An Interview with Whit Stillman

The full transcript of our conversation with the recently returned director

Hey, thanks for waiting, sorry to hold you up. 

Oh, no problem whatsoever. Thanks for taking the time.

The Voice was my first job. I got a summer job working, between freshman and sophomore year… I wanted to write for it, but I got a summer job working in the advertising department. And then I published my first pro article a year after… It was in the good old days, it was still Dan Wolf and an editor named Ross Wetzsteon. I just walked by where it used to be, it used to be at 80 University Place, on the corner on University Place. I doubt if anyone continued from that period. I guess I published my article in the Summer of '71. They'd already been acquired then, the original owners had sold out, they were still there, Ed Fancher was the publisher, Wolf was the editor—wonderful guy. They sold out to Carter Burden, the rich politician. I was down in Mexico when I wrote my piece, um, and it was kind of a cool experience getting it in… 

I wanted to ask you probably the same question probably everybody asks you in every interview, first off—I wonder, Mr. Whit Stillman, what is the closest to becoming the next Whit Stillman movie? I looked at the imdb, they tell me Little Green Men is in pre-production, is that true? 

No, definitely not, not to my knowledge, not with me as director. I'm not involved in that anymore, and haven't been in a long time. Things continue on the internet long after they're no longer true. It might be a dark horse candidate, something's that's never been mentioned, that I've kept under wraps, and that might actually be the thing that goes ahead. 

Is it remaining under wraps? 

Yeah. Yeah. I think until… I've made that mistake, talking about things before they actually happen and… don't want to get more into that game. The Jamaica film (Note: Dancing Mood) will happen, I'm sure it will, and it'll be good, but um—well, we'll attempt to make it very good, but—it's very hard to detail. 

And are you back working in the States now? 

Yeah, I'm really back. I was away eleven years and then the last three years I've been back quite a bit, and I'm really back now. 

Is there anything in particular influencing that move? 

Well my youngest child is just entering college, so… there's no reason to go back to Madrid where she was studying anymore. 

And you'd been in Paris for most of the expatriate years? 

I'd been in Paris about nine years and more Madrid the last two years. 

You were attempting to finance through the European system there? 

Yeah, and that really helped me out because—I was very optimistic about doing things out of London, and it was a bit of a chimera, a mirage, and it took me a long time to realize that things don't happen there the way they should. It's a subsidized industry, and there are actually very few people making the decisions so… if you can't convince the two people, you can't make your film, and the idea of getting independent financing which seems to be very logical and a very good way of going is not common there at all, it's very uncommon. Everything is through tax-related or state-related financing and I think it's better here where there's more freedom to raise money privately and that's what I'll do and I think that'll go well, and I wasted too much time not doing that. 

I seem to remember hearing something about an English production that was to combine two Austen novel fragments… 

Yeah, that was an interesting project… 

And is that an existent script? 

That one isn't… 

I've got my new copy of Last Days of Disco in front of me which is very beautiful…  I love the cover art of both of the Criterion discs, which are both the same fellow, Pierre le Tan… 

Yeah, he's a friend of mine, Pierre Le Tan, he's someone I represented when I was an illustration artist's agent… 

I saw he was actually thanked in the credits of Disco .  

Yeah. I think we used one of his posters, a couple of his pieces of art in the background in the publishing house. 

It's just a beautiful package… is there any chance of Barcelona coming out on Criterion? 

Yeah, I think there's a very strong chance. I think they're negotiating. 

What kind of hoops needed to be jumped through in order to make Disco happen again on DVD? 

I suppose it took a long time for Criterion and Universal to negotiate the rights, just the slow negotiating process, because it involved a lot of film titles. And I think with Warners and Barcelona, I think that Warners has changed their policy a little bit, they would not license before and now they will. I mean I hope that's true and I hope that's happening. 

It would be nice to have them all of a piece. 

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