Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Women Who Kill Wins Jungermann TFF's Best Screenplay Award

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival

Women Who Kill Wins Jungermann TFF's Best Screenplay Award

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/13/16)


Morgan (Jungermann) and Simone (Sheila Vand) near the F to the 7th, a reference to Jungerman's web series of that name.
Morgan (Jungermann) and Simone (Sheila Vand) near the F to the 7th, a reference to Jungerman’s web series of that name.
By Danny Peary
Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) doing their serial killer podcast
Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) doing their serial killer podcast
Women Who Kill fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor–although I concede no film like director-writer-actor Ingrid Jungermann’s feature debut has ever played at the Sag Harbor Cinema. Or anywhere else for that matter. This unusual hybrid recalls a couple of creepy, erotic horror classics, Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and the original Cat People (1942), as well as Jungermann’s introspective, razor-sharp, comedy web series The Slope (in which she costarred–as “superficial, homophobic lesbians”–with cocreator Desiree Akhaven) and the WGA-nominated F to 7th, which she is now adapting for Showtime. Both web series were set in the LGBT community in Brooklyn, where Jungermann lives, as is Women Who Kill, which won the Best Narrative Screenplay award at the recent Tribeca Film Festival and is earning the filmmaker much acclaim. The premise from the press notes: “Commitment phobic Morgan (Jungermann) and her ex-girlfriend Jean (Ann Carr) are locally famous true crime podcasters obsessed with female serial killers. There’s a chance they may still have feelings for each other, but co-dependence takes a back seat when Morgan meets the mysterious Simone (Shiela Vand of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) during their Food Coop shift. Blinded by infatuation, Morgan quickly signs up for the relationship, ignoring warnings from friends that her new love interest is practically a stranger. When Jean shows Morgan that Simone may not be who she says she is, Morgan accuses Jean of trying to ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her. But as she and Simone move into commitment territory, Morgan starts to notice red flags–maybe Jean was right and Simone isn’t as perfect as Morgan made her out to be. Morgan and Jean investigate Simone as if she were a subject of their podcast, and they uncover disturbing clues…” I spoke with Ingrid Jungermann about her unique movie–one of my favorites at TFF– before she won its screenwriting prize.
Ingrid Jungermann.
Ingrid Jungermann.
Danny Peary: In this movie and your web series, you definitely have a Brooklyn vibe so it’s surprising to me that you’re actually from Florida.
Ingrid Jungermann: I am. I’m not a Brooklynite, I wasn’t born or raised here. [From Jungermann’s Director’s Statement: “I’m from Palm Bay, Fl. It’s true: Palm trees and bays surrounded us. But also what surrounded us were strip malls, chain restaurants and suburban sprawl. I used to work at a place called Holiday Builders. My only job was to print and fold blueprints… But it beat my first job at Taco Bell; my second at Blockbuster Video…was my dream job not only because they paid more, but because you didn’t have to be embarrassed to work there. It was a respected gig for a 16-year-old. At Taco Bell I as making around $4.25 per hour. Blockbuster cared about its employees, probably started you at around five bucks and you didn’t come home smelling like cinnamon twists and lard…Video stores offered us the opportunity to experience art films, but movie theaters were for the hits. When I was a teenager, I would walk to the theater (never ‘cinema’) down the street to see films by myself. I would leave the theater feeling altered. The persistent voice I heard in my head telling me I could do anything, that I could get out, wasn’t just the makings of a daydream.”] So I grew up in Florida and then I was a journalism major as an undergrad at a small school in Charlotte, North Carolina. I loved it. It taught me a lot about creative writing, just to clean it up at lot.
DP: Is your being from the South and now living in Brooklyn, part of your whole persona, never quite fitting in?
IJ:: Yeah, I think so. I wrote a pilot recently and it’s the same kind of deal. The same character from F to 7th, and also mom character from the web series. There’s a feeling that they’re from Florida as well. It’s a totally different world and lifestyle in Brooklyn, but Florida and North Carolina definitely inform my work as well.
