You’ve heard about it on the news. It’s written about on your favorite websites. It flooded your social media feeds during Academy Awards season. Something is missing from the movies: female directors. With the idea that “we cannot be what we cannot see,” we sat down with Caryn Waechter, the director behind The Sisterhood of Night, to find out how she directed a film centered around girl power and what it really takes to yell, “Action!”
You have a really amazing career with the various things you’ve done in the film industry. How did you discover that you wanted to be a director?
I went to Columbia for film school right after college. I knew I loved film. It intrigued me. And I actually went to film school to be a film critic but then in the first year my teachers were telling me I should not be a film critic and that I had the instinct as a director. So my mentors at Columbia urged me to go towards directing. I love it because I’ve always been an artist and I wanted to be a dancer from a very young age and a pianist. And I feel that film incorporates all parts in one and I’ve looked at my career as a director in film as being a choreographer with imagery, playing with music and dance with the camera and the actors. It’s really the best job ever because I get to incorporate all my favorite things into one career.
What does it take to become a director?
A lot of patience, persistence, determination, and confidence. It’s funny because directing is probably the scariest thing I would ever take on but I like challenges and I love growing and learning throughout life. I feel like you have the point of what you do in life and your work. I’ve always loved storytelling and photography. My father taught me how to use the camera at a very young age and I’ve always documented everything. And so it just sort of became my career and I love it completely. It’s more than a job to me. I don’t know where that line is between my life and my job but I feel like that’s important when you pick something in life, you need to love it. I love directing. Even though I’m still learning and it scares me, I’m excited to see how my career evolves.
Caryn with Georgie Henley on The Sisterhood of Night set
What specifically interested you in the Sisterhood of Night? What was it about the Sisterhood of Night that spoke to you?
Marilyn Fu, the screenwriter–we went to Columbia together–met with me in the East Village one day and she handed me the script. It’s based on the short story by Steven Millhauser. It took me about four hours to read the script because it’s so dense, there are so many characters, and I had to recreate this world in my head. But I fell in love with it because while there is four very different unique girls, I felt very connected to each one of them and they all felt like a part of me. Teenagers are still developing and growing, and I loved that while they were so different they felt a part of me. And Marilyn feels the same way too. When developing the story together we really put in a lot of our own personal teen stories and experiences. But the real thing that I love about Sisterhood is that it celebrates unique, diverse girls and their strengths but also the importance of friendship between girls and how we can make each other stronger together.
What were your responsibilities during the production of the movie? As a director, you are leading so much of it, but what does that really look like?
It’s a lot of work. For six weeks during the production everybody comes to me, I make decisions on everything. I am working with all these different people, it’s getting their input on things and their expertise and then together we’re making something very magical and beautiful. I’m working with actors, I kept talking with Marilyn about the script and different lines. It was a very intense process. So much is being created during that time like the blogs, and art, rooms are being designed, and on my off time I had to rehearse with the girls a dance and I’m constantly looking at my shot list. I love being on set and I can’t wait to do it again but it’s a very intense process. But it’s awesome.
The cast and crew were especially interesting because a lot of our cast came from different parts of the world like Georgie Henley, who plays Mary Warren, came from London. Olivia Dejonge, who plays Lavinia Hall, came from Australia. Laura Fraser, who plays one of the moms, Rose, she’s from Scotland. So all these different people came from other places and met in New York City and we had to become this family, this unit, for six weeks. I purposely wanted to shoot outside of New York City. We shot upstate in Kingston, New York and we actually lived in a hotel together. We would work intensely during the day and then we’d come home and we had our hotel and we would hang out. That was really important to have that connection with each other. It’s a job but we’re making a special movie that really depends on our chemistry and our energy. It was really amazing and we met again for our premier and it’s like we relived this special connection that we created on set. We’re never going to lose that. We have this sisterhood connection. I hope all my movies are like that. And that’s my job too; I’m sort of like a cheerleader and connecting all these people–especially having younger cast members and they look up to me. Having this positive energy in making something together, that’s part of my job.
Were there lessons or themes from other films that you had worked on that you wanted to incorporate into the Sisterhood of Night or just on set in general?
I’m influenced by Sofia Coppola and her work. I really love Virgin Suicides and Mean Girls and I know my movie is going to be compared to it, but it’s nothing like those movies. I also watched Thirteen, but I didn’t want to focus so intensely on teen girl movies because the movie deals with society and those sort of challenges so I actually was more influenced by movies such as the German movie, Das Boot, which takes place in a submarine underwater and I looked to that as it dealt with claustrophobia and how a community works together as a unit in a contained space. I also looked at Dead Poet’s Society, which deals with a brotherhood in a college. My choices for movies that I referenced are not your typical female movies but I didn’t want to be so closely influenced by teen girl movies.
I researched and was inspired by teen photography and I worked off of when we were on set is that. For each scene, I would reference a picture and that would give us the tone and feel of each scene. I wanted the film to feel really authentic to today’s teenagers so I looked to them, today’s amazingly talented and smart teens, to be inspired by.
Teenagers today they’re so creative and they have all these amazing tools that I didn’t have when I was younger. You can find all this amazing stuff online. One teen photographer who I was so heavily influenced by is Olivia Bee. She’s actually in the movie and she did set photography for us. Now she shoots for the top fashion designers. She’s huge and I think she was only 16 or 17 when we were on set.
Right now there is a lot of discussion about the necessity to have more strong female leads in films and more female directors, and writers, and producers. The Sisterhood of Night has all of that. How has a more female based cast and crew benefitted the film as a whole?
It’s been amazing. For me, to work with Marilyn Fu, Lydia Dean Pilcher, and Elizabeth Cuthrell, they’re three amazingly talented women. Lydia and Elizabeth are my producers, and we had to create our own sisterhood to make this movie. It was very difficult to get financing for this. And the reality is it was because it was female centric and it needs to change. We make up 50% of the population so we need more stories that are about us. When making the movie, I never intended to make a chick flick, I was just making a movie about a world that I knew. It’s really exciting now that we are getting the movie out. We’re showing it to people and a lot of men are coming up to me and telling me how moved they’ve been by the film. I’m really starting to see that pattern that this movie is for everybody and it gives you a great insight into today’s teenage girls’ world and into their complex and mysterious mind. That’s what I’m trying to discover in my own work, who I am as a human being, in my own complexities as a woman. To work with amazing women and amazingly talented women has been just awesome. And just like the story is a sisterhood, it’s all about unique girls and how they come together and become stronger. That was the theme in making this movie. For the screenwriter, producers, and I, we all have our strengths. And together we made something beyond what we could do just on our own. We need more female centric movies. We’re sexy, creative, amazing creatures. Hopefully there will start to be a change in all of that.
What do you think it means to be a Smart Girl?
To be a Smart Girl is to except your uniqueness and your differences and celebrate it. To always stand tall and be confident. To except your successes and failures and grow from that. And to always be curious and conquer your fears. We’re never going to be perfect, and that’s okay because that’s what makes us special and unique.
The Sisterhood of Night hits select theaters and all digital platforms today. Click here to download the film via iTunes. This article is sponsored by The Sisterhood of Night. All opinions are 100% our own.