Interview with Sally Potter, Director of Rage

by Melissa Silverstein on September 29, 2009

in Women Directors

sallypotterSally Potter is a filmmaking icon.  She is an outspoken, visionary, feminist director who has been on the cutting edge of the indie world since she started making films.  That being said, Potter’s work is an acquired taste, and her new film Rage she is again pushing all the boundaries in form and in the method of distribution.  The movies stars high profile people (Jude Law, Judi Dench among others) in a series of intimate interviews at a fashion show.  As the film progresses you get to know more and more about what makes these people who they are.  The film is being released on DVD and on mobile phones.  The first episode is now available here.

I spoke with Sally Potter last week about her new film and making movies.

Women & Hollywood: To me Rage is such an intimate movie.  First, do you think it’s intimate and second where did you get your inspiration from?

Sally Potter: I do think it is intimate.  It is a word I use a lot.  It is in part my direct experience from being on the internet and doing a blog and making myself accessible to people in a very intimate way  and finding that for the first time in all my working life I was having a one on one global relationship with strangers who I would otherwise never meet who in my imagination I was working for. So as I began to understand the nature of the internet which is this peculiar combination of global reach and intimate relationships and that began to give me a clue how to make a different kind of film that would incorporate some of this language of the internet.

W&H: So I guess we can call this one of the first web 2.0 inspired movies?

SP: Certainly and of course the first film ever released on a cell phone.

W&H: There seems to be such a crisis in independent film making with people really freaked out about the future.

SP: It’s not just the independents, it’s the studios too.

W&H: How are you going to monetize this film if people can download it for free on their cell phone?

SP: First of all I’ve always had an evolutionary approach to survival as a filmmaker.  Indeed like the principle of evolution those who adapt survive, those who don’t become dinosaurs.  So I figure that in this age of the terror of theft on the internet the cleverest thing to do is give it away.  When you remove that terror you free you imagination to start to think about how to get your money back in more imaginative ways.  There seems to be some early experience and statistics to suggest that downloads in music for example do not stop people from buying cds, but it builds awareness and creates a larger audience which will in turn stimulate more people paradoxically to buy.  Similarly, there is even the beginning of statistics that (film) piracy stimulates a larger audience which in turn stimulates more buying.  So that means income through DVDs.  In the case of our film we sold it — albeit for not a massive sum– to Babelgum who are putting it out so there is some cash flow back in the beginning.  This is an extremely low budget film which was deliberately kept low.  I call it barefoot filmmaking.  It’s a way of filmmaking for survival.

W&H: The word rage is such a loaded word and I wanted to get a sense of why you picked that for the title.

SP: There is an element of punning in it about “all the rage”, a phrase that is hardly used anymore, but I think there is a deeper feel of rage, a kind of quiet rage on a mass scale and not knowing where to focus this rage which is the negative end of globalization.  The positive end is the internet in my view, but the negative end which is about greater and greater ownership by anonymous corporate entities and less and less about freedom for the individual.  Now of course what has happened is the banking crisis has brought a lot to the fore and now people do have a target for their anger against an amoral profiteering system, a genuinely purely amoral money in the pocket and who cares about anybody else way of thinking.  And I think that the fashion industry like every other industry links into that globalized anonymous ownership and that end of it is a bit nasty so the rage could be the rage of the outworkers who are underpaid, it could be the stereotyping of beauty that lead to this terrible mass anorexia that so many young women suffer from, and all the other ways that world interfaces with the big difficult thing that most people don’t have a language for.

W&H: So the rage is a microcosm of all the crazy different things we go through every day.

SP: Yes, at some level we are in a rage and don’t even know it.

W&H: On your blog you used the term “poor cinema” to describe this film. Can you explain the concept?

SP: I mean it in the sense of (Jerzy) Grotowski in theatre and other people who are taking the element of their form back to the basic.  Poor in the sense of minimal or austere, no waste, direct, simple in its means, simple in its execution.  There are certain things that don’t cost money but take energy and time so although you tube and very cheap cameras make it possible for anyone to do a film it doesn’t make it possible for them to make them well.

W&H: So how do you live, how do you pay your rent or mortgage?  The first thing they tell you about making a movie is don’t invest you own money.

