TRANSCRIPT Ep. 105: ‘Psycho’ with ‘Blue’ Director Gabriela Ledesma

Director Gabriela Ledesma joins film critic Katie Walsh to discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ her naval career, and how her own suicide attempt inspired her new film ‘Blue.’

Podcast: Switchblade Sisters

Episode number: 105

Guests: Gabriela Ledesma

Transcript

music

"Switchblade Comb," by Mobius VanChocStraw. A jaunty, jazzy tune reminiscent of the opening theme of a movie. Music continues at a lower volume as Katie introduces herself and her guest, and then it fades out.

katie walsh

Hello and welcome to Switchblade Sisters, the podcast where women get together to slice and dice our favorite action and genre films. Every week here on the podcast, we invite a new female filmmaker—a writer, director, actor, or producer—and we talk in-depth about their favorite genre film, maybe one that influenced their own work. I'm film critic Katie Walsh, and I'm so excited to have filmmaker Gabriela Ledesma here in the studio. Welcome to Switchblade!

gabriela ledesma

Thank you for having me.

katie

So Gabriela Ledesma was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she started working as an actress at the age of five. At 16, she immigrated to the United States. After serving in the Navy, she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in filmmaking, and in 2015 started a production company, Poison Pictures, with her wife Callie Schuttera. The two women co-wrote Blue, Gabriela's first feature film, in which Callie stars as a woman recovering from a suicide attempt. The film racked up 30 awards on the festival circuit, including multiple for Best Director and Best Picture, and Blue was recently distributed by Gravitas Ventures, hitting VOD on October 22nd. Gabriela has also directed commercial campaigns, corporate videos, comedy specials, and live shows. Her second feature film, The Last Conception, is currently in post and is expected to premiere in 2020. Today, Gabriela has chosen to discuss the classic 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. So! Gabby, why did you choose Psycho?

gabriela

I grew up with Psycho! Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, and there's something about Psycho that doesn't matter how many times you watch: you always find something new. You always find, you know, Hitchcock all over the place. You know? And things that filmmakers back in the day didn't do, and was afraid to do it, and was afraid to go against big studios or, you know, the audience wasn't ready for yet. He broke the mold. You know? He broke the door in and said, you know, "I'm setting a foundation for filmmaking for the future," and I—I mean, I'm a huge fan.

katie

Yeah, it's interesting. As I was researching this film—I mean I've seen it so many times, but I was doing some research into it and I kinda didn't realize, like, what a revolutionary film this was.

gabriela

Yeah!

katie

Just in terms of his career, he was in the process of leaving Paramount and moving over to Universal. And Paramount sort of found the subject matter of Psycho to be... pretty distasteful, so they were like—

gabriela

Yeah, too much! [Laughs.]

katie

"You can take this—the—here's a low budget."

gabriela

Yeah. [Gabriela again responds affirmatively as Katie continues.]

katie

And he was like, "You know what? All these black and white exploitation films are making money. I wanna see if me, the master of suspense, can make a low-budget, schlocky exploitation film." So I think it's really interesting that he kind of broke with the big-budget, like, technicolor studio pictures.

gabriela

Absolutely.

katie

So I'm gonna do a little plot rundown of Psycho. [Gabriela chuckles.] I mean, if you haven't seen Psycho[Gabriela laughs.] —I don't... I don't... I don't know what to tell you. Literally turn this podcast off right now and go watch it. [Gabriela laughs.] But as we always do here on Switchblade Sisters, for those of you who haven't seen Psycho, today's episode will contain spoilers, but that should not stop you from listening before you watch. Like we always say, it's not what happens but how it happens that makes a movie worth watching. Still, if you wanna pause this episode and watch it, now's your chance.

music

"Psycho (theme)," by Bernard Herrmann. Suspenseful string music. Plays until the first clip.

katie

[Laughing] And actually I'm going to insist on pausing this episode to watch Psycho. [Gabriela laughs.] So, little background on Psycho, which I think is arguably Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film: it's based on a novel by Richard Bloch, inspired by the notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, with a screenplay that was adapted by James Stefano. The film was released in 1960 to much fervor and mystery, much of it concocted by the master of suspense himself, who controlled all the trailers and when the movie theater would let people in, and all of this stuff. [Gabriela chuckles.] And the film stars Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, a Phoenix secretary who impulsively decides to steal $40,000 that she's supposed to deposit for her boss, and skip town, heading to California to see her lover Sam, played by John Gavin. One rainy night she stops at the Bates Motel when she's on the road, and she encounters the friendly but odd Norman Bates, the indelible Anthony Perkins.

clip

Music: Slower, lower strings. Could be a sudden shift in the same song, or a different one. Norman Bates: You—you eat like a bird. Marion Crane: You'd know, of course. [Laughs lightly.] Norman: No, not really. [Beat.] Anyway, I hear the expression "eats like a bird" i-is really a false... fal-false... falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But I—I don't really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things! You know, taxidermy. [The music has faded out by the end of Norman's line.]

katie

They chat, share a dinner of sandwiches— [Gabriela laughs quietly.] —and during this discussion, Marion decides she's gonna go home to Phoenix and return the money. She hops into the shower, and in one of cinema's most memorable scenes, is brutally murdered by an intruder with a knife.

clip

[An eerie, piercing blend: high, frenzied string music, a running shower, and Marion screaming.]

katie

Ostensibly Norman's elderly mother. Norman disposes of Marion's body and her car in a nearby swamp, but it's not long before Marion's sister Lila—Vera Miles—shows up in nearby Fairvale, looking for Marion at Sam's place of work.

