Amy Talkington Sheds Her Skin
By Jay Morgans, Editorial Assistant
I remember what it was like to be the mis-fitted square peg. I remember the sick, shaky feeling of important moments passing without my intervention, due largely to shyness or the kind of paralyzing fear that only self-doubt can bring.
I think we have all had moments like that in life, and they're probably essential to building our character and strength. Of course, mine still continue on an hourly basis, but that doesn't change that it really is a universal theme ≠ the fact that everyone utterly alone at some point is the one thing that puts us all together.
With that in mind, it's easy to understand the impact left on me by the short film Second Skin. As most worthwhile things do, it happened somewhere around 3 a.m. Chance, insomnia, a missing remote control, and a severe addiction to nicotine all came together in one glorious instant, and for the next 15 minutes I entered the world of Amy Talkington This misty, sleep-deprived event I'm referring to was the Cinemax late-night showing of the film, not the prime time debut it celebrated on that same channel shortly after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1999.
The beginning of the story, co-written by Talkington and Lara Shapiro, introduces the viewer to Gwen (played by Aleksa Palladino of Manny and Lo and Woody Allen's Deconstructing), an upper-middle class goth-punk teen sullenly mind-fighting oppressive heat and her even more oppressive surroundings. Now, I'm of the firm belief that it's hard to go wrong when you throw a punk rock girl into the mix of anything, especially one as attractive as talented as Palladino.
The story goes on in the standard, traditional love story format–Boy (Glenn Fitzgerald of Flirting With Disaster with Lily Tomlin, The Ice Storm with Sigourney Weaver, and A Price Above Rubies with Renee Zellweger) meets girl, boy chases girl, boy and girl both find solace, comfort, and common ground over this huge snake. "Of course, I was very excited to be invited to Sundance with 'Second Skin,'" said Amy of that particular honor in our recent interview. "Very, very excited. It's great to be able to say you've been to Sundance, to have been acknowledged by that organization. And, the festival itself was a lot of fun." Even amidst the impressive list of accolades and awards the Texas-born NYC writer/director has amassed, the deep-running indie ethic helps keep the focus of her work right where it should be ≠ on the art. "You always have to remember how arbitrary the whole festival selection thing is," she continued. "For example, 'Second Skin' was rejected in 1998 but accepted in 1999. OK, the cut I sent in 1998 was a rough cut, but still, that's gotta make you wonder."
On the other hand, Talkington herself admits that the rough cut of the movie is a world apart from the final cut, due in part by some assistance from acclaimed director Milos Forman. Forman, one of the founders of Columbia University's Film Program (where Second Skin was Talkington's MFA thesis project), has long been associated with the University, but his active participation waned when he began work on The People vs. Larry Flint. When he called the Film Division and asked to meet with a student, they sent Amy and her Second Skin.
"This was an extraordinary experience ≠ impacting both me as a filmmaker and the film itself," she says of the meeting, her admiration evident. "He pinpointed every rough spot ≠ rough spots that I was aware of but that my editor and I couldn't solve ≠ and he told me how to fix them ... of course, his solutions worked, (but) what really got me was just watching him watch my film. I watched his face light up as he was genuinely moved by my film. Just to see this master filmmaker engaged and moved by my film ≠ appreciating the details, enjoying the odd sense of humor ≠ was so meaningful to me and inspiring." While Forman's assistance may have had a lot to do with the development and success of the final edit of the film, it would be a severe injustice to lay even a slight majority of the credit on his shoulders.
The simple truth is that the story is well written and delivered, and anyone who has ever had a moment of uncertainty or a moment of triumph can relate easily to its development and message ≠ even if the setting and characters are slightly unconventional for mainstream media. "Going into our meetings, I knew that I wanted Glenn Fitzgerald to star and I had a pretty good idea of the 'Billy' character. I also knew that I wanted to put Billy in a pet store," Amy reveals. "So then we asked ourselves, 'What would get him out?' A girl, of course. That's a pretty easy solution, but it works.
