First Cow director Kelly Reichardt and Never Rarely Sometimes Always director Eliza Hittman both write and direct small-scale, character-driven dramas. Their films possess style and distinct visual sensibilities, but never to a degree that distracts from the story and what’s driving the characters internally.
First Cow is a period piece that follows a baker-and-prospector duo who team up to sell fried hotcakes to the locals in a pioneertown in Oregon. Milk is an essential ingredient for the hotcakes, and there is only one cow in town, owned by a wealthy business magnate.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always premiered at Sundance before it opens in theaters in March and follows two teens who travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York to get an abortion.
In the conversation below, Kelly Reichardt and Eliza Hittman discuss screenwriting for scale, producing partners, and why the drive to a shoot is an important part of moviemaking.
Kelly Reichardt (KR): I’m not really interested in “writing what I know” because I’m interested in researching something and entering a world I don’t know. But I have a general sense of how to write for the economy of the world I make films in. You don’t want your life as a moviemaker to be about trying to get money for something you can’t get money for. I never try to tell anyone what to do. I’ll give my students advice and then they’re out of school for a year and they have a script with Annapurna and I’m like, “Well, what do I know?” There’s different roads for different people. The movie industry is so different now than when I started, and I have no idea how to give anyone advice on what they should do.
Eliza Hittman (EH): From my point of view, I haven’t really made a movie with known actors yet, so I don’t know what the budget for a film like that really looks like. So I always have a sense of what the film or the script will be appraised at because I’m always looking to make discoveries through casting. So it’s a different approach, and I don’t really have a sense of what it would cost to work with somebody famous.
KR: Sometimes having a name attached is what helps you get financing. And sometimes, like you’re saying, it doesn’t, but usually it doesn’t—usually the budget is made up for by having someone with some name recognition attached. It’s so different every time—I haven’t figured out any of these formulas, I have to say. My latest film, First Cow, doesn’t have any very recognizable actors in it and it was the largest budget I had, which was still, obviously in the world of budgets, really small. But it was the least-recognizable names I’ve had in awhile.
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