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Papa Vinyard talks with Rose McGowan about her first project as a director and the DAWN Film Festival she's curating this week in downtown Los Angeles!

Rose McGowan has had a 20+ year career in the industry, and we've seen her kill it in projects as varied as SCREAM, JAWBREAKER, THE BLACK DAHLIA, and PLANET TERROR (as well as appearing as Betty Boop in a quite-excellent Funny or Die short), but last year, she took her first foray behind the camera for the short film, DAWN. DAWN played Sundance this January, and is being submitted for the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar. It's playing a week-long engagement at the Downtown Independent theater in L.A. as part of the "DAWN Festival," pairing Ms. McGowan's short with 7 other female-driven films that directly influenced or inspired her work, including HAROLD AND MAUDE, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, CARRIE, and for tonight's opening night kickoff, THELMA & LOUISE (scroll down to the bottom for the full schedule).

I didn't know this at the time of the interview, but the Joshua Miller she refers to (who co-wrote the DAWN script with M.A. Fortin) is the same Joshua Miller who packed a magnum and took a shot at Adrian Pasdar's sister as the diminutive Homer in NEAR DARK. Which is awesome, 'cause this short has a similar dream-like quality, and takes an turn into that film's territory in an unexpected way.

Anyway, read on for Ms. McGowan's thoughts on directing her first project, her disillusionment with the industry, and just how easy it is to put a strong female character into your script:

VINYARD: This is your first project as a director, right?

ROSE: Yes, officially. I mean, I've done things where…I've actually worked on two movies where the directors, for whatever reason, walked off, so I've taken over, but that's just for like a day and very unusual. That's I think how Ida Lupino started, actually, the very prolific female director. The director walked off set, and so she winded up doing amazing films.

VINYARD: THE HITCH-HIKER. You mind telling me which films you took over for on the day?

ROSE: No, I'm not telling that. (laughs)

VINYARD: When did you shoot this movie?

ROSE: I shot it about 10 months ago. It's been a labor of love, I'm really proud of it. I wanted to do a full feature, I just kind of had to do it in like 18-20 minutes. As mucha s possible. Short films aren't my favorite medium.

VINYARD: Had you ever acted in them?

ROSE: I had actually. Probably my favorite acting job was a short film so maybe I should take that back.

VINYARD: How did the script come into your hands?

ROSE: There's a writer named Joshua Miller and his partner named M.A. Fortin, and they're doing some huge movies now, and I've been friends with them for a long time. They're really prolific writers, so talented, and I was lucky enough that they actually adapted a Flannery O'Connor piece for me, but I lost the rights at the last second. The rights were sold to the rival company of DAWN's producers, so it was a big drama, but it turned out all for the best. They saved me. They essentially came to me and said, "It's time…to direct."

VINYARD: So you were looking for a project to direct at the time?

ROSE: I really wasn't. I'd kind of been traveling over the last seven years. I'd come back and do a little work here and there when I felt like being in L.A. or something, but primarily just kind of traveled and just been a rolling stone, and having a fabulous adventure out there in the world. Then I came back, and I thought, "If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do this on my own terms, and I'm going to do it as an artist."

'Cause I wasn't feeling like an artist. I was feeling…you know, you're on the cover of Rolling Stone with bouffant hairdo and fake tan and an ammo belt on with some weird retouching done to you, and you're just thinking, "Who is that?" That was kind of a tipping point for me.

VINYARD: You just mentioned PLANET TERROR, but besides Robert Rodriguez you'd worked with a bunch of directors, and I was wondering if any of them influenced you. Like Gregg Araki; I was getting a little bit of a DOOM GENERATION vibe from the trio of-.

ROSE: Were you?

VINYARD: A little bit.

ROSE: The trio of troublemakers.

VINYARD: Sure, sure. And I was wondering what other directors that you worked with did you find yourself emulating or leaning towards when you were working on your own movie.

ROSE: You know…I just didn't do those kind of movies. So while I admire people, I admire some for how they treat the crew. The crew- I've always been, no matter what show or movie I was on, like the de facto leader of the crew, espeically on the TV show. I just know how to rally them and get everybody to work together, and that served me really well. I spent over 17,000 hours on set. I know what I'm doing, so the thing is, I learned what not to do.

It's like when you're, I'd imagine, a scupltor. Every chip off the block is what you don't want until it's what you do want. And there have definitely been- I worked with De Palma, and I was really inspired by some of his tracking shots, and certain people like that. But by and large, most of the stuff I did as an actor wasn't incredible inspirational to me as a director.


