Anne Hamilton left the farmlands of Wisconsin to study philosophy at Stanford and then law at Yale. Hamilton decided to leave her legal profession to pursue her passion for movies and became an intern for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. She was later selected to be one of the eight women to be part of the American Film Institute’s 2014 Directing Workshop for Women. She is now the writer and director of her first film, American Fable, which sets fairy tale elements on a Midwestern farm during the farm crisis of the 1980s. Wanting to learn more about her career and American Fable, Hamilton allowed me to interview her for ScifiPulse.
To learn more about American Fable and Anne Hamilton, you can check out the film’s homepage, like it on facebook, follow its updates on twitter at @american_fable, and you can receive Hamilton’s awesome updates by following her on twitter at @annehamilton.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, was there a movie that inspired you to want to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Anne Hamilton: For me it wasn’t a movie, it was the actor Sean Connery. I really wanted to work with him after seeing him in The Man Who Would Be King and Time Bandits. I didn’t want to be his leading lady, so I never thought of being an actress. I wanted to direct him but I didn’t know it at the time.
Yanes: You earned a J.D. from Yale and you practiced law for several years. What was the point when you decided to transition out of law and pursue your dreams of working in the film industry?
Hamilton: There was a moment when I was sitting in a contracts class and the professor actually called me out because I looked “pained” when she asked me a question. I spent most of that class imagining scenes from the cases we read and how they would translate into stories and I didn’t like being pulled back to reality. McRae v. The Commonwealth was one I wrote one of my first screenplays about.
Yanes: On this note, how do you feel a law background has prepared you for grind of making a movie?
Hamilton: I think it’s prepared me for battle on a number of levels, but more than that, it’s taught me to argue both sides of a story, which I think we did very well with American Fable. Stories are better when there aren’t clear good guys and bad guys because that’s how life is. I think a lot of studio films miss that.
Yanes: You are from the Midwest. Given that so much of popular culture is set in big coastal cities, how do you think growing up in the Midwest influence your storytelling?
Hamilton: I think it’s given me an edge and a unique viewpoint that’s easy for me to access. Indie film celebrates international filmmakers and domestic storytellers from mostly coastal cities and Hollywood celebrates mostly white male stories. Both industries have been killing it with those kinds of movies. I’m a girl from the Midwest who doesn’t fit into either of those camps, so I get ignored most of the time. But when people recognize the film for how good it is, they are like, “wow, where did this come from?” It’s really strange because we’ve been there all along but I guess it’s also great because I get to be unique by just being authentic, and that’s easy for me.
Yanes: American Fable is your first feature film as a writer and director. How does it feel to know that it has been so well received?
Hamilton: It feels amazing. I don’t know what else to say. I’m grateful and proud.
Yanes: What was the inspiration for this movie? Were there any fables or folklores that influenced American Fable’s narrative?
Hamilton: The last scene in the film – which I won’t give away, but I’ll just say it’s of a girl with a bloody knife and a stranger approaching – was the first one I wrote. It was about the coast and the Midwest coming together in a way that’s tense and full of history. That was the inspiration for the movie, and I built the film around that image. There are a lot of references in the film, from Little Red Ridding Hood to Yeats to Rapunzel. It’s a pastiche and that’s good. I don’t know why people think referring to other art is a bad thing. It’s what all great films do. Nobody has ever criticized Tarantino for that. Citizen Kane is all references to other films. It’s what we do.
Yanes: American Fable is set in the 1980s rural Midwest. This is around the time the U.S. agriculture industry nearly collapsed. Why did you select this period as the setting for American Fable?
Hamilton: It made sense for the story! But also, I wanted to draw attention to it because we are about to go through another farm bust and it’s not going to go well for America. It’s time to learn from our past – or at least know about our past and what happened and how where we are is a product of that past. Americans are very forgetful.
Yanes: American Fable has a beautiful aesthetic. How did you come to determine the look of the movie?
Hamilton: I took images from photographs and storybooks: Hopper, Richter, Bresson, Goya and so many others. That was the thing Wyatt and I always said: pick the frame you would see in a book of fairy tales and shoot that. We also used filters that pushed the colors about twenty percent beyond reality to indicate the surreal and dream like.
Yanes: When people finishing watching American Fable, what do you hope they take away from it?
Hamilton: I hope they enjoyed the ride and talk about it all the way home. I want them to worry about who was right in the end.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Hamilton: I’m working on a Casablanca style love story with a ghost element feature script and an episodic piece about a female VR mogul that’s sort of The Game meets Vertigo. They are both very smart and surreal.
Remember, you can learn more about American Fable by checking out the film’s homepage, liking it on facebook, and following it on twitter at @american_fable. And you can follow Hamilton on twitter at @annehamilton.