clip

Lila: [Somewhat tremulous] She left home on Friday. I was in Tucson over the weekend, and I haven't heard from her since. Not even a phone call.

katie

There's also Private Investigator Arbogast—Martin Balsam—who tracks Marion to Bates Motel and ultimately becomes another victim of Norman's mother when he tries to question her.

clip

[Low, intense string music and PI Arbogast screaming.]

katie

Lila and Sam are left to pick up the pieces of Marion's disappearance, and while talking to some neighbors they learn that Norman's mother... has been dead and buried for years! [Laughs.]

clip

Sheriff Al Chambers: [Gravely] Norman Bates's mother has been dead and buried in Green Lawn Cemetery for the past ten years. [Beat.] Mrs. Chambers: I helped Norman pick out the dress she was buried in. Periwinkle blue.

katie

[Laughing] So who is that old woman sitting in the window? While Sam distracts Norman, Lila investigates the house, discovering Norman's mother's mummified corpse in the fruit cellar.

clip

[A long, drawn-out shriek of horror from Lila. Footsteps. The clip continues with frenzied string music as Katie speaks.]

katie

Norman rushes in, dressed in a granny wig and dress, wielding a knife. But before he can attack, Sam restrains him. [Clip audio fades out.] "Mother" was Norman all along! And that psychology is explained in a very long monologue [laughs] at the end of the film, delivered by Dr. Richman, the great character actor Simon Oakland. [Laughs.]

clip

Dr. Fred Richman: At times he could be both personalities, carry on conversations. At other times, the Mother half took over completely. He was never all Norman. But he was often only Mother.

gabriela

And that monologue apparently was the studio, that wanted—

katie

Oh!

gabriela

Yeah. And there's other movies of Hitchcock that they... they kinda... ask, you know?

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

A little bit ask him, like, "Hey, you have to put it there." And he did it, but, you know—and to him it was just like, "[Grumbles.] I'm gonna have to explain, sure. Go ahead and have it."

katie

So they felt like—the studio felt like he had to explain this instead of just leaving this—

crosstalk

Gabriela: The mental illness he—exactly. Katie: Yeah. Okay.

gabriela

Exactly.

katie

It's interesting because the screenwriter, James Stefano, was—or Joseph Stefano—

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

—was saying that at the time that he was adapting this book, he was in analysis, as they used to call it.

crosstalk

Gabriela: [Stifling laughter] Yeah! Katie: So he was in therapy. [Laughs.]

gabriela

Yes. [Gabriela says “mm-hm” several times affirmatively as Katie speaks.]

katie

Dealing with his own relationship with his mother. And Hitchcock apparently was like, [laughing] very interested. You know, it's interesting just talking about how the writer was bringing some of his own... stuff to the adaptation. Which, you know, it's an adaptation of a book, and it's based on Ed Gein, and all of this stuff. But kind of bringing themselves to it. I mean, you made a film—your film Blue is about a woman who commit—who attempts suicide, and sort of like, picks up the pieces of her life around that. I mean, and you've said it's a personal story. And you know, how did you approach the writing of that, or the crafting of the story? You know, bringing your own experiences to this film.

gabriela

The first thing I wanted was to make sure that I still had the creative control.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

That I didn't let what happened to me and, you know—and the whole idea of tackling that issue personally was a big deal for me, too! I mean it was like, you know, double-down therapy at that point! [Laughs lightly.] You know, it was—was—it hurt a lot. But to me it was, "How can I be as creative as this possibly can?" So what I did was—the main character, Helen, I grab that character and I flip it upside-down. So I give her things that I would have done it, and things that, you know, I would have said it, but I kind of shape her into be a little—slightly different than me, in a way that I can see the character from an outside perspective. I gave the events as truthfully as I possibly could, and I tried to be as honest as I could about it. So, you know, the rat poison is real. The coma is real. What people said while I was in a coma was real. So I grab those things and I try to be a little bit on the outside, but give the story and the events itself to be as truthful as possible. And—but with that said, other characters, I tried to grab two, three, four people that went through that with me and make into one character.

katie

Mm.

gabriela

Some of them are just, you know—of course, you know, uh... can't tell much about the movie, but one of the characters, you know, was completely a new character that never existed. But it was like my subconscious in a way.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

Which would be, um, the—the Perkins. Funny, I just realized that his last name in the movie is Perkins!

crosstalk

[Both delighted:] Katie: Subconscious! Gabriela: Ohhh, I didn't know! [Both laugh.]

gabriela

That is creepy! [Katie laughs.] So yeah, and I tried to do that. And one thing that I did was talk to Callie, which is, you know, the lead actress. We talked a lot.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

She would sit down with me, and was like, you know, "How do you feel when you self-harm?" And "How did you feel when you tried to commit suicide? What was your last thoughts before that happened?" So we talked so much. And we went through so much on that script to make sure that I could give it to her, everything she needed, in order to make that—you know, not my movie, but a movie that other people can watch and go, "I can relate to that" or "I've seen that happening to somebody."

