Kate (left) and Laura Mulleavy share directing duties on the set of their first feature film, “Woodshock.”
SISTERS Kate and Laura Mulleavy ask to meet at the Pacific Dining Car in Downtown Los Angeles, where green-dinner-jacketed waiters serve afternoon tea while Chet Baker plays softly in the background. It served as the ad hoc pre-production office for the movie they’d been incubating for years. After founding their acclaimed fashion line, Rodarte, in 2005, the pair are now taking a page from the Tom Ford playbook and channeling their dreamy aesthetic into feature films. Their cinematic debut, “Woodshock” — which they wrote and directed — stars Kirsten Dunst and hits theaters Sept. 22.
“Both film and fashion are about a natural instinct and being open to following that,” Kate, 38, tells us. “They’re very different processes but both of them involve an extreme desire to bring something to life.”
“Woodshock” centers on Theresa (played by Dunst), whose grief snowballs into chaos and paranoia as she experiments with a lethal drug. Through the movie, the audience is largely left in the dark about why Theresa falls down this particular rabbit hole. “[We created] a character where you have a stream-of-consciousness experience,” explains Kate. “It’s not a film based on explanation of her behavior.”
Kate and Laura found plenty of creative common ground between fashion and filmmaking, along with some refreshing distinctions. “Our main job at Rodarte was to protect it, and to protect the creative identity and the integrity behind what we do, which is something that you really have to do when you create a film,” says Laura, 37. “Fashion design is about a series of repetitive motions and this cycle of developing ideas, questioning your choices. But the film was taking that thing that you do in six months and dividing it over five years with 300 people.”
Kirsten Dunst stars in the movie, playing a grieving woman whose drug experiments are presented in a chimeric, stream-of-consciousness style.
The sisters previously worked with director Todd Cole to create a series of short films for Rodarte. They also worked on costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s celebrated 2010 movie, “Black Swan,” an experience that inspired them to make their own movie.
“There’s such a small percentage of women directing films, you realize why a lot of people may feel that that job is not achievable to them,” says Laura. And so, like our cover star Lake Bell, the Mulleavys decided to create their own opportunity. “What’s amazing is knowing that when we came to the table with this unique project, there are other people out there who will do that too,” she continues. “People are questioning the status quo.”
As with Rodarte, the sisters shared filmmaking duties: writing together, scouting together, editing together. Kate and Laura also collaborated on the wardrobe with costume designer Christie Wittenborn. The film’s elegant use of reflections, scale (much of the movie is set among unfathomably huge redwood trees) and disorientation creates an unearthly, glittering, nebulous effect that echoes their fashion collections.
“[Making films] is something I just know I love,” says Kate. “I can finally get all these creative things in me and figure out a way of pulling them all together and getting them out into the world. As a woman that’s a really empowering feeling.”
Photos Courtesy of Autumn DeWilde, A24