Meet the (New) Director: Gillian Robespierre, ‘Obvious Child’

Gillian Robespierre has written and directed several short films, including Chunk (2006) and Obvious Child (2009). Since penning a feature-length version of the latter, the project has been supported by IFP, Tribeca All Access, the San Francisco Film Society, and Rooftop Films. Robespierre is a New Yorker who graduated from the School of Visual Arts’ Film and Video program.

Obvious Child
Gillian Robespierre, USA, 2014, 83 minutes

Description: A girl walks into a bar… and starts telling jokes about her vagina and her boyfriend. It turns out the joke’s on her, since he’s been sleeping with her friend and takes advantage of her public, extremely off-color verbal antics to dump her. Basting in misery (she’s also about to lose her job) and booze (a gay wing-man on hand to enable), she attempts to find solace in family, friends, more stand-up and ultimately a sloppy hook-up. What comes next (no spoilers here) represents a brave new frontier in comedy, and director Gillian Robespierre tackles it head on with side-splitting results. Featuring a star-making lead performance by Jenny Slate, who allows herself to laugh along with the joke-called-life. Truly a “choice” comedy.

Responses from Gillian Robespierre:

On films helping her overcome dyslexia:
Growing up, I had dyslexia and encountered a few disgusting teachers along the way who made me feel incredibly small. School was not a safe place for me to express myself. I ended up finding other ways to feel better—one of which was movies. But I wasn’t just escaping; I remembered everything from dialogue to knowing every actor and director's name. I excelled at watching movies. I studied them as if I was going to be tested after. There are so many elements to love about movies, but for me it was a perfect form of expression. Eventually I overcame the biggest hurdles of dyslexia and gained the confidence to tell to stories my own way…The point of this PSA is: stay in school and don’t do drugs. Notable people with dyslexia are: Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, and Cher!

On Obvious Child's expansion from short to feature:
I’m attracted to telling stories about people who feel and do real things in the real world. I first made the Obvious Child short film in the winter of 2009 with my friends Anna Bean and Karen Maine. We were frustrated by the limited representations of young women onscreen and their experience with unplanned pregnancy. We were waiting to see a film in which a woman makes a different choice—and it doesn't define her life. But we weren’t sure how long that wait was going to be. So we decided to make the film ourselves. Like the feature, the short starred the amazingly talented and funny Jenny Slate, and had a nice festival run. But what was even cooler were the conversations the short ignited. That truly encouraged and inspired me to expand to feature-length, to share this film with even more people. I think comedy can be found in difficult situations and I love watching and creating characters that are human; a bit flawed but 100 percent relatable.

On how, even in an Indie, rehearsals are important:
I’m a big fan of collaborating with actors. After being held up alone in a room with only words on the page, it’s nice to let someone else take over and interpret them. Working with Jenny Slate and the entire cast exceeded my wildest dreams. Over the course of the years we worked on the feature, Jenny played a huge part in shaping Donna. I’m also a big fan of rehearsing. So many exciting little nuances occur when you get in a room and just talk about the characters. It also gives actors the chance to inject themselves into the character and dialogue. However, finding time to rehearse on an indie film is pretty unheard of. So we had to embrace the day and pack as much rehearsal time in while our spry DP, Chris Teague, and his agile crew lit around us.

On how having the right team helps with anxiety (a bit):
Making a movie is ridiculously awesome and strange, plus there are many challenges along the way. I had a lot of anxiety about an 18-day shoot. And it was pilot season! Never schedule an indie movie shoot around pilot season. Obviously prep is always a stressful and challenging dance, but with the right team in place—which we had—my fearless producer and collaborator Elisabeth Holm made sure we got through it! I did ruin the very first take because I was laughing, but I think that was a good sign.

On what's next:
I’m in the early stages of developing a TV show and working on my next feature-length script. Basically I’m awake all the time.

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