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

So... yeah.

katie

And did she write the script with you? Callie?

gabriela

Honestly—[sighs]. I—I don't even write my own email. [Katie laughs quietly.] I'm really bad at it. So I give the story, and she goes and—and she's a fantastic writer—

katie

I see. [Katie repeats this and then responds affirmatively/in acknowledgment as Gabriela continues.]

gabriela

—when it comes to dialogue. You know, she's fantastic. And I say "This is exactly what's gonna happen," you know, "It's gonna—X, Y, and Z's gonna happen. Let's talk about the dialogue. Let's shape up." And then we come together, and then we just went line by line, saying "That person wouldn't say this. This person wouldn't walk this way." So it's a—you know, it's a little bit me, a little bit her, come together.

katie

Yeah!

gabriela

And then we make that happen.

katie

I can imagine that it may have taken a long time for you to be ready to sort of like, share this story of yours, and—

gabriela

I've been ready.

katie

Oh, yeah.

gabriela

I mean, that happened when I was 16, and—and I really wanted at that moment to go—"[Sighs.] Whatever I can do from this point on in my life to help other people not go through what I did, I will." And I wanted my first feature to be that, to be me telling somebody, "Hey. It gets better. And even if it doesn't, how can we make it better for you?"

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

"And adapt that for yourself." So I've been ready since I was 16 when that happened, and I said "Okay, fine! If you wanted me to stay here, what can I do to make sure that I can help somebody else?" So yeah. I guess I've been ready.

katie

That's great.

gabriela

Mm.

katie

I wanted to talk a little bit about the—about budget and stuff. [Gabriela laughs quietly.] Because...

gabriela

What budget? [Both laugh.]

katie

Well, you know, Psycho is, um...

gabriela

$800,000.00

crosstalk

Katie: You got the numbers down! I love it! Gabriela: I love it, I'm telling you.

gabriela

Yeah, $806,000, which I think right now would be about seven million or so. But then again, $800,000, it's... back then, was nothing.

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

I mean, The Apartment was like three million. You know. Which, by the way, I say The Apartment because The Apartment won—

katie

Mm-hm!

gabriela

—a Best Feature. The Oscars in 1961. And Psycho wasn't even—

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

—there for Best Picture, [laughs] you know? So yeah, it was a very small budget. [Gabriela responds affirmatively several times as Katie speaks.]

katie

It's also kind of interesting, because this is still the studio system, still the Hollywood studio system. Hitchcock was transitioning from his relationship at Paramount to Universal. It was his last film that he was making at Paramount. Paramount was sort of grossed out by the subject matter, so they gave him a small budget. But it was not common for auteurs in the studio system—and it's even weird to kind of say "auteur." [Gabriela laughs.] But I think we can say Hitchcock's an auteur. But you know, it was uncommon for them to kind of do something gritty and low-budget, and he was looking at these exploitation films and saying, you know, "I wanna make that. I wanna see if I can—if me as this, like, great filmmaker can make that." You know.

gabriela

But he took control.

katie

Right! Completely. And—

gabriela

Absolutely.

katie

He took control, and you know, I think using a smaller budget kind of allowed him more of that control. It's just interesting because it's pre the sort of indie film revolution—

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

—that kind of started in the 1970s and progressed.

gabriela

Which is a little iffy! You know?

katie

[Stifling laughter] Yeah.

gabriela

Because nowadays you say "indie," you're talking about, "Oh, this is an indie movie that was made for four million dollars." Like, ehh, that's not—come on, guys! That's not indie! Let's not go crazy here. To me, $800,000, 1960, it was indie!

katie

[Laughing] Yeah.

gabriela

And now could go. But I think that the one thing that he did was one, he didn't take his salary.

katie

Right.

gabriela

Or he didn't take as much of the salary as he possibly could. But two, he did something that George Lucas did. That like, George Lucas did for the, you know, marketing in—not marketing. Um, the figurings and whatnot. But Hitchcock did for the back-end deal, which is not something that, you know, directors used to do back then. And he's like, "Fine. I'll take your $800,000, not much of my pay, but I'm gonna get, you know, a percentage of the back-end deal for this movie." And he took over the marketing! I mean...

katie

Right. [Katie responds affirmatively a couple more times as Gabriela continues.]

gabriela

There is no trailer for Psycho. There's only six minutes of Hitchcock going around at the studios and going "Here is where, you know, the people got killed." [Katie laughs.] "And here is the awesome-looking house," and whatnot. And I think that because he took over, I think he not only believed in the movie, but he believed that we were ready for that, and people were ready. I mean, you said earlier that people could only come in on time. Like, the marketing strategy was "You have to be here on time or you're not gonna be, you know, coming in, and please don't talk about the movie after you leave the theater." So it—to me, it was—that was such a new way to deal with marketing.

katie

Yeah, it was—I mean, he... It reminds me of when Avengers: Endgame came out. [Gabriela laughs.]

crosstalk

Katie: And they were like, "Don't spoil the Endgame!" Gabriela: "Don't spoil it!" [laughs]. Katie: [Stifling laughter] And that—it's sort of like he was the original "Don't spoil the Endgame." Gabriela: Exactly! Yeah.

katie

'Cause he kept saying "Don't talk about Psycho."

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

He wouldn't let the screenwriter talk about it. He made all the cast member take a—cast members take a vow.

gabriela

Mm-hm!

katie

[Laughing] That they wouldn't talk about it.

crosstalk

Katie: And then apparently he had these recordings of his voice in the theater— Gabriela: All over—yeah! [Laughs.] Katie: —saying like, "Five minutes to Psycho."

katie

[Laughing] Like, "Ten minutes to Psycho!"

gabriela

Yeah! Yeah.

katie

So he created this really immersive experience that he was sort of like, guiding people along. Which is an interesting, you know, way to sort of really take control of marketing and like, make it an event, so it's like, "Oh, we have to go see this."

gabriela

I mean, can you really see that—[sighs]. I mean, what we thought was the protagonist of the movie dies, like, in the first act. Imagine if somebody comes in like ten minutes in, is like, "Oh, she just died! Who is she?" [Katie laughs.] Get outta here! You know what I mean? Like, come on, let's do this! And I think that was genius of him to say "No. You gotta watch the whole film, and don't talk about it!"

crosstalk

Katie: Exactly. It's like Scream copied that idea with the Drew Barrymore character who gets killed off very soon. Gabriela: Exactly! Exactly. And you would think, "Oh, it's Drew Barrymore, of course she's the—ohohoho, she's gone!" [Laughs.] Katie: You know, she's in the trailer, she's on the poster... You're like—

music

"Switchblade Comb" begins fading in.

gabriela

Yeah!

katie

"This movie stars Drew Barrymore."

crosstalk

Katie: She's in it for ten minutes. Gabriela: And she's gone. [Katie laughs.]

gabriela

And it—I love it. I love it.

