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FOG! Chats With TANNER HALL Directors Tatiana von Furstenberg & Francesca Gregorini

First time filmmakers Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini are longtime friends.
Tatiana, the daughter of fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg and Francesca, the daughter of Bond girl Barbara Bach and step-daughter of Ringo Starr both studied film at Brown University and collaborated on their first feature effort, Tanner Hall.
Starring Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson, Amy Ferguson, Tom Everett Scott, Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan, the film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The two filmmakers took some time to talk to FOG! about Tanner Hall, their influences and casting Rooney Mara.

FOG!: How much of the film was autobiographical?

Tatiana Von Furstenberg: Well, none of it’s really autobiographical, but because it’s all been heightened for cinema, because when you have an ensemble cast, you have that many story-lines, you really need to heighten the drama a lot. That said, there are emotional truths in every character that Francesca and I have lived for sure.

Francesca Gregorini: Yeah. I think there’s a piece of us in each character, or sadly, even in each adult. I think, you know, we just; it’s kind of like, you know, putting your life in a blender. You know, certain characteristics of one character get attached to another.   It’s just kind of a mish-mash of our experiences, people we knew, and just our imaginations.

You met at Brown, but you both attended boarding school in England?

Both: Yes.

TVF: I mean, in terms of the visual truth, like, the actual visual, like. And that’s such an interesting question, an autobiographical look because like, as far as, like, is this story organic and truly ours? Yes. A hundred percent. Like none of it we told from the outside. You know, even like the wardrobe, we mind our wardrobe; we mind our hearts. We mind our paint color choices. We did the exterior at Carrie Hall and the weatheredness feels very much like what a school in England feels like. It’s so different than an American boarding school. We tried to make the piece timeless; that’s what we stayed away from trends and technology. This is a story about girls and can happen anywhere to anyone.

I think that a movie for is a lot about selection and editorial. You know what I mean? People bring things to you; like merchandising, even casting people. You have appointments with cast, but then our point of view, who we respond to, or who we relate to, or who we’re inspired by, that’s super truthful. Because it’s Francesca and I.  I think because we were friends for such a long time and our references were so singular, it was very easy to invoke, and you know, to make those decisions.

One of the things I found very interesting is because you had similar, but different high school experiences, but you had a shared college experience. Did you find that kind of informed the film more was the time you spent as friends, or did you both bring kind of different aspects to the story from your own personal experiences before you knew one another?

FG: I think it’s both really. I think it’s both.  I think our friendship was really the anchor of the film.  I don’t so much for the story because a lot of the story is more mine from our earlier years, but definitely in terms of the production and everything else.  It’s a movie about growing up, and about friendship, and Tatiana and I met when Tatiana was just sixteen years old. So, really we met right at that moment in time that those girls are living and having those experiences.

TVF: Our friendship has spent so much time. I hate to say this but sometimes even relate to Mr. Middlewood. I’ve experienced and been lead on before, like believing it.  I mean, we’ve been through our lessons long enough that we’ve experienced like all aspects of that.  In my High School, I definitely was more like Kate, like that’s me. Like my emerging sexuality was the funnest possible playful experience that I couldn’t even believe how fun it was. With no regard for any consequences of course. But, like now, Francesca and I are adults, and now we’ve become Gio (Scott) and Mr. Middlewood (Kattan).  I mean I haven’t turned into Middlewood, but I’m saying that emotional truth of so many of those characters.  I’ve also been in a relationship and I had a family. Like me and Tanya’s dad lived together for eleven years, so I’ve also been like Mrs. Middlewood (Sedaris);. like that familiarity that comes from the familiarity that you have with somebody that you’re married to as well. I mean all of it.

What were your biggest influences in both, the writing process and then later, in the actual film-making process? Were the books, or music, or other films that were inspirational to you at all?

TVF: Initially we wanted to make something that looked like; I think it’s gonna be a hybrid of Little Darlings and the Ice Storm, or something like that and Heavenly Creatures.  I think that those were like, you know, Little Darlings for the antics of friends and the heart that’s in Little Darlings I think even though it’s about a virgin. You know what I mean?


