Little Miss Perfect – Interview with Writer/Director Marlee Roberts

marleerobertsTo go with last week’s review of indie drama Little Miss Perfect, director Marlee Roberts gave us a great interview to give us and you more insight into her film and how it came to be.

For starters, please tell us a little bit about your film.
Little Miss Perfect tells the story of an overambitious high school freshman who tries controlling her life by controlling her weight. The protagonist places an enormous amount of pressure on herself, suppressing her feelings of low self-worth while dealing with a disconnected family, social exclusion, body image, and academic pressure. The film was made by an incredible group of filmmakers, about 90% of them my NYU colleagues. I would not be able to share this story without them so I am forever grateful for their commitment and sacrifice.

What made you want to tackle a subject such as eating disorders?
The study of control. I really wanted to explore this theme and I became quite fascinated by the way in which people cope with feeling at a loss of control of their lives. Those with eating disorders use weight loss as a way to take control over one’s life when everything else feels out of control, and this is often misunderstood. For others, struggles like alcoholism, substance abuse, other mental disorders, or ritualistic behaviors may serve to be coping mechanisms for a similar universal feeling.

As I began my research, I soon found a reason to my fascination and realized that I am highly susceptible to having an eating disorder due to my personality, environment, and biological make-up. It made sense then why I felt a compulsion to tackle a subject matter that left me with so many questions. I then wanted to not only answer these questions for myself but de-stigmatize eating disorders as a whole by getting people discussing the more abstract psychological and mental causes (pressure to be perfect, self-worth, distorted self-image) alongside the behavioral effects (starvation, purging, calorie-counting).

How did you research this subject and how it affects teens and young people?
I worked with two clinical psychologists; the first was Dr. Andrea Vazzana through the NYU Child Study Center, a specialist of eating disorders in adolescents. I worked with her closely over several months while writing the first draft of the screenplay. She then continued to advise until the final edit of the film. She provided me with a ton of literature and I read study after study as well as firsthand accounts and real stories. The second was Dr. Diane Klein, an adult psychiatrist from NYU’s Langone Medical Center, who graciously consulted and offered additional insight. In addition, I spoke one on one with friends and friends of friends who shared their personal stories.

Do you believe being an actress film has helped you as a writer/director?
Absolutely. My experience being on set at a young age as an actress afforded me a rare opportunity to grow up having worked with many directors. As I got older and decided to try a different path in entertainment, I felt very comfortable with directing performance and understanding story arc. The biggest challenge then became learning the technical and business side. I always I used my years at film school to then learn more about working as a collaborative team, refine a leadership skill-set, and understand the business of film.

How was directing your sister as your lead?  Do you think being related helped or hindered you?
Helped all the way. Karlee and I love working together and we’ve been collaborating on projects for as long as I can remember. She is sharp, patient with me, and I’d like to think I know how she works. Especially for a film like this, we were able to spend time researching and discussing it thoroughly together. Not only does it save a lot of time and money, I’m very fortunate to have a partner in crime who is loyal and committed.

How did you get the film off the ground?
Years of persistence. In fact, I feel as if I’m still getting it off the ground. At this point it’s flying ever so slightly just above the ground and scared to ascend too quickly.

How did you find the experience from the point of view of an actress turned writer/director?
I’m certainly an actor’s director. Story comes first and without talented actors to tell that story and get the audience emotionally invested, viewers won’t care to watch it no matter how fantastic the other aspects of production are. I think the biggest favor you can do for your whole crew is to have a good story, great actors, and then let everyone’s creativity run wild while managing the overall vision.

What are your upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
I’m excited to have signed on to direct a film in which I haven’t written. It’s a new challenge to take a piece of written work and apply a new vision while maintaining the integrity of the intended story. I’m also working to develop a few projects about which I’m passionate, one of which is another big research piece and collaboration with my sister who is a current film student at Columbia University.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to seeing your evolution as a filmmaker!
Thank you for this great opportunity and for giving rising filmmakers a chance to have their voices heard.