ROSE: And I know how to maintain myself on set, and what to do, because I've been doing it since I was 19 years old.

VINYARD: In terms of stepping behind the camera, did you find that there was like a vibe that you found, like a comfort zone that you found as a director?

ROSE: Completely. That's a really good question, there was a comfort zone, that's the exact perfect way to put that. I found a great comfort zone that I'd never really found as an actor, truthfully. I was always pretty uncomfortable- not once they said, "Action," then I can disappear into the character- but with every part that comes with it. And also just…essentially how you're treated as an actor, or an actress specifically, which isn't the best way to be treated. And you know, and you see all the things they could be capable of doing and aren't doing, and you're just stuck in this position of "Yes, sir," "No, sir." It starts grinding on you.

I'd studied film since I was 4, unofficially, with my father. I hosted a show on TCM, I am on the board of the North American Film Noir Foundation. I know my stuff. So to work with people sometimes that didn't- and I mean I have worked with people, believe me, that definitely have. But every time before they would say action, my heart starts racing. Every single time. And I never had any moment of panic. Not a moment.

VINYARD: As a director.

ROSE: No. I mean there's things like, "Oh my god, all of a sudden we're losing light," or al of a sudden, "We're shutting down production because we need to hire a water tanker to follow us through the woods." "What? Where do we get a massive semi water tanker in like the next 20 minutes?" Things like that, I mean, you're pulling out your hair, but you try to shrug that stuff off and just focus. Those things that come up, those things are more just like handleable problems. I like problem-solving. For me, everything's a little bit of a Rubik's Cube.

VINYARD: You said you were unsatisfied with some of the roles you were getting. You have a great lead female role in this one, the lead character of DAWN played by Tara Barr. I was wondering how did you come about landing her, and directing her, and getting this really great performance from her?

ROSE: She's so good in this. I mean the tiny details she gives to the performance, the nuance that she gave. I was so, so pleased. My first criteria for the casting process was, "No one that would be on a CW show." That was…not to be mean, 'cause that's a totally different thing, but it's a very specific look, and that's typically what's brought in when you're looking for young men and women. That's exactly the antithesis of what I wanted.

I wanted people who looked real, but were also at the same time kind of classical movie stars. Or would be, you know, back in the day. But as actors, as strong actors. I wanted the male character to look like… most male actors have been doing this since they were very young. They've never done a hard day's work in their lives, and it shows. I wanted somebody who looked like they'd been on a construction crew, and lo and behold, that's exactly what I found.

VINYARD: Sure. What about working with (Tara Barr)…I'm assuming she's a minor. I mean she looked young. How old is she?

ROSE: Dawn, I mean Tara? She's so cute. I think she's 19, and she looks like a baby. She was listening to death metal on the way to work, that's what's great about her.

VINYARD: She wasn't a child when you directed the movie, but she looks very young, so I was just thinking about how for your first film, you were tackling child actors, which is...

ROSE: I've directed other child actors I've worked with, I've just worked with them as actors. I worked with this one girl who was 10, and I knew that this whole thing really hinges on her performance, but the director would just say things like, "Now you laugh! Now you cry!" And the little girl is just getting more and more flustered and flummoxed. On those things, on set I'd just kind of sidle in and take over. Sit on the side of the camera or behind the camera and make the girl look at me in the eyes, not look away, and basically just direct the children that I worked with, which is usually kind of what I did. Because I know what to do as an actor, and because I know how to emote, and I know how to connect with people, and I know how to apply that to a role, so if I can apply that knowledge as a director, that's a pretty big leg up.

Besides all the other things that come into play. I've restored like four houses, I'm big into architecture. I did the set design. I'm very, very specific.

VINYARD: That's awesome. I can assume you're looking for more projects to tackle as a director?

ROSE: Absolutely. I'm in negotiations right now for one big one, and then I'm in negotiations for one smaller one. It's always good to have three things in the air. I just partnered with a big, big company for three docuseries I've created. I do a lot of stuff behind-the-scenes, but now it's time to come front and center with it, on my own terms.

VINYARD: Do you think you're going to act in the stuff you direct, at some point?

ROSE: (sighs) I don't…I really don't know how they do that. I literally don't know how they do that. I don't know…a lot of the movies I'd say yes to, and I would get there, and think, "What? I'm not the guy?" I'd just read it and assume that (the male) character was my character. And then I get there, and I'm the girl. When I read things, I don't even necessarily read them for me.

