Guinevere Turner

Guin Turner is known for her adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho, in which she also had a small part and came to a rather gruesome end. She has also worked on Dantes View, Stray Dogs, Pipe Dream, Preaching To The Perverted, Junk, Seahorses, Hummer and is, at the moment, said to be working on a few other projects, including the long-rumored Go Fish 2. Guin also wrote the script for the movie BloodRayne, which is based on the popular video game.

What inspired you to tell stories and make movies?

When I was in my early twenties, my girlfriend and I at the time were talking about the fact that there were no movies out there that reflected our experiences – movies about people who aren’t really accepted in the community and are isolated. She was in film school.  I had graduated already, and I had studied to be a novelist. I was like “We can make a movie, because I’m a writer, and you’re a director!” I was in plays in school, so I could also act in it. That decision right there took me on a path. I had never studied screenwriting, acting, or directing for that matter. So, it’s as if it came out of this desire to see ourselves on screen, and we were like oh, we’ll figure out how to do it. And back then the world wasn’t so saturated with independent films. So, yeah, that’s how it all began for me. Then we got into Sundance Film Festival right after somebody explained to me what a film festival was.  After that happened, people wanted me to act in their films and write their films, and it was away we go!

Was there a film that inspired you?

I’ve always been into films. I’m a huge movie lover. I grew up watching a lot of old movies from the 40’s and 50’s. I’m a movie sucker, but at that point in my life I hadn’t really seen any independent films. I remember when we watched Stranger Than Paradise, the Jim Jarmusch film, I was like oh, wow!  I realized that movies can be a whole other animal – they can be little and scrappy where not much happens, and yet you’re still totally engaged with what’s happening. That was actually the first film I saw that made me think that. After watching another movie that made me feel the same way, I felt that we could do that. We can make a movie. Those kinds of films are what inspired me.

Tell me a little bit about your first film and the process you had to go through. How did you come up with the idea?

The film is called Go Fish. We set out to make a short film, and then we kept thinking of new things. We had already written a short that was very experimental. We did voiceover, a lot of which is in the movie. It’s just me doing voiceover over all these images. But then a plot just started forcing itself into our brains, and before we knew it, we had half an hour of a movie. Then we thought okay, we’ve already come this far, we’re really getting into the groove. We were shooting nights and weekends over the course of two years. So, then we realized that we were going to need some real money, because we were just borrowing and stealing, and maxing out credit cards – just sort of doing low-rent things. We were writing checks and paying things with them, and then we would run to the bank and take all of the money out. Then the checks would bounce, and we were like fuck it, we’ll deal with it later. We knew we were going to have to find some real money. We had read an article in Sight and Sound Magazine about new queer cinema, so we sent our little edited half-hour short to Christine Vachon. She asked us to come meet her in person, and then we somehow took ourselves to New York and went to meet her. She wanted to help us find money to finish the movie, and she did. Then we were off and running. I soon learned the hardest, most expensive lesson, which is to get the sound right the first time, because it is so expensive to fix. We spent so much time fixing the sound. There is a scene in Go Fish where we used a dolly on hardwood floors, so the floor was creaking and creaking. We had to add fireworks in that scene to cover up the creaking.

What was the reception like for this film, and how did you deal with it?

It was the fastest acquisition in Sundance Film Festival history, because Samuel Goldwyn bought our film in four days. This was also the first time in our lives that we were doing interviews and photo shoots. I didn’t know anything about any of that. I didn’t know that you should never say anything to a journalist that you don’t want to be printed. I learned that the hard way. But we were blown away, and I remember the first day we made the deal, it was like the third or fourth day of Sundance, and we both got in our bed at our condo, and we got under the covers and were like what is happening? We thought this in a good way. We were such kids. It was fantastic, and before we knew it, we were flying all over the world, because we got distribution.

So, Go Fish was your first experience as an actor/writer. Let’s hear about your first experience as a director. What was that like?

