Tanner Hall might have those crucial elements that all teen dramas share- sex, scandal, and gossip, to name a few- but this indie movie about life at a Northeastern girls boarding school isn't just another episode of Gossip Girl. Starring Rooney Mara, Brie Larson, Amy Ferguson and Georgia King as four friends, this is a coming-of-age story that anyone can appreciate. We chatted with the film's directors (and best friends) Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesa Gregorini about their own school days, casting secrets, and why being trendy isn't always a good thing.
How did you two become friends?
T- We first met in college at Brown, and Francesca and I immediately became best friends. We'd started out as roommates, then we shared a garage, then we became neighbors…we've just spent so much time together, shooting the shit. And then one day, she said, ‘This is great that we're investing in our friendship, but it would be really good if we could manifest and have a little bit more purpose in all this [laughing].
F- Because we'd had this shared experience in boarding school, we'd decided that would be our first foray into working together as filmmakers. We'd made short films before in our travels, but this was the first gargantuan piece.
It's a pretty big commitment!
T- it is! I had no idea how long it would take or how big it would be. Between writing, shooting, editing…it's huge. But when we first got accepted into 2009 Toronto Film Festival, that's when it was validated. That's when we realized that people actually liked this…
F- People besides our friends! [laughing].
How was the audience response at Toronto?
T- 2009 in Toronto, nothing sold. It was the worst year of festivals ever. The audiences were great, but we hadn't sold the movie. But in the end it worked to our advantage, because we still had rights to the movie by the time Rooney landed her big part in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
F- It was a blessing in disguise. Rooney's new role gives the film more life, more star power.
Speaking of the cast, how did you decide on the girls?
T- We never wanted to create a stereotypical type of girl. We didn't want to do the trends, the trendy haircuts, the one-liner repartee; we wanted to make it artful, a poetic movie about teens. It was like, let's embrace rough edges, and all those moments that test your boundaries, because those are the defining moments where you find out where you are.
F- There is a lot of line-crossing in the film, but we didn't want it to be judgmental. Pushing the boundaries is just a part of growing up. In terms of the cast, it was nice because we didn't really look at anyone's resume. We didn't have cast the hottest new teen sensation.
T- When Brie Larson came in, she was so funny, so vital, she didn't play her role typically. Same with Amy. And then when Rooney came in, she was so powerful, but in a subtle way. She's not like, “look at me, look at me.”
F- Her character Fern speaks few words, so a lot of it is from expressions and what you'd imagine she's going through.
Besides the cast, how else did you express the timelessness in the film?
T- We had clothing from all the decades, and furniture and hairstyles.
F- And actually Tatiana's mom [Diane von Furstenberg] designed the uniforms.
T- She designed the jackets and the school uniforms. But in terms of the other costumes, that's what teenagers do. You don't just acquire the latest clothes because you don't have tons of money. You express your individuality and you cobble it together somehow.
Who would you say is your ideal audience for the film?
F- I feel like it works on two levels. For teens it's like this heightened reality of this specific world, something that a lot of teens aspire to. But for an older audience it's more nostalgia. It's a period of time that nobody will ever forget in their lives. I think our experience at Toronto showed that it spoke to a lot of people.
T- We had a senior citizens' screening and they were our total groupies. We were at a diner afterwards and they came up to us and were like, “We love it!” Our groupies were the best.
Tanner Hall opens in select theaters on Friday. Find out more about the film here.