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“Landline’s” Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm on Jenny Slate, the ’90s, and Sisterhood

Landline

Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm are a filmmaking team best known for their 2014 abortion comedy “Obvious Child.” Their newest film, “Landline,” which the duo co-wrote and Robespierre directed and Holm produced, focuses on a New York-based family in the 1990s as they struggle with love, divorce, and sisterhood. Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, John Turturro, and newcomer (and breakout) Abby Quinn star.

I talked to Robespierre and Holm about their relationship, how they cast Slate in “Obvious Child,” and why they chose to set “Landline” in the ’90s.

Landline” made its world premiere at Sundance in January and hits theaters July 21. Find screening info here.

This interview has been edited. It was transcribed by Kaidia Pickels.

W&H: Tell us a little bit about how you became collaborators.

Gr: Our collaboration started way, way back in the year 2011. We met at a film mixer that the Independent Filmmaker Project was sponsoring. We were each in the program in different sections: Liz was finishing up her movie “Welcome to Pine Hill,” and I was there with a very early stage of “Obvious Child” as a feature.

It was [something like] speed dating — I didn’t have a producer on board and I was kind of fibbing and saying I did. Up until that meeting it was hard to find somebody who wanted to take this project all the way with me, who had faith in the story and the determination to get the funding for it.

Liz and I met at that mixer and we were drinking wine and having sliders, and we bumped into each other — more like gravitated toward each other — and started talking, but not about our projects. We just talked about being female filmmakers and having boyfriends and trying to sort of toggle between a relationship and also our desires to make movies. It was just a very natural conversation — maybe a little natural drunk conversation — but we liked each other.

We had a friend date the next day, and that’s where things got a little bit more businesslike in a way, and we started talking about what we wanted to do. I told her about “Obvious Child.” Liz had watched the short and I gave her the script to read.

The next night, over more wine and sliders, we decided to do it. About a two years later, we were filming it, but we spent a lot of time working on the script and getting that in place before shooting. We both also had day jobs — Liz worked at Kickstarter and I was at the Director’s Guild of America.

Eh: I think the older you get, the harder it is to make friends and find new people that you actually want to spend real time with, and it was just really exciting for both of us to connect that quickly to want to tell the same kinds of stories. I totally fell in love with Gillian on day one.

Gr: I think if you look back in your own life at those magical moments with the person who means so much to you throughout the course of your life, it is sort of like a romantic comedy in a way. It’s very instantaneous, and you have a feeling, but whether or not you act on it immediately or you’re too shy, there are so many factors. Luckily neither Liz nor I were shy that night or the following day.

Eh: We’re not shy people.

W&H: Now neither of you have day jobs. This is your day job now.

Eh: After “Obvious Child” came out at Sundance, it was acquired by A24 and we went back to our day jobs. I continued to run film for Kickstarter and Liz continued to be at the Director’s Guild. Then we went out to La and pitched a very vague idea that we had for what was then “Untitled Divorce Comedy” about three women in one family all dealing with divorce in New York in the ’90s.

We found a company that was excited to work with us. That afforded us the opportunity to leave our day jobs and go back into filmmaking full-time — for now. Who knows? I’m sure I will have a day job again very soon, but for now, we’re just filmmakers, which is pretty wild and exciting and we’re very grateful.

W&H: How did “Obvious Child” and “Landline’s” star, Jenny Slate, come into your life?

Gr: I met Jenny in 2009 while she was doing stand-up comedy in Brooklyn with her comedy partners Gabe Liedman and Max Silvestri. I had written “Obvious Child” the short with my friends Karen Maine and Anna Bean, and we were looking to cast the role of Donna, but we were having a hard time.

We went through all the channels that you do when you have literally no budget — Craigslist was one of those channels, and Backstage.com, and we held some interviews and saw a lot of great New York actresses, but they didn’t have that certain ability to live really comfortably in the comedic world as well as the dramatic world.

