Last summer, when I was at the Twin Peaks Festival outside of Seattle, Washington, I met a woman named Gina Lee Ronhovde. It was very brief, on a bonus tour that her husband, Twin Peaks expert and filmmaker Josh Eisenstadt, took a few of us on. Through that, I became Facebook friends with them both, where I discovered that Gina herself is a filmmaker. On her page, she was often talking about her short film Boudoir, which stars Dominique Swain, who many of us know from Adrian Lyne’s outstanding mid-90s take on Nabokov’s Lolita. I asked Gina if I could see the film, which she graciously allowed and which, I’m happy to say, I really enjoyed. Boudoir has a cool, mysterious feel; there’s a definite David Lynch vibe throughout it, no surprise considering the filmmaker’s long love of Lynch’s work.
I was impressed with what my friend accomplished, and who she managed to have work on this writing and directorial effort that’s already been winning awards. I thought Gina would have a lot to talk about, and she did, as you can see from this email interview we did about Boudoir.
Andy Burns: When did you decide you wanted to make a short film?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: There wasn’t one moment (see below answers lol). I first learned filmmaking at the Los Angeles Film School and made short films while in school – one of them was a finalist for the Jay Leno show – and my graduating thesis short film Bereft Left went on to festivals and was nominated for awards. After graduation I worked at a variety of studios, management and production companies, and also on set – producing, writing, and script consulting. So, I had that background behind me already when I just suddenly decided to write something down one day.
Andy Burns: Tell me about your writing process – how long did it take, where and when did you do it?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: It was in 2012, a few years after graduating from film school, that one day I suddenly had a very strong urge to get rid of the battle going on in my head. It was like I literally couldn’t stand what was happening inside my head one second longer – like two people about to get into a very deadly battle and I wanted to remove them from the arena of my head because they weren’t welcome there and were causing all kinds of unpleasant havoc.
Similar to how one unconsciously doodles while talking on the phone and doesn’t even realize what they’ve drawn until later, that’s sort of how I wrote BOUDOIR. I just sat down and wrote it on my laptop sitting outside in Venice and it took probably an hour and I honestly never changed a word of it.
At the time, though, I thought it was something private for myself, similar to a diary entry, because it was so personal. I didn’t want anyone to see it, it was just a pdf file for myself. I liked to read it for myself and I would look at it often.
I say it only took an hour, and that sounds effortless and easy, but it was a result of years of experience. The real reason it only took an hour is because I just suddenly wrote it unconsciously and already had years of filmmaking and writing experience stored in the back of my head. I am still realizing where I “got” things from, it was just all there in my head and suddenly came out together. I find myself still analyzing it almost daily.
Andy Burns: For aspiring filmmakers, walk them through the process of finding funding for a short.
Gina Lee Ronhovde: I don’t think there is any one way to do it in America! The short answer is to find funding however you can. You could go film something right now on your iPhone for free, it all depends on the caliber and end result of the vision you want to achieve. Talk to people who have already done it and learn what they did. There are lots of ways I probably don’t even know about – just keep searching, because there are no real rules and everything changes all the time, but humans will always have a need for art and stories to relate to. Just remember that. My advice would be to really believe and be excited in your art first. Your head might not at times, but your gut will. Trust that gut to guide you, and the probability to align with someone who wants to invest in you and believe in your project will become much higher.
I definitely encourage people to make art wherever possible and in any capacity. I think there would more harmony and peace in this world if there was more art to share. I love Instagram for this reason – you feel like you know people better when you see the world through their “lens.” Honestly, if everyone in the world had the ability to make a short film, I’d want to watch every one.
Andy Burns: How did Dominique Swain become involved in Boudoir?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: About six months after I wrote BOUDOIR, I randomly just met director Josh Eisenstadt in the spring of 2013 at a Twin Peaks screening as part of the Cinematic Arts Retrospective Series at USC (University of Southern California), which are open to the public . He and I hit it off immediately and started hanging out a lot. It was during this time that Josh really wanted to read something I’d written. He also wanted to look at art I had done. He kept pushing me, so I was like, well, I wrote that short film BOUDOIR and emailed it to him. He read it and said, “You should make this!” But I didn’t take his advice entirely too seriously at the time.
One day, Josh and I went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA (Los Angeles County Musuem of Art) looking at Kubrick’s exhibit of Lolita and I passionately said out loud, “THERE WAS ONLY ONE LOLITA – DOMINIQUE SWAIN!” I had long been a fan of hers ever since Lolita and always thought she was an exceptional and brilliant actress. I thought there was just something very special about her (and I was totally, completely right). Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov is a brilliant novel and when I read it I always pictured Dominique Swain in it when I read it. Turns out, Josh happened to already be good friends with her in real life and had directed her in his feature film SPREADING DARKNESS (which she steals the show in).
So, Josh says, “We should all go bowling sometime!” While we were bowling with Dominique, Josh leaned over to me and said, “What do you think of having Dominique in BOUDOIR?” It felt like a really magical moment, when he asked me that. Up until then, I had not thought about making it into a short film, but once he wondered it out loud, this really magical feeling came over me.
We hung out with Dominique some more and always had great chemistry. We were mini-golfing one day and I mentioned BOUDOIR to Dominique and she said, “YES! PLEASE SEND IT TO ME!” So I did and she raved about it, emailing me back, “GINA! I WOULD LOVE TO DO THIS!” The shoot happened about there months after she agreed to do it.