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

It's fantastic.

katie

Well, we are gonna take a quick break, and when we come back we will continue talking Psycho with Gabby Ledesma.

gabriela

[Quietly] Woo woo! [Music continues until the promo.]

promo

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music

"Switchblade Comb" fades back in, fading out as Katie speaks.

katie

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. We are talking Psycho with Gabby Ledesma, the director of Blue, which is out on VOD right now. [Music fades out.] So when you're watching Psycho over the years—and you know, having seen it at age 12, and having watched it again recently, and like, having watched it I'm sure multiple times throughout your life... [Gabriela laughs quietly during the above.] What are some of the things that you like, notice in new and different ways when you are re-watching it?

gabriela

I think the details.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

Details always gets to me. My absolute favorite scene is the push-in at the end. "I wouldn't even swat a fly!"

sound effect

[Whoosh.]

clip

Music: Tensely suspended strings. Norma Bates: They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even gonna swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They'll see. They'll see, and they'll know, and they'll say: "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly."

sound effect

[Whoosh.]

gabriela

The older I get, the more I go, "Okay. So when Hitchcock talks about going to a wide, he's talking about the disconnection with the character."

katie

Mm! Mm-hm.

gabriela

You know, and because of the dissociation with the mental illness, that is, you know, Bates'—you know, issue. And then you go from a wide to a close-up, but when it gets to the close-up, now you get right in the front of that guy, that now turning into the killer that you thought he was all along, just by the change of the face. You know? So it's those little details that I start to see now how he goes from a wide to a close-up. How, you know, the lead actress that we thought was gonna be—but it doesn't have a close-up the whole time.

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

It's always a medium. But you stay on that medium, and you wait for it. I think a couple days ago when I was watching it, I saw, I was like, "Wait. She's starting the movie already in her bra, in bed. Oh, wow. That was a big deal back then!"

crosstalk

Katie: That—I— Gabriela: I never thought of that! Katie: I noticed that, too! I was like, "This opening scene is very sexy." Gabriela: Controversial! Yeah!

katie

And it's very steamy between...

gabriela

They don't care!

katie

Yeah, and—

gabriela

They're just talking to each other like, "Yeah, we're talking. I have a bra, cool. I'm gonna put a shirt on." And you know. By the end you go "Wow, that just happened."

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

I imagine—you know, I can only wonder what people were thinking about back then and going "Wow, this is too much! But you know, Hitchcock told me not to leave the theater!"

crosstalk

[Both laugh.] Gabriela: You know? Katie: Right, right, right. Gabriela: You have to watch it!

gabriela

So yeah. So the details, I think, and now more than ever it's about the details as a director.

katie

Yeah. [Katie responds in agreement/acknowledgment a couple more times as Gabriela continues.]

gabriela

The things that, you know, you cannot write in the page. And you have to take control and say "Now that is what I have to do to make this work." And I think it's fantastic. And also music. I'm—because now I'm wanting to—you know, on the second feature and whatnot, I have to be a little bit more focused on the music itself and how it comes along. I mean, I believe that 50% of the movie is the visual and the other 50 is sound, you know, music and whatnot. So now I'm listening to him going, "Oh my god, you can turn off the sound and it's fantastic. You can turn up the sound and it's even better."

katie

Oh, yeah.

gabriela

It's crazy to me how he plays around with music, sound, and the visuals. So it's a lot of details, I guess.

katie

That Bernard Herrmann score is really...

gabriela

Oh my goodness.

katie

Just... immediately you're in that world, just as soon as it starts. So you made a low-budget first feature, and we were talking about budget before and like, working on a low budget. I mean, what—how did you sort of approach working within a limited—with limited resources and trying to tell such a, like, heartfelt and ambitious story? You know, [stifling laughter] with—

gabriela

Yeah.

katie

—limited shooting days, and trying to make it work.

gabriela

Hundred... a hundred pages. A hundred scenes. Twelve days of work. And a—

katie

[Stifling laughter] Twelve days!

gabriela

And a very, very low budget. Honestly, I think I have to say I had a fantastic cast and crew.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

People that were there because they felt so compelled by this story. About the idea of—I mean—look. I was just checking this out. It was like, between the ages of 10 and 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the United States.

katie

Wow.

gabriela

By the age of ten years old. You know, like... There is a little scene, a documentary scene in the movie, in the middle, when people talk about, you know, what they've been through and the times that they tried to commit suicide and whatnot. And I realized that we only did that in one take.

katie

Wow. [Katie responds emphatically several times as Gabriela speaks.]

