how you came to getting Dakota and Kristen in the movie.

Floria: Well Art Linson, who had worked with Kristen on Into the Wild had mentioned her and then I went to go see the film and I thought, “wow, her eyes” she just really had a lot of presence and so when I met her, there was something about her that reminded me of Joan, even though she had long, flowy hair and we hadn’t done the look obviously yet, but she had this sort of tough, shy quality about her, in which Joan has also. So, I was really excited when that happened and that was… we locked in her contract before Twilight came out, so I had no idea about the paparazzi that were gonna follow us around (laughs).

And then Dakota, somebody said ‘how old was she when you started writing this’ and I was like, My God, she would have been far too young, ya know. But by the time I got into casting and I heard she was really interested in it, I met her and she’s got this sort of glint in her eyes and she really wanted to do it. Both girls really wanted to sing and play their instruments, well Kristen. And so that, for me, felt like a real commitment and I had so many great things to play with, with such a rich era. Even their costumes, well if you want to call them costumes, but their everyday wear, and their makeup and just the way people looked at the time; I think they could draw on that, there was a lot of that stuff for them to sink their teeth into. I was lucky to to have shot in Los Angeles, because at first they were talking about Detroit and I thought, Oh my God, I’ve been to Detroit and the lighting is different and this just isn’t going to work (laughs). But when LA worked and in the valley there were so many places that were untouched, I think that also helped, finding these places that weren’t renovated and just coming in and making it my own, but you know, they had history already.

Reporter: Did you seek out Michael Shannon for Kim Fowley?

Floria: Yeah. He, Oh My God, to get him I thought was a coo. He just knew how to play it, it was so wordy, his dialogue, and in the wrong mouth, my God, it could have been awful. He really played it in a way that was menacing, funny, and condescending and there were so many more things that were a little more complicated in his dialogue that I thought he nailed. I thought he owned it, I don’t know what that says about him. (laughs) And he’s so tall, he’s the same height (as Kim Fowley). I thought, no he has to be as tall, imagine that you’re 15 and this guy is towering over you at like six foot four, especially in the trailer. That trailer, I wanted it to be just an inch over his head. (laughs)

Reporter: Did your work doing music videos in the past help out at all, especially with the concert parts of the film?

Floria: Yeah, and you know, being around musicians all my life, but definitely with the concert parts I felt the most confident going into it. And for me, having experience in that area was important for me for the girls to play their instruments. So they all had lessons, they all bonded together as a band, and I made sure that that happened every day, for four hours a day for two weeks. And so they were really able to feel what it was like for sure. I wanted to give it an energy.

Reporter: Were you yelling at them to play their instruments better and letting them know that if they didn’t do it convincingly, people would be throwing things at the screen? (referencing a scene in The Runaways)

Floria: No, I think they would have thrown up stuff. (laughs) They were all so committed, all of the girls. Yeah, for me it was important, like that finger has to be on that part of the guitar.

Reporter: Joan and Cherie were on set a lot of the time, so did it feel like you had second and third directors with you?

Floria: You know it didn’t feel like that, I didn’t know how it was going to feel, but it didn’t feel like that. Of course when you are doing a life (story) about somebody, they want to be a part of it, I mean a film about somebody’s life, did that come out right?

Reporter: Yeah, we got it, take two.

Floria: (laughs) yeah take two? Take Three! But, no, I think it was really supportive for the actors and I think it was a safe place for them to go. If I’m doing it completely wrong, then they’re going to speak up, you know, and for me also. And they never did, so that was good. To be there for Kristen and Dakota was a good thing.

Reporter: I’m going to branch off of that music video question. People loved Cherie’s comments about Rush being total jerks last night, Did you come across any rock star attitude in your music video directing that prepared you for The Runaways drama?

Floria: That tripped me? (laughs) Umm, no, because at that point when I’m… Well let me see it would have been before they had given me the job, because by the time I get the job, everybody wants to do it and be cooperative. So no, but sometimes I had to convince people to go places. Not with them, it’s funny,  it’s with everybody else on the crew, or people who work with the band or something like that. I haven’t come across that in the last ten years, but before that when I was really young and I was kind of like are you the make up artist, are you the stylist? And they were no. Or if I would talk to the cameraman about something technical, they would just be like, “it’s okay” (demonstrating with hands to go away.) And I’m thinking, I’m a photographer, but I never really came across that with the musicians.

Reporter: Actors generally want to be rock stars, musicians generally want to be actors.

Floria: Everybody wants something else.

Reporter: Everybody wants to cross over into the other realm. You’ve dealt with both through your career. Who would you rather work with? A rock star who wants to be an actor, or an actor who wants to be a rock star?

Floria: Oh my God, you’re putting me on the spot. These are all my friends.

Reporter: that’s my job.

Floria: Nah, I can’t answer that… umm, I don’t know. You know it’s different when I work with musicians, they know the song better than I do, do you know what I mean? It comes from a very personal place for them. So for me, its about interpreting that and finding something else in that. Its like when they’re performing, you can only get them to the place where maybe they wrote it. Unless they’re playing a character or something. And then when they’re playing a character, it’s like they’re the actor, right? So I’m constantly wearing both hats and trying to get them into my world. But I found the biggest difference with the acting was to give them as much knowledge as possible, especially for a time from when they weren’t even born. So, the two are really different things.

Reporter: How do you telescope that huge story, because it really is a sprawling mass, if you look at that Runaways story, into something that concise?

