Watch the 1920s period piece starring Brie Larson and James Urbaniak.
Last year when I interviewed cartoonist and author Hope Larson for her graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, she announced the cast and debuted the poster for her upcoming short film, Bitter Orange, to BAD readers. I've been anxious to see it since, and on Friday the film premiered at the New Beverly in Los Angeles. Today Bitter Orange, in which Brie Larson plays a driven career gal in 1920s Hollywood, made its way online, and you should absolutely check it out.
Bitter Orange is Hope's first film, and she also wrote the screenplay. It's gorgeous and snappy, and she talked to me a little about how she conceived of the project and what went into the production. Watch the movie and then read her quotes below!
I came up with the idea for Bitter Orange over, I think, Thanksgiving 2011. I'd just finished A Wrinkle in Time and was officially between projects, and I was trying to get a foot in as a screenwriter. I figured the best way to do that would be to direct something, since it's much easier to make someone watch a short than read a screenplay. And I'd been wanting to try directing, although I had no idea if I was cut out for it, or if I'd enjoy it. I love historical fiction, particularly the 1860s and 1920s, and figured that if I was going to direct one thing in my life, I should go for broke and do a period piece. I wrote the script in December and declared my intent to direct it on Twitter. After that, everything came together magically. My editor, Spencer Houck, was the first person on board, and from there it was if the crew assembled itself. I met my incredible DP, Tarin Anderson, through Ed Brubaker. My producers, John Swartz and Shay Weiner, came on partly through Spencer and partly through my good friend BenDavid Grabinski (an incredible writer-director). Brie I knew from Scott Pilgrim–I keep threatening to start a rumor that we're cousins, but we aren't related.
My friend Jen Wang, a wonderful cartoonist, drew the storyboards. I see myself drawing my own boards in the future, since it helps me internalize the story, but for my first time out it was helpful to work off her interpretation of the script.
We shot over two weekends in June 2012 at three different locations: a parking garage in Santa Monica, a Victorian house in Pasadena, and the George Key Ranch in Orange County. George Key was particularly special in that it's one of the few places in the Los Angeles area where fragments of the original orange groves are still standing. They used to spread out all around the city. We weren't allowed to manhandle the old, fragile trees, so we had to bring our own oranges and hang them with hooks so Brendan could pick them.
A few weeks later we did a pickup shot of the car driving, which was somewhere outside the city. The car is a whole story of its own: it's been in the same family since it was new, and the old guy who owns it now has been driving it since he was a teenager. He romanced his wife in that car!
It's fairly ambitious to direct a period piece, especially for your first short, but I didn't really understand that. I didn't understand how many people were going to be involved. I did one year of film school at Rochester Institute of Technology back in 2000-2001, but we mostly shot on hand-cranked Bolexes. That in no way prepared me for what this production would be like. I was in a daze of joy and crazy, gut-curdling stress for the entire thing, and I'm relieved it came together so well. I was lucky to have such an experienced cast and crew behind me, and I'm also grateful for the hundreds and hundreds of pages of comics I've drawn. Having a foundation in visual storytelling was a huge help. Still, most of what I learned is the kind of stuff you can only learn on set, by jumping in and going for it and fucking up, and learning from your mistakes. It was terrifying and it was the most fun I had in my life. We wrapped and all I could think was, "How can I do this again? I have to do this again!"
The orange grove in particular is just impossibly lovely. Check out the stunning poster for the film, illustrated by Becky Cloonan, with lettering by Dustin Harbin.
And what's Hope up to next, now that Bitter Orange is a dream realized?
A few weeks ago I directed a music video for Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dan the Automator's band, Got a Girl, which should be out pretty soon. Picture's locked, and we're just finishing up with color timing. One of the best things about that video was that a lot of the people who worked on Bitter Orange came back: my DP, my editor, my producer Shay, my script supervisor, my production designer. I didn't scare them off! We also had BAD's own April Swartz involved, which ruled. It was nice to get back on set and think, "Hey, cool, I did learn a few things doing Bitter Orange."
I'm currently working on a graphic novel that hasn't been announced yet, so I can't say much about it. Aside from that, I have a feature script that I plan to direct–it's set in the present day–and I'm creeping toward making it happen.
I hope you guys dig the film as much as I do. I think you will.