Interview with Saara Lamberg, Director and Producer of Westermarck Effect
Interview by Katie Grimes
Copy Editing and Posting by Sabrina Hirsch
Your current project, Westermarck Effect, is about a biological mother and son meeting after 20 years apart and falling in love. What inspired you to make a film about genetic sexual attraction?
I am interested in real humans and all of their intricacies and whether you like it or not, this is real life situation for some people. It is a concept that doesn’t get talked about a lot and I guess I like starting conversations. The amount of disgust and hate mail I am already receiving – and I haven’t even made the film yet – has surprised me, but also tells me that I am on the right path—it’s obviously a subject that causes emotional reactions in people.
What would you say to people who think this taboo topic shouldn’t be shown on screen?
They don’t have to watch it but I’d encourage them to take the leap and challenge themselves. I believe this attitude comes from fear of seeing life for what it really is: messy, unorganized, unpredictable and imperfect. It takes guts to accept that sometimes things just happen and we’re not in control of everything. We all make mistakes or go against the norm at times and being judgemental doesn’t help anyone. Talking about stories like this helps us understand each other better and get along better as human beings. Not talking about taboos such as this one means we can’t have honest conversations about problems they may cause—in this case genetic mutations—and this is counterproductive for humanity. Also, I would like to ask these people: Do they agree with showing crime and murder on screen? Because I find most people are quite happy with that idea, but when it comes to anything that relates to sexual relationships they think it’s unacceptable. How is two adults having consensual sexual relationship worse than someone killing someone else?
Your previous film, Innuendo, was also a psychological thriller. What draws you to this genre?
Psychology for me is something that an intelligent being cannot escape, a bit like living in a society one cannot escape politics. Intelligence makes life interesting, but also, sometimes difficult, and the thriller elements come from the struggles we face because of the complexities of different people’s needs trying to co-exist in the world with seven billion other people trying to fulfill their needs at the same time.
I am not a big believer in genres in general. However, for me, the story dictates whatever genre the film will become. But I am not, at this stage, interested in making stories about puppies and flowers so there is often an element of darkness in my work. Interestingly, though, many people are surprised by how funny some bits of Innuendo are and Westermarck Effect will be the same. For me good film is like “life” and “life” for most of us does not fit into one genre but takes elements from various different genres. It’s a spectrum and for me, there is no real need to define it. In fact, reviewers have called Innuendo ‘genre bending’ and ‘defying genres’ and I’m really happy with that.
This film centers on the experiences and struggles of a young woman. What do you like most about writing for women leads?
I grew up as a woman, and while I don’t really much care about gender personally, I still mainly identify as a woman when need be. They always say write about what you know don’t they? It’s also filling a gap in the film industry that is so overwhelmingly filled with male leads. The way I see it, 50% of the world’s population are women so why should film be any different.
You are currently running an Indiegogo campaign to help you cover the cost of making the Westermarck Effect. Why did you choose Indiegogo over other crowdfunding sites?
I used it for the campaign for Innuendo and it allows for flexible funding, which for me is essential. The way many filmmakers see it,unless they get a certain amount of money, they won’t even start making the film. The way I see it, I am going to make the film regardless, with whatever amount of money I have, so the flexible funding means I can still get the funds collected even if we don’t hit the target. Please support the film here.
What will the campaign help you cover and do you have any advice for other women directors juggling multiple production roles?
With the kind of support I can collect with crowdfunding, that is not enough to cover wages for anyone, so everyone, including myself, are volunteers. The money will go to buying equipment. I would like to get a better camera than we had making Innuendo so I can get a 4K film made. Also, things like hard drives and memory cards and crew insurance are expensive. Other things such as food for the crew we do as cheaply as possible, we cannot afford to pay for catering so myself or my assistant will make food for everyone. One day it is my dream to 1) be in a position to get more major funding so that I can pay my cast and crew and, 2) to be able to make my own living with this work that already takes up most of my time anyway.
Doing multiple production roles is taxing and I really would rather be able to concentrate on the creative work while someone else does the producing. However, I know this is the reality for me now and I am just happy to be able to make films, so from that point of view, I don’t complain.
Advice? Well, for me personally, a massive advantage is that I decided not to have children. My films are my offspring so I don’t have to divide my time in between family and work. I do have some great people working with me who have kids, though, so I am not saying one cannot do both. Having good people to work with is essential. However, I realise people like not being in charge, so directors need to be able to take a lot of responsibility and carry most of the workload. Sleep. Get a lot of sleep, that’s your best friend in between productions.
On your Indiegogo page for Westermarck Effect, you mention that “only 7% of films were directed by women in 2016.” Why is it so important to support budding women filmmakers?
The glass ceiling is definitely a real thing for women and it’s difficult to break when it’s a structure that people are afraid to talk about. It is amazing how many times someone has offered me “funding” but when the push has come to shove and they have realized I’m in this for the business, not to date them, all of a sudden the money vanishes.
When I went to the American Film Market and was talking to people about my film project, someone actually said; “Shall we go and discuss it on my yacht?” I thought he was joking and Iaughed it off, but apparently he was serious. Safe to say, I didn’t get financing from him. Well, I am being a bit cheeky here, not every male in the film industry is trying to date every female in the film industry. But the statistics about who gets to direct films are real and we need to do all we can to make things more equal. I encourage all film bodies to follow the lead of Sweden, where all governmental film funding must go equally to women and men.
You are not only a director but also an actor, writer, and producer. How do your acting and writing experiences influence your directing work?
It all feeds into each other and at the end of the day, I am here to tell stories and make films, and the different roles are just components of the same thing. I started off as an actor, and that is still the driving passion, but everything else I have grown into and now it’s a living breathing thing that has a life of its own. The more films I see and the more work I do, the more I believe in the auteur approach to filmmaking. Too many films with too many producers, or co-directors, etc. become generic: when you try and create several people’s vision, it becomes diluted and in the worst case, uninteresting. What’s even worse about that process is that often you find yourself in a situation where no one really cares much about the work any longer, because no one feels it’s truly “theirs” and then no one takes responsibility. The way I work is I take full responsibility and I give people full responsibility too. For example, take my composer, Charly Harrison. I trust his vision when it comes to music and I hardly interfere with that process. Same goes for various other creatives in my productions. I get people who trust my vision and then I trust those people to deliver the best possible job to match it.
What advice do you have for women playing multiple roles in one production?
It makes for easy negotiations regarding important decisions, but it can be a lonely road. To be okay with that is essential and to ask for support from mentors who have done something similar before can be really helpful. Also, when taking advice, I need to constantly remind myself that no one really knows. When it comes to film, the higher I rise, the more I realise that everyone in it is guesstimating and there is no ultimate truth. So yes, do ask for advice, but be prepared to get a lot of contradicting advice, and then it’s just up to you to trust your intuition. It will hopefully become easier the more you do it. If you want to be at the top, you need to work harder than anyone under you. Forget about having a life, film is your life now.
For more information about the film and to donate to its continued progress, visit the film on Indiegogo. Follow Westermark Effect, Innuendo, and Saara Lamberg on Facebook. Visit Katie’s profile here.