When best friends Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini began a writing project together, little did they know they would soon form a production company and decamp to Rhode Island to codirect a 31-person cast on an intense 27-day film shoot in 65 locations.
But the hard work paid off. Their first feature, “Tanner Hall,” premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival tonight, followed by a celebration hosted by Graydon Carter and Toronto entrepreneur Miles Nadal.
The duo, who met at Brown University, mined their memories of British boarding school for the coming-of-age story following four girls as they deal with overbearing mothers, first loves and a bit of rule-breaking. “Both of us exist in every single character,” says von Furstenberg, whose designer mom Diane donated the fictional Tanner Hall school uniforms for the tiny budget indie. (There’s no music from Gregorini’s step-dad Ringo Starr, however).
Here, she and Gregorini speak to WWD about writing in bed, working with Amy Sedaris and their first film festival.
WWD: How did you come up with the idea of doing a film together?
Tatiana von Furstenberg: I’ve always been a storyteller since I was little — kernels of things I’d seen that then I’d balloon into an enormous popcorn. There was some question as to whether they were really lies, but my grandmother always defended me and encouraged me. Then Francesca and I met and she became my next set of ears.
Francesca Gregorini: We were walking and she was telling one of her many boarding school stories. It occurred to me we should write a film together. We left that weekend, checked into a hotel in Ojai and mapped out what would become “Tanner Hall.”
WWD: How was working together?
F.G.: Our friends called us “writers on bed rest,” because a lot of our writing happened in Tatiana’s huge king-size bed. I’d come over, we’d get into bed and start writing.
T.V.F.: Writing and editing with somebody is very difficult but the companionship and the laughter are worth it.
WWD: For a small indie film, the cast is pretty impressive, including up-and-comer Rooney Mara (Kate’s little sister), Tom Everett Scott, Chris Kattan and Amy Sedaris. How did you get them?
F.G.: We took months casting. We weren’t familiar with any of the girls beforehand….[As for Amy], Tatiana and I are such fans. She brought herself — we have the most insane s–t that unfortunately we couldn’t use. That took quite a bit of editing.<
WWD: Was it difficult to work with such a small budget?
T.V.F.: We really stretched the dollars.…My comforters, my sheets and my curtains are in the dorm rooms. My own clothes from my back are on the girls.
WWD: Are you nervous about entering the film festival fray?
F.G.: I’ve developed a sleep disorder. It’s nerve-wracking — it’s like taking your baby to the first day of school. “Hope you survive.”
T.V.F.: I just hope that I am grounded and able to accept whatever I have to. I just want this movie to be enjoyed. The part I’m proudest of is that it is a really truthful coming-of-age story and there’s no judgment. S–t happens.