Floria: Well you know, I think because I had rights for Cherie and Joan and Kim, it forced me… not forced me, I was really… I decided to make the film about them. And I think that helped. There was lots that happened, things that you know, if it had to do with the story between the two of them, it stuck, if it didn’t, it fell by the wayside, no matter how interesting it was. There was obviously lots of interesting things that happened to them that aren’t in the film, but that helped me to be very focused. And also, I had a certain amount of time, a certain budget, and there was a lot of different things that shaped this film.

Reporter: How did you choose how to merge realism with having a bassist that’s fictional? And did you think it was going to be so politically challenging?

Floria: Well it was politically challenging as soon as I walked in. With it being about real people that are alive and the fans and just the subject matter alone, you know. I’m playing that fine line between people’s feelings, fans recollection of them, authenticity, but also it’s a story and you’ve got to have a theme. So I had to be true to that theme. What I did is I… it’s not that none of it is true, most of it is true, it’s what I did is meeting them and seeing their characteristics and going ok, how can I show that part of them? Because that took a lifetime to say, I am this type of person, or for me to get that from them. And there isn’t going to be a scene that they can tell me that, or inform the audience of that, and so for me it’s like how do I do that? How do I get that this is Joan Jett off the first scene and this is Cherie Currie off the first scene? So those are the things that I elaborated on and created scenes to pick those kinds of characteristics.

Reporter: So why then change other aspects, rather than just highlight?

Floria: Well the aspect, what do you mean? Do you mean the way that they ended, I changed that part about that.

Reporter: Right, and then just the character, I mean with just having one fictional bassist?

Other Reporter: Rather than the revolving door of bassists that they had.

Floria: Oh! The bassist! I thought you were talking about the bases of something.

Reporter: I’m sorry, I’m slurring, I haven’t had enough coffee yet.

Floria: The bassist! Is that what the whole fucking question was about? (room laughs) For fuck sake, I need my coffee, I just woke up, ugh. The bassist… the bassist, I never had her rights. I never had Jackie’s rights, she’s a lawyer.

Reporter: Really? So, it just kinda came down to…

Floria: Well it has to, doesn’t it? And they did have many bassists, and so I invented the bassist and she’s not a big character in the film.

Reporter: You should just knock her out.

Floria: (laughs) and you know, I focused on the two main characters, the salt and pepper… for me they were really interesting. Obviously,  Lita went on and had a huge career. There would have been something there. It really focused me to do it on the two of them in this rock n roll band in the 70s. So it kinda went from there, started in the middle and it went out like that. That’s how I shaped the film.

ME: What effect do you think or hope this movie will have on the younger generation of women that are coming up now trying to find their voice?

Floria: Well hopefully it’s an inspirational film and hopefully it gives them some courage, you know, to follow that little voice inside of them telling them you should really be doing this, or the little dream that they have, you know. Hopefully, because I look at both sides of the story as inspirational, even though Cherie’s is a little bit of a cautionary tale. At the end, she knows she can’t be in the band, and she knows that this is not her life, and she’s kinda bending herself a little too much one way and it swings back. But she follows herself, you know, she is true to herself. So, hopefully, both stories kind of inspire girls to just be themselves and the world… there’s nothing that can… you know, what do they say, the world’s your oyster. It’s limitless what you can do.

Reporter: Not being able to, or not being alive rather, for when the Runaways were actually playing,

Floria: You?

Reporter: Yeah, specifically me. Much of what I think the younger modern generation knows of them is what’s been written about them, and the fact that their content and subject matter and the fact that from their time, they were to a lot of people, somewhat shocking or just brave, and a parallel that I would make in modern times would be The Donnas, but The Donnas were no where near as appalling to people. Even though there is a lot of similarities between their sounds and even their lyrical subject matter. So I wonder in this movie, and a lot of the things you had to tell in this story, you had to tell the truth about what happened in between these girls and the band is: Do you have a concern that some of the more explicit things in there are, how they might affect more conservative audiences?

Floria: Well, like I said, I was dancing this line between a lot of things, but also, if this was a PG movie, I would have been completely unfaithful to The Runaways and to those girls. So I kinda had to… I think that the thing that made it so instrumental in their lives is how young they were and they were thrown into this world with no parental guidance, plucked away from their families on tour. I mean, could you imagine? Even now, I mean it’s just… you’re at that age where you just want to try everything, never mind growing up in the 70s. So I think if I had taken out all of that… and also I think it was very important for Cherie’s arc, you can’t have the fall without all that other stuff. And you have to kinda tell the story and I’m sure I was just touching the tip, compared to how dark maybe it was at times. But yeah, there’s a lot of things to think about isn’t there?

Reporter: They really were polarizing too. People either loved them or hated them.

Floria: Yes.

Reporter: Absolutely one way or the other, and you would go to the shows and people would boo them.

Floria: Yeah, that’s what they said.

Reporter: Could a male director done this film justice?

Floria: Um, I don’t think maybe to the details, just because I went into a lot of my childhood and what it was like, you know. For all those feelings to come out and at that age and stuff. So, hopefully, I don’t know, hopefully I injected something a little unique into it.

All right, nice to meet you,

[room] nice to meet you.

by Angela Davis

About Angela

Angela is the Editor-in-Chief of Lost in Reviews. She and Ryan created Lost in Reviews together in 2009 out of a mutual hatred for all the stodgy old farts currently writing film reviews. Since launching the site, Angela has enjoyed reviewing indie films over all other films, picking up new music from all corners of the world and photographing live shows. She is the co-host of Blu Monday and a member of the Kansas City Film Critic Circle.



Follow Angela Here: