Julia Goldani Telles on the set of The Girlfriend Experience, season three
Anja Marquardt, who was born in Germany, made her debut at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival She has lost control, premiered to positive notices and moved on to a healthy festival life. The film is a fictional account of a graduate student (Brooke Bloom) who acts as a professional sex substitute for men struggling with physical intimacy. He represented a unique new voice in the independent film scene and ultimately brought the nominations for the Marquardt Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay.
Marquardt, who was several years away from this movie's theatrical release, has now taken on a project with similar themes but a much larger production schedule (and much greater brand value). After the selection Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz direct the first two seasons, Steven Soderbergh's omnibus series The girlfriend experience (inspired by his 2009 film with adult film actress Sasha Gray) hired Marquardt to write and direct all ten episodes of season three that are currently airing on STARZ. Iris (Julia Goldani Telles), a young woman, moves to London to do a neuroscience debut for a tech startup that uses technology to identify users' ideal romantic partners. Since Iris' day job gets her to analyze all kinds of data related to gender tolerance, her evening work (which participates in the "Gilfriend experience" that gives the series its title) provides further valuable research.
Both his personal interests and film style, Marquardt's take on the series, is entirely up to her. A few days after the premiere of the first two episodes on STARZ (new episodes premiere every Sunday until June 27), I spoke to Marquardt about how she got involved in the series, incorporated current and constantly evolving technologies into the plot and how the experience War of Independent Filmmaking can prepare you for whatever elongated form of visual storytelling you take on next.
Filmmakers: We last spoke six years ago for the theatrical release of your debut film, She has lost controland I wanted to ask about the time after which this film came into the world. When you wrote, directed, and co-edited this film, did you want to continue the “hands on deck” approach to whatever came next? Where did you find your career at that point in time?
Marquardt: I spent a lot of time enjoying the festival round with She has lost controlSince the film gave me the opportunity to visit some amazing places I hadn't been to before, Bogotá's film festival stands out as one. I thought, "Okay, making a second feature shouldn't be too complicated" – but then of course it was. In my opinion, if I had been wealthy independently, it would have been easier to repeat what I did She has lost control, but I had maxed out every single favor around the world to make this movie (and accepted so many different hats, including the project's lead producer). This, more than anything else, was born out of necessity. We really put every penny into a dollar for this film, and doing a rerun for another feature film seemed absolutely impossible.
I've spent my time writing a storm, adapting a novel, directing a feature film that was fully funded and audited, but then things fall apart for reasons that seem utterly incomprehensible when they occur. You take one for the team, and to repeat one for the team, and before you know it, five years have passed and you haven't created a second role. I was issued. I now feel that the time has been well used as I have written so many scripts and improved my writing skills during that time and met amazing people along the way, writers and producers who are sure to be employees in the future.
Filmmakers: Did they inquire about your writing services, or were there certain personal stories that came from you and that you tried to get off the ground?
Marquardt: A little of both. The fact that I had experience as a director who had also written my own material in the past was a blessing I think, and it made it a lot easier for me to go into a meeting and say, “Hey, this is something that I developed and that is my vision. “At the same time, I'm open to tasks that I haven't personally created. I think it is also often the industry expectation that the director either do a Director's Draft or a regulatory rewrite with the writer, as very few scripts are actually ready for production when a director (for the first time read). . It is a good ability to continuously develop yourself. Some of my writing projects were original ideas and the other half were collaborations, either something I was hired to do or something I developed with another writer.
Filmmakers: I think it was Steven Soderbergh who reached out to you to run the third season of The girlfriend experience. How was that call?
Marquardt: It was a special, unique moment. I was busy rewriting a project that followed the #MeToo movement. Massive changes have been set in motion across the industry. The producers who hired me to work on this project suddenly came up and asked, "Well, in the end, can you kill (the main male character) and make the lead female protagonist?" Remember this script was supposed to be an adaptation of a novel, and now I was suddenly hired to do a stunt of a rewrite. I thought, "Okay, let's just try and see where we land." I was really buried in an intense exercise of rewriting, then suddenly I got the call over The girlfriend experience and this very interesting window of time opened up. It felt like dominoes were collapsing as I could redirect all of my activities and focus on the third season of this series. It was an amazing opportunity.
Filmmakers: Knowing your previous work makes the series feel like a perfect fit and a natural progression. But how were these first conversations between you and Soderbergh? Were these thematic points connected when he held out his hand?