TVF: Like all of those teen movies that we grew up with that don’t exist anymore, like Endless Love, and you know there were so many good ones back then.  I think that we miss those. We set out to make an artful, like inspiring, non-condescending, that wouldn’t go to any of the teen stereotype, but an artful movie about adolescent complexity. And that was our initial goal.

I read Tanner Hall was originally conceived as a TV pilot. Is that true?

FG:Yes. We sold it first as a TV pilot. That is true.

TVF: We sold it to UPN. We sold it to Paramount, who then…

FG:We sold it to Paramount, and then their network that, you know, United Paramount Network, or whatever, didn’t, you know. It might not. It didn’t exist anymore.

So did you retool at that point? Or was this kind of essentially the pilot for what you wanted the story to be?

FG: No. We definitely retooled it. The whole rights of Tanner Hall is really one happy accident after another. It’s like. You know what I mean? It’s like we wrote it as a pilot, and we sold it to Paramount who then was gonna do it on UPN. Then UPN, the network, no longer existed so we were like, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. Like our show is never gonna get on the air’. But then we just retooled it to be a film, and really that’s how this belongs. It would’ve been such a worse TV show than it is a feature because we got to maintain all its strangeness, and sexuality, and absurdity. All the things that probably on television it would’ve been stripped of. Because it’s teen, you can’t go to these absurd or sexual places on television, but if it’s an independent film, you have that latitude.

TVF: I think it’s a happy accident. Like literally.

FG: Yeah. A happy accident after happy accident.  We went to Toronto in a year where no movie sold at the festival. It was the economic downturn. Nothing sold. And we’re like, ‘Oh my God. This is a terrible situation’. And then lo and behold, Rooney gets cast as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and now, we have a star in our movie where we didn’t before.

We had a hybrid indie-commercial film, but, if you have a commercial film and you don’t have a star, you’re kind of screwed. And so, that happy accident happened. So it’s kind of one happy accident after another, which, you know, is just a fortuitous thing..

What are the challenges that you had co-directing? Did you find that either one of you had a particular strength that complimented the other? Or, you just kind of tried it and see what worked when you were on set?

FG: Well, we made many shorts together before. So we were pretty well versed in working together. We’d opened a store before.

I can’t imagine co-directing with anyone other than Tatiana, because I just know her so well and for so many years. We’ve done so many creative ventures together that I could see really doing it with no one else. It wasn’t void of challenges, but we managed to deal with all of them sort of head on and sort of our friendship had to take a backseat to getting this movie done because that was the priority.

We just had to trust that our friendship would be there at the end of the process. And, it definitely most certainly survived and then some.

TVF: I think it’s from the filmmaking. I think that production was amazing as a twosome. You know what I mean? Francesca is super, super visual when it comes to the camera. We both really divided and conquered, and there was enough work to go around.

I think that like the writing together, and editing are much more subjective and much more internal; much more personal. You asked about challenges and I think that those were the two times where it’s more challenging because what feels true to me does not necessarily feel true to Francesca. It’s something as subtle as a “q”, in IQ and editing. Your truth – you tap into your own truth and I think that’s hard to do together.

FG: I think she’s totally right on with that. Especially because when you’re in production if I had a problem with a scene I would just go change it and we’d roll again. Or vice versa. So it’s there you get many stabs at something and then you’ll be like, ‘Well, we’ll choose it later in editing’, but then when you get to editing, you really do have to make that one decision.  I think with Tatiana, because we have so much trust with one another, we just came up with a scheme, which was whoever is the most passionate about the decision wins.  I think ninety-nine percent of the time that worked.  We would just talk it out, and whoever really felt more strongly about it, that’s the way we went and that seemed to work for us.

I want to mention Rooney Mara simply because she’s probably one of the why people are seeing this film now.

FG: Yes.

And Tanner Hall, at the time, was the biggest role that she actually had in the film. That’s, you know, to date when you guys went into production. How’d you wind up casting her?

