Patti Cake$: Q&A with Director Geremy Jasper and Actress Danielle Macdonald
By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member
On August 6 the director and star of Patty Cake$ conducted a question and answer session after the film which was moderated by ESPN Senior Cultures Soraya McDonald. Patti Cake$ is a young woman from a small town in New Jersey who wants to be a great rapper. She works part-time in a bar and has a friend
who believes in her (Siddharth Dhananjay) and a mother Barb (Bridget Everett) who had her own fifteen minutes of fame and an album as a rock singer; and her ailing grandmother, Nana, played by Cathy Moriarty who supports Patti’s dreams.
Soraya McDonald: Welcome, first I understand you wrote all the music for the film. I want to understand how you did this since you are not a young woman? How did you gain that knowledge?
Geremy Jasper: Correct, I am not a woman and I am not that young. This is my first film and screenplay and I have been a musician for many years. I have made musical short films and ads but wanted to write something for a film or something else. So if I can write songs, maybe that’s a way to get my foot in the backdoor of filmmaking. So I have a song for this person and one for that one, and there are different genres also. Every character almost has their own genre. That is how I really did some demos and raised money for the film. The music was easy, the writing took years. So it looked like we had the money and they wanted a script in a few months, so that’s when it really got tough and serious. I had worked with Danielle once in a workshop and wanted to work with her again. She is Australian, so had to learn the accent and also had never rapped so she learned all that within a year’s time. (applause)
Soraya McDonald: Danielle, you are from Australia and never rapped, so how did that work?
Danielle Macdonald: Yeah, scary, but I first met Geremy in an acting lab and he introduced me to the character then.
Geremy Jasper: We should say that Robert Redford has these labs and people can do short scripts, and I got to do that three times. It then took about a year and a half before we did shooting.
Danielle Macdonald: I had to visit New Jersey and get down the accent and rap coaches to be somewhat believable.
Audience Question: About what was the ballpark cost or budget to make this independent film?
Geremy Jasper: It was about $2 million. People told us we were crazy to make it for that amount of money. We got some shots where we could and did things cheaply.
Danielle Macdonald: Yeah, sleeping in trailers, not sleeping.
Audience Question: How did you get Cathy Moriarty in your film?
Geremy Jasper: Yes the wonderful, legendary Cathy Moriarty. She worked once on a short film in Mexico. Really it was my first directing job and she came to Mexico to play an over-the-hill diner waitress, who was incredibly horny (laughter), and she was excellent. Now when I met Cathy in her trailer she was playing a woman twenty years older and she really has long, flowing blond hair and very glamorous, like an old fashioned movie star. Then she opened her mouth and said, I’m happy to meet you Geremy, and had this incredible gravelly voice that one usually gets from years of drinking whiskey and smoking menthol cigarettes. I thought, OMG that’s my Nana. I just fell in love with her. She reminded me of so many women I grew up with in New Jersey, a warmness but also a toughness and someone who could tell a dirty joke. She is just the real deal. I didn’t know if she would want to age up, or if being vain could be part of her being. I prayed that she would do it. I sent her the script and sweated a few days. Cathy called me and said, "Geremy, I don’t like it; I love it." So I now had Danielle, Barb (Bridget Everett), and Cathy. I don’t think of many women tougher than Bridgett, but that was Cathy. So having the three generations of women was in place. Cathy I think made the Oscar nominated film Raging Bull at something like 19 years old. When she came on set, you would have thought it was one of her first films. She was so nice and generous, and had such energy even in the wheelchair. She was very maternal to many of the younger actors.
Soraya McDonald: With such a limited budget how many days did you have to shoot?
Geremy Jasper: We shot the film in 28 days. Even so we had enough for a second film, with songs that didn’t make it. Patti's Dad was a character at one time.
Audience Question: What about the cultural issues of rapping and art?
Geremy Jasper: Yes, some can call Patti a poser for trying to learn rap, but she was trying to emote herself, not just doing the words. The famous rap singer however had the long speech to her about the art of the painting on the wall and the pain and emotional experience of the artist that did it.
Audience Question: How did Bridget Everett get attached to the film?
