Ah, the sweet smell of success. Lena Dunham could probably bottle the pheromones she was emitting – Le Succès? – in her triumphal return to SXSW, two years after her first feature-length film, Tiny Furniture, snagged the jury award for Best Narrative Feature.
This time she was here to walk the red carpet (with her executive producer, Judd Apatow, no less) before the premiere of the first three episodes of the new HBO series Girls, that she created, directed, executive produced and stars in. Could it get any better?
The 25-year-old Dunham could be the poster girl for wannabe filmmakers everywhere: She hit a home run with the bases loaded – and it could happen to you, too! At Monday's premiere at the Paramount, the packed theatre roared with delight at Dunham's series about Hannah (Dunham) and her friends, living the post-college life in NYC and trying to figure out what the 20-something's version of it is or should be. Or, at least, to keep all that ambient awkwardness and insecurity at bay.
At Tuesday's Girls Revealed panel, Dunham sat down with her team of producers, editors, DP, and Alex Karpovsky, a co-star and the panel’s moderator, to talk about Girls and what makes it so great. (Hint: mostly it has to do with Dunham herself. The lovable main-character Hannah appears to be a lot like her real-life creator, the kind of loyal, caring girlfriend who actually values girl-friendship and is as appealing – unpretentious, plain-spoken, smart, and physically unglamorous – on the screen as your own BFF.)
And, probably because of Dunham's personality, this panel was a virtual lovefest. Makes you wonder whether all production teams hum with this much ecstatic bonhomie – just out of the gate, at least. Here's some of what was revealed about what goes on inside the Girls production and what makes the collaboration work.
* Dunham gets just as pumped by other people's ideas as her own. (Always a plus in a collaboration.)
* Although Dunham originally created the Girls characters to be exactly like her actual friends, she subsequently let go of that idea when she saw what the actors were doing with their roles. The characters then became hybrids of the archetypes that Dunham's friends stood for and the actors actually playing those parts.
* She also found that writing for TV is different – in a good way – from writing for film. First, she realized that her kinds of ideas and issues were not appearing on the big screen but were being fleshed out on the small one. (Her favorite shows, the ones she thinks about while writing Girls, include Undeclared, Freaks and Geeks, Friends with Candy, Friends, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.) None of her fears from all the Hollywood horror stories she'd heard about being told how things had to be, or of having someone else write her stuff materialized at HBO – she felt valued and encouraged to be herself. In fact, she went from being too interfering, rushing in with too many notes, to finding it educational to have the help of more experienced people. Writing for a series allows her the luxury of letting the characters develop over time. Also, being on set for each episode gives her the freedom to discover new themes to pursue down the line.
* About those nude scenes. Dunham felt there was a space for a character (Hannah/Dunham) who was neither fat nor thin, confident or not, i.e. not on the extremes. She did not mind showing her plump, naked, imperfect body. Or the tattoos she got way-back-when. They could have been covered up, as they often are on camera, but she "liked the fact that [her character] was kind of a nerd but still had tattoos."
* Apatow – kind of like the male alien from Planet Dick Joke who's finds himself in a gynecologist's office without a punch line – was first attracted to Dunham's sensibility in Tiny Furniture. He likes underdog stories and had never worked on anything taking place "between college and life." His never-fail trick for breaking through plot problems is to pretend that he's working on an episode from The Larry Sanders Show – without the Hank character. Works everytime.
* And finally, everyone – everyone – LOVES working with HBO.
Girls premieres April 15 on HBO.
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