gabriela

I cannot ask somebody, "Hey! So, uh, can you—cut! Let's—now talk again how you tried to kill yourself with a belt." I couldn't do that. You know, so it not only was limited, but again, people were there because they wanted to tell those stories. And they wanted to make sure that, you know, we get that story out. Now, it was rough. You know, I'm not a fan of going overtime. So every time, every day, it was like 12 hours a day. You know, if I go 13 I'm like, freaking out, desperate, because I don't believe in that. I think that if people are gonna give their best in 12 hours, that's the time that they should have, and no more than that. So it was rough. But we tried to go as fast as we could. [Stifling laughter] There were scenes that we only have 30 minutes to shoot. There's nothing you can do about it, and we gotta go! But again, the pre-production was so severe to me that every shot, I knew exactly what I was gonna do. How the camera's gonna be positioned. You know, very Hitchcock kind of way, you know?

katie

Yeah! Right!

crosstalk

Gabriela: Preparing everything prior to— Katie: Storyboarding. Gabriela: Exact—I'm horrible at that, oh my goodness. But I'm the one that says "And then the camera turns here. Go this way." It's—yeah! Katie: At least a shot list, yeah. [Laughs quietly.] [Katie responds affirmatively a few times as Gabriela continues.]

gabriela

Exactly! So yeah. So pre-production was a big deal. Cast and crew was fantastic, and they knew what they were doing when they were doing it, and they were ready to go. And then at the end of the day, it's looking at it and go "What can I get right now?" and what I have to leave out. Or what I—I'm not allowed to do it. You know, it's give in and give up a little bit.

katie

So did you have lessons that you learned on—I'm sure you had lessons that you learned on the first shoot that you took with you to the second shoot, 'cause you just finished shooting—

gabriela

Yeah.

katie

—your second feature.

gabriela

Yes. Follow your guts. I think that's what I learned, is that there's always somebody that's gonna tell you what to do and how to do it. And that is cool. I appreciate it. [Katie laughs.] But there is a pre-production for a reason.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

And then when it comes to crunch time, there is not much I can do but just to go get it done. Now again, the budget for the second one was twice as big as the first one. So it gave me a little bit of a leeway, you know? The second was only 40 scenes! So if—no, 47 scenes or 48 scenes. So it's half of Blue, and it gave me a little more time with the actors. It gave me a little more time with the shots itself. You know, so it's a lot that's to be learned, but at the end of the day just to follow your guts and say "I did the pre-production. I did what I had to do prior to this, and now it's show time." And have fun!

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

Honestly.

katie

So how do you approach working with actors? Because in Blue especially it's like, it's really challenging...

gabriela

Yeah.

katie

...material, because it's talking about tough stuff, but it's—you know, also the characters go through life, death, all of these different emotional ranges. I think what Hitchcock [laughs] said to Janet Leigh was that he was like, "I hired you—" [Gabriela laughs quietly.] "—because you're an actress. I will only direct you if you attempt to take more of your share of the pie, if you don't take enough, or if you are having trouble motivating the necessary timed movement." So it seems like he was sort of like, "You do your job. I do mine. I'm only gonna step in, like—" What is your approach to working with actors? [Katie responds affirmatively/in acknowledgment as Gabriela answers.]

gabriela

Because I did this way before I started directing, you know, since I was little, I think I understand the other side of it.

katie

For sure. [She continues responding affirmatively as Gabriela resumes.]

gabriela

And I understand there is a lot of work behind it. There are times that the actors just come in and they are not on their game that day, for whatever reason. So one, I believe that you need to talk to your actors. I think it's important for me to every morning talk and say "Hey, how are you doing? What's going on? How can I help? Do you have questions for me?" And then I can go move on and do my job, and I hope that you can do yours, but also leave the door open that if you need anything, or if you have any questions for me, I will stop and try to answer you the best of my abilities as fast as I can. And two, I married an actress! I never thought that was gonna happen; my life would end up marry an actress! So I know also the struggles that she goes through. And the questions that she has, sometimes they're so small, and all she needs is to be like, "Hey. What about this?" And if I say yes or no, [mimics explosion]. You know? Everything just completely works. It just works. So I think it's communication. I think once you have a communication, you don't think that you're God. You know? I don't agree with Hitchcock on that sense. I think—yeah, I don't. I think that it's a collaboration at the end of the day. I'm not a fan of that word, but it is. You know? It's coming together to make something that is above and beyond who we are, independent of what movie it's all about. So yeah, it's about communication for me.

katie

Yeah, I think that that approach to... I—I—listen, I think—I'm not a filmmaker, but I think directors obviously have very widely different approaches to working with actors. Either "I hired you and you're just gonna do the job." [Both laugh.] Or "I'm gonna be there to collaborate with you—"

gabriela

Yeah.

katie

"—and talk to you about it." Um...

gabriela

Oh, don't get me wrong.

katie

Right.

gabriela

I hire you to do a job. [Katie laughs.] You know what I mean? And I know exactly what I want from my characters. You're not gonna dance around it. You're gonna give me what I want.

katie

Right.

gabriela

But for you to get to that place and be the best you can be, I'm here to help you through that journey.

katie

Right. It's gotta be interesting working—you know, your wife stars in your film.

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

[Stifling laughter] What was that like? Working with someone who you're so close to?

gabriela

Amazing.

katie

Yeah.

gabriela

Amazing. And the reason why is because she knows me so well.

katie

Right.

gabriela

So all I could say is like, one word, and she goes "Ohhh, I get it!" You know? Or just be able to say "Hey. It's not working." I think I'm—I won't—there are things that I would tell her that I wouldn't tell an actor. Because the actor would be like, you know, "Oh, she hurt my feelings!" You know? [Katie laughs.] And I'm like "Oh, I'm sorry." You know? But because she's my wife, she knows that when I say something a little bit harsher, it doesn't mean that I'm trying to be rude. It just means that I want the absolute best from her—

katie

Right.

gabriela

—because I know she can give it to it.

katie

Right.

gabriela

So it was fantastic. It was easy. And besides, we—she wrote with me!

