Shannyn Sossamon Interview on Maudegone & Being Behind the Camera

IN A ROOM, ON A STAGE, TWO GIRLS AND A DUDE DANCE TO GAUZY, RHYTHMIC MUSIC, THEIR WILLOWY LIMBS GLIDING LIKE FALLEN LEAVES TO THE GROUND; made up like porcelain dolls, in fluid garments, with rosy cheeks, exaggerated eyelashes and pale anemic skin.  Standing in the middle is a woman miming, as if playing a harp.  This woman is actress, Shannyn Sossamon.  This video, A Ballet, is a one minute and twenty second glimpse into Sossamon’s “world” and one of seven videos that she has released online under the moniker Maudegone.
Though she is best known for her leading roles in movies like Wristcutters: A Love Story, Rules of Attraction and A Knight’s Tale, Shannyn has got another knack up her sleeve, and that is directing moving pictures. 
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with her more about the inverted experience of directing opposed to acting, her favorite filmmakers and our mutual appreciation for Blonde Redhead. - Interview by Keba Robinson, Photos by Mia Kirby

KEBA: Why did you start Maudegone?
SHANNYN SOSSAMON: Why did I start Maudegone? Hmmm, no one’s ever asked me about that before.  I don’t know…I guess so that I could have some sort of control and do creative things and feel like it was something that I started…I like the feeling of independence and freedom….and sometimes I do things and I don’t have reasons for them. So, an idea will come to me, like Maudegone, and I didn’t know exactly what it was and then you start to do more things and it all kind of lines up. Maudegone was sort of like that. I think eventually it’ll just be like a business – a production company really – something that I can make and produce movies under. So it’ll just end up being simple. But, you know…It’s still up to open answer.

K: So, did you…were you always curious about making videos…directing videos or is it something new that you’ve just gotten into?
SS: Yeah, I always wanted to do that eventually. But it doesn’t come from a place of – it comes from a very strange place that’s not necessarily based in story as much as it is atmosphere and feeling and images. So, the first things I did were – I used to dance – and I just kept seeing it and feeling it in my head but it’s not necessarily like a real narrative in any event. But they’re very full of life to me – or that world is full of life. But I don’t understand it yet either. Sometimes I just want to get out whatever it is I’m seeing and feeling, even if it doesn’t make sense to me yet. So I imagine that the story will come later because I don’ t think audiences like anything that doesn’t have a strong story – it’s not relatable.

K: I think your videos are really interesting because when I watch them I always feel like the people in them are doing things that they’re kind of not in control of in a way - like subconscious movements or something. But do you have ideas in mind when you do them - like do you have specific ideas that you want to convey when you make them or are they just sort of images that you like?
SS: You know, there’s always a feeling – a strong feeling for sure.  Like there’s this one where it’s me and two other dancers, Hunter and Izzy, it’s called ‘A Ballet’  - and there’s this feeling of suffocation with the three of us dancing on stage and then the three of us watching ourselves in the audience. And then when we were on set, that happened spontaneously…sorry if I’m not making sense…So I’m still really free in going with the flow as it happens but then I’m sure that everyone in front of the camera and behind the camera feels really clear about the feeling that we’re going for.  But it doesn’t have to make sense to me; it doesn’t have to - why it’s happening or why we’re going in that direction. If it feels right, that’s all I care about; it doesn’t have to make so much sense at that time

K: And you used to dance right – or, do you still dance?
SS: No, not professionally, I’ve completely lost the technique and that strength. I could get it back in like four to six months of training but it’s not something I do everyday, no.

K: So where do your ideas start. Is it with a dance idea, or – I mean you make music for some of the videos too, right?
SS: Yeah

K: Or is it like with the music or an image in your head – is there usually a place that you start?
SS: I think that when I’m making something, it’s music - it’s music and listening to the music and seeing what naturally happens in my imagination and I guess my heart really.  Like, when I made the videos that I ended up making music for, I still made those and wrote them to other music in my head…So I was being inspired by music. We danced to them and shot them to different music. So I made that music after I edited them. And then I edited them to my music later.

