Under Pressure: With Her Bitingly Excellent Horror-Comedy Bitch, Filmmaker Marianna Palka Wages a War Against Time

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MM: I loved how physical the comedy was—there’s a scene when Bill collapses in a playground mid-phone call, and it’s hilarious. It reminded me of an equally funny part in Good Dick where Jason’s character leaps into a closing elevator.

JR: I read in the script, “He’s in the middle of a conversation and then Bill crumbles to the ground.” You read that as an actor and you go, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to get the credit for that. It’s going to look like that was just an instinct that I had.” But it was really just all there for me. I’ve read through some of the scripts for the U.K. Office and it’s written out word for word—and as an actor you read it and go, “They’re going to think I improvised this.” It’s exciting when things that are that specific and odd are given to you as an actor!

MM: I wanted to ask about the music, which was key in setting the tone on the film. You’re balancing a tricky tone between pathos and comedy.

MP: Yeah. SpectreVision and Company X have had such an incredible journey with their composers—three of their composers have been nominated for Golden Globes. Our composer, Morgan Z. Whirledge, took it to the next level. You [Ritter] talked about how much you liked the music. He hadn’t heard any of it before he saw the premiere, and it meant so much to both of us, because it was like, “It’s bringing as much enthusiasm as we had on set.”

JR: Yeah, there are times when the music and sound design and editing really put you in her chaos, where you’re like, “I think I’m going to go crazy.” It’s unnerving and unsettling, and then really beautiful. To be able to write these beautifully scored moments and also have chaos match the editing… it’s hard to coordinate chaos.

Palka (center) in Netflix series GLOW. Photograph by Erica Parise / Courtesy of Netflix

MM: How long was your editing process?

MP: We shot the film last September, then cut it right after we shot it, but I was doing a TV show, GLOW, while we were in post-production. I was shooting 10 episodes of GLOW and training to be a wrestler right after we wrapped Bitch. Remember when Whiplash happened—when Damien Chazelle shot Whiplash in September and then they were at Sundance immediately after? When that happened, I was like, “That is a feat. What an impressive journey. Wow. I’d never be able to do that. What a cool guy.” And I just realized, being here, that we just did that. And I did a TV show as well, at the same time!

We all brought our wisdom and professionalism. Everyone who was involved, nobody really does anything other than love movies and work on movies and TV. That’s what I like about us. We’re not necessarily like partying really hard ’til the middle of the night; we’re just trying to make the world a better place through our art.

MM: You were first here in 2008 as a director.

MP: Actually, I’ve been here with three movies: I was here with Good Dick; then “Spoonful,” Jenée LaMarque’s film which I acted in; then I was here with “The Lion’s Mouth Opens;” then I was a judge one year. When I’m not here with a film, I’ll come and watch movies because I love that.

MM: What have the both of you learned between the first time you were here and now?

MP: The flashes I was describing, where I visualize everything and everything comes to me visually—that stuff is kind of maxed out. The volume keeps getting turned up on that. Now I see that as part of my process and I acknowledge it takes up time.

“Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy…” Sundance NEXT FEST 2017 kicked off with a screening of Reservoir Dogs. Photograph by Ryan Kobane

JR: When we were here with Good Dick, that was such an intense experience. At that point, in our little group of friends, we hadn’t given ourselves permission to try to make our own movies yet. Everyone was trying to get into the system in any way they could and then work their way up. Marianna was the first person that any of us knew personally who was like, “Let’s just do it. Let’s stop waiting for permission.” We shot it in our apartment and got all of our friends to help. I dreamed it would get into Sundance but I thought, “This is impossible. It’ll be a great calling card and we made something that we’re proud of and we’ll be able to show someone something solid.”

It was the first time I felt like we all trusted ourselves and each other. It was a big turning point for me, because until then, every job I got, I would be trying to please the director so much that when they gave me a note that went against every instinct I had, I would still try to do it. I wouldn’t have a conversation with them. With Marianna, we would be able to have a dialogue and I learned to trust myself more. We’ve all gotten a little more comfortable with trusting instinct. Because however [the movies] end up being perceived, you go, “That was true to me. You can like it or not like it, but that’s what we came up with. It’s not a polished thing that 20 people signed off on. This is what we like.” If you’re working in a community where instead of trying to impress a whole wide swath of people, you’re just trying to push each other up… anyone from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they’re doing it for each other, trying to make each other laugh as hard as they can. It translates, because there’s something inspiring about the other person. It’s not a competition but it engages that competitive part of you in a loving way. MM

Bitch screens August 12, 2017 at Sundance NEXT FEST in Los Angeles, California. Dark Sky Films will release the film late 2017.

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