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

So she knew that character, you know?

katie

Right.

gabriela

Backwards, you know? I mean, it was based on me. She got this! You know?

katie

Right.

gabriela

So it was great.

katie

So when she arrived at set it was like, "I've already got this inside and out."

gabriela

Yeah!

katie

"I know what I'm gonna be doing." Yeah.

gabriela

Yeah. Like, before—I try to do that with my actors as much as I can, at least with lead actors—but I would ask her like, "What is Helen's favorite color?"

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

Not necessarily my favorite color. But that character. What is favorite movie? What is favorite color? What is favorite this, what is favorite that? You know, and she would answer, like, "Okay, Helen would do this and that. Helen would say this." And so yeah, it was easy, in a way, to work with her. But not because, you know—indeed, she's a phenomenal actress, and she went through things to play this part that I don't think a lot of actors would have. She had to go deep down inside to find her own demons, too.

katie

Mm-hm. Yeah.

gabriela

In order to portray that, a character that has so much. But at the same time also, she did a fantastic homework. Again, pre-production.

music

"Switchblade Comb" begins fading in.

gabriela

She did a fantastic pre-production of her own character development.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

And you show—you show in the movie.

katie

Well, we are gonna take another quick break, and when we come back we'll talk more Psycho. [Music continues until the promo.]

promo

Music: Upbeat rock plays in the background. Announcer: Dead Pilots Society brings you exclusive readings of comedy pilots that were never made, featuring actors like Patton Oswalt— Patton Oswalt: So the vampire from the future sleeps in the dude’s studio during the day, and they hunt monsters at night. It’s Blade meets The Odd Couple! [Audience laughs.] Announcer: —Adam Scott and Jane Levy— Jane Levy: Come on, Cory. She’s too serious, too business-y. She doesn’t know the hokey-pokey. Adam Scott: Well, she’ll learn what it’s all about. [Audience laughs.] Announcer: —Busy Philipps and Dave Koechner. Dave Koechner: Baby, this is family.

promo

Busy Philipps: My Uncle Tal, who showed his wiener to Cinderella at Disneyland, is family. Do you want him staying with us? [Light audience laughter.] Dave: He did stay with us, for three months. Busy: And he was a delight! [Audience laughs harder.] Announcer: A new pilot every month, only on Dead Pilots Society from Maximum Fun.

music

"Switchblade Comb" fades back in, fading out as Katie speaks.

katie

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. I'm—my name is Katie Walsh, and I'm here with Gabby Ledesma. [Music fades out.] We're talking about Psycho and her movie Blue, and all things Hitchcock. So, you are the first interviewer—or interviewee—that I've had on this podcast who has been in the military.

gabriela

Really!

katie

I think.

gabriela

Fun.

katie

What did you do in the Navy?

gabriela

I was an ABH, which—okay. Have you seen Top Gun?

katie

[Laughing] I have.

gabriela

Okay. So it's—unfortunately that's the way I have to start.

katie

Gabby, just explain everything to me in movie terms— [Gabriela laughs.] —and I'll understand it.

crosstalk

Katie: But Top Gun, I love. [Laughs.] Gabriela: [Winding down] That's good. Top Gun.

gabriela

So on Top Gun, when you see the flight deck, you see people with different jerseys and whatnot. So that's what I did. I—you know, I handled aircraft. So you taxi the aircraft, you launch the aircraft, and whatnot.

katie

Okay.

gabriela

So that was my primary job. My secondary job when we were not in deployment or out to sea, it was a MP. Which is, um... Military Police Force. So when we were in port, I was carrying a gun, and when we were not, I'm just, you know, moving aircraft. So. It was fun.

katie

Just super easy, just, you know—

gabriela

Yes.

katie

—launching fighter jets... [Gabriela laughs.] ...off of a boat.

gabriela

Yes. [Both laugh.] Fun! Fun stuff.

katie

Super chill. [Laughs.]

gabriela

Yes. Yes.

katie

So do you feel like anything that you learned in the military, you like, brought with you to—

gabriela

Time management.

katie

Time management, okay!

gabriela

That is the number one rule for filmmaking, you know? I'm the one with the watch going "Alright, guys, I have... 13 seconds to get this going, otherwise we're not gonna be able to make it." So yeah, time management from the military. And of course, you know, expecting people to do the best they can do with what they have. But also supply them with enough tools that they can do what they're supposed to do on the best of their abilities. So yeah, I think that's what I got from the military.

katie

Interesting! So do your ADs, your assistant directors— [Gabriela laughs.] —are they just like, "Ah, we don't—we can go, like, sit over in the corner."

crosstalk

Katie: "She's got—" [breaks off, laughing]. Gabriela: No, I need all the help I can get! No, please, anybody help, yes!

gabriela

But it's good to know that I'm not just here going "This is a beautiful shot. What else can I do?" You know, it's like, "No, no, no, this is a great shot but we need to go a little bit faster. I would love to make it even better, but if I do this, I'm gonna miss the next one, so..."

katie

Right.

gabriela

Yeah. It's a colla—like I said before, you know, everybody gotta come together, and unfortunately I hate that word, but you gotta collaborate! You know, we gotta come together, make sure that the picture is done, and on time, and on budget.

