116 is a short film, inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet, 116. Set in a hotel room number 116, it’s a romantic powerplay/lovers dance the morning after they’ve had sex. The dialogue comes from the sonnet it’s named after. Tell us how you became inspired to write such a visual and artfully told story set to a sonnet.
116 was originally meant to be an immersive theatre production. I was asked to create a piece using a sonnet by Shakespeare, placed in an New York location. I knew it had to be 116, my favorite sonnet, and placed in a hotel room. Hotel rooms are fascinating. They have the appearance of privacy when in fact they are anything but – room service, maid service, noisy neighbors – constant intrusions. But hotel guests perform a type of role play by pretending to be alone and anonymous. Role play is a theme throughout the film.
The film is in color and flashbacks are in black and white. What made you choose this specific shooting style? And how did you work with your Director of Photography to conceptualize the look?
As the story is one location in a short period of time, I needed a visual marker to distinguish between present and past events. I wrote the flashbacks in B&W with a soft focus. My DP Lauretta Prevost shot the flashbacks with filters and played with shooting speeds using a fixed camera. The present scenes were shot in color with handheld camera. I wanted the real time scenes to have a voyeuristic feel. Then in post, my editor, Dina Alexander, and I played with the transitions from B&W to color, making them very gradual, subtle, like recalling a memory.
“Love is not love,” is a recurring theme, what does that mean to you?
The line in the sonnet is “Love is not love which alters when it alterations finds, or bends with the remover to remove, oh no, it is an ever-fixed mark” meaning, it’s not true love if you fall in love with someone else. Love is steadfast and endures any challenge, which encapsulates the story. The lovers test each other repeatedly.
In 116, it’s refreshing to see the lovers portrayed as an older woman (played by you) and a younger man, since far too often it’s the other way around. Can you speak to why it was important to tell a story like this in our current climate and during the #MeToo movement?
It doesn’t speak to the #MeToo movement but, rather, is a direct comment on the #TimesUp movement. I took the Hollywood standard and reversed the roles. Instead having an older man with a younger woman, which is a dynamic we’ve seen for decades, I show an older woman with a younger man. Historically in film, older women in a sexual relationship with younger men have been portrayed as desperate, needy, and broken, and it usually involves a monetary arrangement. In 116 I utilized this stereotype so the audience would make an immediate assumption about the characters’ relationship. I then tricked them by showing the woman and the man are equals. A novel concept! I think it made people uncomfortable because it forced them to look at relationships, and older women, from a different perspective. It also forced them to confront their own prejudices about gender and age.
Without giving anything away, there’s a surprise ending that I doubt anyone will see coming. Did you always plan this twist at the end?
I added that scene while we were shooting because someone on my crew wasn’t sure about the couple’s relationship. When you write, direct, and produce a project, you are living and breathing it and can become a bit myopic. I assumed it was clear because of the moment the women goes “off script” and stops the dialogue. I created the last scene to show they are in tandem. I don’t like spoon feeding an audience, but when you’re breaking down stereotypes you have to be very specific about your intent.
Since the dialogue is nontraditional, how did you approach the directing and rehearsal process being actor/director/writer?
I had a stand-in for the rehearsals and shooting, which was absolutely key. I did extensive rehearsals for blocking and choreography (there was a dance that got cut from the final version). Also, I tied all of the dialogue to a specific action, which helped keep everything moving forward.
In your film company’s mission statement, you talk about creating roles that defy type-casting. Can you talk about your own experience as an actor, and what, if anything, motivated this goal?
As an actress, decades of shitty roles for women, in film and on stage! When I was younger, the roles were arm candy or hookers. Now that I’m older, it’s all granny roles. It’s infuriating! White male actors never face this kind of stereotyping. #TimesUpAlready!
For this reason, it is non-negotiable for me to hire female and minority film crews, to write roles for females and minorities, and to cast females and minorities in principle parts. I am amazed and in awe of these filmmakers who fight to get their films made and their stories told. It takes spirit, tenacity, and superhuman determination to overcome the obstacles facing them. I honor them by providing opportunities and by following their examples. I find working with a female-majority crew and cast to be so supportive and rewarding because everyone is happy to be there, to be allowed to work in their chosen profession, telling the stories that haven’t been told. It’s a win-win.
How has audience reaction been to the film? What kinds of feedback have you gotten?
The film has screened in over 50 festivals and won 27 awards, so I’d say the reaction has been positive, though I am surprised that the film was rejected by some women’s film festivals. But film schools still teach women the male gaze, and the industry as a whole is still held to that standard.
I think everyone needs to recalibrate their minds in terms of that standard. I gave myself a challenge in 2017. As I had spent my entire life absorbing a steady diet of male gaze films, I would spend an entire year watching only female/POC/LGBTQ—written or directed or DPd films. It opened my eyes and my mind. Think of all the stories that haven’t been told! And yes, I do think women tell stories differently than men, better actually, because they are not following a formula. I now find it difficult to watch a male-gaze film because they’re so done done done.
What’s next for you on the creative pipeline? And as for your film, where would you like to take 116 in the future?
116 is still thriving on the festival circuit. My current project, The Paisley Witch Trial, a feature screenplay, is a semifinalist in the ScreenCraft Film Fund and has recently won Best Screenplay at Big Apple Women’s Film Festival 2019, Best Feature Script & Best Dialogue in a Feature Script at the Queen Palm International Film festival 2018, and is a Finalist in the Big Apple Film Festival 2019. It’s a period drama of the last witch hunt in Scotland, when the country was involved in the transatlantic slave trade, and the last mass execution in western Europe. It has a female centric, intersectional cast and is a true story that has never been told. Herstory. Full stop.
See the trailer for 116 here, and learn more about it on the film’s IMDB. Learn more about Julia and her future projects on her website, Shelter Films’ website, and Shelter Films’ Facebook. See more of Danielle’s work by visiting her profile.