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Filmmaker to Filmmaker Q&A: Ash Christian and Jonathan Caouette on Making ‘Fat Girls’

[IMG:L]Writer/director Ash Christian confesses through his fictional lead character Rodney, “Ever since I was a little kid, I felt like this little fat girl stuck in this stupid body of mine. You don’t have to be fat to be ‘a fat girl’, you don’t really have to be a girl–it’s a state of mind.”

Christian‘s sharp, matter-of-fact narration charting Rodney’s obvious unease within his own skin offers the ambitious young helmer a platform to make an impression on viewers who’ll connect to issues of outsiderism. As such, Fat Girls charts the bumpy journey of disillusioned teen Rodney as he ‘finds’ his confident inner ‘fat girl’ in small town Texas, with the help of his Rubenesque friend Sabrina.

[IMG:R]Jonathan Caouette first made an impression on the film world in with his searing documentary detailing his complicated youth, while growing up with a schizophrenic mother, in the IFP award-winning, Sundance ’05 favorite, Tarnation. Currently playing Mr. Cox in Fat GirlsCaouette is making yet another big impression onscreen–this time as Rodney’s intuitive high school theater teacher. 

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Christian, now pre-producing his sophomore feature at 22, was not only the lead in Fat Girls, but also wrote, directed and co-produced the film. Both rising stars Christian and Caouette are considered triple threats–as actor/writer/director–so it’s not surprising they hit it off within a few minutes of meeting.

These young helmers have so much in common, Hollywood.com thought it might be interesting to turn the tables and have the two interview each other.

[IMG:L]Ash Christian: What made you say yes to being in Fat Girls?
Jonathan Caouette: I think you and I got really drunk in a courtyard somewhere at The Deep Elum Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, and you said something like, “Hi, I am making this film and I want you to play this musical theater teacher. Do you wanna do it?” I think in like five minutes I was attached in your film, Ash! I knew, knew, knew it would be a fun little film and I felt your talent, and I just knew that I needed to support a young gay Texas kid (19 frickin’ years old) making a film. It was just kinda like the right thing to do at the right time. Not only for “giving back to the universe” for Karmic reasons–after the many universal gifts of my Tarnation experience–but because I really believed in you. I felt like you were a mini baby John Waters ready to burst out. Mind you, it was the kind of film that I felt very severed from genre-wise, in terms of what it is that “I do”–but I think that that was all the more reason to do it! 

Jonathan Caouette: How did your passion for filmmaking develop?
Ash Christian:
I started in community theater when I lived in Texas, and fell in love with the art of storytelling … Then as an actor I worked on a short film while living in Texas and really fell in love with moviemaking. I love that films are around forever and it’s a moment in time captured. I always loved watching films growing up–that’s really the only film education I ever had.

[IMG:L]AC: What did you enjoy most about the experience shooting Fat Girls
JC:
I have to say seeing a bunch of novice Texan filmmakers hooking-up and creating magic–by what little means and financial constraints that you all had to work with–was a joyful experience. I LOVE seeing people making the most out limited situations. It’s beautiful and I love endorsing Texas filmmakers. 

JC: Describe your experiences of working with actors for the first time. How did they respond to your direction and the project itself?
AC:
I love actors, because I am an actor. I know how to work with them because I know what I like in directors I’ve worked with. I really had a great time with all the talent in Fat GirlsAshley Fink, who plays Sabrina, was a gem. It was her first lead in a film and she amazed me. You [Jonathan] were wonderful, too! When I saw Tarnation I knew that you would be great in the film. Deborah Theaker, who plays my mom in Fat Girls, is truly one of the world’s funniest people. She makes me laugh, even when she isn’t trying. As far as I know, all of the actors in the film enjoyed the experience. It was really a passion project for a lot of us. It had to be because the budget was so low. 

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[IMG:R]AC:  What is your favorite part of moviemaking as a whole? 
JC:
So far, I have to say that I love the editing process. I love manipulating a self-contained world. I still love acting too. Hell, I think I will shoot arrows at all the wondrous facets of filmmaking until I croak. I love it all. 

JC: Do you feel that directors take too much credit for filmmaking, which is arguably a highly collaborative medium?
AC:
It is hard to say. Directors have a lot of impact on a film at times, but sometimes they just let the cameras roll. I do think that filmmaking is the most collaborative of arts there is. Without your cinematographer, production designer, editor, composer, costume designer, etc., you have nothing. 

AC: How was it working with a director that was also starring in the film?
JC:
It was pure schizophrenia in all the right ways, and I think you should have made an outside documentary about that alone. Bravo Ash, for pulling it off! 

[IMG:R]JC: What films did you enjoy as a child? Have any of these influences crept though into your work as an adult filmmaker? 
AC:
I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Paris, Texas, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Hairspray, Hocus Pocus … I think those movies do influence my work today. I love the small town aspect and the interesting characters in all those films. 

AC: What’s next for you Jonathan? 
JC:
I am working on my last documentary ever (godhelpme!) called All Tomorrow’s Parties [its working title] which is about a groovy little indie music festival in England put on by and for emo-licious post-post-post-post-punk/folk kids. It’s gonna feature some of my all time favorite bands in the world like Belle And Sebastian, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop etc. The film is literally gonna rock hard! I am also working on my first official narrative film called Everything Somewhere Else which is basically going to be a four hour dream, transposed cinematically, featuring an amazing soundtrack. Think: a grown-up Fantasia on the ‘shrooms that were going around in 1968 with a 4AD and Badman Records and Bella Union soundtrack–and some of the most exhilarating and horrifying and beautiful things happening all at once. I am looking to shoot the film in 3D. It’s going to star an array of great actors. 

JC: What’s next Ash? 
AC:
 I’m doing my next film Mangus! this winter: a dark comedy about a boy in small town Texas that wants to play Jesus in his high school musical, “Jesus Christ Spectacular.” But he has one problem–no one wants a legless Jesus. I’m excited to get to work on it. I hope you will be in it too!

–Additional Reporting, Lisa Collins and Brigid Brown

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