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Interview with Sarah Koskoff - Writer of Hello I Must Be Going

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
September 7, 2012 11:52 AM
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Hello I Must Be Going is the coming of age story of a 35 year old woman who had been sleepwalking through her life until her whole world is shaken when her husband leaves her.  With no skills, no money (she needed a copy of Leslie Bennetts book The Feminine Mistake) she moves back home right at the time that her father is considering retirement.

Melanie Lynskey plays Amy's depression to the hilt.  All she does is sleep and mope -- she's like in an arrested adolescence -- and after a couple of months her type A mom played by Blythe Danner has had enough.  At a dinner party she meets Jeremy (Christopher Abbott) the 19 year old son of her father's colleague and they start a sexual relationship.  As you can imagine this helps to jolt Amy back into reality both physically and mentally.  She then starts to come into herself in a way she never had before, and is able to figure out how to start her life anew, as an adult for the first time.

Sarah Koskoff answered questions about the film.

Women and Hollywood: Talk a little bit about where the idea for this piece came from?

Sarah Koskoff: It’s really a very private story. It’s was kind of response to a lot of the movies coming out about these adult men who were still going through adolescent. Since then, some movies have come out about women in that situation, but at the time I was writing that wasn’t the case. I was interested in exploring that because it was true for a lot of women I knew and for myself as well. I think it’s a generational thing. And my sister had written this really funny article about doing cocaine in her mid-thirties and how she was kind of an uncool outsider all through high school and now having this delayed rebellion. And it was so funny and that was also something I hadn’t really seen before. It was so different. And also, I was really interested in this older woman younger man relationship from a woman’s point of view. It’s usually kind of jokey or traumatic or cougar-y. I was interested more in desire and passion and how it connects kind of to Eros and true self and art and pure creativity.

WaH: It’s like the coming of age movie but you are 35.

SK: It’s also about sex—sex in a very positive way. Because of the internet there has been this exploitation of sexual images and of sex itself. There was something about sexual intimacy and I really wanted to go into that and what a pure and positive experience it can be.

WaH: She did everything right. When you follow the rules—things go well for you. These rules don’t count anymore. There are no rules.

SK: I think her experience is this microcosm of what is happening in the economy, people who’ve had faith in all these systems. And her father is going through that with his retired. Their money is solid and they think these institutions will protect them and then they are just dropped into the void.

WaH: A big cautionary tale for women to have your own money, don’t be dependent. Here she’s screwed—she really doesn’t have any kind of career thing. She’s got nothing.

SK: She didn’t take care of herself at all. And truthfully, I see so many people like that. I didn’t have the same experience, but I did find myself in a similar experience. And it was part of why I was writing. After I had kids suddenly it was a feeling of waking up and saying what the hell happened, I have no job. Everything is in my husband’s name—that was not the track I was on. I saw all these women who were in the same position.

WaH: How did you and Todd (Louiso- the director of the film and Sarah’s husband) work together on this and what your partnership was like?

SK: It’s really been fascinating how the way that Todd is talked about. It’s been really I’ve had to make a concerted effort to show up. I really am relegating myself to that role of the wife.

We had an ongoing joke throughout pre-production and production that there was me and then there was this person who was Todd’s wife. And she got away with a lot. Sometimes there were references people would say that Todd and his wife—and it became this thing—oh she’s so high maintenance. She became this persona of every cliché in the business of demanding female.

WaH: But you don’t sound like that at all.

SK: Maybe I have some demands. But it just became this persona/alter ego.

WaH: Was it always going to be something Todd directed?

SK: We had met as actors on a sitcom actually. And had the experience of working together and I was in Love Liza his first film. I was a playwright and creatively I always had input in everything. I was always asked to read drafts of whatever was going on. I had written the script and we went to the lab together at Sundance and they were behind us doing the film together. He had a really deep relationship to the story. And it was just a natural thing. We were just trying to go back to a really simple filmmaking. We’d both had a lot of disappointment. We really just wanted to do it in a way that was meaningful to both of us. To stay as close as we could to the project throughout.

WaH: Are you going to continue writing? Acting? Do both?

SK: I haven’t acted in a long time. I quit. It was kind like a job out of college. I always loved it and I was trained in theater. And then I started to work and make a living. The kind of jobs that I got were never really so interesting to me and I was always writing. I just love screenwriting. I maybe approach it in a different way. But it seems really architectural to a lot of people but I bring my love of language and theater into the world of screenwriting. I’m writing a lot of things right now.

WaH: What surprised you the most in the process of movie making?

SK: How many people are really willing and excited to do something on a small scale that feels meaningful. Some people really want to be working for no money even if it’s grueling. It’s really heartening to have that experience. It was a complete surprise. I always thought of the business with this sort of superficial and inaccessible thing. Todd and I really made our own decisions and decided we would do that because we were really doing this movie for ourselves.

WaH: And the title? Was that from the beginning?

SK: It wasn’t. I had sort of a filler title. This one embodies the whole story on a whole different level. I think that there is this kind of abandonment that is always happening. Amy really has abandoned herself a long time ago but especially at the beginning of the film she’s so dissociated from herself. She’s not embodied at all in that process of her kind of coming home to herself. The leaving home really for the first time, emotionally and psychologically. Plus her father, which is that really critical relationship in the film. He’s always leaving—he’s on his way out of every scene. He’s always kind of there and then gone. Both comically and on a more serious level. Then there’s her husband’s abandonment. The way she leaves Jeremy as well. When she breaks up with him so harshly and is mean to him. The way that everyone leaves at the end.

WaH: If you had advice to give anyone who is writing scripts and trying to get their movies made what would that be?

SK: In short, I’d say just keep at it and don’t get discouraged if you do find that it’s very difficult. And in terms of this moviemaking thing, don’t believe the negativity. When I was pregnant my friend said that to me and it was the best thing. Don’t listen to anything negative that anyone has to say. If you really want to make something you really have to commit to making it and be humble and ask for help. And keep at it. We were constantly told that there were only 5 actresses who can get a movie made. And it’s not true. But I can’t tell you how many times it was said.

WaH: You went to the big agencies and you sat down with them and they were like 5 women can get a green light.

SK: Yeah. And sure I guess if you want to make a movie for $50 million dollars or something like that but there are all different ways to do it.

WaH: Are they the same 5 women or a different 5 women in the independent world?

SK: They’re sort of the same—there’s a few of the same ones and then maybe there’s a longer list of 10.

WaH: And there are 300 guys…

SK: It was so great to have Mary Jane Skalski (the producer) doing this with us because she doesn’t listen to any of that stuff. She’s always putting people in her movies that are not the obvious traditional choice.

WaH: I feel like this summer I’ve seen so many great women written movies—small but really about women. Do you have that sense that there’s something going on here?

SK: Yeah, I really do. I felt like a lot of them also were somewhat dismissed at Sundance. There was a kind of thing about –oh another whiny female this female that. Now that they’ve come out, and many of them have done really well, that feels like that those comments were really dismissive and generalizing about movies that are actually really different. And lots of original female voices, maybe they look the same when they are all coming out at once, but I think there’s a market for that. I know I want to see all of them.

WaH: And they’re all great. I feel like the Class of 2012 has written great movies. There are 6 movies here in a 3 month period. This is unprecedented.

SK: I don’t think anyone has really talked about that yet. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar co-wrote that, they were at the lab with us. Again, Behn Zeitlin is always written about, but Lucy was with him in the trenches and she’s great and behind this huge movie. Something is definitely shifting and it’s really great.

Hello I Must Be Going Opens Today.

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