Interview with Director Katherine Dieckmann, Director/Writer of Motherhood

by Melissa Silverstein on October 30, 2009

in Women Directors,Women Writers

dieckmannI had a great conversation with Katherine a couple of weeks ago and then I traveled out of town twice and never finished transcribing it which is why it is so late.  I am a one woman operation and don’t type really well.  In high school typing was an elective and it conflicted with lunch in my schedule and for those of you who know me, food always comes first.  I think in the back of my mind I believed not learning to type was my little contribution to feminism.  If I couldn’t type, I couldn’t be a secretary.  Guess it kind of backfired now since I do lots of interview and it take me forever to transcribe (so any of you good typists out there who want to contribute to the cause let me know, I can use your services.)

So I want to apologize to Katherine, she gave me her time and answered everything so honestly.  I still haven’t finished the interview but I did not want to let the second Friday of her film playing in theatres go by without posting something — so here is part 1.  I will get part 2 done asap.

Information on where the film Motherhood is playing here.

Women & Hollywood: You said in the NY Times recently that a man can write great women’s movies but you don’t think a man could have written this story.  Can you elaborate?

Katherine Dieckmann: Think about a movie like You Can Count on Me.  I think that in some ways it’s a very female movie in the orientation of the writing.  But I think that until you have really been inside the experience of being a mother you can’t understand the cultural and pragmatic obstacles are.  That’s what I meant by that.

W&H: So many female directors don’t want to be knows as women’s directors but with this film you seem to be embracing that title.

KD: I am but I have made two films with men at the center so I really don’t think that’s true.  I made this  particular film very much from my perspective as a woman.  The film I am writing now has a gay man at the center.  The movie I made before this, Diggers, has 4 hetero guys at the center.  To me, I don’t want to be known as a women’s director.  However, I still feel that female subject matter is really underserved in film and is vitally important to me even though I like all kinds of movies.

W&H:  I feel I must clarify, I didn’t mean to imply that as a woman you should only direct movies about women, but there is something about the term.  Can you ever see a guy called a male director?  It’s the labeling.

KD: Yes, it’s about diminishing and controlling and I don’t feel like being diminished or controlled in that sense.  But I think we still haven’t figured out in this culture how to allow the female director to have a kind of iconic power.  I was struck a couple of years ago when Variety did an issue commemorating Brett Ratner breaking the billion dollar mark for his movies.  All the photographs were of these guys clasping Brett on the arm saying something like well done dude.  There were no women in those pictures.  And I thought what woman director could you cut out and put in Brett Ratner’s place shaking hands with Bob Evans passing along the legacy vibe.  No, that doesn’t exist and that’s what I mean by the iconic image of the woman director.  I wrote somewhere that directing is always talked about in terms of war and sports metaphors.  I went into battle.  I was on the playing field.  I don’t really think about my work that way.  That’s a foreign language to me and I think culturally that how directing gets talked about.

W&H: There still seems to be a glass ceiling for women directors.  Things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

KD: I think that’s true.

W&H: How do you think about breaking it down?

KD: We don’t think about breaking it down because that’s too discouraging.  I think every woman director I know and I know a bunch of them — Mary Harron, Allison MacLean, Nancy Savoca, Mira Nair — find that they (not just the women but the men too) are enormously supportive of each others endeavors.  Most women directors I know are really focused on how am I going to get my next movie made.  This movie I am trying to make called The Shags is about an all girl band and I was trying to get the script to Kirsten Dunst.  A friend of mine knew the director Peyton Reed who directed Bring it On and I got in touch with him and he didn’t;t know me but he read the script and gave it to Kirsten.  So I feel within this circuit of people making movies there is an enormous tendency to try and support each other from both women and men.

The system is another issue.  When people ask if I have ever encountered sexism on shoots I honestly say I haven’t.  I’ve worked with lots of guys and I’ve never found gender to be a problem in the pragmatics of doing things.  I think gender is a problem in the global picture of what gets made, how people get hired and how the profession is perceived.

W&H: There doesn’t seem to be any will for change?

KD: There is a real tendency to ignore, as has widely been remarked, the successes of women made movies.  It’s like they are pushed under the carpet and you have to fight the battle all over again against the perception that they don’t do well.  The do do well.  That’s why I am curious about Motherhood because we are self distributing and I’ve been doing interviews with mom bloggers and the actresses have been talking with mom bloggers and we are doing this more grassroots approach including a breast cancer benefit where $1 from ticket sales on Fandango will go breast cancer research.  We are trying to movie things out through different channels.

W&H: The term mommy blogger is kind of loaded nowadays. Did you know what you were walking into?

KD: I’ve noticed.  I have to admit when I wrote my script I had never read a mom blog.  I had no idea.  Originally when I wrote the script the character was a journalist because that’s what I knew but it didn’t work and I thought that mom blogging was interesting because it has to do with this issue of voice and finding an outlet for your voice.  Why do you say it’s loaded?

W&H: Because of the way they are treated in the culture.

KD: I think it’s a very complicated issue.  I feel it’s really important for women to be able to talk about the experiences they have that are so denigrated by the culture and I think it’s really important to be able to move beyond those experiences sometimes to talk about other things.  So it is both.  There needs to be an outlet for expression about “dailyness” because that is what your life is and that is what sustains the human race and it is not to be trivialized.  However, for myself, I can’t imagine anything worse that having to talk about mommy topics all day long.  That’s not what I want to do.

I feel that Motherhood has invisible content like at the beginning of the film in the credits where Uma’s character is scurrying around and making the coffee and feeding the banana to her kid.  It’s all very whimsical but in fact her husband gets up and toasts himself some bread and sits back down to read and nobody sees that as off.  It’s what we see all the time.  It’s the beginning of the cycle of exhaustion and when people ask me why she is so tired I say did you miss all the things she just did?  That’s what I mean about a woman writing the script.  You have to know the fatigue and the erosion of self esteem that kind of menial mundanity induces in most people except the weirdly and endlessly self sacrificing ones.

To be continued

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) October 31, 2009 at 4:23 PM

I’m surprised to read that she didn’t experience sexism on set, ever.

Stephanie October 31, 2009 at 7:40 PM

Great interview. It’s interesting to see how each of the female director’s you’ve spoken to have viewed the industry and the men who run it…

And if you need help with the typing – I’d be happy to volunteer my services. You provide such a great platform – it’s the least I could do.

Melissa Silverstein November 1, 2009 at 8:18 PM

I would love to take you up on your offer to transcribe. can you email me directly at


Melissa Silverstein November 1, 2009 at 8:19 PM

Me too.

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) November 3, 2009 at 3:31 PM

I have experienced sexism on set. Not the set I was Director or Producer on, but when I was a P.A., PS, AD, PM
I experienced sexism- some of it so overt it would make the female characters on Mad Men take notice.

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