Writer/Director Hannah Marks Talks About Her Film 'Mark, Mary, + Some Other People'
This week on female directors, Hannah Marks talks about her film ‘Mark, Mary + Some Other People’ and the work of Marielle Heller. Female Filmmakers in Focus, featuring recommendations for films directed by women to seek out each week.
‘Mark, Mary + Some Other People’ - written and directed by Hannah Marks
Born in Los Angeles and raised in San Luis Obispo, Hannah Marks made her film and television debut in 2005. She was twice nominated for the Young Artist Award, the first was for her work in the 2006 film ‘Accepted’ and then for her work on the television series ‘FlashForward’. In 2017, Rolling Stone Magazine listed her as on their 25 Under 25 Artists Changing the World feature. Since 2016 she had directed or co-directed four short films and two feature films. Her most recent film ‘Mark, Mary + Some Other People’ debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Starring Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield, ‘Mark, Mary & Some Other People’ is a screwball romantic comedy about a young married couple who decide to try an open relationship. Equal as charming as it is insightful, the film explores the complicated interpersonal dynamics of romantic and sexual relationships. Shot around a pre-quarantine Los Angeles, Marks’ film is also a love letter to the unique diners, bars, and neighbors of LA and the Valley. An authentic look at twenty-something growing pains, ‘Mark, Mary + Some Other People’ marks a fresh new voice in the rom-com genre.
‘Mark, Mary + Some Other People’ is now available in select theaters and on demand.
Hannah Marks spoke to Moviefone about her latest movie.
Moviefone: What led you to write a film about open relationships?
Hannah Marks: I felt like it was being talked about a lot among my friends and my peers. It felt like such a missed opportunity to not have an open relationship rom-com, although I'm sure that there have been some in the past. I just felt like it was time to do it again.
MF: Lea Thompson’s character plays a slightly older swinger. What kind of research did you do on the subject?
Marks: Yeah, I talked to a lot of people and I read a ton of articles. The New York Times did a great series on it. So that was incredibly helpful. A lot of that inspired different scenes. The scene when Mark and Mary are taking each other's dating profile pictures, was inspired by the research. For Lea’s character, I thought it was important to have different generations talk about how it used to be versus how it is today. By no means do I want to preach how I think it should go. I think you can do monogamy, polyamory, ethical non monogamy, and it's all okay. This relationship to me is not the example of what it's supposed to be; It's just one relationship and one experience.
MF: Did you always plan for Mark and Mary to be a younger married couple?
Marks: I'm a big fan of stories of young marriages. The first project that I co-directed was also about a young marriage. I think it's such an interesting topic, when you commit your life to someone when you still have so much life left to give. I think it's a fascinating topic. But there was a time when I considered making it an older married couple, because that had made more sense in the traditional sense; an older couple wanting to liven things up. So that was an initial draft of it, but it very quickly changed to being more about people in my age group because I wanted to write it as accurately as I could.
MF: How did you cast Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in the leads? Did you do a chemistry test?
Marks: They're terrific. We honestly winged it, which is not really my style, but we were moving really, really fast. I place a lot of trust in actors. I had seen both of their work and was a fan, so I offered them the roles, and we did it. They had no chemistry read or anything. So it was a big gamble, but it really paid off. They were so terrific and dedicated and willing to improvise, which not every actor is willing to do. That was really important to me. I had seen Ben Rosenfield in 'Boardwalk Empire' and in 'Six Years' and I thought he was so versatile and special. Hayley Law had been in a friend's movie called 'Spontaneous' and she was so good. I thought she stole every scene she was in. So it was just kind of a gut thing.
MF: Did you have the cast watch any specific films to get the screwball comedy vibe?
Marks: I’m a big fan of mumble core, so we talked about the Lena Dunham 'Tiny Furniture' way of working and early Noah Baumbach and Joe Swanberg. Those types of filmmakers. But really it was like let's have fun with this and figure out where it can go and bring yourself to it. That was a big thing for me. I cast them because I found something about their personalities really compelling. So I wanted everyone to bring their own weird flavor to it.
MF: Could you talk about the location shooting in Los Angeles?
