Mini MUFF Profile: Kate Marks
Whip It is a film about competing generations, finding yourself and taking charge of your identity. Pearl Was Here is a beautiful short film that takes all of these themes and blends them in the embodiment of young Pearl and her defiance. Writer/director/editor Kate Marks will be in attendance for a Q&A at our screening of these two perfectly paired films this Thursday, September 10th at the Vogue Theater in SF. Read an exclusive interview with Kate here.
Kate Marks: Director/Writer/Editor
Film: Pearl Was Here
Let's start this off with the basics: YOU!
KM: I love to stare at people. I want to peek in their ears, study the stains on their shirts, scrutinize their split-ends and examine the texture of their hands. In most social settings, this kind of gawking is considered rude. However in filmmaking, it is an art. Similarly, I hate small talk. The question “How are you?” throws me into a minor crisis. I want to trade the smelly details of our daily struggles, share our childhood memories, reveal the ridiculous things we search on Google, and ponder the nature of gods, death, and destiny—too intense for a quick greeting, but filmmaking gives me the chance to go there. My work is often about witnessing and this desire to see and be seen.
I started making films after working as a playwright, theatre director, and physical performer in New York City. The stage left me with a love of spectacles. Whether it’s old ladies dancing in sequins on a rooftop, a dude sitting shiva in a chicken suit, a woman shooting herself with a tiny gun, or a girl diving into a sea of stuffed animals, I am always looking for an arresting image that gives us permission to stare.
I studied filmmaking at CalArts. After hustling in NYC for so long, CalArts felt like being at a really awesome art camp for adults. I worked my ass off and loved every minute of it.
I currently live in East Hollywood, a community of bizarre collisions, like the one where the hipster helped the homeless guy push his cart of trash and treasure up the street.
Can you tell us a little bit about the short we are screening?
KM: Working as a teaching artist, I have developed a soft spot for “bad” kids. I love the wild child who sits by herself at lunch, singing Top 40 at the top of her lungs with food all over her face. Maybe because I was also this kind of kid. My childhood nicknames were “little shit,” “reckless,” and “freak.” I ran away wearing only my underwear and an inner tube, pooped in the bath tub, broke the china, told lies, and read my sister’s diary. I will always be grateful to my mom who signed me up for theatre camp and gave me an outlet for all this drama. Sadly, many girls don’t get this chance…de-clawed and silenced before they hit puberty. In PEARL WAS HERE I wanted to explore the moment when the bad girl gets tamed.
I spent two months looking for a spunky girl who had not been brainwashed by her stage mom. 200 cute kids later, Miana showed up. On our first day of shooting, she came to set wearing a giant temporary tattoo. Kate Fry (the costume designer) and I loved it but were worried that it would wash away before the second weekend of shooting. Miana’s mom assured us that she could get another one…armed with a bag of quarters, she went back to the bowling alley and kept trying her luck in the gum ball machine until she got the same tattoo we used in the film.
I rehearsed the film by having the actors improvise scenes that aren’t in the movie. For example, we went to Chuck E. Cheese where Miana and co-star Sharon Eisman played games and ate pizza as their characters. We also filmed an improvised rehearsal that ended with Miana smearing peanut butter all over her face. These rehearsals helped Miana to tap into the wild disobedience of her character, so that when we were on set all she had to do was jump into our elaborate game of make believe.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it's important to your filmmaking.
KM: I am a disgruntled child of fairy tales. I love their magical worlds, but hate their thin stories, which often serve as cautionary tales for disobedient girls and women. Filmmaking gives me the chance to remake them. I like to fill the fairy tale frame with complicated characters who have deeper things to do than slay the dragon or find the treasure.
To me, being a feminist simply means believing that women are equal to men. I can’t imagine being a woman and not being a feminist.
Making feminist films is not just about having complex female characters at the center of the story—it’s also about exploring new narratives, visual styles, and genres. In other words, we can’t just change the gender of the protagonist. We also have to send her on a different kind of journey and put her in a world or genre we don’t quite have the words for.
So many of my female filmmaking colleagues make work that is really hard to define and label. We can’t look to the classics for guidance because we are left out of most of them. I think we will start to see more films like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night where the genre, tone, and style is a bit more slippery.
Being a feminist filmmaker also means working with female crews, fostering community, adopting alternative ways of leading, and teaching filmmaking in communities that are misrepresented or underrepresented on screen and behind the camera.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
Ana Lily Amirpour
If a movie about your life was cast/created, who would star as you and what genre would it be?
KM: Liza Minnelli as the star with Bill Murray as the side-kick and Shirley Temple as the wizard in a fourth Hobbit movie, the one where we get lost on the way back to The Shire.
What's the best advice about filmmaking you've ever received?
KM: Ava DuVernay at the Film Independent Forum:
“All of the time you are spending trying to get someone to mentor you, trying to get a coffee, trying to get a meeting from someone you think can help you or has the secret key, is time that you are spending not working on your film. You’re being desperate and you’re not doing. Knock it off…Take off your desperation coat…it’s preventing you from making your movie. The only thing that is going to move you forward is your work…Get on the “Yo, I’m making films” train… Are you wearing this coat of desperation or are you wearing your passion on your sleeve? Because one is a repellant and one is a magnet. One makes you a shadow of yourself and one enlarges you.”
You can see her entire amazing speech here.
Who is the best/superior Batman?
KM: Michael Keaton, because he’s campy and cool at the same time.
What's your go-to jam?
KM: Beyoncé all the way. At our wedding, my husband and I choreographed our first dance to “End Of Time.” This was a dream-come-true moment for me. I’ve always wanted to be a back-up dancer.
What male pop culture icon or movie/TV character are you dreaming would get a gender-swap?
KM: It’s a toss-up between Maverick (Tom Cruise) in Top Gun, Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, and Garth (Dana Carvey) in Wayne’s World.
Recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers.
KM: Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. It’s out now! Go see it!
The Mini MUFF Society is our short film program. We aim to screen at least one local short film at each of our monthly events. You know, because we have a lot of amazing female talent in SF and we want to celebrate it! Learn more here!