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PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

About The Production
Professor Marston & The Wonder Women was shot in Massachusetts-mostly in the Boston area- over a concentrated twenty-five days. The time and budgetary constraints necessitated a strong team spirit and a hit-the-ground-running enthusiasm.

Fortunately, says Rebecca Hall, writer/director Angela Robinson had provided them with a fascinating, in-depth script that cogently explores the dynamics of a three-way relationship. "It was all right there on the page," Hall enthuses. "It presented everything that is potentially glamorous and exciting about the idea, but also the problems and complications."

In a peculiar way, Hall found that the film harkened back to classic Hollywood romantic comedies, but with a very modern twist. "The story is very colorful. These characters have rich fantasy lives. They're very playful. But it's all rooted in an intellectual reality, which allows them to be quick-witted and verbose. It's a great deal of fun to play such intelligent characters."

Effectively rendering the wit and complex emotions of the characters, depended heavily on the actors' trust for their director, Hall continues. "For Angela, it was all about her art and putting it out into the world. And that's incredibly rewarding for an actor to be around. It makes you feel confident. She's very gentle but at the same time knows precisely what she wants. I love that in a director, because it allows you to be free."

The greatest pleasure of working with Robinson, Luke Evans says, was that she welcomed collaboration. "Angela worked on this project for eight years and she wanted us to understand why we were doing what we were doing and saying what we said. But she was completely open to ideas. It helped to be working with two such incredible actresses on such unusual subject matter. We all connected and thank God we did, because we had to dig quite deep into each other's psyches, physically and mentally. The film would not have worked otherwise."

Heathcote describes the atmosphere on the set as joyous. "Angela was always making us laugh and both my co-stars were irreverent and funny and intelligent. I really trusted Angela, which was important given the sexual demands of the role and the polyamory. She created a very safe space in which to play."

Filming scenes involving nudity and sexual intimacy is often tricky, and this film had the added element of three-way interaction and bondage elements. From her past experience directing the TV series like The L Word, however, Robinson had developed a way to put her actors at ease: Loud music. "I let the actors choose a playlist, then blasted it super loud while they were doing their scenes," says Robinson. "Silence during intimacy can be uncomfortable and make it seem stilted. Using this technique, people get lost in the song and it dissolves their selfconsciousness."

The sex scenes, and particularly the bondage scenes, were approached without judgement, adds Robinson. "Usually in movies, 'kinky' scenes are shot as if what's going on is bad. I wanted to show just the opposite. I was less interested in what they were doing than in their psychological connection. The characters were always checking with each other and who was guiding the sex. Their intent was dramatized and spelled out. There was never any confusion or coercion."

The other vital component in executing Robinson's vision was the assemblage of a talented crew, which included cinematographer Bryce Fortner (Ingrid Goes West, Portlandia), production designer Carl Sprague (Infinitely Polar Bear, the upcoming Proud Mary), and costume designer Donna Maloney (The Reader, The Yellow Birds), who were tasked with bringing a richness and texture to the story, which spanned the 1920s through to the 1940s.

Given the film's limited budget, Fortner's biggest challenge, he says, was maintaining a rich period feel throughout. "The story couldn't feel small or 'indie' because that would cheapen the whole thing."

Fortner and Robinson worked out a visual plan beforehand that enabled them to convey the passage of time, and were careful never to let the film's look take on a nostalgic sheen. "It was important to both of us to keep the look real and grounded," he relates, "especially because it was the kind of story that can get over-romanticized and seem far-fetched if not approached correctly. We agreed that the lighting and camera work should never call attention to itself."

As the film progressed, and there were reversals in the Marston family's life, Fortner sought to hint at the changes visually without being too obvious. "Angela and I didn't want each decade to feel drastically different. I preferred to turn down the color saturation instead. In the beginning the tones were warmer and the sun had more of a presence. As we went along the images became slightly cooler and we see the sun less and less."

Camera movement in the film was limited "and we always did it with a purpose," says Fortner. "I think performance should come first since dramatic momentum is key. If you slow things down on the set by setting up a move and relighting, it has to be for a good reason."