So that’s how it happend. It’s one of those things you can’t re-create or do again in the same way, it just happened that way.
I knew the actress Deneen Melody from Facebook already and cast her out of a gut reaction because I knew she could do it – and I was absolutely right. Deneen has a beauty and particular kind of magic about her that is entirely her own unique, delightful blend. Both Deneen and Dominique are phenomenal, extraordinarly gifted talents both on and off screen.
Andy Burns: How long was the shoot?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: One day. From about 10am to 1am at an actual boudoir photography studio in downtown Los Angeles. 1906 studios – they were amazing to work with.
Andy Burns: Your production company is called Without Chemicals – you and I know where that stems from, but for those that don’t, tell them about the reference and why you chose it.
Gina Lee Ronhovde: In the televsion show Twin Peaks, there is a moment where a spiriual entity known as The Giant appears before FBI Agent Cooper, who is laying on the floor, bleeding because he has just been shot in his quest to find out who killed Laura Palmer. The Giant gives Cooper three abstract, cryptic clues and one of them is “Without chemicals, he points.”
“Without chemicals, he points,” has been a phrase I’ve thought of many times and has taken on many meanings, and it has sort of an unconscious message that kind of can’t really be translated other than to sort of get rid of all sorts of toxic energy in your life and the truth will align you on to a correct path and journey.
I chose it for my filmmaking projects because this phrase has helped me at times on my life journey, and I think that’s what art can do – it can help us and give us meaning, especially if it comes from an unconscious place. The more something comes from the unconscious, the more universal truths will naturally come out and the more people will respond and hopefully gain from it.
Andy Burns: You had some heavy hitters involved in with Boudoir – John Neff, who David Lynch fans are no doubt familiar with, worked on sound. What was it like working with him?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: Joy, wonder and magic. There are rare bright lights on this planet and John Neff is one of them. He had been friends with Josh Eisenstadt for years already and had done the sound on his previous feature Dark Reel (with Eddie Furlong, Tiffany Shepis and Lance Hendricksen) so there was already an established connection in place.
I came on board to as an executive producer for SPREADING DARKNESS to finish the post-production during pre-production of BOUDOIR in the fall of 2013. Together, Josh and I went up to Portland to John’s studio for about 7 weeks in the summer of 2014 so John could mix both of our projects at the same time. (Josh and I got married in the spring of 2014, so that was sort of our “honeymoon” – mixing our films together with John Neff in his studio.)
Andy Burns: How much did things change from script to screen – were there things that morphed while shooting?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: The only thing that changed was there was not time to film additional action scenes, so some blocking changed and I think one and a half pages were not filmed because of it, but that was ok because it didn’t change the story.
Andy Burns: Tell me a little about the soundtrack and how that came together.
Gina Lee Ronhovde: John Neff’s son Ken Neff is also a very talented musician and I heard Ken perform with his band ANCIENT HEAT live at a venue in Portalnd one night. Ken watched BOUDOIR and volunteered to compose original music for it, and he was working on it on his free time while John mixed SPREADING DARKNESS.
During down time of mixing SPREADING DARKNESS, John and Ken would get together and “jam” on what Ken was working on, and John would help perform/record the music Ken had written.
I told both Ken and John – “I want it to sound like scenes David Lynch filmed and no one has ever seen” and, – I’ll never forget this – John just simply nodded. After I gave him that instruction, it was like he just “knew” what to do. I already had existing songs in place in the cut of Boudoir to show what I ideally wanted, and Ken composed to picture.
I named the songs and I still feel extraordinarly blessed to get that Lynchian “sound” I was going after. The soundtrack turned out to be far beyond my best expectations.
Andy Burns: I’m a big fan of the poster art – it’s got the Hitchcock vibe to it. Who is the artist and how much involvement did you have in the design?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: William Jonas! He is a creative genius! I have worked with him for almost 2 years and everything he comes up blows my mind – it’s like he “gets” it. My process has always been this – I tell him about the project, show him stills, describe it, and send about a dozen poster examples that show the ballpark of what I’m looking for. It always amazes me that he will come back with something that is better than what I pictured. It has that Hitchcock vibe for a reason – BOUDOIR is a psychological, artistic thriller/horror material. I wanted a way to convey that genre visually in a way that would instantly say to people “This is psychological horror”, and I gave him a variety of vintage poster examples from the 50’s and 60’s and also modern day horror – that’s what he came up with. He actually gave me two examples – one poster was red, the other was black. I could never decide which one I liked more, so both posters ended up being the “offiical” poster. I like that because it seems to touch on the opposite themes going on in the short.
Andy Burns: What’s next on your film to do list?
Gina Lee Ronhovde: I have several books I’m working on, a web series, I’m in pre-production for a documentary, and after BOUDOIR won Best Dramtic Short and Best Cinematography at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival a few weeks ago, I started working on a TV pilot version of it. BOUDOIR would be amazing to infinitely explore over the course of a contained TV series, like True Detective, or it could be a feature, too. That would be the next step – write a feature version. I have a comedy feature called FAMILY REUNION that I am really excited to have made. It also was written unconsciously, and completely different from BOUDOIR. It’s a wicked comedy about four siblings who grew up in a dysfunctional family who reunite for a family reunion one weekend in their small hometown in Minnesota. It’s like I can’t wait to see it already. I’m in the process of shopping it around.
To find out more about Gina Ronhovde, Boudoir, and her work, visit WithoutChemicals.