Anne Renton's debut feature The Perfect Family (TFF 2011) nimbly explores this vexing fact, with Kathleen Turner starring as a Catholic Woman of the Year with a devil of a family. See it this Friday, May 4.
Tribeca: The Perfect Family kind of has a little bit of everything—comedy, drama, religion, sexual identity, family relationships… How do you describe the movie in your own words?
Anne Renton: Yes, it definitely has many things going on! Basically, The Perfect Family is a comedy drama about a mother, Eileen Cleary, who is busy navigating her own life whilst trying to keep her husband and 2 grown children in line with what her beliefs are. When her son and daughter choose to live their own lives, she challenges them, which naturally leads to a great deal of conflict. Ultimately, Eileen has to examine herself and her choices, and make a decision about what is truly important in life.
Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story?
Anne Renton: I was traveling on a plane when I first read The Perfect Family. It made me both laugh and cry, so to have that level of extreme emotion in a public place made me realize I had a strong story on my hands.
The issues in the script and the emotional ups and downs felt very realistic to me. I know many people have the experience of what it is like to not meet up to one’s parents’ expectations, for many different reasons. Or, perhaps, sometime is it even one’s own perceived projections of what their parents will approve of or tolerate. So even though the specific issue may differ in individual families, I felt like the overarching theme/s of the script were very relatable and that this was an important story to tell.
So I was involved with the film right from the beginning. After optioning the script, I spent over a year working with writer Paula Goldberg re-writing and making the script feel current for 2010/11.
Tribeca: What a leading lady you landed! Kathleen Turner always seems like she’s game for anything. Was she a delight to work with?
Anne Renton: It was such a pleasure to work with Kathleen Turner. She was totally up for everything from the driving scenes (the picture car was not towed; Kathleen did the driving—on our first day of shooting) to doing her own stunt in the film. Very impressive!
Kathleen brought her profound wisdom, experience and professionalism, and devotedly supported all that was going during our tight production schedule. She is a gem!
Anne Renton: Yes, and I’ll add Elizabeth Pena to the list too! I feel so fortunate with the amazing cast in this film. I had been envisioning a strong cast for 2 years, so I would like to think that helped ☺. Once Kathleen was on board, things really came together. Our producers Jennifer Dubin and Cora Olson had worked with Jason Ritter before, and also had connections to Emily Deschanel. Then our casting director Ronnie Yeskel brought some amazing actors into meetings and/or audition. I think the actors authentically responded to the material. And it certainly did not hurt to already have Kathleen attached!
Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?
Anne Renton: Many things happened, but the one crazy unexpected thing that comes to mind happened on the very first day of shooting: the plumbing completely went out in the house we were shooting in. Initially, one bathroom closed, then the next, then the third—all by midday. We were shooting there for a week, and it was not possible to fix them while we were there!
It’s always tough when things like that happen, especially on the first day, as you don’t want the perception from the wonderful cast and crew to be that the production looks or feels unprofessional. Anyway, we ended up with the portable toilets out on the street—2 houses down: one cast toilet and one crew. Needless to say, the neighbors were not too happy with them right outside their house! However, our wonderfully patient and hospitable location people managed to make it all OK with everyone (as they did the whole shoot with the many things that arose). Our cast and crew were thankfully also fabulous, with no complaints at the inconveniences that developed even before we really started shooting!
Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making The Perfect Family? Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Anne Renton: As a first time filmmaker, the things I learned were endless. One important note (to self) is to balance between making your day and also getting what you want/need. Both are exceptionally important—and not always congruent. In fact, it’s probably something I will always be refining!
In terms of advice: I was fortunate enough a couple of years ago to be mentored by an A-list director. His biggest piece of advice was so very simple: “Collaborate with a writer and make your film.” This really was the best advice ever, as that is exactly what I proceeded to do.
So that is what I would pass on: make your film! Whether a short or a feature, just get out and do it. You can read books and study, of course. But until you actually get out there and do it, it is all theory. You will make mistakes along the way; learn from them and constantly refine yourself as a filmmaker and a better human being.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?
Anne Renton: Oh, there are many! I think the one that comes to mind is Niki Caro—she directed Whale Rider, one of my all time favorite films. Her ability to craft an excellent story/film with a female protagonist who goes through a strong transformational arc is so admirable.
Tribeca: What piece of art are you currently recommending to your friends most often?
Anne Renton: I just saw the documentary film I Am by Tom Shadyac. From a messaging point of view, I think he really is trying to create some positive change. Many of the points presented in the film are topics that we as a species would do well to embrace.
Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?
Anne Renton:“Am I on the right side of the road?” (Being from Australia and now living in the U.S. ...)
Tribeca: What makes The Perfect Family a must-see?
Anne Renton: I would have to say that Kathleen Turner makes the film a must-see! Her performance is outstanding. Alongside her is such a quality ensemble cast as we have mentioned. All the actors in the film give wonderful performances, and it’s fantastic to see them all together in The Perfect Family.
Anne Renton has studied extensively as an actor and voice-over artist in NYC and LA, and has successfully worked in television and independent film for over nine years following her studies in physiotherapy. In 2007, Anne directed and produced the award-winning short film Love Is Love, which won Best Narrative Short Film at Out Takes, Dallas.