Bebe’s Fatale Attraction
Tara Subkoff has not been getting much sun this summer. Granted, the ex-Imitation of Christ designer has never come off as the type to slather on coconut oil and bake on a beach blanket, but even so, a girl needs her vitamin D. “I’ve spent pretty much every hour of my summer working on my movie,” says Subkoff. “I love the process, but, you know, a little cube in a windowless room, looking at the same images over and over and over again… At a certain point, I’m like—is this going to make me crazy? Have I gone crazy already?” It would be convenient to say that Subkoff has plumbed this paranoia for the making of Fame Fatale, her paranoia-driven short starring Lydia Hearst and Subkoff’s new, film noir-inspired collection for Bebe. But as it happens, Fame Fatale is precisely the project that’s kept Subkoff cooped up—until now. A cut of the film makes its debut this evening at Norwood House, which means that not only can Subkoff bask, at last, in the sunshine, but she can bask in some much deserved glory, too. Here, she talks to us about life in the flashbulbs, finding the comedy in film noir, and lighting out for new creative territory.
Let’s try this Hollywood style. Pitch me. What’s Fame Fatale all about?
A day in the life of a Hollywood starlet—is she really being watched all the time, or is it all in her head? Filmed in a classic film noir-style, starring Lydia Hearst as the starlet. Is that Hollywood enough?
Yeah, plenty. Was the starlet character inspired by anyone in particular? Cough, Lohan?
Honestly, it’s more generalized than that—I mean, I go out to L.A. and hang out with my actor friends, a few of whom are seriously famous, and I swear it’s like they feel hunted. The paparazzi thing, it’s just nuts. They can’t go out in public, at least not to certain places. But this isn’t some tabloid-bashing movie. The flip side is, no one gets to be a famous movie star by accident. The people who pursue that, they know what they’re getting themselves into. And they know how to use the media, too.
There’s a certain ‘who’s zooming who?’ quality to the whole thing. Which is very film noir, in fact—is that why you decided to make a movie in that style?
I’m just really obsessed with film noir. Touch of Evil, Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon, any Hitchcock film ever… My new collection for Bebe is inspired by the amazing clothes in those movies—and those film noir heroines, whip-smart broads like Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck. I mean, Gilda, how stunning is Rita Hayworth in that? Those movies are so stylish, in a way you don’t see much anymore. And not only in terms of the clothes, but through and through. The way the directors use light, the framing, the tone, it’s all so specific.
Why did you decide to shoot Fame Fatale on both film and digital?
The 16-millimeter camera broke midway through the shoot, so we had to go to high-def. I love film—I can remember my mom cutting our old Super 8 home movies with scissors—so I’d resisted going digital, but as it turned out, switching to HD really worked with the story. There’s that first part, where she’s at home, in her bubble, and that’s all on film, and then when she leaves and goes out into the real world, that’s HD. There’s more of a hardness to digital images, which I wound up really liking for those scenes.
I feel like the difference between a good director and a competent one is the willingness to embrace the compromises and the happy accidents that happen when you shoot a film.
You have to be open to changes. The voiceover is something else that changed as I made the picture—Carrie Fisher co-wrote it with me, and that’s just because she’s a dear friend and I went to see her perform in Hartford, and when I showed her the voiceover, she got out her pen and started writing. And then Jane Adams, who actually performs the voiceover, she improved what we’d created by, like, 200 percent. She’s an amazing actress. And then there was the whole paparazzi craziness—we couldn’t afford to hire a bunch of actors and dress them up like paparazzi, so instead, Lydia and I staged a tabloid moment, and crossed our fingers that the photographers would show up. The really remarkable thing is that they did show up—the real paps, I mean. They knew the whole thing was manufactured, and they showed up anyway. And it was all on the blogs the next day, reported straight, and we got our shots, and long story short, the whole thing is, like, beyond postmodern.
I know you’re working on a longer cut of the film that you’d like to submit to festivals—is that cool with the Bebe people?
Bebe has been very open and supportive of my doing this—they gave me some money, and so on—but I want people to know, this is my film. I paid for most of it, and I called in favors from my friends, just like any indie filmmaker does. I’ve got some other fashion stuff in the works, potentially, but this is where I see myself going now. I’m working with a couple writers on a feature script, and I’d like to get that shot within the next year or so. I don’t think I have to choose one thing or the other, film or fashion; I mean, the longer I’ve worked in either industry, the more it’s made me realize that it’s all the same. You work insanely hard to turn something in your head into reality, and then as soon as that vision is real, you’re on to the next thing.