Tribeca 2016 Women Directors: Meet Lorene Scafaria – ‘The Meddler’

"The Meddler"Lorene Scafaria made her directorial debut with her original screenplay "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. She also adapted the young adult novel "Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist," which premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and was released in theaters later that year. Her TV directing and producing credits include "New Girl" and "Ben & Kate." (Press materials) 

"The Meddler" will premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival on April 19. 

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

LS: "The Meddler" is about Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon), a recent widow and eternal optimist who moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). When Lori’s work takes her out of town, Marnie has to fend for herself in LA. Armed with an iPhone, a full bank account and a lot of love to give, Marnie finds herself meddling in other people’s lives. But putting herself out there might be the best thing that ever happened to her.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

LS: The main character is based on my mother and the set-up of the story is essentially what happened after my dad died. My mom moved to LA and she and I had a rough go of it at first, grieving in different ways, but the script branches off into fantasy. 

It’s a bit of my own wish fulfillment for my mother. But I tried to stay true to who she is and was, as well as who I was to her at the time. I found that the more specific I got with her character, the more it seemed to resonate with other people and remind them of their own mothers, in one way or another. Mostly, I wanted to pay respect to someone who dedicated her life to her husband and daughter but deserves to be star of her own story.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

LS: I hope that they feel hope for themselves and empathy for others. I also hope that they laugh, have fun and think Susan Sarandon is a legend. But more than anything, I hope that anyone who’s been through, or is going through, a similar experience — loss, grief, starting over — I hope that they get something from Marnie’s hopefulness.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

LS: Getting the script green-lit was the hardest part. It wasn’t the easiest sell without making it a traditional mother-daughter story or a traditional rom-com.

Once the cast was in place, things moved quicker. But we wrote a lot of impassioned letters to get the favors necessary to make the movie at this budget in LA, which was essential since the movie itself is a love letter to LA through Marnie’s eyes.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

LS: After a few years of working on the script, I sent it cold to Susan Sarandon who liked it enough to meet with me and then agreed to do the film. Joy Gorman, who also produced "Seeking a Friend," fought all the fights with me and produced the film with Anonymous Content. It took us a little while to get J.K. Simmons and Rose Byrne onboard but then we were able to go to different financiers with the script and the cast and us as a package. Sony Worldwide gave us the best deal and ended up being incredible partners on this.

Joy and I wrote letters to everyone from the Mayor to Beyonce in order to get it made in LA on a tight budget. It became a passion project for everyone involved as we seemed to collect a lot of cast and crew who had been through similar experiences and felt a kinship to the story. Our 1st AD Jonas Spaccarotelli was invaluable on set. Our editor Kayla M. Emter was invaluable in post. 

Everyone did their part to tell Marnie’s story. Sony Pictures Classics came on to distribute. 

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work? 

LS: I don’t know that there’s a conception about my work yet, but based on any criticism of "Seeking a Friend" I’d say that certain choices felt misunderstood. I never meant for there to be such an age gap between the two leads, though I’d argue that half the point of the movie is that these two people never would’ve gotten together if it wasn’t for the end of the world. 

They’re two people who have probably passed each other in the halls a million times and the only reason two opposites like this would even meet is because of the [circumstances] — the world coming to an end. In my mind, it was meant to be "the last romantic comedy" but instead people took it as a "Hollywood" thing to do.  

That kind of bummed me out. I also didn’t enjoy the term "manic pixie dream girl" regarding Penny, Keira’s character. She certainly went through her own experience and was equally changed by Steve’s character. Penny was me — flaky enough to miss a flight home to be with my family in a moment of crisis instead of with some stupid guy. It sounded like something I would do at the worst possible time and then regret entirely.  

So the character was actually personal for me. And then Keira made it her own. I wasn’t cool enough to collect records. But in-case-of-fire, I would definitely grab my favorite DVDs in my collection, even if I had no means of ever playing them again. Nonetheless, I did actually mean for that moment to be annoying to the audience, as it is to Dodge, Steve’s character, because that’s what this character is meant to be — annoying until he/we fall in love with her and then feel deep empathy for her because her optimism is what makes the end so hard for her. 

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

LS: Just make a great movie, no matter what size it is. Fight all the good fights to make it your vision the first time. Jail is no place for a lady!  

But I would give the same advice to any director. Learn how the money is handled. Stay optimistic. Actors want to work. Give them characters they want to play, or a story they want to tell, and hopefully the budget will follow. Then make the movie your way.  

Surround yourself with people who know more than you. Be nice to everyone. Stay present. Have fun. Allow yourself to feel things. Admit when you’re wrong. Don’t compromise when you’re right.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

LS: Probably "Friends With Money" by Nicole Holofcener or "Lost in Translation" by Sofia Coppola. I get something different out of “Friends with Money” every time I watch it, identifying with different characters at different times. It also talks about what I think is our greatest taboo: money and the awkwardness of adult relationships being at different stages. “Lost in Translation” is so beautiful, inspired, hilarious and emotional. I felt very jealous of it the first time I saw it. 

I also love Allison Anders’ "Gas, Food Lodging," Alison Maclean’s "Jesus’ Son," Agnieszka Holland’s incredible "Europa Europa" and, for a good time, watch "Fatso" by Anne Bancroft. Oh, and I loved "The Babadook" by Jennifer Kent! And my classic favorites are Amy Heckerling’s "Clueless" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and Penny Marshall’s "A League of Their Own," "Big" and "Awakenings." Too many!