Marks: The locations were really difficult to get because we're in Los Angeles on a shoestring budget. We didn't have a location manager, so my producer and I were the location managers. There was a lot of begging, but I think we got really lucky. We got some wonderful spots that are unfortunately no longer around since the pandemic, so I'm glad they're immortalized. There's this place called Crawford's which was a pretty iconic bar in the Valley and it's now since closed. So I'm really glad we were there. We shot at this diner in Van Nuys called Hearts, which I just love the look of that place. I have such a soft spot in my heart for Valley diners. The apartments and the houses were in the Echo Park and Silverlake area. So we got a real mix. It was a real blast, but definitely hard when you don't have the money to pay for LA locations.
MF: How did Patrick Stump come on board as composer?
Marks: There’s a company called Crush Music that also has a brand called Crush Films. They are new to making indies, but they're really terrific producers. They manage different musical artists, Patrick being one of them. So when I talked with them about making this movie, they said you should meet Patrick. I was thrilled because obviously I knew his work, and he's so easy to get along with and collaborative. He actually wrote one of the band’s songs, The first one was Courtney Love, but the second one was Patrick Stump. He also helped teach them and coached them. He was just a delight. I can't believe I got so lucky.
MF: Did you have kind of a specific vibe you were going for with the music?
Marks: Yeah, the inspiration was definitely Kathleen Hanna / riot grrrl life. I love you the earlier Courtney Love sound, like that song “Miss Narcissist" was a big inspiration. It fit a lot of the themes that were being discussed in the movie. So I kinda knew that would be the first song if we could get it. And thankfully, she was a Crush Music artist, so that worked out. Then I asked Patrick to go for some Bikini Kill vibes.
MF: I loved all the different band names. How did you come up with those names?
Marks: We had so many unused names, I wish they could all make it in. When I first met with Hayley to talk about her playing Mary, the first thing she said to me was she was also obsessed with band names. She had a list on her phone of all these band names, then I showed her my list. We were comparing notes, so that really bonded us right away.
MF: How you hope audiences sort of feel when the film ends?
Marks: I hope that they take that this is not everyone's experience. I really do want it to feel like just the experience of this couple and these characters, and not preaching to whether monogamy is the right thing, or polyamory is the right thing or ethical non monogamy. I think it's to each their own and I hope that that's recognized. I hope people see it as a fun character study and something that feels real and maybe close to their own experiences. But really, I just want it to be a good time. Even though it's silly, I want it to feel authentic to people.
MF: Could you recommend another film directed by a woman that readers should seek out?
Marks: I love Andrea Arnold and Marielle Heller and Ava DuVernay. Those are the first women that come to mind. Also, Greta Gerwig and Hannah Fidell. There's so many terrific women making movies. I was actually really lucky when I did the Sundance lab back in 2012 that two of the filmmakers there were Chloé Zhao and Marielle Heller. It's been very cool to watch their careers rise since then.
MF: Do you have a favorite Marielle Hiller film?
Marks: I think all of her movies have been great. ‘Diary Of A Teenage Girl’ is such a good movie, just really, really wonderful. I think she just innately understands story and understands characters. She started as an actress, which I also really appreciate. A lot of the directors I love started as actresses, because I come from an acting background. So I think she has a really great understanding of story and dialogue and character that you don't always get. She was also terrific on ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ so I think she's got that unique perspective of someone that can live it.
‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ - written and directed by Marielle Heller
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Marielle Heller began acting at a young age performing in the Alameda Children's Musical Theater, as well as local community theater productions. After studying theatre at UCLA and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Heller worked at the Magic Theatre, the American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and the La Jolla Playhouse. While living in New York City, her sister gave her a copy of Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures’. After convincing Gloeckner to option her the rights, Heller made her directing debut with her adaptation. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards. Her follow-up film ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ about the literary forger Lee Israel received three Oscar nominations, including for its actors Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Tom Hanks received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Fred Rogers in her third film, ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’.
Starring Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård, and Bel Powley, ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ follows 15-year-old aspiring cartoonist Minnie (Powley) as she comes of age in 1976 San Francisco. Living with her free-spirited mom (Wiig) and her younger sister, Minnie begins exploring her budding sexuality, including having an affair with her mother’s older boyfriend (Skarsgård). Notable for its frank, non-judgemental presentation of Minnie as she navigates her sexual coming of age, Heller’s film came at a watershed moment for women directors and films about teenage girls.