Geremy Jasper: Yes, I wrote the part for her. I used to go home and listen to her and MC Lights. She has such a unique voice and presence that I thought of her when writing the role. I knew someone who knew someone who knew Light, and after she was contacted she said she would do it.
Audience Question: I really liked the feel of real people in the film. What were your artistic pursuits?
Geremy Jasper: Well I was 23 years old, living in my parents New Jersey home’s basement (long ago), and I wanted to be an artist. Being from New Jersey I was waiting tables and working at bars, and people just looked at me. I was very nervous and struggled to get out of being one more townie. So that Springsteen-like struggle to get out of your small town and dreaming of becoming something else was always there.
Audience Question: Danielle, that amazing rap battle at the gas station before the cop breaks it up, how long did that take?
Danielle Macdonald: There were some stunts there also. The guy rapping opposite me was not a rapper either. He was British and really shy and said, "I don’t know if I can say these things to you or not" which was sweet as I was giving him all this emasculating rap. It took awhile because we also had to build up to the kiss and then the headbutt. So we did it about seven times to coordinate with the stunt.
Geremy Jasper: We actually had some locals in trouble that kept coming in and out and making it more difficult to shoot also. I really want to show Jarmusch and Springsteen the film. He gave us the song but we want the Jersey Pope to see it.
Audience Question: Do you think this is a modern day angst film about New Jersey?
Geremy Jasper: I always thought it was weird that Born to Run was our state song, but we still have a complicated pride for New Jersey.
Audience Question: We want to know what happened after the end to Patti, will there be a sequel?
Geremy Jasper: Get all your friends and their friends to see this film and then maybe that would be possible.
Audience Question: How did you learned the rap, as an actor or how did you process it?
Danielle Macdonald: When I read the script I thought he was insane, why me? It really scared me. I knew nothing about rapping, and being from Australia, wondered even more. So I said ok. He had this blind faith in me. It was a long time…it got to a place where it was like second nature to me. It was fun and by the end of the second day of shooting I felt ok, let’s do this.
Audience Question: Who did you listen to, to get that rhythm?
Danielle Macdonald: Geremy sent me lots of samples from rappers. I would get a song a week to practice and send back my recording.
Geremy Jasper: It was almost a two year process. It was homework every week. Rappers or artists like Big Pond, Kendrick Biggy, Missy, etc. lots of varieties... Some her voice worked for and others not so much.
Danielle Macdonald: I think Biggy’s was the most useful to feel Patti.
Audience Question: What kind of feedback are you getting from the hip hop community?
Geremy Jasper: It’s been great. Kirk Knight who plays Nomad is in Pro Era in the film was at some screening and some rappers came. Fur came and Zoo were all positive or cool about it. So it was positive. They are small town rappers more than the top rappers, but more like I was in my small town in New Jersey. I used to scream out the car windows too but was back to bar tending in New Jersey the next day until I made it. It’s a tough world.
Patticake$ opened in the DC area in August and is still showing in local theaters.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The 28th annual AFU Latin American Film Festival starts September 14 and runs through October 4. New films from Latin American countries plus Spain and Portugal are picked from local box office hits, festival award winners, and Oscar nominations. The North American premiere of The Dragon Defense from Colombia; The Queen of Spain, Spain's answer to Hail, Caesar! with Penelope Cruz; The Distinguished Citizen, Argentina's 2016 Oscar pick; the U.S. premiere of Joaquim, a Portugese colonial drama; Woodpeckers, a prison romance from Dominican Republic; The Untamed from Mexican director Amat Escalante and lots more. A festival pass is available.
"Underworld: International Crime Cinema" (July 8-September 13) is an ambitious collection of thrillers, police procedurals and neo-noirs from around the world. Titles in September are Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith from Denmark; Department Q: The Absent One from Denmark; Victoria from Germany; Black Coal, Thin Ice from China; Felony from Australia; Exiled from Hong Kong; Old Stone from China; The Limehouse Golem from the UK; I Am Not Madame Bovary from China; and The Handmaiden from Korea.
"AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective: Diane Keaton" (July 7-September 7) ends with The Godfather: Part II.