DP: Identity seems to be a big theme in your web series. Your character Ingrid’s search for identity seems reasonable. But now you write in your Director’s Statement, “My neurotic interrogation of identity.” Why is it neurotic?
IJ: I think about it obsessively. I knew what it felt like to be on the inside a little bit because I was an athlete. That was helpful. But I never felt quite right in any group–especially when it was divided between male and female because I felt like I was in between somewhere.
DP: What sports did you play?
IJ: I grew up playing tennis but I played softball, soccer, everything. But tennis since I was four. So that was a big part of my identity as well. Gender was certainly a major part of my trying to figure things out. I didn’t know what that meant until I was making F to 7th. I didn’t know until I started to dive into the work that way. It showed up but it had been in the back of my mind.
DP: It’s done comically but was it painful?
IJ: Absolutely, because it’s based on–my mother and I have a good relationship now. We struggled sometimes about my sexuality. She’s Jehovah’s Witness and just doesn’t believe that my sexuality…
DP: She believes it’s a choice to be gay.
IJ: Yeah, exactly. And that I was talked into it by someone or because of my childhood, something happened there that would push me in that direction. So, for many, many years, I battled myself. What that does is make you internally homophobic. Even though it’s okay right now–it’s in the press, people are opening up about it, it’s a great conversation–I think, it’s going to take a long time for LGBT people to feel okay with themselves because we have been taught for a long time that what we are is wrong. So, the work I make is trying to process through accepting myself for who I am.
DP: It’s sort of pride versus guilt.
IJ: Yeah, there’s a lot of that stuff.
DP: Did you see the movie Go Fish?
IJ: Yes I have..
DP: What’s interesting about your web series and Women Who Kill is that in the world your characters live in almost everybody’s gay. Is this intentional on your part or is it actually the way you see the world?
IJ: It’s intentional because I wanted the characters in the movie to feel like they were in a bubble. They definitely in their world with blinders. I want to make movies for women, with women in them. It’s really important to me, not only because I’m just drawn to their stories but because that’s what I want to do. So if that feels like a bubble, I’m happy. For Women Who Kill, I was going to have everyone be a female including all the extras, to really push that forward but then I kind of opened up to having men. Terrance Nance and Rodrigo, who plays Jackson, are great.
DP: Do you think Women Who Kill is a horror movie? Or is it an extension of the web series?
IJ: I think it’s darker than the web series. I feel like the tone is sinister and kind of wicked. I wouldn’t call it horror but there are definitely elements of horror–and comedy. When you combine those two elements for me, it’s sort of how I feel in the world. You know, I’m torn with being a cynic and an idealist, so I’m constantly struggling between those two things. I see beauty in the world but I also see darkness. It can be exhausting to even walk through life.
DP: Did you want to explore that in this movie?
IJ: Yeah absolutely. The two sides of me. It’s very night and day.
DP: In your Director’s Statement for Women Who Kill you say, “I wanted to make a film that took my appreciation of Hollywood films–the romantic comedy formula, the fairy tale, the promise to entertain–and twist it up into something that resembles more of my own life experience. Spending many years watching people who weren’t like me, didn’t look like me, didn’t want what I wanted–inspired a kind of wickedness.” I read that you wrote this script eight times over and over again. Is this what you were having trouble with or were you just honing it?
IJ: I was just honing it. I’ve written features before but this is the one where I felt like I learned how to write a feature film. I understand that when I’m finished with my first draft that I’m going to start re-writing from page one. That’s what takes so long to write a script. It takes years to figure out what all these subconscious thoughts mean. The subconscious stuff is on the first draft and then you start picking it apart and making sense of yourself and processing all those thoughts and making it a story. So I think now I understand how to write a film. As far as that, I’m drawn to commercial films, too and I want to make films that are fun and entertaining and hopefully mean something to someone. I’m not interested in just telling a personal story and not including the audience. I don’t understand the point to that.
