Cape Town - The producer of Below Her Mouth, Melissa Coghlan along with the writer, Stephanie Fabrizi give us fresh insight into the movie and what it took to make it.
My interview with the writer of the film, Stephanie, started off with her asking me point blank: This film is polarising right? Did you like it? It kind of threw me off at first, but I was completely honest and replied: "If I didn’t like it I would have said I was too busy to do this interview."
And we went from there.
It was a completely honest and open dialogue, more than a conventional interview because I found her to be one of the most affable people that I have ever interviewed.
Here’s Channel24’s interview with Stephanie Fabrizi about Below Her Mouth:
Can you tell us about what inspired this whirlwind love story? What made you want to bring it to the big screen?
I consider the film a sort of personal manifesto. I said if I’m going to get something made the first thing I make has to be a love story that represents a lesbian love or a love between two women. It needs to have commercial appeal, so I think the film does, obviously it does. I wanted to show sex between two women in a way that was stepping away from the taboo. To say, ‘Look I know you might have your conceptions and you might think that it’s a dirty dark world but what happens between two women in the bedroom is breathtaking’. I almost tried to privatise it but publicise it at the same time. It’s so personal, I’m like, ‘You can’t have it, it’s private.’ The way I wanted to do that with writing was to say that this is not to be seen, it is to be felt.
Dallas is a very unique character with a lot of characteristics that are as attractive as they are heartbreaking. What inspired them and their character arch?
Dallas is going to be that lesbian where the girls wanna be her and the boys wanna be her. You know that Peaches song?
Here it is for reference in case you don’t know:
I wanted to make this kickass human being who could take on the heteronormative world. She disrupts that world. And I think that’s kind of me behind the pen saying, 'Let’s burst this bubble…that kind of heteronormativity. And see what happens.' She was broody because she doesn’t like the way that things are in the world and she's dissatisfied. But she also has to learn something that you can’t just go around filling your wounds with other people’s generosity. That you have to be responsible to a person and I think when she meets Jasmine, I think that Jasmine holds her accountable, like when they have their first kiss at the bar. When (Dallas) asks Jasmine how the sex (with her fiancé is) and she just replies, it’s good. It throws her off.
What has it been like taking the film around the world?
In the festival circuit it played well, it played better to its audience obviously. But surprisingly we had men and women in their fifties, sixties and seventies who were like, ‘This is a beautiful love story and it doesn’t matter what their identity is. Different people connect with it.' The only wonky reception was (and I was surprised by it) San Francisco. The gay community there just wasn’t into it.
What inspired you to be a writer?
I’ve always sort of written as a child. Writing was always a place that I felt most comfortable in. I was a pretty bad teenager; I got kicked out of school. The one thing that always saved me was my English. I had a guidance teacher once who was like, ‘Ok, what are we going to do with you? Just pick something please, pick something to do after school.’ And I said I wanted to be a filmmaker and he said it was hopeless because someone like Spielberg picked up a camera when he was like seven and I was seventeen, so I was far too old to get into the film industry. And I don’t know what was going through his head. Maybe that was sexism? I don’t know. So it was always something that I wanted but I didn’t think I was worthy of it. I am also the child of immigrants, I am first generation Canadians. I didn’t think I had access to that, things are a bit tougher when you’re first generation. And then I met my partner Melissa and I thought, ‘Well why the hell don’t I write a script?’ She had worked at a distribution company for a long time as a writer.
So is this the first film that you’ve written?
So I wrote one screenplay which will never see the light of day and then I wrote another which will hopefully be my next production. So, I guess I’m a pretty young writer.
Can you tell us more about that project?
My next project is an immigrant love story based loosely on my parents and set in Toronto. It brings us into the Italian Diasporas in a way that is necessary.
Would you film it in Cape Town?
Well, I don't know, but I’d love to come to Cape Town.
Here’s Channel24’s chat with the producer of Below Her Mouth, Melissa Coghlan:
What was it that drew you to this project?
I loved the characters and the world that Stephanie envisioned creating. I loved the idea of making a film about female passion and desire as seen through a female lens.
What’s it like to get a movie that has a LGBTQI love story at the centre of it made?
This film was such a pleasure to make - we had our fair share of challenges, as any film does but we were very lucky to work with Robert Lantos at Serendipity Point Films, as he understood the film that Stephanie and I wanted to make and was keen to go the distance with us to push the boundaries as we have. Anant Singh from Distant Horizon also got on board very early and together they supported our vision and went to bat for us along the way.
How did you go about casting Erika Linder and Natalie Krill? They clearly have a lot of onscreen chemistry.
Stephanie (writer) and I saw Natalie Krill starring in a play and we were blown away by her talent and how engaging she was, by the presence she commanded on stage. We were at our second round of call-backs at that point and immediately requested to see Natalie to read for the part of Jasmine. She was just as captivating in the audition room as she had been on stage. Our director, April Mullen found a video of Erika Linder online and was immediately drawn to her look. The next step was to contact her agent and find out if she a) spoke English and b) was interested in acting- thankfully, the answer to both was yes! Once we had narrowed it down to a few final candidates for both roles, we held "chemistry" reads in Toronto. Erika and Natalie were the first pair to read together and the temperature in the room went up the minute they were together. For me, the decision was immediate.
See a trailer for the film (with lots of examples of the two lead’s chemistry) here:
Jasmine and Dallas indulge in a lot of PDA in the film, was that tricky to shoot?
Any time you are dealing with intimacy on set, there is a certain level of care that you adhere to. Our crew was all women who added a nice layer of comfort and protection. We had a closed set on days where we were shooting the intimate scenes. In between takes and during meal breaks on those days, Erika and Natalie remained on set alone together - in a sort of cocoon. April (Mullen, our director) and the crew did a wonderful job of making sure that all of the actors had the privacy they needed on those days.
Was there ever a different ending to the film?
No. And thank goodness because I love the ending of the film. I was so thrilled that Stephanie closed out their story the way she did.
You have been a producer on TV series, documentaries and film. Is the job the same in each medium or does it change? What have been some of your biggest challenges?
I would say the level of work - the hours and the all-consuming nature of the business is the same for me regardless of the medium - that might make me a workaholic of sorts! (Laughs) Each project has its own unique beat and process. Below Her Mouth was definitely the most important and personal of all projects, the thing that I am the most proud of and most definitely the one project that I remain the closest to. It was my first film, I liken it to having a baby! Erika and Natalie are my children. In fact, they still call Stephanie and I "Mom and Dad" (I'm mom- the nagging one who wants everyone to be on time and behave themselves!)
What was the movie or TV show that made you want to get into the business?
I can't say that there was one specific TV show or film that made me want to get into the business. I had always wanted to work in television, film wasn't really even on my radar for the longest time. I started out by doing internships at 2 TV stations (kids tv and sports) when I was offered the job at Alliance Atlantis - that was when my fascination with cinema began!
What’s it like when you can’t get a project that you’re really passionate about off the ground?
Thankfully, this hasn't happened to me yet. I don't even want to think of that as a possibility. My plan is just to push and push until things fall into place.
What movie have you gone to see lately? Or what show have you streamed?
I am currently watching I Love Dick, it's so wildly experimental, so bold and engaging. I'm obsessed. And Big Little Lies. Jean-Marc Vallet is such a talent. That last episode blew my mind!
Do you have any plans to come to South Africa?
That depends, are you inviting me?