- Category: Interview
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- Written by Nisha Joseph
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Annette Haywood-Carter arrived in Hollywood in the mid 1980's and quickly worked her way up through the ranks to the coveted position of script supervisor. Over a period of eight years she script supervised 28 feature films garnering the respect of Academy Award winning producers and directors. Bruce Beresfor (Driving Miss Daisy), Steven Spielberg, Saul Zaentz (Amadeus) and Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) are but a few who took a personal interest in Haywood-Carter's career and helped her make the transition into directing. Haywood-Carter began her directing career with the film, The Foot Shooting Party, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, for Touchstone. Her next film project was a teen drama based on the novel, Foxfire, by Joyce Carol Oates. Annette proved her keen eye for casting yet again. Having cast then unknonw actor, DiCaprio, in her short film, this time Haywood-Carter plucked Angelina Jole from a casting call for minor roles to play the lead in Foxfire.
After her second child was born, Haywood-Carter took a break from directing and turned her attention to writing. Her writing credits include a television mini-series, adaptations of books, stories based upon producer concepts, and “script doctoring” screenplays set for production. Annette returned to directing various episodic television shows and television films but decided it was untenable to direct with two small children at home. She and husband, writing partner, Ken Carter moved back to the east coast and their roots, where Haywood-Carter accepted a professorship at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She helped to develop the M.F.A. and B.F.A. film programs at the internationally acclaimed college where she taught Directing the Narrative, Directing Actors, Shot Design and Screenwriting, and oversaw M.F.A. and B.F.A. thesis film production from concept through photography and post-production.
In 2011, Haywood-Carter returned to directing with the feature film, Savannah, which she wrote with partner, Ken Carter. Savannah is an historical drama set in the South at the turn of the century and stars Jim Caviezel, Sam Shepard and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Haywood-Carter has optioned the book, “I Married You for Happiness”, by Lily Tuck which she will adapt to the screen. She is relocating her family to New York city where she will return to writing and directing full time.
What was that one thing which inspired you to be a filmmaker?
I grew up in a small city in the South that had a 3 screen multiplex that brought the lowest common denominator Hollywood films, so I never really went to the movies. When I got to college I found this art house theater that showed Hollywood classics and European films. The first weekend they did an Ingmar Bergman marathon and I was blown away by it, “Persona” and “Hour of the Wolf,” in particular. I sat through 6 straight hours of Bergman films and then went home and went to bed for two days. I was 17 years old and didn't know film could do that to you. The power of the emotion, the art and the exquisite cinematography. It took several years for that inspiration to become a reality, for me to get in a car and drive to Hollywood. What's funny is, years later when I made “Foxfire,” [starring a young Angelina Jolie], a reviewer who was trying to wrap their mind around what made the film so different said, “If you gave an American classic book to a Frenchman to direct, this is what you'd get.” I took it as a compliment.
You have been known as a writer and script supervisor, what is your process when you write a script?
Total immersion. I just sit down and write. First thing I have to know, though, is how it's going to end. There's got to be a target on the wall that the story is aimed for. I'm very visual, things tend to come at me in images, sometimes voices, but mostly a snapshot or part of a scene. These images are like signposts, marking the road, and I make a list of them in the order I know they'll play. I go straight from the bed to the coffee pot to my writing table and stay there for 6 or 8 hours. I don't outline stories. I found when I was writing for hire, doing TV movies where outlines are required, that creating a story from a purely analytical standpoint really hurt the writing. That's not true for everyone but it definitely was true for me. What I found worked best was to make a list of 6 or so scenes that are just ahead of me and write those scenes and make another list. When the writing is good there are great surprises along the way. And, interestingly, it often doesn't end the way I thought it would!
How is it feeling to do multi-genre movies?
It's not about genre, it's about the characters and the situation they're in. Genre is just how you express it, the physical execution, not the story, so it doesn't really matter to me.
Your latest movie 'Savannah' is on the pipeline for release, How is it feeling to handle both production and direction at one time?
I find it very challenging to be in both the director's chair and have so much responsibility for production. The ideal is to find a producer you have a deep compatibility with, and keep your eye on the directing. Having said that, it's impossible to not be involved in every single aspect of the project, because every decision affects the quality of the film and ultimately how you reach your audience. So I embrace it all.
Which is the most personal film for you?
“Love is Strange,” starring Kate Nelligan, Ron Silver and Julie Harris. I'd written it as a feature film and Rysher (who made “Foxfire”) purchased it. They sold it to Lifetime Television when they shuttered their feature film division, which was pretty tough for me, turning a 2 hour feature into an 89 minute TV movie. It's autobiographical, a love story about the impact a woman's death has on her children and husband. It was my family story, my mother's, who was 48 years old when she died. I hadn't cried when my mother died, hadn't dealt with it at all. One day when I was directing “Love is Strange,” Kate Nelligan was doing this scene where her character finally realizes that she is going to die. She was alone, it was Christmas Eve, and she tried to call her estranged ex-husband, and got his answer machine. Kate headed up the stairs and halfway up she fell against the wall, and slid down onto the steps and just cratered, distraught. Suddenly I felt the words I'd written, "We die alone," and I realized that my mother had died alone, and even though I'd written that scene I hadn't realized it in my soul until that moment when the actress playing my mother cratered. I wept.
Name a Hollywood movie you wish you would have done?
“Hunger Games.” I love action but rarely like an action movie because the story isn't engaging, and the performances are bad. “Hunger Games” got it right, obviously (!). When I was a script supervisor I worked on "Cliffhanger" and “Die Hard 2,” and loved the physical and technical challenges of making an action film, found it to be very creative. I used to think, “if only the screenplay was good this would be awesome.” “Hunger Games” is awesome, and was probably a blast to make.