We went to live comedy, which is something we were doing back then anyway — I was really a huge fan of comedy and I still am — but I saw Jenny perform, and she was just telling a story. She wasn’t going up there necessarily telling jokes that had classic punchlines, but more weaving a story that had ups and downs and was so relatable and sad at moments and suddenly you’re cracking up. She felt like a sister, or a camp friend, or myself in ways. We sent her the script for the short through a friend we had in common, she read it, and she said yes.

Over that winter we spent about three days shooting “Obvious Child” the short, and we sent it out into the world and a couple of really great feminist blogs picked it up and started talking about it. Jenny then got on “Saturday Night Live,” and well, she cursed on her first episode and all of a sudden overnight she became the woman who said “fuck” on “SNL,” but then the second or third thing that was visible [about her] was “Obvious Child.”

People connected to the short, which spurred me to go on and turn it into a feature so more people could see it and we could expand on the story. The story evolved into Liz joining the family, and then it became a real family. Jenny, Liz, and myself made a movie in a bubble and it kind of changed our lives.

W&H: I love that you’re a happy feminist family.

Eh: [Laughs] I like it too! And we let dudes come in, and we definitely love writing for men as well, giving them roles that are challenging and that show a vulnerable side. You can be a tough dad but also kind of a clown and vulnerable at the same time. No one should be defined by one thing only or one characteristic only, so hopefully we get to write for and do justice to both men and women.

W&H: Talk a little bit about the ’90s. I still have a landline, but I didn’t realize until I was reading the press notes that you named it for the landline phone that is no longer in our world. Why did you want to tell a story set in that period?

Gr: Liz and I are both born-and-raised New Yorkers who grew up in the ’90s. Our parents divorced in the ’90s when we were teenagers. The movie definitely starts with our personal stories, and that was a time when we and our families were collectively coming of age, so it started from there. We also knew we wanted to tell a story where there were family secrets, lies, lack of communication, and ultimately communication.

We wanted to see people connect, human-to-human, and didn’t want to tell a story where someone finds out about cheating through Facebook, or meets somebody on Tinder or is looking at text messages. There is so much media now that does that and some of it is really successful, but we just wanted to go back to a simpler time, where maybe the only “evil technology” was the one family computer where we discover really, really shitty poetry.

Eh: I think we are really part of this weird generation that’s a combo of old millennials and young Gen-Xers. I lived half of my life without a cellphone, and the other half very much with one, and I strongly remember the time before cellphones became essential. It was the very, very last moment before cellphones and email took over everybody’s lives and where you could all be connected constantly.

For “Landline”, the title grows from wanting to set the tone for the time period, but also it being the family hub and the family hearth, this thing that connects the family together. To us it just really meant “home.”

W&H: If you had to each give your log line for the movie, what would it be?

Eh: I think when we started pitching the movie, it was about three women in one family dealing with divorce in New York in the ’90s, and then once we got into shooting and editing we discovered that it was a love story between these two sisters.

When it came time to apply into festivals, all of a sudden our logline had sisters in it, which I don’t think it did when we started, and that’s been a really lovely shift that we’re excited about. Neither one of us actually has sisters. We both have brothers and we kind of are each other’s sisters. It’s been cool to see how that has changed over time.

W&H: You have a big discovery, a girl about to break out, in Abby Quinn. How did you find her?

Gr: It was easy and not easy. We always knew that role was going to be more difficult to cast because we needed somebody who looked and felt like a teenager who grew up in New York City, so she needed to be a little bit tough, and she needed to get into some darker, deep scenes. She also had to act against Jenny Slate and John Turturro and Edie Falco, so we went with a casting director in New York called Doug Aibel and Stephanie Holbrook and they sent us a bunch of tapes of amazing young actresses.

Abby Quinn really stood out for so many reasons. One was just that her tape was exactly what I described. She looked like a teenager, she had strength in her delivery of the lines, but then she had this infectious giggle and was able to be childlike and wise at the same time.