Marquardt: Yes, and I think Steven was lucky enough to have checked out She has lost control before reaching out. If it weren't for him, I'm not sure I'd sit here and talk to you about season three. For me it was a confluence of luck and good timing. Thematically, I had done pretty much everything but to work on a similar plot in the following years She has lost control. The projects I was working on had absolutely nothing to do with any type of sex work or a gendered approach to intimacy or things like that. I imagine the one She has lost control an attempt to treat the topic responsibly was shown. That was also very important for Steven and STARZ, the network. When you look at the entire franchise, the Steven Soderbergh movie, and seasons one and two of the series, there's a non-judgmental approach to what these characters do, and it was important to honor that in the future.
Filmmakers: They wrote and directed the entire series, which feels like a monumental task. How was this writing process? Did you have to imagine the story in an episodic structure and segment it so that each half-hour block ends with a narrative “climax”? Did you feel like you had to achieve some kind of bingeable quality? Outside of the premiere (where two episodes aired on the same night) only one episode is released every Sunday.
Marquardt: It was important to me to make the show bingable, at least for the audience who will see it that way once all the episodes are out. And while I love playing my favorite shows, I also wanted to include at least one mindfuck per episode so we could flip or redirect plot elements to what the audience is interested in before we venture into a new area that works within the larger story arc entire season. You can see it either way, and these goal posts were fun setting up.
In terms of writing the ten episodes, there was a point where it was a bit daunting to conceive the whole thing before preparing to climb "that mountain" of production. I broke everything and made everything as digestible as possible. Every script is terrifying at some point, mostly before you even sit down to work on it. Once you start, break everything down into smaller segments. Then it's just a matter of getting up every day and getting the job done. I wrote the first draft of all ten episodes pretty quickly, then the focus was on rewriting and polishing the draft with certain secured locations.
Filmmakers: Has London always been the central location for this season? Moving Iris to work there?
Marquardt: Yes. There was an earlier iteration in the works where the season would have been loosely based on a particular novel, but that was abandoned at some point when the network requested a more linear plot in London. I was tasked with developing an entirely new take for season three, and my immediate impetus was to bring in the previous interests I'd explored over the past five years (artificial intelligence, neuroscience, future-oriented technologies, etc) and one too find way to channel this into.
Filmmakers: Once you knew you would be in charge for the entire season, it was important to reconnect with several of your key employees at She has lost control? Especially your cameraman Zack Galler and editor Nick Carew?
Marquardt: This selection process was also collaborative in the sense that Steven felt it was a good reason to hire someone as long as I had a good reason to include someone on this ride. What was special about this series was that it was treated like a huge independent feature, at least in terms of cross-boarding the entire production and working with a single DP and editor, and so on. It came together pretty organically, even though we were closed two weeks before production started in March 2020 due to COVID.
Filmmakers: So production started and you had to pause for the foreseeable future?
Marquardt: We weren't even in production yet! We were at the height of our preparations, then everything was shut down two weeks before our start date. At the time, I was preparing with another DP, Sébastien Ventura (we've been wanting to work together for a while), and we were essentially done prep as everything was shutting down. It took (some time) to get production back up and – well, everything happens for a reason I believe, and life would change so much.
Availability of the people (changed) and Zack Galler (my DP on She has lost control) became available as soon as we could resume preparation. It would not have been available six months earlier when shooting was scheduled (originally planned). When we started up again, Zack was ready so the gang came back with him, Nick, and me. Shortly before the start of production, we praised each other and promised to continue to challenge and push each other forward. Instead of repeating this project (from She has lost control), we needed a completely different endeavor, and while it was obviously about the narrative, we wanted that difference to apply to the graphics, style, and pace of the story as well.
Filmmakers: When were you actually allowed to resume preparation and start production? I can imagine March and April 2020 were out of the question.
Marquardt: It was late summer 2020, yes, and in retrospect it was the only time we could successfully pull back as there was another major shutdown about a week later after we finished filming. Looking back, we were really lucky.
Filmmakers: You mentioned that much of the production is going to have to go overboard. This is something special, of course, for shooting a series, and I was wondering if this would require a different type of planning when you start such a lengthy project.
Marquardt: Now that we wanted to apply a more “feature mindset” to production, our planning process also resembled a feature. Instead of breaking it down episode by episode, we shot with locations and actors like you would with a feature. It has allowed us to be much more effective, at least in terms of budgeting.
Filmmakers: in the Filmmaker's coverage of the first seasonScott Macaulay reported that "Kerrigan and Seimetz began their process by splitting the entire show, all 13 episodes, on a giant whiteboard. They then tackled individual episodes and split each one in half. " But when you approach season three as a huge feature film, does it sound like you've been able to stick with an approach that you are familiar with?
