Forget Hollywood, Susan Seidelman Tells Other Budding Moviemakers: 'If You Want to Direct, Direct!'
Susan Seidelman, 30, was a cinematic nobody when she arrived at last summer's Cannes Film Festival with Smithereens, her one feature-length work. "Some critics questioned what I was doing there beside Godard and Antonioni," she says with a smile. Indeed, her gritty, mini-budget ($100,000) movie about a 19-year-old girl's futile quest to make it in Manhattan's glitzy New Wave music world was the first nonstudio entry ever accepted in the festival's main competition. Even so, an unofficial panel of French critics ranked it a respectable 10th in a field of 23, just behind Jean-Luc Godard's Passion and well ahead of Alan Parker's highly touted Shoot the Moon. Now a box office success in New York, Smithereens will open across the U.S.
As Seidelman sees it, the film is about "the fragmentation of modern life" and how its pervasive pop culture seduces young people. Wren, the heroine, is a dropout from middle-class New Jersey who drifts through assorted Lower East Side pads and boyfriends in a search for success, defined as a life of ease "in a swimming pool eating tacos and signing autographs." Seidelman, the daughter of a Philadelphia hardware manufacturer, became enamored of movies as a Drexel Institute undergraduate and in 1974 entered New York University's film school. There she made three shorts and discovered that "if you trust your instincts, you'll learn the skills along the way." Deciding against joining a big studio—"It would take years to get up the ladder"—she formed a limited partnership to raise money, and hired talent who worked on a payment-deferred basis. Begun in 1980, Smithereens took two years, including a four-month hiatus after the lead actress broke a leg. That calamity, says Seidelman, gave her time to really "learn what it takes to make a feature."
Though Smithereens has brought Seidelman directing offers from West Coast producers, she's reluctant to give up her life in downtown Manhattan's Tribeca area—and her professional independence. "The pay is great," she says of Hollywood, "but there's got to be more than that. For me, directing is too hard to do for something you don't believe in."
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