The Protein of It All: A Conversation with Tamara Jenkins, BendFilm Festival’s Indie Woman of the Year | Interviews

A lot of directors have told me that one of the best things to know is when to shut the hell up.

Yeah, you’ve set the stage and then once you walk away, it starts to grow. I was really stunned by how they inhabited what was written in such a sensitive way and with humor. I couldn’t believe it. There are so many stressful things that happen when you’re making a movie. You’re always running behind and wondering whether anyone is going to care about what you made. So when this dream moment happened, I knew that I needed to bottle it in my memory so that whenever I feel frustrated, I can recall this instance in which I experienced grace on the set, which is pretty much the most exciting thing. You’ve spent all this time getting prepared on the page and working out the financing—and then you’re sitting there on the spot, you’re finally doing it and it’s coming alive at that level. It’s incredible.

You mentioned on the panel yesterday that there are times where you find yourself asking, “Do I even want to do this?”, which echoes Giamatti’s line about being unsure whether he still wants a baby.

Yeah! You feel that the world might not give a shit because it’s such a battle to make certain kinds of small movies or personal art films, whatever you want to call them. They are really hard to make on the budget you’re provided, and you wonder whether it will be seen or if anyone will distribute it. All the hurdles are so exhausting and it’s easy to go, “I guess it doesn’t matter.” But then when it happens, it’s just so special. The hope is that you’re being transported in the room by these incredible actors, who are enlivening something that you’ve written and have been preparing for years.

You know it’s going to translate because it’s being translated before your eyes as you’re capturing it. I guess it could’ve sucked later, but I just knew it wouldn’t because I could feel that it was alive in the room. Capturing the performance was almost enough, even if it was the worst cinematography—which it wasn’t. When you’re in film school, you start to learn that nothing else really matters except the performances and the dramatic intent. I mean, obviously it’s nice when it’s all coming together, but sometimes, the performances and the dramatic circumstances are enough. That’s why people go see plays on bare stages and they’re fine. It’s like the protein of it all.

“The Savages” is available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu, while “Private Life” was released exclusively on Netflix. You can read my summation of the 19th BendFilm Festival and its award-winners here.

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