FG: Just the old fashioned way. We brought in tons and tons of girls and the one thing that we really took our time with was casting, and we were lucky enough to be in a position where the cast wasn’t being imposed upon us.  “You must hire the latest Nickelodeon person or the latest Disney breakout star or any of that.”

We were really given, you know, carte blanche by our executive producer, Rick Brady, tojust cast it with whoever was best for the part. Rooney, really had maybe the least amount of stuff on her resume than most any of the girls that we saw, but there was just something quite magical about her.  You could just tell there was so much going on behind her eyes, and she had such an internal life going on. She was so just genuine and non-actory, for lack of a better word, and there was just something about her.  She’d come in to read for and had won another role, we kept circling back to her for Fernanda.  We really needed to find Fernanda, who caries the movie, and we just ended up offering it to her.  I think she was quite nervous about taking on that role because she had had little to no experience beforehand.  It was really to her credit and to ours that we just took that chance.  It obviously and certainly paid off because she did such a phenomenal job for us and has gone on to do such amazing films.

Tanner Hall is an Indie film, but I think it has a lot of commercial appeal.  I think one of the problems initially for us was that we had this commercially viable film without a star in the leading role. And now we have, lo and behold, a star in the leading role. It’s really giving us some wind in our sales and hopefully we’ll get the film seen by much broader audience.

And I guess we’ll finish up with; I have a two part question. First one being, what do you guys have coming up? And second, do you plan to, or do you want to ever collaborate again, or was this too much stress on your friendship?

TVF: Well, I just wanted to say one other thing about Rooney.

I just wanted to say that for the part of Fernanda; because it was a very reflective part, and it’s serious in the end-end. The storylines kind of circle around her, but it’s a very reflective, serious part that she has to be. She had to walk the line between very introspective and serious, but also brave and adventurous. I think Rooney is that way in real life, she’s not a showman.   She’s not like “look at me, look at me”. There’s like an internal reserve that she maintains always. And so, you want to know more about her.  There’s a dignity and poise always in her  that’s very intriguing.

I think that that’s in the end what really convinced us to cast her. Not to mention she has amazing bone structure. She’s so photogenic.

FG: She’s beautiful in real life, but the camera really, it’s really about her.

TVF: I could not believe the bone structure in the monitor; I just couldn’t believe it. She’s such a subtle actress and I truly believe that she really believed that she is a conduit. She was really picking up on our friendship, on our world, on the world that we were creating, and transforming into that person in the end so she doesn’t have to act the part. She doesn’t really have to do that much, but it’s reflected back subtly, but very, very truly with a lot of authenticity. So that’s what I wanna say about her.

As far as working with Francesca again.  We would definitely collaborate not as directors together again because it’s, I think a director in the end. This movie is what it is because of both of us.  It was amazing because there’s enough work to go around for sure, especially in your first time. I mean we’ve never done it before and it was such a big production. But, Francesca is will always have my back and collaborate.  She understands the camera much better than I do. She knows how to convey through the camera.

FG: Tatiana is production design, and costume design, and is unparalleled.  We bought as much to the screen Tanner Hall as the other,  just from different sides of the lens and we definitely have different strengths. Tanner Hall would not be Tanner Hall without both of our equal participation, for sure.

It is hard to actually direct, and not so much when you’re in production, but when you hit the editing room when you see it in the end I don’t think it would like you do wanna have a singular point of view at some point.

What do you guys have coming up?

TVF: Francesca’s shooting something in January.

FG:Yeah. I’m shooting a film; a Psychological thriller I wrote, called Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, which is definitely a departure from a coming of age story. Tatiana’s finishing her script that she’s gonna shoot this summer. So we both have films coming up and both are helping each other out with our films, but at least these next two ones are gonna be a sort of our singular adventures and we’ll see. I think it’s up for grabs if we’re ever gonna do another one together-together. Tatiana says “no”, but I say you just “never say never”. We don’t know.

TVF: Francesca’s definitely gonna be on set for sure when I direct because I need her there.  I can offer my services to Francesca because we’re family;  there’s nothing more important than Francesca.  I will offer and will turn to her in terms of, whatever I can. And it’s gonna be like that; at least for now.

Tanner Hall is available on DVD & Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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