When writing screenplays or making films, you hear about certain rules that you should never break. The film Violet breaks them all and it not only works, but it also creates a memorable experience. Violet had its world premiere at SXSW Online 2021, which ran March 16-21.
Of course, films don’t break rules, filmmakers do. In the case of Violet, the screenwriter, producer, and director came in one package named Justine Bateman. If your memory is as long as mine, you may remember her as Mallory Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s sister on the 1980s sitcom Family Ties. More recently, you might have seen her on Desperate Housewives as Ellie Leonard. In recent years Bateman has turned to producing and directing, which brings us to Violet and those rules.
Rules and Violet
Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) plays the character Violet. Violet works as a film development executive. That’s the person who takes a script, convinces people to fund it, and finds producers and other key staff to get it made.
Violet is successful, but uncertain about her self-worth. Here’s where the rule-breaking begins. The maxim for filmmakers is “show, don’t tell.” Violet breaks that rule throughout the film in two different ways.
First, we know what Violet thinks, because we see it printed on the screen in a handwriting font. It pops up next to Oliva Munn or sometimes all around her.
But there is another voice in her head. A guiding voice that has been giving her all the wrong advice. This inner voice, portrayed by Justin Theroux, is the one that tells her she is not good enough and that she shouldn’t take chances.
And, although you’re not supposed to do anything like that, Bateman did, and it works beautifully. We care about Violet and her struggles. Will she progress in her career? Will she find the right guy? What about her relationship with her family? Violet explores all of that.
After the film, actress, filmmaker Amy Seimetz led a panel discussion about Violet with Bateman, Munn, and actor Luke Bracey (Hacksaw Ridge), who plays Red, Violet’s romantic interest.
Seimetz asked Bateman about a visual element of the film. While Violet is undergoing internal stress, a montage of the worst things ever posted to the Internet speeds by – bloody deaths, crashes, rotting animals in timelapse. Seimetz wanted to know why Bateman used this.
Bateman explained, “I wanted this to be more of an experience for the audience, rather than just a film they could watch. I wanted the actors to be as honest and raw as possible.”
Seimetz asked Munn what she thought as she first read the script.
“I loved the story,” Munn said. “Showing someone struggling with the duality of the internal to what they show in the world. They crash together and that’s the Violet you get. If you can’t silence the voice in your head, the product you put out to the world is pretty messy.”
Bracey also liked the script. “There is something so unique about the script that Justine wrote,” he said. “That inner monologue we all have inspired me. Having to be honest not to just the world, but to yourself.”
Bateman had praise for Munn: “Olivia did such a great job of showing someone who is just holding it together. No matter what Violet does it’s banging on her. So, you have this pressure cooker going on throughout the film. You might think, ‘No, it only feels like a paper cut.’ But when you get those cuts over and over again, it really begins to hurt. You start shutting all your instincts down and listening to your fear.”
Both Munn and Bracey had praise for Bateman’s directing style.
Bracey said, “Having Justine steer the ship, coming from an acting background, was amazing. Justine gave you the confidence to follow your instincts. It was more like a play than a film. It was ‘Instinct. Go!’”
Munn observed that there were very few takes, and they were long. “Justine had the plan,” she said, “and we loved her vision. For me, it was so refreshing. Most directors don’t give you that rawness.”
Seimetz asked Bateman about the process of getting the film made.
Bateman recalled raising the money. “It was a year and a half of every day just hustling. We hustled anybody we could think of who had money or knew somebody who had money or some production company that had money. But people would read the script and say, ‘I wish I had seen this 10 years ago. It would have saved me so much therapy.’”