INTERVIEW – Kimmy Gatewood on the challenges of mental health and suicide in comedy

Suicide is not the first subject matter than springs to mind when you think of a comedy film, but director Kimmy Gatewood doesn’t shy away from subjects that might make us uncomfortable. 

The short film Control, written by and starring Alison Becker is about a depressed woman with an unyielding need to control every single detail around her. When she contemplates ending her life it’s only fitting for her to get everything in perfect order first but there is a long checklist of things which need doing and this is where the dark comedic tones come into play. Comedy is a tool that Kimmy uses to draw us into the neat and organised world of Control, it’s a dark ironic humour that makes you chuckle while knowing full well there is nothing funny about the situation that’s unfolding.

Currently in selection and screening at the Femme Filmmakers Festival 2019, we catch up with Kimmy to talk about Control and the importance of opening conversations surrounding mental health in film.

*This interview was originally posted at Filmotomy HERE

Adelle Drover: Control is a black comedy, it’s quite bleak but also kind of hilarious in its situation. What inspired you to take on a subject that’s so dark like suicide and give it a comical touch?

Kimmy Gatewood: Alison Becker who wrote and starred in the film, we’ve been writing partners for a long time. We actually just sold a movie to Amazon which is very exciting. 

AD: Congratulations! That’s very exciting!

KG: Thank you so much. So we’d been working on this character in a pilot that never made it called “bitches be crazy” and we thought how should we start this pilot? We started talking about being at your wits end and then Alison had this idea, “I’ve been thinking about this idea where a suicide note becomes a suicide binder.” I said, “you’ve got to write it right now!” She turned it around in 2 days and we worked on it together and basically within 4 weeks we were filming it. 

It happened very fast. It’s a very dark subject and what we talk about a lot is that it’s… well it’s bleak to say this, but everyone has thought about the end of their life at one time or another. Obviously there is nothing funny about it but we both come from a comedy background, we think that comedy gets people to talk and think and reveal a little bit more than just a straight drama. Approaching humanity’s delicacy and insecurities and quirks in a comedic way… and also how cute dogs are. 

AD: Haha yes! Dogs are just the best! The dog in Control is just too cute, what a superstar. How did you get him to sit there the whole time?

KG: You would not even believe this. He is Alison’s real life dog and his name is Dignan and he works for carrots, so it was a bargain! He’s an awesome dog. We were filming in Alison’s apartment so it ended up being a much more personal film then maybe either of us expected. We used her house and furniture and it was a very down and dirty shoot. She really pulled from her real life in terms of tapping into what those things that you obsess over truly are. Even the artwork in the back that says “be happy,” we moved it there but I couldn’t believe she owned it. I don’t think any production designer could have designed it better than what we accidentally already had there.

AD: Do you think that because this was an indie film and as you said a “down and dirty” shoot that those personal touches helped the finished product?

KG: I think with independent film you don’t have any money, you don’t have any time and the only thing that you do have is your creative soul and pure will to get it done. You do have to give over more emotionally, time-wise and personally than you normally would. Alison gave over a lot. She emotionally delved into it. The crew (just to paint a picture for film people out there) was myself, my DOP, my husband running sound and Alison. That was everyone involved in the production of the film. 

AD: Oh my gosh, that is a skeleton crew if I’ve ever heard of one. 

KG: Yeah! We had a little baby who was 2 years old at the time. So our friends were watching our baby and when my husband had to go pick up her up I would run sound. Not that there is any film dialogue obviously but we were trying to capture the essence of everything. Over the years we’ve collected film equipment and our DOP had equipment as well. Plus Alison and I come from a sketch comedy background so we’re very well versed it putting together props and how everything works. Those things translate into the spirit of a film a lot of times.

AD: Coming back to the subject matter and it being quite dark, I noticed in the end credits there is the hashtag #stopthestigma. What’s the significance of this hashtag?

KG: #stopthestigma is a hashtag started to get the conversation going about mental health. People like Rachel Bloom who does Crazy Ex-Girlfriend who I’ve worked with a lot, she also talks a lot about mental health and me being a mother talking about your physical health – but then we neglect to talk about our mental health as well. It’s just getting the conversation going and knowing you’re not alone. Though Control is very dark, it does address those dark thoughts and also I feel like everybody’s been a piece of this woman at some point in their life. 

AD: There is a montage in the middle of the film where the main character is sticking all these post-it-notes on all her belongings as she’s deciding who is going to get everything after she’s gone. It’s almost fun and there are all these bright colourful post-it-notes but it’s such a dark scenario. 

KG: One of the first visual thoughts I had when I first read the script, it was when she looks over her shoulder and her whole house is covered in post-it-notes. I thought that was a joyous tragic scene. I was very excited when it came to life.

AD: How many years have you and Alison Becker been working together?

KG: We’ve been working together for about 10 years I think. 

AD: How has your dynamic evolved over that time?

KG: We came to Los Angeles as actors. We met in the comedy world and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. We shared a manager at the time and we were put together by our manager, over the years we’ve really found our voice in feature films which is awesome. Features take a long time so luckily we love to spend a lot of time together and we have a very strong work ethic. What you can obviously get in the habit of is: writing, writing, writing, developing, developing, developing with people. A lot of times features just continue to exist on a hard drive forever so this idea for Control I think really turned around a lot of things for us. For me, it empowered me as a director. This is the first time where I’d had complete control to really put a vision without dialogue and challenge myself to tell a story and discover a character, to keep the audience on their toes and really go for a tone that I had wanted. 

Ever since the film, my directing career has definitely taken off and Alison has been writing up a storm. She just directed a music video herself and continues to be one of the best actors I’ve ever known. It was a keen reminder, don’t wait for somebody to tell you to make art. Do it yourself and hopefully the business and the industry and the money will catch up later. 

AD: Any advice for other young women filmmakers coming up in the world?

KG: Just write. Make your art. Just figure it out. I learnt how to edit, I learnt how to use a camera, I learnt how to run sound by myself just by asking people. People, especially in Hollywood, they want to put you in one little box. You’re just an actor. You’re just a director. But we’re all artists and we have to get our hands dirty especially when you’re first starting out. I don’t regret the messes I made especially early on in my career because there was always one tiny moment when I mastered one particular thing and that carried me on for when I needed it later.

 

*this interview has been edited and considered for length

 

by Adelle Drover

Adelle is an Australian film youtuber and critic. You can find her on Roll Credits (www.rollcredits.net) where she takes a journalistic approach to film culture… but still gets super fan-girl excited for the next big Marvel release! Her cine-quest is to find a happy medium between more thoughtful film discourse and action-adventure popcorn flicks. Why not both? Say hi over on instagram

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