K: How long have you been playing music?
SS: Since like right after I got pregnant – right after I had Audio, so 2003. I started to learn how to play guitar very seriously - like lessons four days a week. My sister had just started learning how to play the bass and we wanted to start playing music together and start and band and so we both just kind of got on it. She got on it quicker than I did - I was busy with the kid. But, I got on it quite quick and then I started to play drums the very first time I was in Warpaint. When we all started the band together, no one was playing drums, it was like all of us on guitars, I was on guitar with them, and we needed a drummer. We tried out a pool of drummers and then one day I was just practicing, I just decided to sit on the drum kit and it really worked and I had so much fun and Theresa [Wayman] was writing a song at that time along with the drum beat. Anyways, it just worked, and it was weird, it happened very  quickly so then I started to focus more on drums but now I don’t have a drum kit in my house so I play guitar more.

K: Would you ever consider doing music – you’re not in Warpaint anymore right?
SS:  No. What was it? Two years ago? Two and a half years
 ago I left for good and then I got my friend Daisy to be their drummer and then they found their real one, who’s awesome, Stella [Mozgawa] , she’s a sweetheart too. So yeah, no, I don’t think I’ll be in Warpaint again, which is good because time wise, I don’t think I could do that right now.

K: Would you ever want to pursue music again though…not with Warpaint but a solo thing?
SS: I think so, yeah, I think about that a lot…people ask me that a lot. I don’t see why not. I write a lot of songs by myself. But it just requires focus and discipline in a way that I need to have for other things right now. So I’m always torn – but it doesn’t have to be that stressful - I could just do it. So, I don’t know.

K: You made a video for Warpaint, right? The Undertow video –what was the idea in that video…it was like they were sleeping or dreaming, the girls in the band – I don’t know, I was confused, but a good kind of confused [laughs].
SS: Well, I love not spoon feeding anything and some people make fun of me – my friends make fun of me because they’re like “don’t worry, you’ll never have a problem spoon feeding anything”. No one ever understands, I’m so worried something is going to be too obvious or cheesy and spoon-fed and I’m so far from that with my video work, it’s completely alienating and not relatable at all.  It was really simple – to me it was simple, the girls in the band were infusing the areas that the boy and the girl were in with strengths and powers – leaving it for the kids when they need it so that they were able to connect. But that’s not anything that I needed the viewer to know it’s just what I told everybody working on it so that they had something to work with.  I like it when you can’t really figure out what’s going on.

 K: Have you done any more videos for Warpaint or other artists in general?
SS: Yeah, I’m trying to – there are two bands that I’m talking to right now. I don’t want to say because I want to make sure it’s real but I’m sure I’m going to be doing them a lot. As long as,  it works financially and time wise. But I love it, it’s practice, it’s so much fun, I feel relaxed in that process, I really love it. I just wish that the scripts I was getting were way better and then I would love it even more. So it’s just hard sometimes when it’s not as good as you want it to be.

K: Would you ever see yourself going completely behind the camera instead of in front of it?
SS: Absolutely, later. But I think right now, there’s still a lot of work in me as an actress. It’s just  – I don’t know, it’s just specific - what I should be doing as an actress.  So sometimes I think that I should be making the movies that I should be in.   As an actress, it’s fun to be picky but it’s hard to be when that’s the only way that you’re making your living. But as it gets fun, it’s like you know what kind of stories you want to tell, what kind of stories you’d be good at playing, what kind of characters you can play. You know that better than anybody knows that.  So when they’re not there and then you’re doing things that are kind of like watered down versions of that, it’s a little irritating. But when you’re behind the camera, that just doesn’t happen as much because you really do get to set the tone and the atmosphere and the visuals and feel so not dealing with  - I mean, it’s all your fault if it doesn’t go well.

K: Would you ever write screen plays or something – writing movies instead of directing them?
SS: I’ve written treatments with people. And I have a couple friends writing one for Maudegone right now.  We’ll see how that turns out.  But no, I haven’t written a screenplay yet, I’m very curious though.