So then we asked ourselves, 'Why does the girl come in the pet store?' And so on." The mood and color of the film is conveyed so effectively that it's nothing short of shocking that the entire story lasts only 15 minutes. Most of the reasons it is so captivating aren't even readily accessible to the conscious mind, a painstaking and deliberate feat by Talkington herself. "The film is highly symbolic. Sometimes I think it's too symbolic, but I worked hard to layer the symbolism into the story," she says. "For example, part of Billy's predicament is that he blends in, so we made this visual. In his blue shirt he quite literally blends in with both the pet store and the bus (this was all planned, obviously, in the location and costume choices). It's not until the final shot of the film that he stands out boldly against his surroundings, because in standing up to the football players he's overcome that predicament. I don't think people necessarily notice these details, but I think, or at least hope, that it resonates subconsciously."
While the 29-year-old Talkington has seen quite a bit ≠ inclusion in roughly 18 festivals, the New Line Cinema Award For Best Director, top prizes at the Hamptons International Film Festival, selected as one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Indie Faces To Watch, singled out as one of four up-and-coming female directors by Vogue Magazine (Shooting Stars, March 1999), her written work published for VH-1, Spin, Mademoiselle, College Music Journal, React, Blender, Interview, Seventeen, and Ray Gun (where she remains a contributing editor) magazines ≠ her career in entertainment really began at an even younger age. "My brother and I were quite a team, constantly cooking up projects," she recalls, referring to sibling C.M. "Carty" Talkington, who also works in film. "Our longest and most serious interest was magic. We performed shows for neighborhood parties. I have to admit, three years younger, I was the 'assistant,' but occasionally I performed a trick of my own. I think there are definite parallels between being a magician and being a filmmaker."
The team went on (Amy staying "assistant") to play prestidigitators on Love and a .45, starring Eric Roberts. "I worked on Love and a .45 as Assistant to the Director ≠ the director being my brother. This experience was invaluable. Before Love and a .45, I had sensed that I wanted to make films, (but) working on Love and a .45 proved it to me. My brother allowed me to sit in on nearly every meeting ≠ auditions, creative meetings, business meetings, even some rehearsals. I was sitting in the room when Renee Zellweger strolled in (with her now-famous dog Dillon) and scored the part of Starlene (her first leading roll, the role that took her to Hollywood).
My brother is an extraordinary director. From him, I learned an incredible amount, and when I went to Film School the following fall, I had much more knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, conviction." With an intensity that only passion can bear, Talkington's answer to the question "If you can accomplish one thing through filmmaking, what would it be?" is as impressive as the work she drops onto reels. "A friend of mine has an fairly introverted 17-year-old son," she says in response. "They were moving from their sizely house in Pennsylvania to a tiny apartment in New York City. She told him he could only bring one small box of his belongings ... In his box, along with a few cherished books, was a VHS tape of 'Second Skin.' That's my highest compliment. That makes me feel like I accomplished something with that film."
You can catch Second Skin on Cinemax Saturday, Oct. 30 at 8 a.m. Also, look for her new short, Bust, which was filmed for fXM: Movies From Fox www.fxnetworks.com/fxm/fs_shorts.html). Bust is a comedy (based on a true story) about a 16-year-old girl who sneaks out of her house, loses her keys, and is forced to sneak back in through the doggie door. Complications arise, mainly due to the character's newly developed (and ample) chest. "I came up with 'Bust' specifically for the fXM program. They make films that are under seven minutes, PG-rated, without much dialogue, funny and 'broad.' So I was working within those constrictions. 'Bust' is actually based on a true story. Symbolically it's definitely about a girl who us outgrowing her surroundings ≠ but the film is not deep. For me it was almost like an exercise to make a short that is 'broad,' fast, funny and simple. I think it succeeds on that level... my dad loves to show it to his friends."
Another Talkington project to watch for is the feature-length Diary Of Mad Freshman, a story adapted from a Rolling Stone article. Amy plans to start shooting in NYC this Spring with a "really exciting young cast," although, still in negotiations, she declined to give names. After Freshman, she hopes to begin work on another feature-length film, Looking Glass, which is, as she says, "the story of a 16-year-old girl who descends into a dark world in order to rescue her sister. It's like a film noir 'Alice in Wonderland.' The film is set in Dallas and I hope to shoot it on location with an all-Texas cast ≠ perhaps on digital video. I'll definitely have to make it for a low-budget because it's not a commercial story ≠ people don't go in droves to see a 16-year-old girl get really messed up ≠ but it's a story I want to tell."