katie

Right. It's like, managing all the different priorities that you have as a filmmaker.

gabriela

Yeah.

katie

Which, you know, [laughing] as a director, you have to manage every single one of them!

gabriela

Ah, I love it. I love it. I love chaos. I mean, I worked—I was in the military on the flight deck! I love chaos! [Katie laughs.] You know what I mean? Like, yes. And it's like, it's the peace that you can get from chaos, you know? It's like a symphony, and I sound so filmmaker right now.

crosstalk

Katie: Give me more, baby! [Laughs.] Gabriela: "The symphony of the chaos." You know?

gabriela

That's exactly how I feel, you know? It's like—yeah. It's fun. It's fun.

katie

That's so interesting. So what is easier? Launching a fighter jet off a boat, or directing a film? [Laughs.]

gabriela

I got paid to do the first one! [Katie laughs.] The second one, it's hard to do it! So yeah, I mean, get the budget, I'll be on the—you know, making a move at any time. I got this! I got this. [Both laugh.]

katie

That's so funny. There's so many great character actors—

gabriela

Yeah! [Gabriela again responds affirmatively as Katie continues.]

katie

—in that film. I mean, Martin Balsam who plays Arbogast was like, a New York theatre actor.

crosstalk

Katie: I love the doctor at the end, who just comes in and he's so recognizable. Gabriela: And just giving everything—

katie

The other funny thing is that the other secretary in the office is—

gabriela

Mm-hm!

katie

—Hitchcock's daughter.

gabriela

Yes.

katie

And I was watching a little video of her talking about the film, and she was saying, you know, "I always wanted to be an actress, ever since I was a young girl," but her dad would like, not cast her in things.

gabriela

No!

katie

Unless she was perfect for the role.

gabriela

That's right!

katie

And...

gabriela

I mean, look, I love my wife. [Katie laughs.] I think she's phenomenal, but I'm not gonna shove her in every movie I make because she's my wife. You know, if I can put her there, great. If not... "Hey, girl! Let's make the next one! Let's do it!" You know? Yeah.

katie

That's so funny.

crosstalk

Gabriela: You have to! Katie: No nepotism. No—[laughs]. Gabriela: You can't!

gabriela

Oh, you can't, because then the audience will know.

katie

Right.

gabriela

The audience will not trust you anymore. And they're gonna look at you and be like, "Tch. Why am I gonna watch this movie? You're gonna put your wife in there." Like, nah! I'm gonna use the person that is right for that part.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

If I can have her on my set, great! You know, normally she comes in as one of the producers anyways. You know, and normally we write together. Or I mean, we always write together, so she's gonna be on set. You know. But again, if she's right, she's right! If she's not—so I get it what Hitchcock went through then, you know? And you have to. Otherwise people don't trust you anymore.

katie

I'm picking up on another, ah...

gabriela

[Inquisitive/listening noise.]

katie

...connection, which is that Hitchcock collaborated with his wife, Alma.

gabriela

Yeah. Yes.

katie

And apparently he's—he told Stefano to write one of the scenes, and he came back and was like— [Gabriela laughs.] "Alma loved it." And he was like—

gabriela

Yes. [She repeats this as Katie continues.]

katie

You know. A lot of those creative decisions went through...

gabriela

You have to.

katie

You know, went through his—through Alma Hitchcock, who, you know, was also his producing and collaborating partner, so—

gabriela

Yeah! A lot of Psycho, the cutting of Psycho, was because of her. You know, like, the splicing those things together and say "That works with this. Take that one out." It was her.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

It was her idea most of the times, and I think that you have to. You have to bounce on somebody. You have to bounce on somebody that you trust, and I trust her to do the absolute best for the picture, and for myself, as possible. So yeah. Like I said, I don't send one email without her checking. Because I know that at the end of the day I'm gonna say "Kay" at the end of my message, and she goes, [gently chiding] "No, that's not how you do it, honey." [Katie laughs.] "You gotta say 'Thank you very much for your time.'" Like, "Oh, yeah, whoops." You know, so yeah, absolutely. I count on her a lot for that, because I trust her so much.

katie

Tell me a little bit about what it was like to go through the post-production process on Blue, which was a very low-budget film. I mean, did you have enough coverage and material to work with, or—

gabriela

No.

katie

—were you very—[laughing] okay.

gabriela

[Laughs quietly.] Hitchcock did something that I had to take it in, because I had to. Which was he—everything he shot, it was meant to be in the movie.

katie

Right.

gabriela

He didn't do extra, you know, takes, just like the studio wanted. And that's exactly what we had to come in and do.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

It was "If we can only have one take of this, you better start rolling and then get a bunch of that back reset and do it again, because we just don't have it." So that's what we had to do, just have in mind when it comes to post-production, it was gonna be tight. It was gonna be rough to do it. And then it came unfortunately after some—some things happened. I had to take over and do the editing.

katie

Oh, okay.

gabriela

That... that was a thing. [Laughs.] But it made it happen, and I think I learned so much about filmmaking that I would never be able to learn at school. So—

katie

Through the editing process?

gabriela

Yeah!

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

I mean there are things that now I look at and I go, "Ah! Okay, don't ever do that again, because when it comes to the editing room it's impossible to pick it up."

katie

Right.

gabriela

So yeah, and I had to edit it myself. And—but it was fun! I mean, took me... 16 days, 20 hours a day.

katie

Whoa, that's fast!

gabriela

And we got a rough cut done and then, you know, from that point, because everything has to be fast! You know? Once you don't have the money, the fast as you can do and—you know, and the best you can do it for the money. And you have to.

katie

Yeah, that's interesting, because I think Hitchcock would like, edit in-camera.

