Josephine Decker Turns the Filmmaking Process on its Head

Featured in Creativity
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ashley Connor.
Josephine Decker Turns the Filmmaking Process on its Head

Josephine Decker’s experimental approach to movie-making is anything but formulaic. Drawing from her background in documentary filmmaking, Josephine, who was recently named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine, prefers to shoot first and put the story together later, drawing inspiration from the footage itself.

“Editing is like a writing process for me,” she says. “I like to see the images, and let them dictate how I should make the movie, as opposed to me trying to make the images fit the script. This gives us lots of room to interpret and embrace the non-narrative and poetic elements while we’re shooting.”

Her latest film Madeline’s Madeline, which makes its debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival this month and represents Josephine’s first showing at the festival, is a reflection of this. With a loose idea of a story she wanted to tell, she gathered a group of teenage actors she discovered while judging a teen arts festival in New York. They rehearsed and did improv for more than a year before she wrote the screenplay. The result is a movie about how, in the process of putting together a theater production, real-life and art can often intertwine.

Helena Howard and Molly Parker appear in “Madeline's Madeline” by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Madeline, played by Helena Howard, becomes so deeply immersed in the character she plays that the lines between rehearsal and her troubled real-life are increasingly blurred. “In a way, this film is about how, in becoming someone else, you actually become yourself,” says Josephine. “People find out things about themselves on stage that they can never find in real life.”

The storytelling process is particularly near and dear to Josephine, who studied creative writing and literature in college. Because the narrative is so closely linked with the footage, she often edits a lot of her own work—so what she uses is central to her creative process.

“Adobe Premiere Pro is the only tool that offers professional editing tools for this kind of filmmaking,” she says. “This is how everyone is making movies today.”

Josephine Decker, director of “Madeline's Madeline”, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Eric Rudd.

She first cut her teeth on Premiere Pro with the movie Collective: Unconscious, which screened at SXSW in 2016. She liked Premiere Pro so much that she decided to use it for Madeline’s Madeline—but not before enrolling in a Premiere Pro boot camp. “It was an intensive, one-day class, where I was able to wrap my head around all of the keyboard shortcuts,” she says. “A lot of things, like importing codecs, are so much easier with Premiere Pro.”

The movie was created over the course of three-and-a-half years, which includes a year of editing—although the film’s Co-editor, Harrison Atkins, edited during production for the first six months before he was pulled on to another project. All of the footage was shot with an ARRI AMIRA camera and converted to Apple ProRes 422 (LT).

Despite describing herself as a “traditional editor” who doesn’t generally get into other aspects of post production like color or audio, Josephine did leverage the Lumetri Color panel in Premiere Pro, and is looking forward to experimenting with some of the application’s newer features, such as the Essential Sound Panel.

Clearly, Josephine has found the right mix of free-form movie-making and traditional editing to keep her busy. She is scheduled to begin working on the second season of the Duplass Brothers’ HBO television series Room 104, representing her first foray into television. This follows an already impressive portfolio of work. She double featured at the Berlindale Forum 2014 with Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely—the latter garnering several awards. Josephine has also earned accolades for the documentary Bi the Way and animated short film Me the Terrible.

Madeline’s Madeline premieres on January 22, 2018 in the NEXT category at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

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