The Diary of a Teenage Girl Director Marielle Heller Talks Filming in SF
Earlier this year, we told you that Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård were in San Francisco filming The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a movie that casts this city back into the 1970s as it tells the story of a young woman navigating SF's openly sexual and druggy ways. While it was exciting news hearing that two great actors were here to work on the film adaptation of a graphic novel my friends obsess about, I was equally interested to learn that the director, Marielle Heller, has strong ties to the Bay Area. Although Mari now lives in New York with husband/SNL alum Jorma Taccone, she grew up in Berkeley and Alameda and came to the city often to go to shows or "to terrible clubs that wouldn't card us," she told me.
Now that Mari is deep in editing mode, I asked her about her experience filming in San Francisco. If all goes as planned, The Diary of a Teenage Girl – and the vintage San Francisco shown within it – should be out in early 2015. I can't wait.
Is Diary of a Teenage Girl your first time directing a feature length film?
Yes. This project has been a long time coming. I've been working on it, in some phase or another, for seven years. I first adapted the book The Diary of A Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner into a stage play, which I did in New York four years ago. And since then I've been working on adapting it into a movie. It's a total dream come true.
It's interesting that you were inspired to bring Diary of a Teenage Girl to life twice. What drew you to the book so strongly?
The graphic novel is the most honest, heart breaking, inspiring thing I had ever read. I was so moved by it, and humored by it, and almost mad at it for being so wonderful that I knew I had to make something from it. I wanted to bring it to life in a new way. And I felt compelled by the fact that I feel like there are so few well drawn teenage girls in the media. I know I have never felt well represented and I thought it was important to tell this girl's story, and let there be a strong, vulnerable, artsy, brave young woman for us all to learn from. And I come from theater, so my first instinct was to make it a play. Which I did and was so proud of. And when it was over, I knew I wasn't done. I started to see the movie in my head. And I realized it needed to happen as a movie.
I feel like there are so few well drawn teenage girls in the media. I know I have never felt well represented and I thought it was important to tell this girl's story, and let there be a strong, vulnerable, artsy, brave young woman for us all to learn from.
For the movie, what was the best aspect about being able to take San Francisco and its residents back in time to the ‘70s during your filming?
It was a joy to come back to my hometown to make my first movie. And since I believe San Francisco plays such an integral role in the story, it was so important that I got to shoot the film here. And let's be honest, the city doesn't look all that different from how it looked in the '70s, with the exception of the Financial District. But the architecture in many ways has retained. So it was just fun living in another era, and it was a challenge on a small budget, but I felt like we transformed the city and returned it to a former lifetime.
Stylistically, what was your favorite scene to shoot?
I loved the Victorian house that we filmed in for nine days, and all of the scenes that we filmed there. We got to really design the house (our incredible production designer and SF local Jonah Markowitz did a beautiful job) from top to bottom with '70s wallpaper and awesome furniture. And the moment you walked in you were brought back in time.
I loved the Victorian house that we filmed in and all of the scenes that we filmed there. We got to really design [it] from top to bottom with '70s wallpaper and awesome furniture.
That same Lower Haight home has been used as a location in Looking, Milk, and a bunch of other productions set in SF. What is it about that place that makes people want to film there?
The house we filmed in is a classic SF Victorian flat. It is relatively untouched, and a bit of a blank slate, but with all of that victorian charm underneath, which you just can't fake. And once it becomes known that someone is open to filming in their house, everyone knows about it.
What were some other iconic San Francisco locations you used in the film?
We tried to go away from the touristy side of the city and really represent life in San Francisco while still giving visual cues to the audience, who may not know San Francisco, about where we were. We filmed in Golden Gate park, up on Tank Hill (which was beautiful), in Sausalito at the Presidio Yacht Club (that's our one Golden Gate Bridge shot and I'm happy to say it's an unusual angle). We filmed in the Tenderloin and in the Mission at the Victoria Theater. We really made our way all over the city.
What are the great things and the biggest challenges of shooting in San Francisco?
The best part about filming in San Francisco is how gorgeous the city is, and how little has been filmed there. It hasn't been played out in movies yet. Which is actually wonderful. The challenges were as you might expect – there are narrow, one-way streets that can make navigating and parking in the city with large trucks difficult. There are a lot of people in a small area, so we disrupt a lot more people with our shoot than we would if we were in a more rural area. But in my opinion the good so far out weigh the challenges.
The best part about filming in San Francisco is how gorgeous the city is, and how little has been filmed there. It hasn't been played out in movies yet.
What’s the next creative project you’re working on?
Well editing the movie is going to take a while. But I have a number of other creative projects that have been put on hold while I've been filming. My writing partner, Cailin Goldberg-Meehan and I are in the middle of a few scripts, and I have so many ideas for new projects that I'm itching to get down on paper. But I'm best when I work one thing at a time. So for now, editing editing editing!
Photo of Marielle Heller and DP Brandon Trost by Sam Emerson; courtesy of Marielle Heller