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Articles

Jamie Babbit and The Quiet
By Michael Guillén
August 25, 2006 - 5:22 AM PDT


"I wanted to do something that was a little darker."

Beginning in the entertainment industry as a script supervisor, Jamie Babbit made her directorial debut in 1999 with But I'm a Cheerleader, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and played at Sundance, Rotterdam, and Créteil, where it earned the Best Young Director and the Audience Award. That year, Variety also named her as one of "10 Filmmakers to Watch." She has since directed episodes for numerous television shows, including Popular, Nip/Tuck, Gilmore Girls, Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show; and she's directed several short features, including Frog Crossing, Sleeping Beauties and Stuck, winner of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival's Special Mention Jury Prize.

It's been nearly seven years since your last feature, But I'm a Cheerleader. You've hardly been a couch potato during that time period, though you have been catering to couch potatoes with several successful TV gigs.

[Chuckling] Exactly.

What brought you back around to doing your feature-length film, The Quiet?

After But I'm A Cheerleader, I had wanted to do something that was a little darker. I was trying to get movies financed and couldn't seem to crack it, so I decided to actually self-finance a short film. Stuck is a sad story about two women who were in their 80s who had a terrible relationship and accidentally ran over someone. They then get into a fight about it on the side of the road and break up. It was a movie that had a dark brown color palette. It was very different from But I'm a Cheerleader. It was very sad but there were some funny aspects to it. And I won a Jury Prize at Sundance for it!

After that film, a friend of mine approached me and said, "Y'know, I've got these friends that wrote this script called The Quiet - it was actually called Dot at the time - and I'd like for you to read it because I'm looking for a director and I just saw your short film Stuck and I thought it was so beautiful and so dark and moving and I'd love for you to read the script. So I read the script and I thought, "Wow, this is a really dark, interesting thriller drama, and really juicy and interesting and very different from But I'm a Cheerleader," and so I thought, "I could invest two years of my life in this. Let's do it!" So that's how it came to be.

You've expressed elsewhere that the writer/producer is the real boss in TV work...

Right.

... that it's a 50 percent writer, 50 percent director relationship, whereas in features, it's a 10 percent writer, 90 percent director relationship. Do those percentages hold true in The Quiet, where, I understand, the writers - Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft - worked closely with you on the set?

Feature filmmaking is a director's medium. Because the thing is, in TV, the writers are picking the actors, the writers are picking the locations, the writers are picking the set design and the great thing - for me anyway, not for the writers - but the great thing for me in feature filmmaking is that I'm casting the movie, I'm picking the locations, I'm deciding on the color palette and the wardrobe and all that stuff. So, no, I think it's definitely still true that it's 90 percent/10 percent. Certainly the script is a blueprint for the entire movie. I always think it would be so interesting to see ten directors make the same script because you'd really get an idea of what our jobs are and how different ten different movies would be from the same script.

The Quiet was originally entitled Dot. Was there a reason for the title change?

The title change came about because Dot referred to just one of the characters in the movie and we began to realize that Elisha [Cuthbert]'s character Nina was such a huge part of the movie and it was really a friendship story between the two girls. It became important to find a title that encompassed both girls. What was nice about The Quiet as opposed to Dot is that it related to Nina's character, to Dot's character [played by Camilla Belle], to Edie Falco's character, to Martin Donovan's - everyone had something they were keeping quiet. The Quiet just felt like a more universal title than the title Dot.

Originally, Thora Birch was considered for the role of Dot, was she not? How did it come about that you ended up casting Camilla Belle (who, I have to say, delivers a solid, strong performance)?

Early in the genesis of the film, Elisha had attached herself as Nina and Thora Birch had attached herself as Dot and we basically went into rehearsals; Thora was learning how to play the piano, and then about ten days before we were shooting, I believe, it was actually Thora's father who read the script and freaked out and said, "Y'know, honey, you can't do this movie." So she actually dropped out.

There was a very small movie that was about to come out called The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and that movie was submitted to me and they said, "What do you think about Camilla Belle for the role of Dot?" I watched this film and Camilla Belle played Daniel Day Lewis's daughter, and it's a beautiful film. I watched the movie and I thought, "You know what? That girl could play Dot. She could play Dot because she has a really nice quiet, reflective quality to her."

There's something very sad and mournful about her face and yet reflective. Something about her face you just want to watch, which is what we needed for the lead of the film. In a way, I think it was a blessing because - although I love Thora and I hope I can work with her again - the great thing about Camilla is that people don't know her face, and so she lends a more authentic air to Dot because you're not bringing in the baggage of American Beauty or the baggage of Ghost World; you're really just thinking, Wow, here's this foster kid who just moved into this family. I think it actually worked.

It's a great ensemble cast that you pulled together for The Quiet. Everyone did such a good job. Elisha, in the role of Nina, is downright beautiful in this film - if not necessarily disturbed - and is finally given a chance to do some real acting. And of course, Martin Donovan and Edie Falco deliver fine turns as her parents. The Quiet is a departure from the broad comedy of Cheerleader.

Definitely.

One reviewer, in fact, has written that you've created a new genre: "Teenage Family Horror Dramedy." The film is protean, it's somewhat slippery and hard to get a hold of. At one point it seems alarmingly serious, and then every now and then it's quite funny. Case in point, towards the end of the film, there's a scene where Edie Falco is sitting on the edge of the bed after some rather horrific events and she's so helpless, crestfallen and bug-eyed that it's hysterical. The audience I was in, we just roared! Did you intend that comedy? Did you direct it that way?

Definitely. The thing is, the movie is so serious and it's really got a lot of dark things in it and - if there weren't those moments where you could laugh - it would just be too hard to watch. So I really think you needed those comedic moments and there's a lot of them. When Edie comes in and she says, "It's a miracle" - that scene always gets a laugh. I think you just need that release.

I'm really glad to hear that it was intentional.

Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

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Index
"I wanted to do something that was a little darker."
"Sexism is at play, homophobia is at play, racism is at play."

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Michael Guillén
A film critic and journalist whose interests include Mayan culture and Jungian psychology, Michael Guillén blogs at The Evening Class. He is a contributing writer to Entertainment Today, the Canadian film site Twitch and the Austrian magazine Ray.

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