Kent Jones’ feature debut film Diane is a highly personal story. It’s one he spent many years crafting and it wasn’t until the passing of his own mother that the screenplay truly took the shape of where he needed it to be.
Mary Kay Place portrays a caregiver who spends much of her time putting everyone first, whether it’s her son (Jake Lacy) or her sick friends. Place’s performance is profound and extraordinary in this excellent character study of a woman who is everywhere, a do-gooder neglecting her own internal battles and avoiding secrets that the film slowly reveals.
I caught up with Jones to talk about the events that help craft the script and how he shot his film in twenty days.
How did we get here?
It started with a desire to make a film set in the world of my great aunts when I was very young and it grew. I went back to it over the years and developed it here and there. I had ideas in my head and it’s a very long period of time, but it’s interesting to let something percolate for a long time and change, you drop it and then go back to it at different points in your life.
About twenty years when I saw The Rainmaker, I saw in Mary Kay’s character precisely what I remember emotionally. I met her about six years ago and I told her what I had in mind but I hadn’t written it yet and we stayed in touch. We actually got to be very good friends. After my mother died, Mary Kay got in touch with me and asked where I was at with the script and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t write back to her until I had a draft. I only realized until later that I couldn’t have made the film that I did had my mother been alive.
How did that experience shape the end story?
In a very strange way, I only could have made the film that I made now because of the point that I am in my life than when I was younger.
I didn’t want to make a film that dealt with aging and loss before I knew anything about it. It’s not that I had a great desire to deal with aging and loss. The point is to have a perspective on life that I couldn’t have simply because I was younger.
I was by my grandmother’s side with my mother when my grandmother passed away. My grandmother had dementia and so did my mother. I think having been present for both of them and both death and birth, they’re both miracles.
Another film that had an enormous effect on me was David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because it really deals with that from a magical perspective.
If some young people look at it, that’s not a perspective you know until you’ve been through it.
Exactly. You do it so well. Let’s talk about this experience for you as a first time feature film which you shot in 20 days.
It’s a movie without a big name star. It’s a movie about someone who is older and it’s a movie about loss. What happens at the end between Mary Kay and Jake – I wanted it to reflect the way things happen in life. Someone has an insight and they’re able to articulate it, someone else hears it but it’s not a sudden happy ending where we can all walk off into the sunset.
There are things in the film that are tough. It’s also my first feature film and my budget was limited, but Oren Moverman and Caroline Kaplan really made the film happen, along with Julia Lebedev and Leonid Lebedev
The window opened and we figured it out and it was twenty days. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that everything is time spent wishing that you had and what you don’t have is time absolutely wasted. You work with what you have.
I liked working with the pressure because it forced me to look at things squarely and logistically. I didn’t stop until I got what I needed. If there was something that I absolutely couldn’t have, I had it reconfigured so that I figured it out and I had the takes I wanted. I knew we couldn’t keep shooting or we’d eat into the next day. It was an amazing experience. I met my wife while we were doing it – she’s the costume designer.
I learned a lot from everyone and I also didn’t waste time pretending what I didn’t know.
I loved that the film is such a beautiful character study. You mention the costumes. Tell us more about creating her persona, all that surrounds her.
One of the reasons that I fell in love with my wife was when I interviewed her was that I saw her look book and was stunned by her response to the script. My friend once said that “costume designers know the secret” and she’s absolutely right because costume designers have to understand the visual look, but they have to understand character from the inside out in a way that even production designers don’t.
So, I went through the film with Carisa Kelly and with Debbie DeVilla who Carissa had recommended to me and they had worked together before. They really knew precisely what it was that I was looking for.
Wyatt Garfield and I worked together. I told him I wanted to emulate the look that Jim Jarmusch did in Patterson and that I wanted that warmth. The thing is you have to make it clear to everyone. When people are real artists, they respond. You’re all making the same movie.
Since Mary Kay had been aware of the script for a long time prior, talk about working with her and shooting the film.
As she knew the script was coming, she said she had wanted to like it since it was written for her and only for her. If she decided she hadn’t liked it, I could have moved on to someone else, but that would be hard to imagine.
We really talked it through over a period of a year or two. I re-wrote a few things. It was great to look at it with her because she’s a writer and she could look at it from that perspective. She could talk about how things felt if they weren’t quite right. There was one scene where she did that in particular.
She worked very hard before, during and after. The before part means her preparation was extremely intense. She really researched the area where I grew up. We rehearsed as much as we could with the other actors. She and Jake and I got together and spent a significant amount of time together. We were creative partners responding to each other throughout the movie.
You strike a great balance in that relationship with Jake — by not making it an addiction/issue movie and without the film feeling morbid.
That is life right? You’re surrounded by people and then you find yourself alone. It’s a matter of confronting it directly. I think for some people, they want to keep death at arm’s length and they don’t want to talk about it, but it’s part of life and it’s part of existence. There’s nothing morbid about it, they morbidity is laid over it to keep it at arm’s length. It’s shocking and sad, but when it happens, but what choice is there but to go on. I also knew that even when the drugs are out of the system, the addiction can still go on and take a different form. He personally didn’t go on to become an Evangelical Christian, but I know people that did and that felt like the right thing to do. The relationship between the mother and the son is the core of the movie.
Jake really is a remarkable actor. There are so many depictions of addiction where there’s a romantic or tragic side and Jake was able to get the boorish overbearing side of it. He really went there and I was really proud and in awe of his work.