Stacie Passon is well-aware of the power of images, having become an accomplished producer and director of commercials for the likes of Donna Karan and Sony Music, so it came as a bit of a shock when she was watching her first film “Concussion” when she was able to process something she made for herself in front of an audience.
“I remember when I first saw it at Sundance, there’s a shot out the window, one of the first shots in the film, and [there’s] all these framed pictures on a window sill and they’re all pictures of my life,” says Passon. “Every time I see that shot, I get a little teary because it reminds me of the journey [of making this film]. It reminds me of the thing I wanted to do in the beginning and just try and access a part that I hadn’t for a very, very long time.”
The moment struck her only slightly less hard than the baseball that left Passon in a daze after being hit by an errant throw by her son, inspiring the story of a woman named Abby in her early forties who pushes past the pain to reevaluate her life of routine as a mom in the suburbs of Montclair. But while Abby becomes a prostitute to lift her middle-aged malaise, unwittingly falling into the world’s oldest profession while updating a loft in the city as an interior decorator and discovering that she enjoys it, Passon channeled her revived passion into making a movie, an acutely observed and at times sharply funny debut that’s so assured and features such a ferocious turn from by “Deadwood” star Robin Weigert as the budding courtesan that it’s likely to send the same kind of chills down one’s spine as Passon herself experienced upon seeing it for the first time.
On eve of the film’s release in theaters and on VOD, Passon jumped on the phone for an all-too-brief chat about the film’s origins, her collaboration with “Concussion” producer and “Go Fish” director Rose Troche, and how she came up with the film’s evocative look.
What was it that got you interested in making a feature?
I got to a certain point in life where I just kind of needed to dig a little deeper. I started writing and the script flowed out really, really quickly. I was just really excited by this character. Every day, it seemed like five or six more scenes were written and It just flowed out. I just wanted to follow her and see what she was doing and what was going to come next and before I knew it, I put it in the hands of a couple of trusted friends and they liked it. They thought it was compelling and new, so I said, well, let’s just make it then. New technologies are making it easier for people to make [movies] every single day. I figured I’d be able to spend money, just self-distribute it and make my money back, then the costs started evolving and then I got an investor, but I just started and it went very quickly.
How did Rose Troche get involved?
Rose is an old and trusted friend. I wanted her help in casting advice and she wrote back to me immediately and said that she would help. She helps a lot of women filmmakers. She’s given practically every indie woman filmmaker notes at one point or another, particularly earlier in her career. So she read the script and asked if I wanted notes and I said, “Of course, I want notes.” We started to develop it a little bit and every day, I asked her for more and more and more until she eventually became the lead producer on the film.
One of my favorite things on the film is there’s a framed portrait in the apartment, “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist.” How did it make it into the film?
I was just writing and thinking about the loft and thinking about it being a room of one’s own. The Guerrilla Girls’ poster “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” is iconic, particularly for people are trying to make work who are women. And it’s one of those things that I always thought if I had a room of my own, I’d put up. In addition, we took that thread and we got artwork by Karen Marshall and Angela Jimenez and a host of other artists to truly make it a place where Abby collected things and people and experiences and books and art. But [“The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist”] was one of the central ones. I love that poster. It hearkens back to a time in the ’70s or in the early ’80s when it was just such a cool time for people and how that became an artistic collective experience. I think Abby’s looking for a collective experience. She can’t find it in the suburbs.
Is it true you had the luxury of shooting in sequence?
We didn’t shoot the home stuff in sequence, but we shot the loft stuff in sequence because we were building the loft as we were shooting, so as Abby’s renovating it, we would get it to a point that we’d shoot that [next] scene. What was really great about it was we got to see Abby’s sexual journey as it happens. [Robin Weigert] didn’t have to go back and forth and [Abby] came from this stone-like person to this sexual animal and we could track that. That was invaluable to be able to do that and I think it was good for Robin too because she was in every single scene. We shot it in 23 days, so you can lose track really easily where you are emotionally on the spectrum, but [Robin] was so good at recalibrating every emotion and finding the appropriate time. She’s just a marvelous, marvelous actor.
It’s not all obvious, either, since there’s an incredible amount communicated in the film through body language. What was your approach to capture that?
I wanted it to be suggested but not explicit. I wanted to stay with the heads of the women, but often we’d cut off heads. We’re going around the body a lot and Abby’s experience is very much about her brain as well, so in reference to the last question, I wanted to track her journey. I wanted it registered on her face. Since you have to use economies of scale when you’re doing a film at this budget, I knew I couldn’t move the camera a ton. So I did a lot of proscenium representation where we’re wrapping light around bodies. I just felt like that would work best. Then the other thing I knew I had was these actors and that they could carry a shot that goes on for four or five minutes. Robin does that so effortlessly in about six or seven shots that go on for three minutes each. There’s that one where the hooker walks in for the first time into the loft [for Abby’s first sexual encounter in the film]. That’s a very long one-shot scene and Robin’s acting in that shot is just…every single moment, you could just track what she’s feeling. Then the one shot with her and Maggie in the love scene with just their faces — that was all Robin. I had great resources where I could actually make a film like this because I had such good actors. That was 90% of it, quite frankly.
“Concussion” opens on October 4th at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in Los Angeles and the Angelika Film Center in New York and is available to rent from iTunes, Vudu, Movies on Demand and Xbox Live.