Interview: Whit Stillman: Damsels in Distress

It has been fourteen years since writer/director Whit Stillman last ventured behind the camera.  But now he is back with Sony PIctures Classics' Damsels in Distress.  Stillman sat down with us to discuss his long hiatus, finding his leading star, and just what is behind all the buzz for Sambola - the new international dance craze!?!?


College Movie Review: It's been over a decade since your last film.  Things have changed drastically in terms of filmmaking.  How different was it with this time around?

Whit Stillman:  The [entire process] was very different.  We shot the film in 28 days.

CMR:  Wow, that's quick.

WS:  It actually isn't.  When you aren't [dealing] with unions and are working on a smaller scale you are able to get more.  We got [close to the same amount of time] that most $4 or $5 million films get.

CMR:  Greta Gerwig plays your leading lady, Violet.  She is absolutely fantastic.  But what really impressed me was the work that the cast did together.  Their chemistry was strong.  Did you work to find the entire puzzle all at once, or were you constantly looking to piece everything together throughout the casting process?

WS:  That's a very good question.  I wrote the script without any [particular] actors in mind.  We were going through the audition process in New York and we just weren't having any luck.  We had good auditions, but nothing seemed right.  Then Lena Dunham came in and she really wanted to be part of the film.  Lena was friends with Greta [Gerwig] and Aubrey [Plaza], and everything started coming together.

CMR:  The music you've compiled for the film is truly remarkable; in some ways it crafts a character in-and-of itself.

WS:  Yes.  I actually edit to the music.  [Musicians] send in their demos and I will edit around them while they record the final [cut].  Then [laughing] they go and get a symphony to record it and there are a few minor tweaks that force me to go back and rework the film.  Sometimes the raw [aspect] has different cues.  But the music is very important to me in how the film comes together and plays.

CMR:  In the film Violet is fascinated with starting an international dance craze.

WS:  The Sambola - yes.

CMR:  I googled it and the dance itself doesn't exist.  I have to ask, did you come up with the movements?

WS: Yes I did.  [Laughing] My choreographer said I could have co-choreography credit for it.  But the dance is actually a greatest hits of dance moves.  The long walk from the tango is in it, [as is] the Cha Cha I took some of the most [recognizable] moves from dances and put them together.

CMR:  I'm not too involved with the 'dance' community.  Has it become the craze that Violet hoped for?

WS:  Of course.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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