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SXSW: Katharine Emmer is doing it for herself

The "Life in Color" director, writer, producer and star took matters into her own hands for her SXSW premiere.

This really feels like a singular effort from a filmmaker.
I had a few friends that I really believed in and weren't acting enough, weren't working enough, so I said, "All right, I'm sick of waiting." I'd been in L.A. at the time six and a half years and I was ready to either leave or do this so I can at least say I gave it my best shot.

Many actresses talk about how if you want good roles you have to make them happen yourself. Is this an example of that?
I didn't set out necessarily to write the perfect part for myself, but I wanted to work, period. I only want to act in things that I can get my head around. I don't necessarily need to know how I'm going to do it — in fact it's better if I don't, because if you know how you're going to do something or what it's exactly going to look like then you should probably walk away because you have it all pre-planned and there's nothing exciting in that performance. It's OK if I don't know if I can do it or what it's going to look like, but I have to believe in the message or the journey the character is on. Otherwise I just won't be able to bring stakes to it.

But since you're directing as well, you needed to have some degree of planning. How did you resolve those two roles?
I would say I erred on the side of not having everything mapped out. Even the shot list was very loose. It was more we planned the day of and figured it out as we went. Because I produced it as well, I was very prepared as far as locations and scheduling, and we prepared starting about a month and a half before we started shooting. Because I didn't go to film school and my background isn't in film, I didn't know, really, how to prepare. I sort of just went with instinct. I prepared from an acting standpoint, but I wish I could have prepared more. But maybe that was a blessing, because then I didn't have time to over-think it. Because I felt the most confident in acting, I spent the least amount of time there because I just had to focus on all these facets that I didn't know how to do.

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Do you actually have any experience with professional clowns?
I just had this vision — I hope it doesn't sound to existential — of this sad clown, and this clown smoking and what is behind that. It was an image, more than anything, and then it went from there.

What was your tactic for addressing these characters' circumstances without it becoming an overly serious drama?
I have a very short attention span, I have no patience and I like very little of what I see, to be perfectly honest. So I knew I wanted to set out to make something that I could be proud of and that could hold my attention, and I knew it wouldn't come in the form of just a drama or just a comedy. It needed to be grounded and have both facets — at least for my first one. I think it's harder to entertain someone if it's just drama or just comedy, and I wanted to be true life. So I wanted to try to tackle that.

How have you been approaching your SXSW premiere and the festival in general?
It actually parallels the process of filmmaking that people can tell you what it's like and that you're not going to sleep and you're going to learn a lot and it's going to be intense, but you don't really, fully understand it until you're experiencing it. It's like intellectual understanding versus visceral. So it's been an incredibly mind-blowing week. People kept saying, "It's the perfect venue for your film," and now I understand why. It's laid back, it's a non-judgmental environment and it's great and welcoming. I'd never been to Texas before. And I love the food. They had me at the food.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick

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