DP: In the press notes you state the genesis for Women Who Kill was your asking yourself, What if my character in my web series dated a murderer? It turns out that we never know if Simone’s really a murderer. You named your character Morgan rather than Ingrid, as it is in both web series, and of course that’s intentional. Did you do it because of the final act that Morgan performs in the movie, which you felt Ingrid wouldn’t do?
IJ: No, it’s just because the character is different. There are definitely parts of me in Morgan too, but it’s the parts that I find the least likable in myself and the parts that I struggle with, specifically in relationships. When you get to the point where you’re in a committed relationship, you start to become another person and I sometimes don’t like that person.
DP: But doesn’t Morgan say that she kind of likes who she’s becoming with Simone. Morgan says, “She makes me feel like I’m the person I want to be. She makes me feel alive and present.”
IJ: Yeah, because Simone represents that new love, when there is what they call “the honeymoon phase,” and you fall for someone hard and fast and it’s all these great things. You’re like, “This is the one. This is what it’s supposed to feel like.” Then three months later you realize she is just like everyone else. Simone represents that kind of person that you are when you’re first in a relationship. It’s just that one side that you even fall in love with. You like yourself when you’re in love. Then the other side of Morgan is the Jean world. The Jean world is more the marriage-commitment-codependency type of thing. In that relationship, Morgan is the person she doesn’t want to be. In the Simone world, which she does want to be in, she feels attractive, she feels wanted, she feels sexy. Morgan is battling those two sides of herself.
DP: Regardless of whether she is a murderer or not, do you think Simone is a positive in Morgan’s life?
IJ: That’s something I play with in the film, going back and forth, so to talk about that is giving away a little bit. With Simone, I was riding a line with: is she good or is she bad? So it’s the struggle between the two.
DP: What happens if Simone never appears in this movie and it’s just still Jean and Morgan?
IJ: I think because Morgan has a tendency to self-sabotage, she would have found a passive-aggressive way to disconnect herself from Jean because that’s what needs to happen in that relationship. Because they’ve become this one person. Their identity is locked up into each other and when that happens, you start to lose yourself. I think Morgan is the type that wouldn’t make a decision that’s hard and painful; she would go around the back way, the easy way, and self-sabotage and break them up again.
DP: Talk about the great shot at night of a very dark and scary underpass in the park that Simone wants Morgan to follow her into. There’s a lot of meaning in that sequence…part sexual because that’s what is on their mind because they haven’t yet slept together.
IJ: Oh, yeah. Everything’s in that tunnel. When I wrote the film, I realized there were those two worlds–Simone and Jean–and that became darkness and light, which we played with in the film. The cinematographer and I really worked that and developed that language and deciding “is this Simone’s film or is this Jean’s film?– playing with light that way. So that when we come to the precipice of major choices being made, it’s complete darkness and the unknown and risk and mystery. We tried to play with that in the film. In Simone’s apartment even, we’re usually in darkness. There’s only one scene where it’s light. And in Jean’s world, there are bright, light walls and natural light and big windows and it’s more open and honest. Simone is the new love and with her is mystery.
DP: How does fate fit into this story? Is there an inevitability to what’s going to happen?
IJ: Yes, but I think it’s controlled by Morgan. I think she makes decisions or doesn’t make decisions to, again, self sabotage. I don’t really believe in fate. I believe in decisions.
DP: But if you have a personality that’s going to make the same choice over and over again – that’s inevitability.
IJ: That’s true, so yeah. I think Morgan’s backed herself into a corner on purpose. I don’t think she realizes it but that’s what she’s done. I think making decisions out of fear can do that to people.
DP: When Simone says to Jean, “I understand why Morgan’s having such a hard time letting go,” is she being seductive? Or is she faithful to Morgan?