Marquardt: Maybe, but I think you need to activate a greater amount of time in your brain to capture storylines and themes, as well as subplots and certain character moments, in ten episodes instead of a two-hour feature. But I think the brain is surprisingly adaptable, and season three felt like second nature. Obviously, to some extent, that's because I wrote all ten episodes, but it was natural for the (rest of the team) to say, "OK, you know what, ever since these happens in episode seven, why don't we use the same location here (in another episode)? We can make it up to you later. “We always try to double up and that was especially important when we were filming in a big city like London in the middle of a pandemic. We tried converting each location into five locations and it worked out fine.
Filmmakers: Since the film deals with advanced technology and augmented reality, Iris has to change her appearance depending on the scene (and world). Have you done a lot of screen tests with Julia Goldani Telles and the hair and makeup department? Iris' changing appearances feel equally influenced by Julia's performance.
Marquardt: All of this was the result of a great collaboration between our costume designer Tina Kalivas (who was also a fashion designer in a previous life and created bespoke pieces for our version of Iris) and our hair and makeup designer Sarah Pickering. who came with a very clear vision of how to show Iris' consistent "reboots" that are outwardly manifested in her appearance. Iris has very different experiences throughout the film and Tina and Sarah had to find a certain look for each company, each bag of reality in Iris & # 39; "Girlfriends Life". This was a fun mix of character and location, not to mention something that would set the tone of any interaction. We had dozens of different "irises".
Filmmakers: And they are sometimes presented to the viewer in complex, intentionally disorienting ways. The pilot begins with a scenario that ties character and location together, to the point where I asked if we were in a dream or virtual reality composite or something else. I imagine this merging of very real spaces with digital spaces is quite liberating in its own way as a storyteller. Did you process it this way – taking iris in and out of digital realm and then putting it in very real circumstances?
Marquardt: My biggest goal was to be forward-thinking and halfway to science fiction while relying on very naturalistic performances. The fine line we set was never to overwhelm the viewer with something that was too visually polished or too outrageously digital. I still wanted it to feel improved, but not overly. Look at what we see now Unreal engine and other virtual production companies and techniques. There is so much interesting going on, but we wanted to capture as much as possible in the camera and then select and improve certain aspects using visual effects for our VR scenes. It had to be subtle but noticeable in order to resonate with the viewer without jumping right on top of them.
In this pilot's opening scene, when Iris conducts an interview with a high-end escort agency that is a decentralized operation, the viewer has no idea what their physical headquarters might look like (or if they even have one). All we know is that these two characters are interviewing in a VR setting and that every financial transaction is done through crypto and currency. Iris is presented to the audience as a very beautiful, flawless figure, but I hope that the viewer does not immediately conclude that the scenario is not real. We provide clues and process them in such a way that the scenario is no longer tangible.
Filmmakers: The series features numerous technological advances that are making a huge amount of noise in our society today, most notably deep counterfeiting and debates about how to be ethical. Were there moments when you resisted this urge when you were making a series that incorporated the technological zeitgeist of the moment? Is there ever the fear that a topic will become obsolete and passé when it reaches the audience? Have you checked out the latest newscycle headlines to draw from?
Marquardt: There has been a lot of talk at several stages of my writing process about how profoundly forgery could manipulate the upcoming American presidential election, and that was obviously just one concern among many. We have all seen this Bill Hader Video in which he channeled Tom Cruise and some others, and they're just as fun and gorgeous.
Filmmakers: But now people are afraid of the deceptive nature it possesses.
Marquardt: Yes, and at that point there was so much discussion about deep counterfeiting. It felt like we had the opportunity and the obligation to embrace this realm, especially in terms of history, but also artistically. There's a visual effects sequence on the show that uses the same deep fake technology, but I'll have to let our senior visual effects supervisor David Gaddie speak once we're done posting on that scene. We're almost done with it, but it's going to be quite a stunt.
Filmmakers: So you are still deep in the mail? I know the show will run until the end of June.
Marquardt: We are nearly finished! We are very close. It's obviously been locked with images for quite a while, but we've worked to bring the visual effects to a level where they blend in seamlessly with any shot. It has to be very subtle, of course, so that you don't necessarily realize that it is visual effects, but as a result, it was all very time consuming.
Filmmakers: Now that you've had this experience and tried to get other projects off the ground in the years after receiving your first contribution, does it now seem like both a professional and a personal development for you? That you learned things along the way that you can bring to future projects regardless of length and production specifications, certain skills that you can continue to bring with you from project to project?
Marquardt: Oh, absolutely, and I think that's the beauty of it. For every project that doesn't progress, you've still worked those muscles and done the heavy lifting on the side or in your heart aesthetically, right? I would like to believe that all this work and energy will come back at some point and then be channeled into other projects, whatever they may be. I look forward to doing it again.