Interview: Antonia Bogdanovich
‘s debut short film, My Left Hand Man, will premiere at the New Jersey Film Festival: Spring 2012
on January 28th. The film follows the theatrical Emerson family as the youngest son, Samuel, recites Shakespeare to unsuspecting people on the streets of Los Angeles while his older brother picks their pockets.
Antonia, daughter of film legends Peter Bogdanovich and the late Polly Platt, loves the theatre, particularly Shakespeare. Before embarking on her career as a film director, she helmed two acclaimed theatre productions — My Fair Lady and Eugene O’Neill’s The Long Day’s Journey into Night — in South Carolina and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
As an actress, Antonia appeared in features including They All Laughed
(at the age of 12) with Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter and Ben Gazzara; Bottle Rocket
, directed by Wes Anderson, starring Luke and Owen Wilson; The Whole Wide World
and The Evening Star
with Shirley MacLaine; and in TV Movies including To Sir, With Love
with Sidney Poitier, The Rescuers
, and The Price of Heaven
with Cicely Tyson.
She spoke to Works by Women about what Shakespeare role she would love to tackle and how her acting experience influences her directing career.
WBW: The tagline for your short film My Left Hand Man is “Shakespeare meets the ghetto.” You clearly love the Bard. Who is your favorite Shakespearean character and why?
AB: Lady Macbeth. The classic struggle all powerful women face. Sometimes we have to act like men and repress our female side to get what we want or gain power, but after we have that power or get what we want we often suffer because we are women and are able to so intensely reflect on what we have done and oftentimes feel guilty about what we had to do to get there. She became Queen of Scotland, but then could’t live with what she did to get there.
WBW: What other plays or playwrights have inspired you?
AB: O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, Odets’ Golden Boy, Lyle Kessler’s Orphans (would die to direct this one on the stage!) – heard it’s supposed to be revived in New York soon. Maybe I can interview for the job…lol.
WBW: You started your acting career as a pre-teen. Did your acting experience influence your directing style?
AB: As an actor I learned to really listen and take the attention off myself. I learned that it is often in the quiet small moments where magic can really happen. It taught me how to talk to my actors. I was one of them so I understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. Most of my close friends are actors, and I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life so there’s a comradery I will always have with them when I’m working as a director.
WBW: You’ve directed for stage, and now completed your first short film. How is it different directing for the stage versus film?
AB: When you are directing for the stage you can experiment a bit, and if you’re not sure, that night, you can see if it works or plays well for the audience. Then you can change and/or adjust a bit as the production progresses and so can the actors. You also have a rehearsal period in theatre. Now a days, most films don’t alot time for rehearsals. So for a film, you can’t really go back and re-shoot. Yes, you can re-shoot a bit, but as a director you don’t really want to give yourself that allowance, and if you are starting out you don’t have that option because typically there’s no money for re-shoots. So you have to know while you’re shooting if the scene works or plays well. Before you walk on set, you have to know what you and once you’re shooting a scene – if you’re not getting what you want – you must get it right then and there before you move on. Otherwise, you will kick yourself in the cutting room because usually by then there’s no going back.
WBW: Your father is an Oscar-nominated director, and your mother was a beloved producer and Oscar-nominated production designer. What did you learn from each of them?
AB: Alot of what I learned from my parents was through osmosis, watching them work. And oftentimes they would explain to me why they were making certain choices. As I got older, I started to ask a few questions, but really I learned by example. My family lived, breathed and ate film. From both Peter and Polly, I learned the importance of detail when it came to writing. They knew so so much about writing. It still boggles my mind. They would literally go through my early screenplays with a fine tooth comb – picking up every grammatical error, pointing out issues of structure and plot and character development. Their attention to detail was unbelievable, and now I’m that way about my own work. After a while, they would get an almost final draft to make notes on, where as at the beginning they would get earlier drafts to gives notes on. I’m not sure if I learned obsession from them. Let’s just say that’s genetic. But to be in the film industry and truly stick with it, you have to be obsessed.
At his home, my father literally screened most of the films by Lubitsch, Ford, Hawkes, Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir, Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Cukor all before I was twelve years old. And I’ve seen many many of their films multiple times. My father taught me how to talk to actors, about where to put the camera and why. About editing, I learned all about cutting as a child because I literally would sit for hours in the cutting room and watch my father work. I’ll never forget the summer I watched my father cut Saint Jack. I probably watched it 20 to 25 times while he was cutting the film from the 1st rough cut to the final cut.
My mother had such a broad scope because she was a designer, a screenwriter and then a producer. So it’s hard to articulate how much she taught me, but let’s suffice to say it was a ton! She worked very closely with the crew. She knew how to talk to them, and she also knew how to talk to studio heads. So she passed that onto me. My mother had impeccable taste from clothes, to furniture, to paintings, to everything in her personal life and in film. We would go to the movies and she would see an outfit or a room design that she didn’t like and she wouldn’t not stop vocalizing her distaste for it throughout the scene or at times the entire movie. She said it was distracting her from the story or film itself. If there was a door or wall she didn’t like and an actor was up against it, watch out. She would say, “Who would put that awful color against that wonderful actor…horrible, just awful. What were they thinking!” She did this always. And now I find myself doing the same things constantly. That really rubbed off on me. My attention to Production Design is pretty intense right now.
As a producer she taught me the importance of staying on schedule, hiring the right department heads and being collaborative with the actors and the rest of the crew. Both my parents had a great respect for DPs, and they passed that onto me.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in the arts?
AB: I think some of the challenges facing women in the arts is probably our insecurities. I believe all of us have to consciously stuff those down and work hard to transcend those insecurities to be successful in the arts. Oftentimes, society and our own families teach us to doubt ourselves and our gut instincts, which are so crucial to being a great artist. Our mothers or grandmothers tell us certain things because they themselves have been disappointed or discouraged as women and that rubs off on us and affects the decisions we make as adults. I think women are not always taken seriously as men because we are typically more emotional or more vulnerable than men.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in the arts?
AB: There are quite a few very powerful women in film so I think we have come a very long way from even the 1980’s. There are several major female producers I would die to work with right now. Kathryn Bigelow gives me hope. Stacy Sher, Lindsey Weber give me hope. The strength of women and what they can go through and still end up successful gives me hope in the arts. My mother, Polly Platt, had such a difficult life. Not alot of people know that. Yes they know about her marriage to Peter. But she had such a difficult childhood and even as a young adult she went through some horrible tragedies, but she rose to be one of the most celebrated women in film. And that gives me hope for all women in the arts – that no matter how hard it gets – we can still rise above and get it done and get it done well!
My Left Hand Man will screen at the New Jersey Film Festival: Spring 2012 on January 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm. Tickets range from $8 to $10. For additional information, visit http://www.njfilmfest.com/.