Then, we got to sort of snoop around the internet because it is not 1995, and we found this amazing video of her singing Britney Spears’s “Toxic” at a high school talent show. She did it acoustic and she had this beautiful voice, so we rewrote the role a little bit for her so we could have her character sing and showcase a young woman who is talented and able to do many things.

It’s not a movie about a singer/songwriter who’s on the cusp of stardom, but just a young woman who’s a badass, and who’s in many ways the wisest person in the family while being the youngest. Liz and I are both the youngest in our families, and we’re pretty fuckin’ smart.

W&H: What are we going to see from you two next?

Gr: Liz is doing a feature version of “Marcel the Shell” with Jenny. I just directed two episodes of a TV show called “Casual” and I’m doing two more episodes of a show on HBO called “Higher.”

We’re also going to go back into the cave and write. I did a show on television, and I found out that directing other people’s words is kind of fun and interesting, and I got to really focus on directing and not all that other shit.

https://medium.com/media/1b0caf3c6d55162692e9c61d03d51ef8/href

Landline’s” Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm on Jenny Slate, the ’90s, and Sisterhood was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
See full article at Women and Hollywood »

Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch At Home This Weekend (August 7-9)

Every day, more and more films are added to the various streaming services out there, ranging from Netflix to YouTube, and are hitting the airwaves via movie-centric networks like TCM. Therefore, sifting through all of these pictures can be a tedious and often times confounding or difficult ordeal. But, that’s why we’re here. Every week, Joshua brings you five films to put at the top of your queue, add to your playlist, or grab off of VOD to make your weekend a little more eventful. Here is this week’s top five, in this week’s Armchair Vacation.

5. Seashore (VOD)

Few things get this writer’s blood pumping faster than seeing that a film made waves at one of the major film festivals, particularly any given year’s Berlinale. One of the lesser talked about mainstays of the festival circuit, many great films have hit Berlin and become
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Five Star | Review

A Star is Born: Miller’s Returns to Saga of the Streets

Director Keith Miller returns to a similar style of filmmaking with his sophomore film Five Star, once again utilizing non-actors basically playing extended versions of their own selves as seen in his 2012 debut Welcome to Pine Hill. Casting certainly lends the film a bit of authentic integrity, although this doesn’t necessarily translate into innovative filmmaking. A somewhat beleaguered first act slowly gives way to a more absorbing finale, but the film ends just as it finally seems to begin.

Here we focus on the member of a notorious gang, the Bloods, provocatively portrayed by a man who has lived the lifestyle since the age of twelve. However, this sounds much more dramatic than the film actually is, and some of the more laborious aspects on display in Miller’s previous film have a tendency to overpower
See full article at IONCINEMA.com »

Joshua Reviews Keith Miller’s Five Star [Theatrical Review]

To say that the world of fiction and non-fiction, in cinema, has become blurred is to grossly understate to which boundaries have been pushed. Fiction filmmakers are taking cues aesthetically from the world of documentary cinema, while non-fiction directors are slowly adopting fiction-esque narrative ideas, turning the form into something entirely new.

And then there’s Five Star and its writer/director Keith Miller.

Jumping onto the scene with the superb Welcome To Pine Hill, Miller is back with yet another intimate and neo-documentary style look into a section of the world many of us are not privy to. Miller introduces us in his new picture to a man named James Grant, but introduced to us as Primo. A member of the Bloods since the age of 12 (both here in the picture and in his actual life, hinting at the film’s mix of fact and fiction), Primo is now
See full article at CriterionCast »

Review: Keith Miller's Compelling, Refreshing 'Five Star' (In Theaters July 24)

In 2012, writer-director Keith Miller made his feature debut with "Welcome to Pine Hill," an unhurried drama about a reformed drug dealer in New York City. The movie was imperfect but effective in many ways, mostly thanks to Miller's skill in getting moving performances from non-actors playing versions of themselves. With "Five Star," Miller once again demonstrates his ability to extract nuance from novices, telling another a story about drug dealers struggling with identity. Miller's tale is a kind of coming-of-age story, set in the projects of Brooklyn and following two men linked by tragedy. Primo (real life gang leader James 'Primo' Grant), is a five-star general...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

