Interview With Jamie Babbit

Jamie Babbit is no stranger to directing lesbian-centered comedy. The out writer-director burst onto the scene with 1999′s But I’m a Cheerleader, and this year she gave us the uproarious feminist comedy Itty Bitty Titty Committee, which opens this weekend in Los Angeles after a healthy film festival tour.

Babbit is a busy woman, balancing a full-time career directing TV shows and developing indie movies with being a mom (she and partner Andrea Sperling, a producer, have a daughter). She recently took a break on the set of the new CW drama Gossip Girl, which she was directing, to talk with AfterEllen.com about Itty Bitty, working in TV and film, and what’s coming up next.

AfterEllen.com: So, tell me about what you’re shooting today.
Jamie Babbit:
It’s a TV show called Gossip Girl, which is for the CW, by the creators of The O.C. It’s basically kind of like The O.C. set on the Upper East Side. I’m directing. Before that, I was actually directing The L Word in Vancouver. I direct a lot of TV, actually.

AE: Do you prefer doing TV to movies?
JB:
I don’t prefer it, no. I like to do both actually, each for different reasons. I like directing independent movies because I get to talk about things I’m interested in personally, but it’s really hard to wait years in between projects, and to work with crews that are super green and just starting out … but I really enjoy the creative experience of working on movies, and I enjoy all the creative control.

On TV, I really enjoy working with an experienced crew and working on stuff that I shoot and a month later, it’s finished. … I hope to always go back and forth.

AE: How does that balance work for you, working in TV and indie film?
JB:
Well, any movie is like two years of your life, and TV shows are like three weeks of your life. So I probably direct about six to seven TV shows a year, and the rest of the time I spend on indie movies, whether developing a script or shooting them or financing … so I kind of balance it out. And I’m a mom.

AE: Sounds like quite a balancing act.
JB:
Well, life is a challenge and … [laughs] it’s all about balance, you know? I don’t know. I try to make it all work.

AE: So how did Itty Bitty Titty Committee come about?
JB:
It was a movie that I wanted to make right after But I’m a Cheerleader. I had always been inspired by the riot grrl music from the early ’90s. … I went to a lot of Bikini Kill concert shows and Sleater-Kinney shows, and I’ve really loved the later incarnations of those bands, like Le Tigre and Peaches. I always wanted to make the cinematic equivalent of that music.

And also, throughout the years I’ve been involved with a lot of radical feminist groups dealing with abortion rights or women’s issues, so I wanted to make a film about my experience in these groups as well, from an insider’s point of view of the group. Not a romantic version of it, but the real life [version] with all the hypocrisy and comedy of being a part of these groups. So that’s how the script started.

My partner, Andrea Sperling, and I worked on the script for a number of years, then got together a treatment that was about 15 pages or so. And then, basically, when POWER UP told us they wanted to get into features, Andrea spoke to them about our treatment, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and they came on board as the production company to develop the script. …

It took a couple of months of us all working together, POWER UP and Andrea and myself and two writers, and we got a script together, and POWER UP financed it. So it was a great process, and it was nice to work with POWER UP because they are very mindful of politics, and they were interested in making a comedy about feminism, which I think a lot of studios might be a little scared of.

AE: The movie had quite a playful anarchy to it. How do you bring together all the elements without losing the focus of the story?
JB:
You know, it was actually a pretty traditional narrative story. Some people have said, "Oh, this is such an anarchic subject matter, you told it in a really Hollywood way," and I was like well, to me, the kind of movies that I like are narratives and reflect the world that I live in.

But as far as the narrative goes, it was pretty traditional, so although it’s about a kind of outrageous subject matter, the script was very tight before we started filming. So then I could be more experimental with the formats and the cast and all that stuff, because the script was so tight.

So we were in good shape once we started. I think it was about the same with But I’m a Cheerleader — it was kind of outrageous material, but told in a conventional way. [That is] definitely what I’m interested in doing.

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