Amanda Kramer, the Los Angeles underground musician-turned-filmmaker, is making her debut at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) with plenty of gusto – her third feature, Please Baby Please, is opening the festival today (Wednesday 25), she’s one of the filmmakers in the Focus strand and she will be delivering a Big Talk as part of the online series.
“I’m a very stuck up, pretentious person who still thinks that Europeans have better taste than Americans,” says Kramer. “It’s wonderful to be accepted into the festival and to be highlighted.”
Given Kramer’s Europhile stance, it’s unsurprising she cast two UK actors in the leads of Please Baby Please, Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling. The hyper-camp, West Side Story-esque production follows a 1950s bohemian Manhattan couple, who become the obsession of a local greaser gang, resulting in the couple questioning their own gender and sexual identities. Demi Moore stars as their upstairs neighbour.
The feature is Kramer’s third following 2018’s Paris Window and Ladyworld. It shot in Montana across September and October 2020, funded by an independent financier and produced by Rob Paris, Gul Karakiz and Mike Witherill. Kramer penned the script alongside Noel David Taylor and CAA is representing worldwide sales.
As well as snagging the opening slot of the Netherlands festival, which takes place online only from January 26 to February 6, Kramer has a second feature, Give Me Pity!, also a world premiere, closing the Filmmakers in Focus section on January 29. Bette Midler’s daughter Sophie von Haselberg plays Sissy St. Claire, a young performer delighted to be given her own variety show special, until the evening twirls into madness. Filming took place across just five days in spring 2021 at Mack Sennett Studios in LA. The bulk of financing came from executive producer Rhianon Jones, with Kramer writing and producing. Jacob Agger, Sarah Winshall and Benjamin Shearn also produce. Alief is handling worldwide sales.
Kramer talks to Screen about producer plight, her maverick approach to casting and her varied influences, including the work of controversial filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.
Where did the premise for Please Baby Please arise from?
It’s born from my obsession with 1950s movies. I’m interested in the secret hidden Hollywood that existed in the middle of the 20th century. A lot of people were hiding things, mainly queerness. It also came from a time in my life where a bunch of my friends were coming out in their 40s, who had been straight seeming and out of nowhere were leaving their husbands and wives and partners.
I was looking at my own relationship and realising how gender queer it was. We were straight people, my boyfriend at the time and I, but I really portrayed the male role, and he took on the female role, if we’re going by standards of gender.
How did you bring the film to fruition?
It was an extremely long haul. I had producers who were there and gone and cast members who were there and gone. This business attracts and magnetises every type of maniac, from the maniacs who are making the greatest work on the planet, like [Quentin] Tarantino, to the maniacs who are frauds and liars, and the maniacs who are perverts and abusers. I’ve worked with some producers who are not the most above-board people. Eventually you get to the point where you’re terrified for the holistic nature of [the] set. When you have a producer who you feel isn’t going to support you the right way, you have to make a choice and move on from them. I got to the right people eventually.
It’s an impressive cast…
I don’t audition, I just have a great taste. I’m not looking for someone who is good like Steven Spielberg would want them to be, they have to be good for my work – extroverted and able to do something that is playful. I don’t think all actors are comfortable in that space. When I had Andrea, Harry and Karl [Glusman] as my leads, everything fell into place. Andrea and Demi are friends, and when I mentioned that Demi was someone we were considering, Andrea was kind enough to call her and put in a good word for me. Harry is a muse to me – I’d cast him in every movie forever.
Both Please Baby Please and Give Me Pity! could easily work as stage plays. Was that a conscious decision?
I went to school [Emerson College, Boston] to be a playwright and theatre director. I came back to LA and started writing young adult novels and plays, but theatre in LA is not very vivid. I thought the film industry was too much of a behemoth and I wouldn’t be able to angle my way in. At the time I was running underground record labels and making house music. I was just a weirdo artist. But it’s worked [the career move], sort of. I’m not making Eternals, but I am making my own work, adjacent to Hollywood.
Are you interested in moving into a more mainstream space?
Like all generations that are radical in their youth, you get older and you realise you can’t pay your rent with cool factor. I’m a control freak and a Virgo. If I was hired to just be the camera monkey who was the front of everything but didn’t have any choice making potential, I would be deeply unhappy. If you can still have control and work in the system, I wouldn’t turn it down.
You’ve spoken in the past about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski being artistic inspirations of yours…
They aren’t my sexual inspirations, but that’s not the question. I think they are brilliant artists and hold within them some of the most uniquely evocative ideas of the 20th century in our art form, so of course I stand by that. [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, David Lynch, Julien Temple – these are filmmakers I also worship and adore. If tomorrow it turned out they had murdered 37 children I would still love their movies. I have my friends and I have my art heroes. I don’t think I need to be precious about the people that aren’t my friends.
What else inspires you?
At the top of Covid, instead of watching Tiger King like everyone else was, I was consuming 1970s and 80s television specials in a daze. I was obsessed with them. That’s where the idea for Give Me Pity! came from. I’m not a nostalgist – I wanted to make something that was demonic and demented.
What are you up to next?
I’m working on another film with Andrea [Riseborough] about a Holocaust survivor in the 70s who becomes radicalised by group therapy and environmental terrorism – it’s a strange and fucked up thriller.