I don't know. I kind of hope not. (laughs)

VINYARD: You hope it never comes to that.

ROSE: I hope it never comes to that issue.

VINYARD: Let's talk about the Dawn Festival that you've set up at Downtown Independent, I'm very curious about this. Obviously, it's going to be a great showcase for women on film over the years, and highlighting how they've been underrepresented, but can you talk a little bit about the impetus to do this film festival?

ROSE: One, it's a great way to showcase DAWN. And it's a great way for me- I mean, these are directors that I would feed off of and want to see their things, and I get to see them all on the big screen at a state-of-the-art theater, that's so much fun. That's great. You don't want someone to the theater just to see like an 18-minute movie, you want to give them a full meal. But for me, it's also really interesting to explore repression, oppression, and freedom in women, and those tenets I think are reflected in all those movies.

By the way, it's very hard to find older movies with DCPs, that format, so I was a little bit constrained, but I really like my choices. I think THE PARENT TRAP is going to be really funny after seeing DAWN…that's just an inside joke for myself. I think there are some great ones. When you get to see HAROLD AND MAUDE on the big screen, or ROSEMARY'S BABY on the big screen, you have to go to a revival theater, but this way, we're seeing it in a state-of-the-art theater with beer and wine available. It's fantastic.

VINYARD: Yeah. It's great that they have a DCP of HAROLD AND MAUDE ready to go. You chose these movies yourself. Can you talk about the selection process? Are these just some of your favorite movies, or do they hold a special place in your heart in terms of how they represented women in film?

ROSE: Completely. These are all things that moved me as a young woman. THELMA & LOUISE was incredibly inspirational: just so I know, "If anyone tries to rape me, I'm going to shoot them now!" Incredibly badass and brave performances, and a brave director for doing that. He was considered brave at the time, and he would be now; it's really quite bad, we haven't really moved on that much from it. But it's a beautiful, beautiful, strong film. And you know, for me, SIXTEEN CANDLES, that's just funny. Putting in there, with the whole "teen treatment" thing. I'd love to see that on the big screen. I've only seen it on TV basically.

There are so many, just so many interesting characters. You know Maude, from HAROLD AND MAUDE, is just…what a fabulous female character. Let's have some people write things like this. I hope if anyone comes as a writer or director, they're inspired to create and think that these stories are valid or interesting, and can move people just as much. Because it's a human experience, that's what cinema is, it's a human experience, and that's what I want to try and give people.

VINYARD: If you could've played the lead in one of the movies you're going to show, which one would it be?

ROSE: Well, nobody can touch Ruth Gordon, but I'd probably go with Maude. I'll have to wait a little while 'till I'm right for that role. And I hope they never remake it.

ROSEMARY'S BABY would've been good, I think all of them…you know, honestly? I think Susan Sarandon (in THELMA AND LOUISE) more than any other one. And she's amazing, but I could see myself doing that role for sure.

VINYARD: You've been in the industry for over 20 years now?

ROSE: Off and on.

VINYARD: And you said that you were getting kind of disillusioned as an actress, can you talk a little bit about this?

ROSE: I wasn't disillusioned, I was just bored. I was bored of the sexism, I was bored of the misogyny, I was bored of being a product. No, I just don't like being bored. And frankly, if they're not like great lines, or people that are interesting around me, it becomes very stifling. So basically, I just took off and left.

It was disillusionment, I suppose, but I don't think so, because I never really shared the illusion of it. I got really famous really quickly, and I didn't understand what was happening. It happened: all of a sudden you're in this rare, small, weird world that you don't understand why you're unsettled and unsatisfied, and you feel guilty for it, because there's so many people that would kill to be in your position. Then you basically have to come to the fact that just 'cause it's other people's dreams, it doesn't have to be yours.

VINYARD: Do you think that things have improved significantly over the past couple decades, or do you think it's kind of at a standstill?

ROSE: I think it's at a standstill. I mean, look at these movies, are they being made now?

VINYARD: Exactly. They're not making THELMA & LOUISE, or HAROLD AND MAUDE.

ROSE: The renaissance for female actors right now is on television, absolutely. And I hope we can see that on the screens again. I know they have about 23 superhero movies on the slate for the next four years, and that's just gonna keep cannibalizing itself I think. Obviously, there's very few strong women roles in those. They are, but they're all in skintight little clothing if we must be real.