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

Like, only shoot the takes that—the shots that he needed.

gabriela

Yeah, he would stop right in the middle, too, and be like—

katie

Right.

gabriela

"That's all I needed." And you know, producers were—at Rebecca, I think—

katie

Yeah, Rebecca!

gabriela

Yeah! They were like "No, you gotta shoot a little bit more!" and he was like, "No, that's all I needed."

katie

Right. And it was his way of like, keeping control, but...

crosstalk

Gabriela: You have to. Katie: You know.

katie

It's very much something that I'm sure, on a low-budget production, you're just like "We got—[stifling laughter] we have a very short amount of time."

gabriela

Not even a short amount of time, it's that as a director you wanna make sure that your idea, your vision, comes into play later on.

katie

Right.

gabriela

And you don't wanna—you know. You don't want somebody to be like "Oh, yeah, this is awesome-looking" and you're like "That's not what I envisioned." I mean, not to be like, you know—you know, "fun" director. "Oh, that's not what I envisioned, I want something fun!" But it's just to say "Hey. This is not what we're looking for. Let's make sure that we tie it up a little bit more." So you know, of course I would love to have more—you know, more takes, and more different, you know, camera movements and whatnot. Camera placement. But because of the budget, because of the time constriction, you have to do that.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

You have to set it up in a way that it goes straight to post. And... yeah.

katie

It's such an interesting film, 'cause I also realized that there's not a ton of dialogue—like, long dialogue scenes.

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

There's the one in the beginning, with her and her boyfriend where she's basically saying, like, "I want to get married."

gabriela

Mm-hm.

katie

And he can't get married, and then there's that long dialogue scene between her and Norman.

crosstalk

Katie: But so much of it is just watching her... make her decisions, sort of silently. Gabriela: Details. Yeah.

katie

And it's like, in the visual storytelling and in the performance of her face, where she's sort of...

gabriela

And Anthony Perkins, like, instantly going from like, smiley little dude to like, psycho, right then and there!

crosstalk

Katie: He is amazing. And... Gabriela: Beautiful. Yeah.

katie

You know, this film obviously stayed with him. Like, people I think kind of associated him with this film. But—

gabriela

I mean, 23 years later he tried to do Psycho II.

crosstalk

Gabriela: And, uh... [Sighs.] Katie: Right, which I haven't seen Psycho II.

katie

Have you seen it? [Laughs.]

gabriela

[Whispering] Just... just don't.

katie

[Through laughter] Okay.

gabriela

To me, there is—there are movies that shouldn't be touched.

katie

Right. I agree.

gabriela

Like, when they redid Psycho, which was by Guns... Vas...

katie

Gus Van Sant, yeah.

gabriela

Don't do—just don't! I mean, you matched the shot! Why?! Why are we doing this?

katie

Right.

gabriela

Leave it, don't touch it, don't mess with it. You know. Anthony Perkins did direct the third one, was a flop.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

And just... Just leave it. You know.

katie

Right. I know—you understand why you want more, because that character is so fascinating, but it's like, "Yeah. Just leave it as is."

gabriela

But to me, personally, you lost the soul.

katie

Right.

gabriela

Right? Not because "Oh, Hitchcock is so amazing, you lost the soul." No, it's like—that guy gave the character to the newspaper! Like, she opens the newspaper. Suddenly that character has its own camera, and we're gonna talk to that newspaper because it has the money. You know? And so things, he gave characters to things. When he brought up the cup—oh my goodness! You know, like, and you feel it. You feel how tense it is.

katie

Mm-hm.

gabriela

And you know, the collaboration between him and the composer. Those are the important things that I think that when you just wanna make a movie because you think that people are gonna go and pay and watch it, you lose the sense of uniqueness. The truth to that movie. And I think that once—you know, once you lose that director, which is Hitchcock for Psycho, you're gonna lose a little bit of the magic.

katie

Gabriela Ledesma, thank you so much for being here and talking about Psycho with us, and talking about your film and your career as well. Where can we see Blue? Is it available right now?

gabriela

It's available on VOD, on iTunes, Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, VuDu, Amazon... and, uh, internationally you can find on X-box and Vimeo.

katie

Nice!

gabriela

So yeah, it's worldwide.

katie

If you have access to the Internet, you can read—you can watch Blue.

gabriela

Absolutely.

katie

So go and watch it! And thank you so much.

gabriela

Thank you!

music

"Switchblade Comb" begins fading in.

katie

Thank you for listening to Switchblade Sisters with me, Katie Walsh! If you like what you're hearing, please leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. If you wanna let us know what you think of the show, you can Tweet us at @SwitchbladePod or email us at switchbladesisters@maximumfun.org. Please check out our Facebook group, Facebook.com/groups/switchbladesisters. Our producer is Casey O'Brien. Our senior producer is Laura Swisher. This is a production of MaximumFun.org. [Music finishes.]

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[It's the shower murder from 04:55 again.]

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A cheerful guitar chord.

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About the show

Switchblade Sisters is a podcast providing deep cuts on genre flicks from a female perspective. Every week, film critic April Wolfe sits down with a phenomenal female film-maker to slice-and-dice a classic genre movie – horror, exploitation, sci-fi and many others! Along the way, they cover craft, the state of the industry, how films get made, and more. Mothers, lock up your sons, the Switchblade Sisters are coming!

Follow @SwitchbladePod on Twitter and join the Switchblade Sisters Facebook group. Email them at switchbladesisters@maximumfun.org.

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