While most of the film was shot in a more classical style, in the more intimate scenes Fortner opted for a handheld camera. "There is something immediate about handheld. It puts us right in there with the characters, which I believe makes those scenes more sensual, and also more real and tangible. The emotion becomes overt instead of us just getting caught up in 'pretty' shots." Like Fortner, production designer Sprague signed on knowing full well the time and budgetary restrictions he was facing. "The whole project became about ignoring those limitations," says Sprague. "We dove in and just made it happen. There was no time to look back."

Fortunately, the environs of Boston provided the production with a great many colorful locations, in particular the large, sprawling Tewksbury Hospital where more than half the film was shot. "Then there was Stonehurst with its magnificent H.H. Richardson interiors which provided all the 19th century Bostonian grandeur one could want," says Sprague.

Crucial period exteriors were shot in downtown Lowell, Blue Hills, Waltham, Wheaton College, as well as Arlington Town Hall and the adjacent Masonic Lodge. "We were fortunate in all these locations were run by incredibly generous historians and curators. Even the location of the Marston house in Lowell belonged to Seth Cooper of the Tsongas Industrial History Center. All these people were as excited as we were to bring life to a past that is so beautifully preserved in these places."

While some of the locations required few if any changes, many sets "were plugged and patched and pushed," Sprague admits. The production lucked into a wholesale deal on reproduction Edison lightbulbs and Sprague's art department unearthed vintage theatrical fixtures. Other searches including finding a period lie detector test, comic book graphics as well as vintage pornography and bondage materials. "It's all out there somewhere," Sprague mentions. "We just had to find it."

Being able to shoot so extensively in Tewksbury was vital to bringing the film in on time and on budget. "We built three major sets at the hospital," says Sprague. "Guyette's store was on the first floor, the DC publishing offices were on the second floor, and the Marston's Cambridge apartment was on the third floor. That last one was the most fun, because we had to open up five old attic bedrooms to create a plausible space. The paint and the windows were already perfect. But we had to lug a 1927 GE cheese box fridge up the stairs, and luckily it didn't burst its coils and leak toxic ninety-year-old ammonia coolant until the day after we finished."

A true find was the Marston family home, which Sprague located in the town of Lowell. "The house was wonderfully untouched and except for some 'groovy' 1960s updates, it had a great Victorian vibe. We embraced all the wear and tear and filled the place with lots of brown furniture. The house's owner joked that it was probably some of the same stuff he'd just gotten rid of at his recent estate sale."

Reflecting on her experience as costume designer on the film, Donna Maloney says, "I don't know how we pulled it off, but we had a great time doing it. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we were all in it together. Everyone was wonderful and collaborative." Organization and teamwork were mandatory since the movie was shooting four or five scenes a day, entailing at least fifteen to twenty costume changes, and even more if the scenes included extras.

After researching the periods that are covered in the film, Maloney turned to vintage warehouses in New York and Pennsylvania. "There's a vintage dealer in Manhattan who contacted his vendors across the country and I chose clothes based on the photographs they sent me," says Maloney. In the early scenes, the characters are wearing real 1920s shirts and blouses." Some suits and outfits were used several times with accessory changes, says Maloney, but that too is true to period and, in particular, to the characters portrayed. "In those days, most men owned only one or two suits and they would change their shirt or tie. It was very realistic."

Dressing background performers sometimes necessitated scouting Boston area vintage clothing stores and finding apparel that approximated the period. "Some of it was done on a wing and a prayer," Maloney recalls. "But let's just say that every item we had was put to use at one point or another."

A true test was creating the two- piece leather "Wonder Woman" outfit Heathcote wears, and which inspired the look of Marston's creation. Unsatisfied with her initial attempts, Maloney turned to a Boston seamstress who had spent many years working for the ballet. "Leather can be complicated to work with and she understood how it needed to form-fit the body. She did an amazing job and then I found these copper wired wings that I appliqued over the bust once the suit was finished that evoked the Wonder Woman symbol. The scene was lit from behind and it looked amazing."

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