When it came to working with musicians who are essentially non-actors, how did it affect your approach to giving them direction? ^ It was a challenge to work with so many non-actors, and while I am most happy with the result, it nevertheless felt, while shooting, that I was being punished for the hubris of hiring so many neophytes. There was never a question of enthusiasm or dedication missing from among these players, but it was often difficult to get them to stay in the frame, deliver their lines in the direction of the mic, etc. But this was also a good challenge, as it shocked me out of relying on my usual dolly tricks, etc….. instead I had to be more flexible, and adapt to the needs and strengths of the performers…
I should also hasten to add that by casting so close to type, and by making sure that all the Paper Dolls were real players, the cast actually saved me a tremendous amount of work — they inhabit the characters in ways which made a lot of talk unnecessary. And so much of this aspect of directing was over with by the time we had cast.
Zoë Poledouris is especially impressive as the backstabbing lead singer, Fauna. What was it about her that gave you the notion she was right for the role? ^ I feel really fortunate to have connected with Zoë for this project. I had heard her score from Cecil B. Demented and liked it. And I was similarly impressed with a demo she recorded to show what her version of the Paper Dolls would sound like. When I learned that Zoë had once shared an apartment with her own all-girl band, I knew she could bring an authenticity to the part of Fauna. And she juggled her various roles with such easy grace! It is hard to overestimate Zoë’s contribution to Dolls.
What was the casting process like for the rest of the band? Did you have people in mind prior to making the film, or did you have to look at a lot of actresses to find the right ones? ^ I worked closely with co-writer Deedee Cheriel and producer Matt Hill to cast the film, and we held countless open sessions with actors culled from all over the Pacific Northwest. I personally drove back and forth between Seattle, Washington and Eugene, Oregon, peppering record stores and college campuses with flyers advertising film roles to authentic rock musicians… One of our goals was to cast a credible foursome as the “Dolls,” and to avoid underfed models who couldn’t tell one end of a guitar from the other. I think we did a fine job assembling the Dolls — each is really beautiful in her own way, but they are definitely “real girls” with real looks and body types, the kind of girls that you might well find in a Portland band, and more importantly, the kind of girls who young women watching the film could actually relate to in a meaningful way — project themselves into, if you will. It is all this female talent on camera, as well as behind it, which accounts for the film’s authentic grrl power vibe.
This movie is a lot grittier than most films about rock bands. Was there something missing from other rock’n’roll movies that you wanted to get across? ^ With Dolls, I really wanted to capture the absurd and often degraded circumstances in which a lot of young rock musicians are obliged to live. And to do this credibly meant leaving the grit and the funk intact. However, as raunchy as the movie gets at some points, it nevertheless remains affectionate toward its characters — and this is because I have a begrudging admiration for these kinds of kids. The fact that they can drop out in Oregon, live on $16,000 a year, and enjoy a local fame and popularity with relative ease makes them seem very appealing to a dude like myself who finds himself selling his soul daily in Hollywood without any resultant increase in my personal happiness. S**t, at these prices, who can afford NOT to drop out?
Did you feel like you were sort of lampooning the 90s grunge scene? ^ There was a bit of lampooning of 90s grunge going on, sure. However, Portland is one of those places, like Havana, which doesn’t really change very fast. It is the proverbial “fly caught in amber.” So that the observations about band life there, which seem very 90s, are equally pertinent to the contemporary Portland experience.