SP: Well I like breaking all the rules and that’s why I am putting this movie out there free when everyone else is terrified of precisely that.  I’ve never not gone into debt when I first starting out making a movie.  I’ve gotten used to it and I’ve learned how to surf it if you like and eventually the money comes back because everything I have made has actually sold.   So the income does come back eventually it’s just that I have to in effect become an investor in my own work at the beginning.  So that’s how I think of the debt, as an investment in myself.  I got started by saying if nobody else wants to back me I’m going to back myself.  I’m not wealthy, I don’t come from a wealthy family.  But that’s the way I’m going to get this work made.  I’m going to be prepared to work harder than anyone else.

W&H: Do you think that women have to work harder to get their vision out there?

SP: Quite possibly, but all the male filmmakers I know are also struggling too.  I must say that.  However we are still in this insane minority.

W&H: You write that for you film making is a poetic, personal and political necessity.  Most people don’t think about making movies in that way.  What is it about movies that makes you need to do them?

SP: That really is the million dollar question, the why.  I know how to recognize the sensation.  When I am searching for the next film to do in my own mind I’m looking for that sensation which is this is one I must do.  I absolutely have to do this rather than it might sell or what do other people want me to do or those other considerations.  The impulse has to come from deep within and an absolute commitment.  And passion because it takes so bloody long and you have to sustain difficulties and down time.  But I think the feeling of poetic, political and personal necessity which is a marriage of 3 different kinds of sensibilities is probably a sort of triad of motivations that any artist would have in common whether a painter or poet and possibly a scientist and mathematician. It’s somebody who thinks with a sense of purpose through producing something for others.

W&H: What are you thinking about doing next?

SP: Until I’ve put one thing to bed or out into the world is a better way of putting it I’m not really free to put all my attention into finding the next project.  The interactive premiere we had last night (September 24) here in the UK was the last of this, and in a week or 2 I will be free to work fully on the next thing.  But I also want to learn from this process.  How does it actually work?  Are people going to buy the DVD or not?  Are they going to be watching on their cell phone?  How is word going to spread?  How does viral word of mouth work in this modern cutting edge of film?  Is this a kind of film that people are going to like and enjoy, this level of simplicity?

I tend to in my own life have a kind of pendulum a smaller film, a bigger film, a smaller film, a bigger film, so it might be that I want to do a bigger film next and I do know, and I’ve learned this cumulatively, is that people really really really want to connect with something that matters – it can be a comedy or tragedy- it doesn’t matter but they want to connect from the heart with the material.

W&H: There are not a lot of women who talk about their politics and feminism in their work and it is still such a struggle for women to get their film made.  Any thoughts?

SP: It is making some headway because when I first started there were no women in the context where I was working.  And that was a very lonely place, and I’ve watched that shift gradually.  People used to come up to me in all parts of the world and said oh I loved The Piano and I said no that was Jane (Campion).  And she and I would meet up now and then at festivals and she would say that people keep telling me they love Orlando and I’d say yes, sorry. So it was as if there were two of us in a sort of vaguely conspicuous, visible place in the pantheon of directors and that’s changed surely.  So that’s already an advance.

But I think I am in a slightly different category than most women because I am not waiting to be offered work.  I do get offered scripts but so far I’ve turned them all down.  I write my own so I don’t go in the waiting position.  I generate my own material. I initiate it, I set it up, retain control and that if anything is my secret on how to proceed because there is nothing diluted.

W&H: Lots of women are writer/directors because that is sometimes they only chance they get to direct.

SP: Yes.  That means putting in a lot of hours into the writing process.  I mean years because of course it’s not the same thing as directing.  They are a different activity all together. There’s a down side to it and there’s an upside too which is then you become the complete author of your work.

W&H: Do you have advice for young women who want to become filmmakers?

SP: Yes.  Don’t give up and get started .  It takes longer if you don’t get started.

Check out Sally Potter’s website and blog.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

e October 2, 2009 at 3:03 AM

Thanks for this interview Melissa. I’ve learned so much from Sally Potter and am thrilled that it’s now possible to download “The Gold Diggers” (1983), her amazing movie about women and filmmaking which was for a long time unavailable: Along with her Money Money Money blog entry and her ideas about barefoot filmmaking, “The Gold Diggers” is a wonderful response to the painful realities about the roles of and attitudes towards women and money that permeate the film industry.

Anita October 4, 2009 at 9:28 AM

It’s always so inspiriting to read about women who are getting out there and doing their own stuff!!!

e October 6, 2009 at 4:29 AM

And now another terrific Sally Potter post:, a warning for all of us trying new ways to deliver our features, written so beautifully–

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