VINYARD: They don't even give them the lead roles. Scarlett Johansson has been a background player of all the movies she's been in for the Marvel Universe. They haven't done a WONDER WOMAN…

ROSE: I find that offensive. I find it lazy and boring. It's just as easy, honestly, to write…I played three or four characters that were written for men that were changed to a female for me. So I would submit to any writer out there, "Does this character have to be a man?" You can alter some stories, like it wouldn't alter it greatly at all if it's Scarlett Johansson or if it was a male actor. The trajectory of the movie would be exactly the same. So why not? It's simply just a myopic thing that escapes people, a myopic point of view. If they can just start thinking like, "Oh, just like you could have a black person instead of a white person, or Hispanic," or whatever it is, you can do that with women and men. They're pretty interchangeable. Some movies obviously, (the sex is) very essential, the role has to be the role. But a lot of them, especially those kinda movies, they're preordained to do well, so come on! Let's bring it! It's time, stop being boring!

VINYARD: As an actress, from what you've seen of sort of "that side" of the industry, is there kind of a huge backlash against it??

ROSE: Backlash against what?

VINYARD: Backlash against this sort of treatment. There's what you're doing, there's kind of taking charge of it and getting in front of it, and directing your own projects, and then there's a lot of women who I guess get a certain age and the roles dry up and they just retire, because they're just so frustrated by how they've been treated within the industry. Like Bridget Fonda, actresses with a lot of credibility…

ROSE: Yeah, absolutely. And that was me seven years ago, with the exception of a couple things here and there, "Peace out!" And it wasn't like those were even amazing roles, it wasn't like, "I'm coming back for that!", it was more like, "Well, I'm in Los Angeles for two months." It was really that strategic. For me, I'm actually really good at acting. And I do love parts of it, and I still want to do it, but was it my driving passion? No. So are you gonna put up with all the bullshit if it's not your passion? Why would you?

VINYARD: That's fair. In terms of acting, are you thinking about doing anything pretty soon?

ROSE: I am actually. There's a funny movie I just got, it's kind of like "Nerds go hunting for ghosts," and she's this kind of like white-trash weirdo who works in a sort of low-rent Supercuts kind of place. Since I just hacked off all my hair, this is perfect.

VINYARD: This is my last question. You might not get this that often: CONAN THE BARBARIAN. You were in a really kind of crazy getup.

ROSE: I loved that. I actually love my character in that movie. She was hilarious.

VINYARD: I don't know if you've ever played with that kind of heavy hair, makeup, and stuff like that, was that-

ROSE: That was intense.

VINYARD: Was that freeing as an actor?

ROSE: It was. And it was really funny, because we shot it in Bulgaria, and to watch all those Bulgarians that were terrified of me because I had this forehead, this prosthetic piece that took 6 hours to apply every morning. I would start at 2 in the morning. I let the company get away with everything. I didn't make them do the, you know, 12 hour turnaround, or the union things, 'cause there was no way we could do the movie. But the costumes and everything were so intense. And they did such a beautiful job. The guy won an Oscar for MOULIN ROUGE, the guy that did the hair. Like I had authentic Roman artifacts in there.

It wasn't a good CONAN film, but it was a good popcorn movie. My character, which was originally, by the way, named "Farique," but they changed it to "Marique." They just changed one letter, that's all they had to do. They didn't do anything else.


ROSE: So, you see Marvel, you can do these things.

VINYARD: Quick rewrite, everything's fixed. But that was a fun time?

ROSE: Yeah, it was really fun.

VINYARD: Watching that movie I got the feeling you were having a good itme.

ROSE: I would laugh after each take, I would make myself laugh. Everyone else just thought I was weird, but I thought it was hilarious.

VINYARD: Was the vibe generally like that on that set? Were people having a good time?

ROSE: No! I think it was just me. But I like to have a good time wherever I go, so I don't care.

The full schedule for the DAWN Festival is as follows:

Friday, Sep 19th, 8PM: Thelma and Louise

Saturday, Sep 20th, 7PM: Sixteen Candles

Sunday, Sep 21st, 7PM: Rosemary's Baby

Monday, Sep 22nd, 8PM: Silence of the Lambs

Tuesday, Sep 23rd: Harold and Maude

Wednesday, Sept 24th, 8PM: Carrie

Thursday, Sept 25th, 8PM: The Parent Trap

If you're in the Los Angeles area, come check out one (or more) of those classics on the big screen, and as a bonus, get a look as McGowan's haunting, memorable DAWN.

-Papa Vinyard

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