My first experience as a director was at a really cool program that the Seattle Film Festival used to have called Fly Film-Making. They approached me while we were at the festival. The way it worked was if you were someone like me who had done other filmmaking, and you had a short script, they would give you seven days to make a movie. On the seventh day you would screen it on the closing night of the festival. So, it was so fun and crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. It was like you get there, you go to the press conference, you meet your crew, you location scout, and then you cast. Then the next day you start shooting, then you do your post, and then you show it. So, you know, no sleeping. But it was really, really fun, and that film actually made it into Sundance. Then I was just completely hooked. I went back and studied and read some books. Since then, I’ve directed four short films. I just really love it. What I love most about it is that no matter how much you study, no matter how much you prepare and how much you learn, you’ll always learn something new when you’re actually doing it.

You had two different first time experiences. Which one do you feel was the greater leap?

Well, the thing is, I’ve always been a writer. So, writing in a different shape wasn’t that much of a leap for me. I’m a natural, attention-seeking whore, so acting wasn’t that hard for me. Directing felt like the biggest leap, because it felt like now I was actually doing something, and I didn’t know what it was. Now there’s a level of responsibility. As a writer, I’m incredibly confident. As an actor, I feel like sometimes you’re not always dealing with a great script, so you just make the best of it, and no one is going to blame you if the movie sucks. As a director, if the movie sucks, it’s all your fault.

Other than the sound thing, was there a lesson that you learned early on? Was there something that made you say ‘I’m taking that with me the rest of my career.’

As an actor, I learned that if you don’t like a prop, like a liquid you have to down for fifteen takes, you should probably not drink it, and ask them to just give you water that’s a similar color. I drank so much white grape juice when I was doing American Psycho, that I almost vomited. I mean, can you imagine drinking an entire thing of white grape juice? So, that’s something I’ve taken with me, and told other actors as well. Also, every single time I’ve directed or been on set for stuff other people write, things fall by the wayside – things like a good detail, good parts – they fall by the wayside because of time. We all know time is money, and time is always limited, but It’s painful to watch something that you know could have been awesome, end up being something that’s just okay. Also, on one of my shorts, there’s a shot that had to shoot during sunset – it’s part of the plot. I’m never going to do that again. You have fifteen minutes to shoot during sunset, and that’s it. It’s the final scene of the movie, and it sucks so much.

Did you have any mentors who helped you along the way?

No, but I’ve had a lot of great collaborators, and I’ve learned along the way with them. I’ve had people, such as Jamie Babbit, really help me out. I really wanted her to direct my second short. I wrote it, and I starred in it, and I really wanted her to direct it, but she was like ‘You direct it.’ She  basically said you direct it, and I’ll be your script supervisor, and I’ll talk you through it, and I’ll be there the whole time, but you will be the director. So, that really was one person who just pushed me to just go for it. She taught me a lot on my short called Hummer, and that also went to Sundance. Mary Harron also helped me. Mary and I both like to sit in person, in a room, with one computer for hours and hours and hours. There is a real rhythm to our co-writing relationship.

What was your experience on American Psycho like?