XLrator Media Acquires 'Five Star' - A Refreshing Take on a Setting & Characters Too Often Sensationalized

Announced today, XLrator Media has acquired North American distribution rights to "Five Star" director Keith Miller's sophomore feature, which premiered at Tribeca 2014. XLrator Media’s multi-cultural Pace label will release the film this summer, although no specific date is given. Here's our review of the film... In 2012, writer-director Keith Miller made his feature debut with "Welcome to Pine Hill," an unhurried drama about a reformed drug dealer in New York City. The movie was imperfect but effective in many ways, mostly thanks to Miller's skill in getting moving performances from non-actors playing versions of themselves. This year, with "Five...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Gang Bangin’: XLrator Media Give “Five Star” Salute to Keith Miller’s Sophomore Pic

Lightning has struck twice for helmer Keith Miller. After seeing his debut film Welcome to Pine Hill find theatrical release partners in the Oscilloscope folks, Deadline reports that XLrator Media’s Barry Gordon has taken Five Star off the streets and is setting it up with a logical, yet-to-be-determined summer release via their Pace label.

Gist: After John’s absent father is struck by a stray bullet, Primo takes it upon himself to verse the young boy in the code of the streets—one founded on respect and upheld by fear. A member of the Bloods since the age of twelve—both in the film and in reality—the streets of Brooklyn are all Primo has ever known. While John questions whether or not to enter into this life, Primo must decide whether to leave it all behind as he vows to become a better husband and father.

Worth Noting:
See full article at IONCINEMA.com »

Tribeca Review: 'Five Star' Is A Refreshing Take On A Setting & Characters Too Often Sensationalized

In 2012, writer-director Keith Miller made his feature debut with Welcome to Pine Hill, an unhurried drama about a reformed drug dealer in New York City. The movie was imperfect but effective in many ways, mostly thanks to Miller's skill in getting moving performances from non-actors playing versions of themselves.  This year, with Five Star, Miller once again demonstrates his ability to extract nuance from novices, telling another a story about drug dealers struggling with identity.  Miller's tale is a kind of coming-of-age story, set in the projects of Brooklyn and following two men linked by tragedy. Primo (real life gang leader James 'Primo' Grant), is a five-star general of...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Tribeca Film Review: ‘Five Star’

Tribeca Film Review: ‘Five Star’
Straight out of Brooklyn comes Keith Miller’s “Five Star,” a low-key but powerfully affecting urban drama that tells a familiar story — of drugs, power and respect on the inner-city streets — with such unusual authenticity and dramatic force that it’s as if we’re seeing it for the first time. Much of that impact is due to the presence of James “Primo” Grant, a real-life gang member who makes his acting debut as a dramatized version of himself, a kind of gangsta Othello who rules his kingdom with a fair but unwavering hand. Building on the promise already evident in his 2012 debut feature, “Welcome to Pine Hill,” Miller’s strongly assured sophomore effort is probably too bleak and rough-edged to make much of an impact in the commercial arena, but should be championed by discerning critics and adventurous fests following its Tribeca world premiere.

In many ways a companion piece to “Pine Hill,
See full article at Variety - Film News »

Tribeca Review: You've Never Seen a Gang Movie Like the Startlingly Realistic 'Five Star'

Tribeca Review: You've Never Seen a Gang Movie Like the Startlingly Realistic 'Five Star'
Writer-director Keith Miller's feature-length debut "Welcome to Pine Hill" showed an ambitious willingness to merge documentary and fictional storytelling methods, but with "Five Star," the filmmaker truly manages to fuse them into a compelling whole. Once again relying on non-actors to imbue his narrative with naturalistic intensity, "Five Star" is set amid the perils of gang life in the Brooklyn housing projects and features performances by actual former gang members riffing on their own lives. As a sociological experiment, "Five Star" offers plenty of talking points, but its real triumph is that the cast delivers, yielding a story in which the heightened suspense emerges organically from a gritty foundation of realism. "Five Star" makes its unorthodox production style clear in its prolonged opening sequence, during which bearded, muscular Primo (James "Primo" Grant) sits behind the wheel of his car and recalls the trauma of being behind bars while his son was born.
See full article at Indiewire »

Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #17: Keith Miller Engages the Space Outside the Frame with 'Five Star'

Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #17: Keith Miller Engages the Space Outside the Frame with 'Five Star'
Keith Miller has been crafting shorts, documentaries, and features since 2005 (including last year's "Welcome to Pine Hill" with Jaiden Kaine). Exploring gang life, urbanity, and manhood, Miller brings "Five Star" to Tribeca, the story of a gang leader's relationship to a young man caught at a crossroad.  Tell us about yourself: I began my creative work as a painter, which I still feel integral to my thinking. Over the course of that practice, my work got more narrative and I began to edit video and start to think about film. As I developed my film-making practice, over the past 7 or 8 years, I saw the potential to push the narrative work to a more active engagement with social and personal issues. This goal is one of the central things that lead me to Five Star. I have always been interested in the 19th century ideas around Realism and the challenge of
See full article at Indiewire »

Tribeca Film Fest Welcomes World Preems From Keith Miller, Lou Howe, Rapp, Lipes, Renzi, Tristan Patterson, Curry & Yu

By the looks of it, the Tribeca Film Festival might finally be growing out of their awkward teenage phase and moving into a new era where the nab more than just Sundance and SXSW festival rejects. Artistic Director Frederic Boyer has managed to nab some noteworthy American indie projects such as Lou Howe’s Gabriel (see pic above), Keith Miller’s Five Star, Adam Rapp’s Loitering with Intent, and Tristan Patterson’s Electric Slide.

On the docu front, we’ve got the latest from the likes of notable documentarians Marshall Curry and Jessica Yu. Think Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round meets child solider movie for Curry’s awesomely titled Point and Shoot — where the Libyan rebel army take hold of Curry’s subject. Yu moves from water shortage in Last Call at the Oasis (read our review) to the biggest pandemic of all; Misconception looks at the consequences
See full article at IONCINEMA.com »

2014 Tribeca Film Fest Announces World Narrative, Documentary & Viewpoints Selections

Not much here in terms of African diaspora films (since that's our focus here), based on a first glance. But I'll be scrubbing the list, looking at it much closer for any titles that didn't immediately jump out at me. Of note however, is Keith Miller's exploration of masculinity and gang culture in Five Star, a mix of fiction and documentary filmmaking, making its World Premiere at the festival. Miller's last work, the meditative Welcome to Pine Hill, was an S&A highlight in 2012. And in the pure documentary films section is Virunga, directed and written by Orlando von Einsiedel. Also making its World Premiere, the film centers on Virunga, in...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Tribeca 2014: Festival lineup includes 55 world premieres

Tribeca 2014: Festival lineup includes 55 world premieres
The 13th Tribeca Film Festival has announced half its slate for next month’s New York celebration, which runs April 16-27. Culled from more than 6,000 submissions, Tribeca 2014 includes 55 world premieres, 37 first-time filmmakers, and 22 female directors. “Variously inspired by individual interests and experience and driven by an intense sensibility of style, the array of new filmmaking voices in this year’s competition is especially impressive and I think memorable,” said Frederic Boyer, Tribeca’s artistic director. “The range of American subcultures and international genres represented here are both eclectic and wide reaching.”