K: What movies are you working on now? Acting wise?
SS: I’m about to do a film that’s being directed by Mark Webber – he’s an actor. I’m really excited about that – he’s so special, and I’m very excited to jump into this one…it’s all kind of last minute but we’re shooting that in LA after the New Year. And I just finished one in Ottawa Canada that was a post apocalyptic independent film, kind of a western slash thriller slash action movie and that should be out probably spring in 2011.  Those are the two things that are happening right now.

K: Do you have favorite film makers??
SS: I really love David Lynch, Woody Allen. I love Paul Thomas Anderson because I think that he’s a – there’s something so dangerous about him but he’s unpredictable. Whereas maybe with David Lynch and Woody Allen you kind of know what world you’re going to rest in, even if they do manage to somehow shock you.  I also like Wes Anderson . The fox movie was my favorite movie of his because I think it had the most emotion, but it was really subtle. But I like anybody who’s got a strong point of view, a strong world that they live in, you know that they’re doing it for survival reasons, they can’t live any other way unless they get this all out – I like to be able to feel that.

 K: I saw the Eraserhead by David Lynch, but I didn’t watch the whole thing – I got to the part where the lady has the baby and it’s an alien.
SS: That’s the only David Lynch one you’ve seen?

K: Yeah, it’s the only one I’ve seen.
SS: Wow, you should see…yeah, that’s really intense…You should see, Blue Velvet, I think you might like that.

K: Blue Velvet?
SS: Yeah, and Mulholland Drive….start with those two.

K: Are they less intense? Less obscure?
SS: Yeah, or maybe there’s a little bit more femininity in the journeys.  And also I haven’t seen Eraserhead in so long and I remember that when I watched it I needed to watch it again with a new pair of glasses on. Not clean glasses…but I think when I watched it, I was very young and my eyes were popping out of my head….and that’s definitely not when I fell in love with him, I think it was …it might have been Blue Velvet.

K: What’s Blue Velvet about?
 SS: It’s very mysterious really – slightly twisted. David Lynch is one of those filmmakers that you can’t even describe his movies because they’re so weird – they’re so out there in the atmosphere. To try to explain it like it’s a traditional narrative plot is….I never can. And I think that a lot of the people who love David Lynch would admit that they’re comfortable in knowing that when you finish watching a David Lynch film, you have no idea what it’s about, and you’re okay with that because you felt like he was expressing his subconscious truthfully and with good intention and 100% only for that reason. Only to serve his imaginative subconscious self. So you’re okay, when you leave his movies and you don’t understand exactly what happened, you’re okay with it because you know that someone didn’t just try to make a weird movie to just be weird  - you know that it’s actually  truth for him. And it’s just a ride. But yeah, I couldn’t explain to you what Mulholland Drive is about. Some people would say it’s about a struggling actress and the seedy hokey things in Los Angeles, but that’s just not what it’s about.

K: Do you see that sort of filmmaker as something that you would like to portray when you make your own videos?
SS: Yeah, sure. But I don’t think you can force that though…if that’s not there.

K: What music are you into lately?
SS: Lately I’ve been listening to – what is it? – Elmore James? I never read it, I just keep it on repeat. I keep it on repeat on my iTunes. And then, my friend the other day just introduced me to the new Ariel Pink album and I’ve been listening to that a lot on repeat. Oh, and the new Blonde Redhead album….I love Blonde Redhead – every single album….I’m a sucker.

 K: Oh, I still have to get that. Their latest one but I just bought two of their older ones – fake is better than real- I forget the title. But that and In an Expression of the Inexpressible. I just bought those.
SS: Yeah, those are both really good I love them…There’s some incredible drum beats on In an Expression of the Inexpressible…there’s Led Zep and Missile – those are my favorite songs on that album.

K: I think the title track from that album is my favorite
SS: Yeah, that one’s good too.

K: Blonde Redhead is really awesome….I was going to see them play but it didn’t happen – have you ever seen them live before?
SS: I have, about, maybe about three or four times. Yeah,  I have seen them live a lot, it’s dreamy, They’re a great band they’re very solid….but not too solid to where it doesn’t feel raw.

