The whole equation
To get her first film made Glasgow-born Marianna Palka had to do it all herself, she tells Miles Fielder
Talk about indie spirit. In order to make her first feature, the low-budget, highly offbeat and very accomplished romantic comedy Good Dick, Glasgow-born, Los Angeles-resident Marianna Palka roped in a handful of her friends and fellow filmmakers and together they completed the film she has written, directed, co-produced, taken the leading role in, and, in America, is currently self-distributing. That’s not bad going for someone who has only just celebrated her 27th birthday. And quite rightly, Palka and her pals’ efforts have been rewarded with a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and a New Director’s Award win at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June.
‘Practically everyone who worked on the film were friends with me or one of the other three producers,’ Palka says, in Edinburgh for the UK premiere of Good Dick where her accent swiftly becomes a 50-50 mix of Scots and American. ‘We hired people who were previously assistants and gave them a major role. And everyone killed themselves for us, because they were all really excited that we were trying to say something new and, I hope, important.’
Good Dick is about an introverted young woman (Palka doing a fine job of transforming her tall blonde looks into a grotty huddle of neurosis) whose family-originated sexual hang-ups has arrested her development and lead to an unhealthy obsession with watching porn films. But when one of the clerks in her local video store (Jason Ritter, son of the late actor John Ritter) attempts to court her, a strange sadomasochistic relationship develops ‐ with girl dominating boy ‐ that promises sexual and emotional healing. It’s a smart, shocking, funny and ultimately sweet film, and one that Palka made knowingly subverting the tired conventions of the rom-com genre.
‘Female ‐ and male ‐ characters in mainstream cinema are very stereotypical,’ Palka says. ‘Female parts are usually one-dimensional characters who are there just to say to the guy, “You’re interesting.” They’re just exposition, which is quite sad. People are complex and contradictory, and having characters that are real in that way is much more interesting than just showing one aspect of a character.
‘I wanted to write a story with three-dimensional characters,’ Palka continues. ‘And I liked the idea of this girl renting porn from these video store clerks and freaking them out. I also thought it would be interesting to explore what it takes to overcome pain in your life. The film is about that: the change from dark to light in a person. And I was also interested in what is sexy, because sex is very dynamic but film only explores a tiny amount of this vast, beautiful thing. What I find sexy in a person is not what mainstream culture says is sexy, ie someone who is simply physically attractive. So I was trying to expose the fact that as far as mainstream cinema goes we’re not that well versed in what sex actually is.’
Palka has certainly achieved her goal ‐ no easy feet in an industry that’s notorious for stifling individual artistic expression. No doubt her get-up-and-go attitude helped: born to Polish parents in Glasgow, Palka found an early mentor in polymath Peter Mullan before leaving home at 17 to study theatre in New York and at 20 moving to LA, where she began working in film and where she eventually set up a production company with Ritter, Morning Knight. Ultimately, it’s being involved with every aspect of making Good Dick, what film historian David Thomson refers to as “the whole equation”, that has allowed Palka to make her film just the way she envisioned it.
‘I did a lot of acting and that was fun,’ Palka says, ‘but I wanted to say something. You can use your voice as an actor, but it’s somewhat limited because it’s someone else’s vision. That’s why I wrote ‐ and ended up directing, producing and starring in ‐ my own film. It was a lot of work, but it did streamline the filmmaking process ‐ the writer and the director and the producer and the lead actor didn’t have to have many discussions with each other because they were all the same person.’
Good Dick is released on 3 Oct.