Director Nicole Holofcener talks about filmmaking
Nicole Holofcener’s newest film, the dramatic-comedy “Please Give,” is the fourth feature she’s written and directed, after “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely & Amazing,” and “Friends With Money.” Astute fans of movies will note that all four star Catherine Keener.
In “Please Give,” Keener plays Kate, a wife and mom who thought she was contented with life but finds disillusionment in the unhappiness in the world around her. She’s a nice, well-meaning person but perhaps a bit too much of a do-gooder.
Holofcener won’t go so far as to say that Keener is her muse, but she knew a long time ago that she would be the right actress for her films.
“I saw her after I watched her in ‘Johnny Suede,’ and I thought she was just perfect to play me in ‘Walking and Talking,’ ” said Holofcener. “I saw her raw talent, her sense of humor, her intelligence and her open heart, and that has not changed at all. The only thing different now is that we’ve grown older together, had kids who play together, and now we have such a shorthand and a built-in trust in our relationship, that it’s easy and fun to work together.”
Holofcener admits that Kate bears more than a passing resemblance to herself.
“I’m everybody in my films,” she says. “Well, not everybody, but I’m absolutely a lot of people. Kate was the closest character to me in the movie, as far as some of my calamitous attempts at volunteering, and my inability to tune out the suffering around me. So I’m kind of poking fun at myself, and how self-absorbed pity for others can be.”
Then there are all of those other characters: cheating husbands, awful neighbors, various strangers who cross paths. Holofcener sometimes comes up with ideas about them while sitting in cafes, just watching people.
“But I don’t think that’s how the characters are created, at least not in any linear kind of way,” she said. “Things go into my head and unconsciously I might create a character based on somebody I’ve seen. But I base some of it on my friends, and I also just make some of it up.”
Holofcener grew up in the middle of the movie business. Her stepfather, Charles H. Joffe, produced or executive produced all of Woody Allen’s films from “Take the Money and Run” through “Whatever Works.” Though she was a production assistant on Woody’s “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” and an apprentice editor on “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and had walk-on cameos in “Take the Money and Run” and “Sleeper,” she says there was never any kind of mentoring from him. He was always more of a family friend.
She was in the screenwriting program at Columbia Graduate Film School. But while focused on writing, she was required to direct videos and act in other students’ videos.
“I liked the directing part so much and found that I was kind of good at it,” she said. “That’s when I started thinking I could be a director and a writer.”
But if getting into directing wasn’t hard enough, doing it as a woman in what’s traditionally been a sort of guys’ club was even more difficult.
“From the time I got out of film school till my first feature was six years,” she said. “Of course, for some people it’s 15 years, for some it’s never.
“And I’m still called a female director instead of just a director,” she added. “Until I’m not called a female director, there’s gonna be very few women directing. We’re the minority. It’s a sexist, bigoted world. But I have hope. I’m so happy that Kathryn Bigelow won best director, and her film won best film at the Oscars.”
In between her four features, Holofcener has directed for television, including episodes of “Six Feet Under,” “Sex and the City,” and “Gilmore Girls.” But her films have all been years apart.
“That’s because I’m writing the scripts and raising my kids,” she said. “And besides directing for TV, I rewrite scripts for studios. Time flies. I’m not particularly ambitious, and I really like enjoying my life. So I’m not always racing around to get the next one immediately out.”
She’s also brutally honest about her work.
Asked if she’s totally happy with “Please Give,” she says, “Yeah,” then pauses and laughs and adds, “Well, there are things I’d like to redo, or things that make me cringe, but overall I’m really happy and very proud of it.”