DOC NYC Women Directors: Meet Merete Mueller

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
November 15, 2013 1:00 PM
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Still from 'Tiny: A Story About Living Small'

Merete Mueller is a writer and award-winning filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY.  With a background in fiction-writing and journalism, Merete has worked as the Managing Editor of elephant journal, a former print magazine that she helped transition to an online publication. In 2010, she worked with environmental journalist Simran Sethi on a book and multimedia project, The Green Brain, which looked to behavioral psychology for insights on how to better engage people around environmental issues. [TINY press materials]

TINY will play at DOC NYC on November 16. 

Woman and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film.

Merete Mueller: TINY follows one couple's attempt to build a 120-square-foot Tiny House from scratch with no building experience and profiles other families around the country who have downsized their lives into these homes, which are the size of a parking space. Through houses stripped down to their essentials, the film raises questions about sustainability, good design, and the changing American Dream.

WaH: What drew you to this story?

MM: I've always been interested in the idea of "home." It's something we can all relate to and we all seem to know what it is and that it's something we want, even if we can't always define it or know how to get there. Tiny Houses were a great lens through which to ask questions about home, because everything is condensed to the bare essentials in such a small space. What exactly makes a home, if you can still fit it into 120 square feet?

WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

MM: My co-director, Christopher, and I are also two of the main characters in the film. We were teaching ourselves how to build a house from scratch and teaching ourselves how to make a movie at the same time! One of the biggest challenges was having the perspective to step back and to see what was most interesting about our story, even as it was evolving and changing. At first, we both thought the film was going to focus mainly on Christopher and that I would be behind the camera. But as I became more involved in the process of building, we realized that the dynamic between us was an important part of the story and that we would need to develop both of our characters. In the editing room it was sometimes hard to stay objective. We would refer to ourselves as Character A and Character B. It was more productive to say, Character B needs to be more developed than it was to say, I need to be on camera more!

WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?

MM: Don't doubt yourself. There's a line in the television show My So-Called Life, where Claire Danes is talking about how boys are always the ones to raise their hands in class. She says, "Boys aren't as afraid of being wrong." I think for women in particular, it can be so easy to be self-critical. And that's useful to a certain extent, but not when it holds us back from taking risks or pushing a project forward. Experimentation and failure are part of the creative process. It's more important to trust yourself than it is to be perfect.

WaH: Whats the biggest misconception about you and your work?

MM: TINY is a feel-good, fun film, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously! The questions we explore in the film relate to bigger issues. Many Americans feel that they're facing an uncertain economic and environmental future, and that's changing the way we are settling down and relating to our homes. There's also a generational shift happening, with many younger people feeling less attached to one specific place.

TINY focuses on people who have chosen to downsize despite their ability to live in larger structures with more amenities, but the design innovations and ideals presented by this movement are also being applied to build small structures that are more livable for all of the people around the world who live small by necessity, not by choice. As one of the architects interviewed in the film points out, with the population of the planet continuing to increase and our natural resources diminishing, these are questions that we are all going to have to begin asking.

WaH: Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

MM: Filmmakers today can't get away with just being storytellers. We have to be entrepreneurs too. We need to be aware of who our audience is even as our concept or story is just beginning to take shape, and we need to engage with that audience from the earliest stages of production. For me, this is incredibly exciting, the way we are being invited to share our creative processes through social media, Kickstarter updates, blogging, posting short clips and behind-the-scenes footage on YouTube and Vimeo. The more we invite people into this process, the bigger the audience for independent film will grow, and in corners of the country and the world that haven't traditionally had a lot of access to independent media. There's more dialogue. Of course, the biggest challenge is that this all means more work for us as filmmakers, but I think it's just a matter of picking the right platforms for a particular project and creating a social media routine that's not too overwhelming. We're all getting savvier and the distribution platforms are getting better at anticipating how to help us.

WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.

MM: Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola is a film that I always come back to. I'll pop the DVD in and watch a few scenes before I go to bed or when I need to wind down. I love how she sits with the characters and lets us get to know them without feeling the need to propel every scene forward with clear action. It was a brave choice on her part, I think, to ask the viewer to pay attention to the quieter moments and subtle nuances of characters. We need that in our fast-paced, goal-oriented world.

Watch the trailer for TINY:

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