K: Do you have a favorite album?
SS: I think the Damaged Lemon one is a great one and then Misery is a Butterfly That’s a difficult question actually. I love all of them….they’re all different. I listen to all of them from the beginning to end as a journey….which is – I don’t do that with that many albums even though you’re supposed to. It just never works out that way. I like basically everything they do.

K: Do you, besides acting, music and making videos…do you do any other creative type things.
SS: That’s a good question…no, I don’t. I just started drawing a little bit ago…but it’s nothing awesome. I’m really not good a t drawing and I’m trying to enjoy it more because my son is enjoying it so much right now. So I’m trying to get in on that with him. But it’s a little challenging…but I think everyone can make good pictures…you just draw like you’re little.  But sometimes that’s hard to do, to surrender and take the analytical part of your brain out of it.

K: Yeah…cause kids are so uninhibited when they do stuff. It’s really special I think.
SS: Yeah…exactly, that’s what it is.

K: But what about photography…you seem like you’d be good at that because your videos are so photographic I think.
SS: I’ve never done that…I’ve never been curious about the knobs on the camera and light and developing. I think you have to be curious about that stuff to be a really good photographer. Some people would disagree but I think to be a director, to make moving pictures, as long as you have an idea about what you want it to look like, then you let the cinematographer be that person. You know, what you want it to look like and feel like….you have to have a really good idea so that they couldn’t even get it wrong.  But I should learn, I want to learn more. I start to learn about it as I do more videos, the dialogue opens up and I learn from the photographers, all kinds of things, out of necessity. I’m learning all kinds of things whether I like it or not. But I’m just not a photographer. I’ve never been one of those people.

K: Do you have a team of people that you work with in all of your videos or do you switch it up with every video that you make.
SS: I’ve switched it up a little bit…but only twice. So I’ve worked with two different editors, two costume designers, and two different camera - well four actually, so that one moved quite a bit. Only two makeup artists. So not a lot…I haven’t made that much so…

K: Do you have a heavy hand in expressing your vision for each video that you make with the people that you work with?
SS: Yeah…I think I do…and then sometimes I think that they have no idea what I’m talking about. I mean, I’ve very psycho when I’m in the editing room and it drives the editor crazy…which is a bummer but….it’s always a laughing fest as well. It’s fun…I love editing.

K: What about it is fun for you?
SS: It’s musical, it’s rhythmic, and I like that about it.

K: The videos that you have on line, do they work as a whole or are they separate…because they sort of seem like they’re in similar environments.
SS: Yeah, all of the ones where the characters look the same…but if you’re on the page, it’s sort of self explanatory which ones are in the same world. But to me, when I watch them they all seem like they’re all in the same world even though some are different…I don’t know if that makes sense. But there’s something similar going on in all of them to me that I don’t know if I’m necessarily doing on purpose.

K: Did you make them around the same time?
SS: Which ones?

K: Santa, A Ballet and Wall Dance…
SS: Yes, those were all on the same weekend. That was supposed to be and it might still be one day because I’ve got three of them on my computer that haven’t been edited. That was supposed to be a part of a short film called Edit Pedestrian and I have to figure out how that’s going to happen but I just decided to share them all as little pieces. I had to get them done for a film festival one year and me and the editor just decided to share them as little pieces…little vignettes…so we just kept it and then life took me somewhere else for a while and I just haven’t been paying attention so much.  But that’s what it was supposed to end up being.

 K: And then you have that other video with that song and you’re playing, I think with your sister and another woman…
SS: Jennifer Furches

K: Is that a band that you’re in or is that just kind of a one song thing?
SS: It’s kind of a one song thing for the three of us. But my sister and I, we always like to talk about how we have a band named Sissy. [laugh]..It’s just very lazy, it’s the laziest band in the world.

K: I really like that song though. I like how each instrument is doing its own thing…
SS: I like it too, thank you.

K: Yeah…I like songs where it’s like the guitars are playing something different from the base  and then when they come together it’s like they fill in each other’s spaces instead of following each other. I always like that. ☼