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Nicole Holofcener on Leading Ladies & Why She Never Yells on Set

Nicole Holofcener is renowned for creating films that delve into the high drama and inherent comedy of everyday life. The writer-director possesses a unique talent for converting what might seem to be a minor plot point — like a best friend moving in with a fiancé in “Walking and Talking” or a husband lying about liking his wife’s first novel in “You Hurt My Feelings” — into a full-length feature film.

“I love writing uncomfortable situations,” Holofcener admits, acknowledging the charm of the discomfort her characters frequently face. “It’s so much fun, because it’s not happening to me, and I don’t have to act in it.”

Currently, Holofcener is present at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where a retrospective is being held to honor her works. Movies such as “Please Give,” “Enough Said,” and “You Hurt My Feelings” are being showcased as part of this tribute, marking a significant highlight of the festival’s 58th edition.

Prior to the festival, Holofcener spoke with The Hollywood Reporter, sharing insights about her past projects and how they become a cathartic experience when she watches them on television.

Holofcener has established strong working relationships with various actors, particularly Catherine Kenner. She values the talent and understanding her actors bring to her scripts, which often elevates the storytelling. She enjoys the collaborative process and cherishes the enjoyable experiences on set. Even if she can’t work with everyone repeatedly due to her limited film output, her connection with certain actors remains strong.

Creating a positive on-set environment is essential for Holofcener. She emphasizes the importance of treating the crew with respect and breaking away from conventional hierarchical structures. Understanding that they are telling a story and not curing cancer, she takes her work seriously while maintaining a calm and pleasant demeanor. Holofcener doesn’t tolerate any form of yelling and does her homework to understand the working styles and personalities of her team.

She encourages ad-libbing on set, viewing it as an opportunity for the actors to contribute more to the scene. Though 95% of the script is pre-written, the additional 5% provided by the actors often includes some of the best material. Holofcener recalls how actors like David Cross and Amber Tamblyn in “You Hurt My Feelings” enhanced their roles by improvising.

One of her strengths is taking seemingly small issues and expanding them into a full-length movie. While it’s challenging to determine if a minor conceit can support an entire film, Holofcener often finds a way. She enjoys exploring “what if” scenarios, which allows for creative freedom and makes her stories fascinating. Although her movies aren’t plot-driven, she successfully creates engaging narratives by focusing on character development and human interactions.

Despite the challenges of working in an industry that often favors more traditional plot-driven films, Holofcener feels fortunate. Financing her projects isn’t always easy, but her persistent producers, Anthony Bregman and Stefanie Azpiazu from Likely Story, help secure the funds needed. Adapting to available budgets, she remains grateful for the opportunity to continue making films, even in a risk-averse industry.

Reflecting on her career, Holofcener often finds it difficult to watch her own work. However, when she does catch her films on TV, it can be a mixed experience. While critical of her earlier work, she also feels a sense of accomplishment and reassurance. Watching her older movies reminds her of her capabilities and sometimes boosts her confidence during creative slumps.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter