Art Scene Q&A: Kristin Ellingson

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Filmmaker Kristin Ellingson is pictured at Colter Coffee in downtown Kalispell on Monday. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

Name: Kristin Ellingson

City: Kalispell

Profession: Filmmaker

Q: Tell me about your background.

A: I was one of these kids who was a bit introverted, especially when I was younger, and I spent a lot of time watching old black and white movies in my parent’s basement. So, from a very early age, I was very interested in filmmaking … and yet all the directors I would see were men, so it didn’t even occur to me that I could grow up and be a film director.

I wasn’t that much of a theater-head here at Flathead [High School]. I was a cheerleader, I was at church a lot … it wasn’t until I got to college where I made that decision to pursue acting. When I left NYU, I had a theater company that I was a founding member of and we did bunch of plays and I both acted in and produced and directed. I think that’s where I started to feel that I wanted more of the overview. From an actor’s point of view you enter through your character, but I really enjoyed the totality of the experience. … What I found was when I was on set, I was much more interested in what was happening with the gaffers and the grips and the director.

Q: How did you begin working in film?

A: In 2008, when the economy collapsed, I was working as a writer. I had a couple book adaptations that looked like they were about to get made … and then it all kind of fell apart. I thought gosh, how am I going to earn a living? I got a job working at the Chateau Marmont as a concierge and I went to school and studied hypnotherapy and opened a hypnotherapy practice. I started hypnotizing people to get over the pain of a broken heart or to get over the fear of flying …. and I started to question my own subconscious blocks. I thought, well, let me just take my own advice, and I directed a short film that I had written.

Q: Tell me about the process of making the film.

A: I wrote four scenes of a script that was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage.” It’s a Swedish filmmaker telling the story of a marriage over the course of many years in these one act vignettes.

We shot one weekend a month for almost a year and finished the film. I submitted it to festivals and I didn’t get in anywhere. There was a section of the film that had always bothered me. We had cast one of the roles …. and it wasn’t the right choice.

I was driving up Laurel Canyon on my way to a yoga class … I was feeling a bit low and I thought, I’m just going to see Lily [at a cafe] and get a croissant. While I was there, I see this girl and she looked exactly like an older version of the young character in my film.

We re-shot the framework of the film using her … and submitted it to film festivals and got into the Cleveland International Film Festival, which is an amazing film festival. That kind of kicked us off. We got in the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and won best independent film there.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your latest film, “Gala and Godfrey”?

A: It was a combination of being inspired by my favorite film, which is “Scenes From a Marriage,” and I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with Hugh Grant movies and the movies of the 90s. Like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill” — I loved those films.

I would like to think that this film is a combination of those ingredients — that it’s both kind of a serious reflection on marriage and divorce and life after that. It has some very darkly comedic moments, as well as just straight-up comedic moments.

I wanted to do something that was a more complex look at relationships, that wasn’t tied up neatly in a bow. You have happily ever after, people meet, they get married and that’s the end of the movie. Usually what happens after is a very different movie.

Q: What is “Gala and Godfrey” about?

A: There’s a scene in “Scenes From a Marriage” where at the end of the movie, it’s this couple that’s been married and is now divorced and you see them meeting up and they’re married to other people but they’re having an affair with each other and that’s the last scene.

I thought to myself, well, what next? What happens after that? That kind of happens midway in my film and then it takes it all the way through these two people breaking apart, coming together and them just sort of growing up and going beyond what that final coming together was.

Q: What inspired your move back to Montana?

A: I realized that all these film festivals were coming up and I have a daughter and I just didn’t know how I was going to balance life and everything so we moved home with my mom so I could go on the film festival circuit, so that she could get a little help from me because she’s in her 80s now, and my daughter can have a little Montana experience.

And my boyfriend had passed away from complications from leukemia. Life is like that — you have beautiful things happening at the same time that painful things happen. It seemed time to go home, time to regroup.

Q: How has growing up in Montana influenced you?

A: I think growing up in Montana for me, there were two things: there was a lot of boredom, and a lot of spending time in nature and reflection. In those moments, I made up stories in my head. I also think that there’s something about being a Montanan that we have … we’re very independent-minded, we like to do things our way and I think thats a great ingredient for a director is being OK with having individual vision.

Montana has this DIY mentality that’s sort of inherently perfect for independent filmmaking.

Q: What are the challenges of being a female director in a male-dominated industry?

A: Only 3.3 percent of the films scheduled for release this year by a major studio are directed by women. Even though there have been many female-directed films that were massively successful — “Mama Mia” (Phylida Lloyd), “Twilight” (Catherine Hardwicke), “50 Shades of Gray” (Sam Taylor-Johnson), “Frozen” (Jennifer Lee), “Pitch Perfect 2” (Elizabeth Banks) and, of course, “Wonder Woman” (Patty Jenkins) to name just a handful — the needle hasn’t moved much, in fact it’s gone backwards.

You’ll hear that women don’t have the experience for the big tent pole films, but then you don’t see women making the jump from small indies to big features with the same regularity the guys do.

For example Marc Webb went from “500 Days of Summer” to “Spider-Man” and Colin Trevorrow did “Safety Not Guaranteed” and then got “Jurassic World.”

I was struck by a story that emerged from the ACLU study —apparently a television executive told an agent who was submitting her female client to direct an episode, that “they’d tried hiring a women director before and it didn’t work out.” Imagine someone saying ‘we hired a white male director once and it didn’t work out’. Makes me giggle.

Whereas women in power could be labeled ‘bossy and difficult’ their male counterparts exhibiting the same behaviors might be considered ‘decisive and passionate’.

I’m sure we are all guilty of these sort of judgments. So it’s tricky. All you can do is keep doing what you’re doing and hope that the story and your passion for the story will attract the elements needed to get the film made.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: Right now I have a writing job that I’m doing. I’m adapting a book called “Searching for Hassan” … about an American family living in Iran just before the Shah was deposed and they go back to Iran recently to look for their houseman, the man and his family who looked after them while they were being raised in Iran. It’s a beautiful story, so great. I’m in deep with that right now.

My next directorial gig is a film about students in Prague in 1994 …. we’ll be doing location scouts this summer in Prague and Belgium and Sweden looking at locations and hopefully be shooting by October. It’s super exciting, I love this script. It’s all kids in their 20s trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

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