Rose McGowan is now a director. That doesn’t mean the actress of “Scream,” “The Doom Generation,” and “Charmed” will no longer act; as of now she has five gigs lined up. But she says she feels more at home directing, especially given the raves that have come in for her debut short, “Dawn.” The succinct, sinister drama tells of a young, over-protected girl (Tara Lynn Barr) in 1961 who sneaks with a possibly dangerous boy. The film, which premiered at Sundance, can now be watched on YouTube. Meanwhile, McGowan preps for her feature directing debut, “The Pines.”
You still have acting jobs coming up, but do you feel you have less passion for acting, especially now that you’re directing?
The thing is I never did. I just happened to be good at it. I would get to sets and think, “What happened? I’m in the wrong world.” It’s like when you read a book and then you see how it’s been made on the screen and it’s completely odd to you because that’s not how at all how you saw it. That’s how almost every experience is like to me. I have a very active brain that needs constant data an emotion. And I was dying.
It’s interesting that you broke through with a short, not a feature.
I didn’t set out to make a short film. I set out to make a story. It just happened to be 19 minutes.
Short films haven’t always been easy to market, but right now, with streaming services, it’s easier than ever to get shorts seen.
To be honest when we did it, it didn’t occur to me that anybody would see it. I just had to do it. It just didn’t occur to me. I do that with the thing I’ve acted in; it didn’t occur to me to for me to even go see it. It was just a thing I did one time and let’s move on. But this is actually my voice. It’s nice to be heard.
Do you find it easy to raise funds for your work, including the feature you’re working on?
Well, I bring a lot of added value. I’m talking actual foreign territories I have actual legit value — that thing were you have strong holds in parts of the world for financing, because of my work. I’m in a different position than other filmmakers, because I bring added value.
Have you been the type of actor who bugs directors to see how they did it?
No, I watched. I didn’t learn from them what to do; I learned what not to do.
There’s that Robert Altman quote that the directors he learned the most from were the ones who were bad, not the ones who were great.
Yes, exactly. The directors I liked and respected, they had their own thing. I’m not going to copy it. That’s silly. On days I wasn’t acting I would work with the gaffers, I would work with the art department. I did the production design on “Dawn.” I have a film education that is second to none. I’ve spent over 57,000 hours on set. You can’t really f—with me. I know film, from getting them financed to getting them on the cover of Rolling Stone. I know it in a way better than pretty much anyone who’s just gone to film school. And I’ve studied film, classic film, since I was four, with my father. So I have that, in addition to studying art and literature. My editing style for “Dawn” I took from how Hemingway wrote his novels.
How else did you find the directing job, especially the parts that aren’t just you on set bossing people around?
It’s a little more intense than just being on set and bossing people around. It’s not quite that reductive. I’m very careful with pre-production. Every shot is planned out. With this it wasn’t on the fly. It depends on what you’re shooting. “Dawn” is very hyper-stylized. I needed it to be that way to say what I wanted it to say. I took the visual cues and the color palate from “The Parent Trap,” the original, which is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s actually a flawless film, from top to bottom. It just happens to be a Disney film.
There’s a lot of tension in the film, and part of that comes from how it’s not clear what kind of movie it’s going to turn into.
I wanted the tension of “Night of the Hunter.” That movie is so stressful, so amazing. I wanted it to feel like a galloping horse running away. And that’s how I approached the editing style, the pacing. I wanted every frame to feel like you could hold it still and it could tell its own story.
And it throws people off. The last scene is very patient and uneasy even before it ramps up the tension.
It’s OK to make the audience uncomfortable. I don’t think people do that enough. It’s OK to make the audience work. I love movies where I have to do some work. I love books where I have to do some work. I love art where I have to look at it and fully engage. I don’t want it handed to me. In my work I want someone to have to rise up to meet me.