"Canada Now" (July 7-September 13) is a series of films celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada's birthday. Titles in September are The Decline of the American Empire, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, The Demons, My Uncle Antoine, I KIlled by Mother and It's Only the End of the World.
Special Engagements during September include School of Rock, a Grease sing-along; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Moulin Rouge (2001). Also during September director Civia Tamarkin will be present for Q&A after the September 22 show of the documentary Birthright: A War Story at 7:15pm.
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer is closed for renovations until October 2017. A new series of films will begin mid-October.
National Gallery of Art
"Gaumont at 150: Twelve Unseen Treasures" (August 5-September 2) looks at some of the rarer films from the renowned French studio. On September 2 at 1:30pm is Pieges (Robert Siodmak, 1939) and on September 2 at 4:00pm is Mollenard (Robert Siodmak, 1938).
"From Vault to Screen: Recent Restorations from the Academy Film Archive" (September 9-30) is a series of recently restored films, many with introductions by film preservationists. On September 9 at 2:00pm is "A Les Blank Sampler" including Running Around Like a Chicken with Its Head Cut Off (1960), The Sun's Gonna Shine (1969), Chicken Real (1970), and Spend It All (1971). On September 9 at 4:00pm is The Savage Eye (Ben Maddow, Joseph Strick and Sidney Meyers, 1969) shown with Five Ways to Kill Yourself (Gus Van Sant, 1966) and The Secret Cinema (Paul Bartel, 1966). On September 10 at 4:00pm is The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (Robert M. Young, 1982). On September 16 at 2:30pm is The Balcony (Joseph Strick, 1963). On September 23 at 2:00pm is Cock of the Air (Tom Buckingham, 1932) with an introduction of Heather Linville. On September 23 at 4:00pm is "Aloha Wenderwell Baker: Film Adventures" with an introduction by Heather Linville. On September 24 at 4:00pm is The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931) introduced by Heather Linville. On September 30 at 2:00pm is "Key Frames and Inbetweens," experimental animation with an introduction by Mark Toscano. On September 30 at 4:00pm is "Pacific Coast Highway: Restored California Psychedelia" introduced by Mark Toscano.
Special events in September include a lecture "Projections of Memory: Romanticism, Modernism, and the Aesthetics of Film" by Richard I. Suchenski on September 3 at 2:00pm and the Washington premiere of Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016) on September 12 at 4:00pm.
National Museum of African Art
On September 16 at 2:00pm is the "Africa in Reel Time" presentation of "Fashion."
On September 15 at 6:30pm is a screening and discussion of Homecoming, a documentary about young adults traveling from Canada to their homeland of Ethiopia.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On September 13 at 6:30pm is 1945 (Ferenc Torok, 2017) from Hungary, the Audience Award winner for Best Narrative Film at the 27th Washington Jewish Film Festival. On September 13 at 8:30pm is Zuzana: Music is Life (Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon Getzels, 2017), a documentary about Zuzana Ruzickova and how she became a world-famous harpsichordist and interpreter of Bach in Czechoslovakia. This was the Audience Award winner for Best Documentary at the 27th Washington Jewish Film Festival. On September 14 at 6:30pm is Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (Lian Lunson, 2005), a documentary about the singer-songwriter-poet. On September 14 at 8:30pm is McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1977). On September 16 at 6:45pm and September 17 at 5:00pm is The Last Poker Game (Howard L. Weiner, 2017). A Skype Q&A with the directors follows the September 17 show. On September 16 at 8:30pm and September 17 at 2:30pm is The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Charles Walters, 1964). On September 17 at 12:30pm is Postcards From the Edge(Mike Nichols, 1990). On September 17 at 7:15pm is Silver Streak (Arthur Hiller, 1976). On September 25 at 7:30pm is Dina (Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini), winner of the Grand Jury Prize, US Documentary, at the Sundance Film Festival, about a romance between a developmentally challenged couple. On September 26 at 6:15pm is "An Evening with Bernard-Henri Levy" with a screening of two documentaries Peshmerge (2016) and The Battle of Mosul (2017). In between the two documentaries Bernard-Henri Levy will be joined on stage by author Leon Weiseltier for discussion.