IJ: No, she’s not being seductive. She’s trying to poke a little bit of a hole into something. Simone’s character doesn’t know how to socialize really and I think she’s trying to get to something there… maybe make Jean a little uncomfortable. But it’s not a sexual seduction.
DP: Why is Simone attracted to Morgan?
IJ: We talked about that, Sheila and I. It was ultimately humor. She was a fan of the podcast. She was attracted to the humor and the lightness that Morgan seems to be.
DP: So she wants a lot more lightness in her life?
IJ: Yeah, I think she wants to be pulled out of darkness and she sees Morgan as an opportunity to be pulled into another world.
DP: All of the actors in your film you know because you’ve used them before, but not Sheila Vand. Did you have to explain to her anything about your humor, about the past films you’ve made before she’d join the project?
IJ: She was a dream and I got really lucky there. I spoke with her agents. They knew my web series and read the script and knew that this part was what she would want. She read it and wrote me this beautiful email. She just got and responded to Simone and understood her in ways that I couldn’t even understand. When we met for the first time, as soon as she walked in the room I thought, “I found this person.” She just became Simone. I was looking for an Anjelica Huston and the women that I grew up watching but haven’t seen for a long time. She is of that caliber. She’s got an old Hollywood feel and the light loves her and it’s just incredible to see a person that has that energy. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.
DP: Did you have long conversations with her?
IJ: Yeah, we talked a lot but there’s a point where I think some directors have a tendency to over talk. I would prefer to under talk it. Casting is everything. Sometimes, especially new filmmakers get an insecurity where they feel they have to overcompensate. When you cast someone, let them do their job because that’s where the stuff is going to come from, not your telling them.
DP: In this movie and in The Slope, you and Ann Carr have exactly the right rhythm.
IJ: That’s great. She’s easy to have that with. She’s a sketch comedy, improvisational actress. In this films I see her as Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery, although that is a little more slapsticky than I wanted to go.
DP: I am a fan of Annette O’Toole from way back but playing the serial killer they visit in prison is the best I have ever seen her. In this film and playing Ingrid’s mom in F to 7th.
IJ: Wow, that’s great! Those roles are so different. For the web series, I was looking for my mom and Annette was submitted and I remembered her from having seen her movies. So we talked on the phone and connected.
DP: Do you consider yourself an actress?
IJ: I consider myself a director who acts. I would have to say I don’t consider myself an actress because an actress’s whole focus is creating the character but since my focus is split in three directions I don’t consider myself an actor first, but a director first.
DP: What’s interesting with you is that you kind of play the straight person yet your character says funny things.
IJ: Right. In life we never are laughing at the painful things. We take them very seriously and that’s what I’m interested in as Morgan in Women Who Kill and Ingrid in F to 7th. They take everything very seriously and that makes it funny.
DP: I won’t give away the ending of your movie. When writing the script, did you know that ending?
IJ: I wrote about three different endings. I ended up with one that was a little bit more open ended. Even though I myself know what the truth it. Often, I see films–independent films specifically–where there’s not an ending, it’s ambiguous. I’m not a fan of that so I feel like I picked an ending where the answers are in the film. But I also like that viewers will be asking, “What’s going to happen to Morgan? What’s going to happen to Simone? What’s going to happen to Jean?”
DP: Tell me about being at Tribeca Film Festival.
IJ: We wrapped in November and got them a cut as soon as possible. They watched a rough cut and were so excited and saw the potential. They saw that it was a unique film and they were so excited. It was real. It was genuine. They were excited they got the film. They were excited to have me here and I felt that. I appreciated that somebody at that level of where we were in the process understood the film. I love being here. I’m walking around sort of in my own bubble, I guess. It’s just a dream. I love New York. I feel like it’s in my blood. I wouldn’t have wanted to premiere anywhere else.
DP: Do you like being recognized?
IJ: Sometimes. I am a little bit of a loner, so sometimes I’m taken aback to it. But I feel lucky to be where I am.

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