Barbarella here, and I have to say that spending so much time at home has made me acutely aware of how desperately my carpets need to be cleaned. Is carpet cleaning considered an essential service? At any rate, I stopped obsessing about my carpets just long enough to speak on the phone with the young, talented Hannah Marks. You may recognize her as Amanda from the series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency where she stars alongside Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett. Her latest film, BANANA SPLIT, which she cowrote with Joey Power, had to cancel its theatrical release. However, it will still be available On Digital and On Demand starting tomorrow, March 27. Also starring in the film, Hannah has already accomplished so much while still in her twenties that it may make some of us question why we aren’t doing more with our lives. I had a nice conversation with the writer, director, and actor while she was quarantined at home with her boyfriend and dogs.
“My boyfriend normally lives in Vancouver, Canada. It’s funny, we went from long distance to literal quarantine together. But it’s been really great ‘cause we missed each other. I do feel so bad for everyone who’s sick.”
After some brief small talk about the current state of the world, I jumped right into the questions.
It seems to me that the younger generations are completely submersed in social media culture. I find it interesting that while you do include some social media in BANANA SPLIT, there’s not really that much of it. How much do you think social media impacts friendships in today’s world?
“I think social media is unfortunately huge in relationships. I feel like it doesn’t have as much to do with the getting together aspect of a relationship, like a couple falling in love or a friendship blooming because of social media. I think it’s more like it makes break-ups harder. It makes any kind of split so much tougher because then you’re having to see and imagine the aftermath of this person’s life. I think that’s where it comes into play and where it’s difficult. I’m so glad I didn’t have a cellphone in elementary school like kids do now.”
How do you think life would have been different if you’d had a cellphone in elementary school?
“Well, I think you lose a lot of your childhood because you have access to all kinds of information, and information you might be embarrassed to ask for at that age. Now you can do everything behind closed doors and just type on your phone. I think you probably lose a bit of your innocence earlier.”
In what ways are you similar to April, and in what ways are you different from her?
“She was based on me, so I feel like I’m very similar to her. Hopefully, I’m a little more involved as a person and don’t make as many bad decisions and mistakes as April. But, definitely, emotionally at her core she’s really similar to me in that we’re both neurotic, anxious types, but full of love still.”
Why did you want to tell this particular story?
“Well, it felt like there was something missing in the genre of rom-coms. It felt like there wasn’t platonic, female friendship at the heart of many rom-coms. It was exciting to get to subvert those tropes and make people think you’re going to watch a movie about a boy and a girl, but really it’s about a girl and a girl learning to love each other just by having weird circumstances.”
What was it like working with Benjamin Kasulke on this, and how closely do you feel he captured your vision?
“His vision was entirely different than my own, but I think that that’s great because he brought an outside perspective to the material, which is so crucial. I love what he did with it, even if it isn’t what I would have done myself. I think that’s for the best. He’s a good friend of mine, so I just had a blast working with him and watching how he understood the material.”
How would you navigate disagreements?
“We would just talk it out. Thankfully, we were friends so it was super easy. I mean, we communicate all the time, and the reason we wanted him to direct this movie is because he’s so sensitive and thoughtful and communicative. So, really it was just talking, and sometimes I’d get my way. Sometimes he’d get his way, and that’s just how it goes. And that’s ultimately really good because then the movie isn’t just one person’s thoughts.”
Did you have actors in mind when you were writing the film? If so, who? If not, did those who were cast change the dynamic of the story in any way?
“You know not necessarily, actually. The dream was always for me to get to make it with friends because I had so many friends, child actors, and we all wanted to work together. So really the dream came true in that sense. I got to work with so many of my good friends, people I’ve known since I was a little kid, so it worked out.”
A few years ago, Rolling Stone named you one of the under 25 artists changing the world. Do you think you’re changing the world, and if so, in what ways?
“Oh gosh, I don’t think I’m changing the world. I mean, that is incredibly flattering, and I was super-stoked to be on that list. It was very, very sweet and made me feel really good, but I definitely don’t think I’m changing the world. Hopefully, I’m making art that people respond to and connect with, but no, I don’t think I’m changing the world.”
If you could change the world, what would you change?
“Oh man, this is why I’m not a politician. Uh, I have no idea. It’s such a huge question. This is so cliché, but I just think everyone should be kind to each other and have empathy and realize that everyone is a three-dimensional human being, and people aren’t inherently good or inherently bad. I hope everyone can just treat each other with that respect and that understanding. No, I don’t pretend to know how I can change the world actually.”
