Nothing Like Good Dick?

Good Dick is the writing and directing debut of Marianna Palka, a Glasgow born actress who left Scotland ten years ago to live in the States. It’s the darkly amusing tale of a video store clerk who pursues a porn-obsessed young woman who clearly wants nothing to do with him, and it was warmly received at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, winning the New Director's Award. Jenni Cruickshank caught up with Marianna and her co-star/producer/boyfriend, Jason Ritter, to discuss the true meaning of ‘independent’ film....

Feature by Jenni Cruickshank | 26 Sep 2008
  • Good Dick

A lot of debut writer/directors might find it tricky doing just one new job - what made you decide to take on acting and producing too?

Marianna Palka: Originally, I wrote it to be in it – I wanted to be both writer and actress. Then my friend Daphne, who is also the costume designer for the film, told me that there’s no ladder you have to climb to become a director; you just do it, learn while you’re doing it and that way you’ll get the best education. I already knew that Jason was going to produce and that I was writing the lead male role for him because he’s a genius. He was genuinely the obvious choice, and not just because I know him; he’s a really unique actor and has a quality which I don’t think exists in anyone else who’s working right now – this masculinity mixed with patience.

Jason, your character begins his courtship in a rather stalker-ish fashion, yet you manage to maintain his sense of innocence brilliantly. How did you do it?

Jason Ritter: I knew that this character had to do some very strange things: looking up her address, going to her place, lying to her about his dead aunt... so it became about the reasons behind his actions. One of the things Marianna and I talked about was that the movie was like a fairytale, where I’m a knight who has been given a mission. In Good Dick, the mission is to save the damsel in distress and fight the dragon, but the damsel and the dragon are the same person. That’s what I tried to keep in mind when he was stalking her and doing all those strange things in the beginning – she was giving him no other options and he knew he had to reach out to her. I don’t condone stalking at all but as you watch the movie you realise that his intentions towards her are only positive. He’s a very ego-less character; he literally does every single thing for her.

That was one of the things I liked about the script: these characters don’t do things that are socially acceptable but somehow you warm to them anyway.

MP: The stalker thing is really funny because whether or not someone is a stalker depends on their intentions, and in retrospect it’s kind of romantic that he is so devoted to her. A lot of personal information about the main characters in Good Dick is kept hidden; even their names aren’t revealed.

Was there a process in deciding what to conceal?

MP: I had to be very specific in what I included because I didn’t want to spoon-feed the story to the audience, but I also didn’t want them to be so bored that they wouldn’t be invested in the film, then struggle to follow along. So I made sure the characters talk about things with significance later on, like the dead aunt, just enough so that they will pay off towards the end. I didn’t want everything to be given away immediately, because it makes the audience get to know the characters in a realistic way. No-one says: “Hi, I’m Marianna and I was an alcoholic and a prostitute,” in the real world. Not that I’m either of those things, but it’s not how people usually talk about themselves!

JR: The thing is, even though people generally don’t go around introducing themselves as recovering drug addicts because they fear judgement, we all make snap decisions about people we meet anyway. And that works for the movie: because the audience questions our characters’ actions – why she’s so mean all the time, why he stalks her initially. Those in the audience who initially judged these characters now realise that there are good reasons for what they do.

MP: I like including the audience that way; they have to be actively watching. I love going to see those kinds of films, but I equally love things like Legally Blonde – there is a space for everything, huge movies like Iron Man....

JR: Hell yeah there’s a space for Iron Man!

MP: [Giggling] Yeah, I watch Legally Blonde when I’m sick – I just stick it on, watch it 20 times over, and I’m happy again!

Your character doesn’t wear a scrap of make-up in the film, rather refreshingly. Why not?

MP: Yeah, the whole reason I wanted to make the film was to explore what is truly ‘sexy’. One aspect of that is vocalised very clearly today, but I think there’s a whole range of sexiness that exists that isn’t really explored or talked about. What I find personally attractive about someone is not usually to do with what they look like, it’s something about them that is attractive that isn’t necessarily their face. That’s why not wearing make-up in films is kinda important to me – it’s silly to put this stuff on. I don’t like having to sit there in the morning while they put all that on your face.

JR: Yeah, they spend all this time trying to make you look ‘natural’; then you see a person on the street with a spot and you’re like: “Ugh! How dare you be a real person!”

MP: That’s mainly why I’m interested in making films that are about characters that are genuine and don’t have to be stereotyped; they can just be real. Feminists always talk about wanting strong women in films, and I don’t feel like it’s about weak women – it’s about no women. Women are typically in films to serve the male character, to define them and give the audience information about that character. They’re very one-dimensional. You see so many different kinds of male character actors getting work all over the place; so forget about just having more strong women, have more of all types of women.

Speaking of strong women, I heard that you’re also distributing the film yourself, too...

MP: Yeah, we’re self-distributing in the US, under our company Morning Knight, which is a really big deal. We’re talking to a lot of other filmmakers who are doing the same thing right now - because of the internet and the current state of the US film market, it makes a lot of sense for filmmakers to hold on to their rights. It also means that all the money goes to the filmmakers – you’re not only buying a DVD but you’re supporting and promoting artists. You’ve seen it happen with bands like Bright Eyes: they can make their music to pay the bills just simply because they cut out the middle-man - it’s amazing. It’s radical, and it’s great for filmmakers as well as bands. Now, we’re thinking about how to make a genuine community in L.A. for new filmmakers coming up through the ranks: we just want to make it easier for them, because we’re discovering new things all the time. I think there is strength in numbers, and filmmakers are just beginning to figure that out.

On general release from 3 Oct