On September 22 at 6:30pm is Almanya--Welcome to Germany (Yasemin Samdereli, 2011).
National Air and Space Museum
"Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen" is a series of WWI films commemorating the entry to the US in 1917. Films are shown in both locations and the series ends in November. On September 15 at 7:00pm is Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).
On September 16 at 8:00pm is The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) with Cary Elwes present to discuss the film.
The series "Dance, Sing, Play" begins September 26 at 7:00pm with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964) starring Catherine Deneuve.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On September 13 at 6:30pm is Their Distance (Rikiya Imaizumi, 2015).
The Textile Museum at GWU
On September 21 at 5:00pm is The True Cost (Andrew Morgan, 2015), a documentary about clothing and its human and environmental impact on the earth. A discussion follows the film.
On September 7 at noon is A Class Apart (2009) about the 1954 legal case Hernandez v. Texas. On September 19 at 2:00pm is a presentation with film clips "World War II and the First Motion Picture Unit Films." On September 19 at 7:00pm is The Words That Built America (Alexandra Pelosi, 2017) with the filmmaker present to introduce the film.
"Cinema Arts Bethesda" is a monthly Sunday morning film discussion series. On September 17 10:00am is Tanna (Martin Butler, 2015) from Australia. Set on a remote Pacific island with the Yakel tribe as actors, this was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film. Breakfast is at 9:30am, the film is at 10:00am and discussion follows, moderated by Adam Spector, host of the DC Film Society's Cinema Lounge and author of the column "Adam's Rib." A season pass is available.
On September 6 at 8:00pm is Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (Linda Saffire, 2016) this month's "Programmer's Choice" film.
On September 13 at 8:00pm is Morgan Wootten: The Godfather of Basketball, a documentary about local DeMatha High School in Hyattsville and its basketball coach. Filmmaker Bill Hayes will be present to discuss the film.
On September 20 at 8:00pm is After Love (Joachim Lafosse, 2016), this month's "French Cinematheque" film.
The "Reel Israel" film for September is TBA.
Italian Cultural Institute
On September 6 at 6:00pm is Bianca come il latte, Rossa come il sangue (Giacomo Campiotti, 2013).
Library of Congress
The Mary Pickford Theater
at the Library of Congress starts a new series of films showcasing the Library's collection and including newly preserved films. On September 21 at 7:00pm is Son of Paleface (Frank Tashlin, 1952) starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell. A cartoon, Porky's Romance (Frank Tashlin, 1937) precedes the feature.
Anacostia Community Museum
On September 21 at 6:00pm is an Environmental Film Festival Screening After the Spill (Jon Bowermaster, 2015) about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill five years later.
"Capital Classics" at Landmark's West End Cinema
Classic films are shown at the West End Cinema on Wednesdays at 1:30pm, 4:30pm and 7:30pm. On September 13 is The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939); on September 20 is The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941); and on September 27 is North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959).
On September 24 at 2:00pm is Emerald City (Colin Broderick, 2016), a documentary about Irish immigrant construction workers in New York City. A Q&A by skype with the director will follow. Location: NYU's Abramson Family Auditorium, 1307 L Street, NW.
"Frightday Night Hitchcock" is a series of three films presented by Tom Zaniello. On September 15 at 7:00pm is Frenzy (1972); on September 22 at 7:00pm is a program of three Hitchcock TV films Specialty of the House with Robert Morley, And So Died Riabouchinska with Claude Rains, and Human Interest Story with Steve McQueen; and on September 29 is Obsession (Brian de Palma, 1976).
On September 22 at 7:00pm is The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) part of the audience-participation "Quote Along" series of films. Shown at the Old Firehouse, 1440 Chain Bridge Rd.
Reel Affirmations XTra
On September 29 at 7:00pm is Raising Zoey (Dante Alencastre, 2016), about a 13 year old trans activist.
Busboys and Poets
On September 19 at 6:00pm is the documentary Walls That Bleed, about the Dudley-A&T Uprising of 1969 in Greensboro, NC, followed by a discussion and Q&A. At the 5th and K location. Part of the "Focus-In!" film series.