It was really interesting. I am not in any way a horror movie person. It’s not that I don’t like it, or dislike violence. It’s just that I’m too much of a wuss. I have a hard time looking at that. Even when I’m working on it, I just get scared. So, working on a movie like American Psycho was extremely ironic, because people just assume that I’m a bad ass, and I that I like horror movies. We met Bret, but he wasn’t part of the script writing at all. He had written his own screenplay, and had several other people who attempted to adapt the book. We were number six, which is kind of amazing. Bret’s screenplay had ended in a huge musical number, I kid you not, which is kind of hilarious. It was just a completely different movie from the one we made. I think he was just excited that somebody did it, and got it ready so it could be made into a movie, because it took years and years of people trying to crack it. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book, but it’s gruesome. I mean it’s just exponentially more violent and disgusting than the movie with pages and pages of gory violence and then pages that are like Penthouse style sex scenes that turn into pages and pages of gore with details of the horrific things. So, living with that text for months was very tough for me. Mary and I, for the first part of writing it, went away to this place in Mexico where we would spend all day everyday talking about it. When we would wake up in the morning we would be like – so what nightmares did you have? We would be going through the book trying to find what belonged in the movie and what should stay forever in the book. That was a fun process, but a really hard process. It was challenging, structurally, to turn it into a narrative. Then we went through a whole lot of drama with casting. When we cast Christian Bale, we were totally thrilled with him. He was relatively unknown at the time, but not completely unknown, because he was famous for being in Empire of the Sun and a few other movies – not the rock star Christian Bale that we know today. That was really exciting, because we had this incredibly talented, fairly unknown actor, but then somebody went to Cannes and ran into Leonardo DiCaprio. Somebody offered him the role, and then all of a sudden it was all over Variety. It was right after Titanic, and Mary was like, I don’t want to direct the next Leo DiCaprio vehicle and Leo DiCaprio is one of the most recognizable movie stars ever right now. So, Mary walked away, and Oliver Stone stepped in. Oliver Stone was going to direct that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. Could you imagine what a different movie that would have been? Then Leonardo stepped out, so Oliver Stone backed out, and we were back with our movie with Mary and Christian, and we were really, really thrilled. I got to do a crazy sex scene where I get killed by Christian Bale, and that was really fun. It’s funny, because all of a sudden I’m being directed by my friend with whom I didn’t have an actor/director relationship with.  I was really nervous.  I just wanted to be good, you know?

Is there anything unusual you do to prepare when you jump on a project now? 

Well, I say goodbye to all of my friends. That’s the ritual. It’s like, I’ll see you in six weeks, because whatever I’m doing I’m going to be doing it hardcore. So, I can’t hang out, I’m not going to be able to answer texts, and I’m going to be completely focused. I just distance myself completely from my friends, as if I’m going away somewhere, even if I’m still in the city.

Did you at any point in your career find that there were any roadblocks because you were a female writer and director?

I think the honest answer is I won’t know until lots and lots of time goes by. By then, I’ll have a perspective on it. To me, working on an independent film is hard for everybody, but the only real obstacle that I definitely felt after Go Fish was that people thought that was all we had to say, as if we made a movie because we wanted to tell our story, and that was the end of the story of us in terms of filmmakers. It was also a bit of a hurdle to prove that I’m a writer. I was also just so young, so I didn’t know how to take a meeting. I remember saying very stupid shit. So, I guess my biggest hurdle was that I had to grow up really fast in order to get jobs.

Have you seen any films recently that really blew you away?

You know who is making amazing movies? Sarah Polley. Her last movie, Take This Waltz, has Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan in it. It’s a small movie about relationships, and it has brilliant performances as well as incredibly inventive camerawork and ways of telling the story. I think that was the last movie I saw that I was really blown away by.

Tell me a bit about your new project Creeps.

Creeps is a movie that is sort of my response to twenty years after Go Fish, when our mission there was sort of like look, we’re normal people, just like everybody else. We have our relationship dramas, and our jobs, and whatever. So, now I feel like because everything has changed, in terms of how gays and lesbians are represented on a screen, that we can afford to just be kind of real characters, in a way, like real people. My Creeps characters are questionable people, because they are in fact creeps. It’s a gay man and a lesbian who are best friends and like to drink a lot, and do drugs, and talk shit about people, and hang out with their friends. So, it just follows them in one week where they decide to quit doing drugs for a week to impress an ex. You know how you want to look amazing, you want to be laughing, you want to have someone really cute with you, and you want it to seem like your life is totally together. Well, their lives obviously aren’t, so it’s just about their epic failure at not drinking or doing drugs for a week and how they make a total mess of themselves. It’s just a complete disaster. They in no way succeed, and it’s a comedy.

Name

Guinevere Turner

Place of Birth

Boston, MA

Occupation

Writer, Director, Actor