On April 17, Gabriel will open the World Narrative competition,
See full article at EW.com - Inside Movies »

After Trayvon: Short Doc on Trayvon, Stop and Frisk, and Racial Profiling

Two years after the death of Trayvon Martin, filmmaker Alex Mallis releases online After Trayvon, a short doc shot last summer after the day’s wrap of his latest feature. Mallis, who associate produced and was a cinematographer on Keith Miller’s film, Welcome to Pine Hill, introduces it here: Last summer, a day after George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, our cast and crew wrapped a day of filming in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn for the upcoming feature, Five Star. Informal conversations throughout the day, between takes, and a fully equipped film crew, […]
See full article at Filmmaker Magazine »

After Trayvon: Short Doc on Trayvon, Stop and Frisk, and Racial Profiling

Two years after the death of Trayvon Martin, filmmaker Alex Mallis releases online After Trayvon, a short doc shot last summer after the day’s wrap of his latest feature. Mallis, who associate produced and was a cinematographer on Keith Miller’s film, Welcome to Pine Hill, introduces it here: Last summer, a day after George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, our cast and crew wrapped a day of filming in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn for the upcoming feature, Five Star. Informal conversations throughout the day, between takes, and a fully equipped film crew, […]
See full article at Filmmaker Magazine_Director Interviews »

Don’s Favorite Narrative Films of 2013 | #1-10 - Best of 2013

When I first started preparing my year-end lists for 2013, I knew for certain that I was going to continue my trend of creating one post with my favorite theatrically released narrative films of 2013 and a separate post with my favorite documentary films of 2o13. This is because I have a difficult enough time ranking films that share no common elements other than they were all shot on a medium that can capture both moving images and sound. The ranking of anything (especially art) seems completely arbitrary to me and the fact that most year-end lists focus on the "top" or "best" really makes no sense. While I guess there are certain basic mechanisms of filmmaking that can be done well (thus making a "good" movie) or can be done poorly (thus making a "bad" movie), for the most part it is all just personal opinion. I prefer to approach talking
See full article at SmellsLikeScreenSpirit »

Ifp Reveals the 10 Narrative Projects Taking Part In Their Annual Independent Filmmaker Labs

Ifp Reveals the 10 Narrative Projects Taking Part In Their Annual Independent Filmmaker Labs
What do the recent festival and critical successes "Concussion," "Blue Caprice," "An Oversimplification of Her Beauty" and "Welcome to Pine Hill" all have in common? They were all nurtured during their early stages in the Independent Filmmaker Labs, hosted by the Independent Filmmaker Project (Ifp). Today, the New York-based filmmaker organization revealed this year's batch of selected projects. The labs give first-time feature directors a year-long fellowship, specifically affording projects in post-production technical, creative and strategic tools. This year's lab leaders are Scott Mcaulay, Editor-in-Chief of Filmmaker Magazine, director and author Jon Reiss and "High Art" producer Susan Stover. Mentors for this cycle include Jay Duplass, "American Psycho" director Mary Harron, "The Spectacular Now" director James Ponsoldt, the Zeller brothers ("Kid Thing") and director Craig Zobel ("Compliance") Find the 2013 Narrative Lab and Lab Fellows below, with synopses courtesy of...
See full article at Indiewire »

In Theaters - Slamdance Grand Jury Winner 'Welcome To Pine Hill' Opens In La Today

Oscilloscope Laboratories is opening Keith Miller's quietly absorbing work of cinema verite, Welcome To Pine Hill, in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema today, June 7th. Pine Hill follows a recently reformed drug dealer, now working as a claims adjuster by day and bouncer by night, who receives some earth-shattering news, forcing him to make peace with those around him, as well as himself. The film received enough votes to appear on the S&A Best of 2012 list, a film that blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction, presenting an atmospheric depiction of a journey to self-discovery and spiritual redemption, taken by an unlikely cinematic lead...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Two Trailers For Slamdance Award Winner ‘Welcome to Pine Hill’

Hosting screenings of such films as Christopher Nolan‘s Following and Oren Peli‘s Paranormal Activity, Slamdance Film Festival has been a birthplace for discoveries akin to its neighbor Sundance Film Festival. Today we have new trailers for one of last year’s most acclaimed premieres, Welcome to Pine Hill. While Keith Miller’s drama quietly shuffled into theaters a few [...]
See full article at The Film Stage »
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