So far who has taught you the most throughout your career as a filmmaker, and what are the most important lessons you learned?
“I would say my mom because my mom was an actress starting when she was six years old, and she has been through thick and thin with me and helped me throughout my career. She really guided me and has given me support and love, and we have talked through every decision I have ever made, really. She has taught me the most because she went through it all before I did, and if I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”
What did she teach you?
“Well, she’s definitely taught me not to give up and to persevere, and every time I’ve wanted to give up, she’s been right. Again, I know that’s cliché, but it’s just true. She hasn’t let me put myself in a box. Like she didn’t let me just be an actor. When I wanted to write and direct, she encouraged me that I could do that. When I was writing and directing, she always encouraged me to still act and still follow those passions, so I think she’s really allowing me to be whoever I wanted to be.”
What made you decide to make the jump to directing?
“I think just the frustration of not wanting to wait around for the phone to ring and wait around for auditions, because you do that long enough, and all of a sudden you’re a teenager, and you’re somehow bitter and jaded. So, I wanted to really avoid that lifestyle of feeling frustrated all the time. On top of that, it made perfect sense because I love movies and I love actors so it felt like the natural thing to do to keep myself busy and keep myself challenged and excited.”
How did you get involved in the Sundance Labs?
“I just auditioned actually. That’s where I met Ben Kasulke who directed BANANA SPLIT. He was a cinematographer there, and I was an actor. So, I just auditioned, and we had a great time. I mean, it was a pretty life-changing experience. It’s basically like filmmaker summer camp. You’re on this mountain just making art with all these people that are really amazing.”
Regarding your writing process, do you set aside designated times to write, or give yourself quotas or deadlines?
“Joey and I, we would write every day from like 8 – 5 or something, unless I had an audition, or unless he had an appointment or something. But other than that, we would write every single day morning to night, just forcing ourselves to get better. And as I’ve become more of a solo writer, I’ve followed those same principles. I think just because it’s art, you have to treat it as if it’s any other job so you can be as good at it as possible. So even when I don’t feel like writing, I’ll say, “Okay, I’ll have to write one scene a day, or I have to do one thing to further my development.””
Do you have a particular genre you write, or do you write different genres?
“You know I thought that I would only write the rom-com genre. I guess I write comedic dramas, rom-coms, horror. I think I write everything actually, but I’m probably better at some than others.”
What’s your favorite genre to watch?
“Probably rom-coms or just straight comedies. I like to feel good when I’m watching something. I don’t want to put myself in too heavy of a mindset a lot of times, although I really loved EX MACHINA, and that was what inspired me to write a robot movie.”
And when can we expect to see this robot movie of yours?
“Oh gosh, I have no idea. Actually, I haven’t even really let many people even read it yet. So, we’ll find out. I’m not sure.”
Do you have any specific goals or ambitions regarding where you want to take your career?
“You know, I’m not really sure. I think that’s what’s beautiful about it. I’m really focusing on just trying to be present and enjoying my experiences. Like, I just made this movie called MARK, MARY, AND SOME OTHER PEOPLE, and the whole point of the movie was to actually enjoy the process of making it, and to take risks, and for all of us to challenge each other and to grow and not be attached to what the outcome is, and not be worried about the end result, and really just feel exhilarated and enjoy the process because I think that’s all we really have in life. That’s what I’m working on more so than trying to attain a specific goal or reach some kind of end result.”
Have you run up against any obstacles in your filmmaking career due to your age or gender?
“You know, I have definitely, pre-me too and pre-time’s up. It was harder to get noticed, but I think now it’s been such an advantage to be a young, female filmmaker because it is so relevant in all of these conversations. Right now, I actually feel like I’m at the right place at the right time.”
Do you do much research when writing a screenplay or do you pull from your own experiences and write from the heart?
“It depends on the topic. With BANANA SPLIT not a lot of research was required because it’s about your friendships in high school, but when Joey and I made AFTER EVERYTHING we did a ton of research on cancer and the particular cancer that was in the movie.”
Hannah stars with Liana Liberato in BANANA SPLIT which will be available On Digital and On Demand starting tomorrow, March 27. I hope everyone stays safe out there and makes the most of their time indoors.