By now, we all know the trajectory of Lena Dunham: Born in New York, studied at Oberlin, came out swinging with Tiny Furniture, and then began media domination with her triple threat (writing, director, starring) in Girls. But for fellow director Ry Russo-Young, watching Dunham's rise possessed a different type of meaning: It eerily reflected Russo-Young's own life, too.
"We've had the same exact education," Russo-Young says. Both her and Dunham went to St. Ann's (in Brooklyn), and then headed to Oberlin, and each found their own way into filmmaking — and telling stories about young women in a time of turmoil. Though they didn't know each other (Russo-Young is older than Dunham) at the time, the two have since connected and have collaborated on Nobody Walks, a film the two wrote together and Russo-Young directed. (Her last film was also a collaboration of sorts: The Stella Schnabel-starring feature film You Wont Miss Me.)
On the surface, the film appears to be well-trod territory for Dunham fans. A 23-year-old New York artist named Martine (played by a pixie-haired Olivia Thirlby) heads to Los Angeles to live in the poolhouse of Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Peter (John Krasinski). But this is where the similarities end: Nobody Walks is much more of an ensemble piece with Martine at the center, while Girls (or even Tiny Furniture) deals with the weird minutia of being a young woman. Peter is supposed to assist Martine with the sound production of a film she is working on, but her arrival unleashes a host of desire from Peter, Julie, their teenaged daughter, Peter's assistant — everyone who Martine encounters.
We caught up with Russo-Young to talk about the collaborative process, working with Dunham, and advice for budding filmmakers everywhere.
So, tell us quickly about how you and Lena approached this film:
"I cowrote this with her. We wrote it for me to direct it, from the beginning. I think she enjoyed the challenge of writing for something that she wasn't going to make...and I was just excited to have someone to write with! After working on You Wont Miss Me with Stella, I was happy to collaborate again."
You seem interested in female characters who are in a moment of crisis...especially in their early 20s.
"I think that's a really traumatic time in young women's lives. That's the first real moment they are really out on their own. I tend to write from fear, I think. A fear of what I'll become or what'll happen to me. I think that period is a sort of elusive period of time. You are supposed to be an adult, everybody sees you as an adult, but you are not an adult, yet, really. You aren't quite mature enough. You are learning the social codes of what it means to be a woman...kind of the hard way. By screwing up. That was kind of my experience, anyway.
And I do feel like there's a lot of young women who I see now who are in that phase."
Well, Lena Dunham is making an entire show about that era. And it appears to be resonating with young women...and men.
"This is very different though, as a movie. It is way more narrative, but it has a darkness to its tone. It is less humorous...It's not like Martine is this character you identify with the whole time. You kind of see eye to eye with her, but you also have to think how 'on her side' you are."
Photography by Kava Gorna
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