The Girls filmmaker is back, and her new movie is sexier than ever.
Twelve years after her first feature Tiny Furniture, writer/director/actor Lena Dunham is back with her second film, Sharp Stick. It explores themes such as coming of age, pornography as liberation, and what constitutes "good sex."
Often controversial and always entertaining, Dunham’s work tends to generate a lot of interesting conversations. Sharp Stick doesn't disappoint!
The film premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival last night, and No Film School was on hand for the Q&A afterward. Here are a few scintillating bits of what Dunham had to say.
Writing Doesn’t Stop Until You’ve Collaborated with Your Actors
For Dunham, the writing process is fluid. To her, the script is not sacred—the actors get to shape it as they see fit!
“I love the process of writing a character and then handing it over to someone else,” said Dunham during the Q&A at the premiere. “I remembered that the thing that I loved most is the conversation with actors and how the writing continues when you have these conversations. There’s not one person on this screen I didn’t have a profound conversation with that caused the script to change”
Even after having conversations with the actors before filming, Dunham continued to take feedback from actors during production that influenced the final outcome of the story.
“I could name countless times with these actors where what I wrote shifted radically because of the dialogue we were in and that’s my favorite part of directing.”
Want Good Performances? Don’t Say “No” to Your Actors
During the Q&A after the premiere, the cast, including Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Taylor Paige, Luka Sabbat, and Scott Speedman said working with Dunham was great.
Speedman noted that Dunham never said“no” to him on set.
“I never heard ‘no’ which is a huge thing for me when you’re playing an extroverted character,” Speedman said. “It’s a very safe space and it was such a joy you never heard no, you didn’t feel controlled, and that’s rare for me. It created this environment where you felt you could step out and do whatever you wanted and really let it go, which was great.”
Have Sensitive Sex Scenes? Hire a Female Cinematographer!
Or hire one even if you don't. Dunham brought on Ashley Connor (DP for Broad City, High Maintenance) as her cinematographer for Sharp Stick. In addition to creating surprising and beautiful images, Dunham saw the difference between having a female versus a male behind the camera, especially when shooting sex scenes with the main actor Kristine Froseth.
“It was important that Ashley was operating the camera when there were intimate scenes happening or when Kristine was doing something specifically painful,” Dunham said. “That the face in front of her was an understanding female face. That was also exciting for me because a lot of women came up to me on the set and told me that seeing Ashley shoot and operate had given them a totally new sense of what it meant to be a crew member and a totally new sense of what they can do. And I love seeing her inspire people that way.”
Have the Courage to Get Deeply Personal
"Write what you know" is a piece of advice that probably everyone getting into writing or filmmaking has heard.
Dunham doesn’t stray from this idea in Sharp Stick and in the way she relates to the characters she writes.
“I was exploring in this film a young woman who can’t have children,” said Dunham candidly. “I am a woman who can’t have biological children, and I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to make your own family and design your own family, and how that’s just as meaningful, and that family comes in all forms.”
When You Can’t Do Anything Else, Watch Lots of Movies
COVID-19 has been a real freaking nightmare for everyone. The only silver lining for filmmakers is how the slowdown can allow you to get into a different creative headspace.
“[The lockdown] gave me the chance to return to watching movies, digging into movies, watching films that have influenced me and also influenced the creation of this film,” said Dunham. “Whether it was Belle de Jour, Barbara Loden’s Wanda, or everything Gena Rowlands has ever done. So then this script came out of the time period of getting to dive back into thinking about film that way.”