She is the woman behind Dedication Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Selina Sondermann: My name is Selina Sondermann. I am a European writer and director, currently based in Berlin, Germany.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?
Selina Sondermann: I’ve always been a story teller. As a child, my repertoire ranged from writing stories to drawing little comic strips, and I also dabbled in acting. Growing up in Austria the most realistic option seemed to work in theatre – film appeared like such an outlandish concept reserved for Hollywood – but as part of a school project in 2010 I wrote, directed, produced and starred in a horrible little short film. Despite the botched result, I felt like I had found my vocation.
SKSM: When did you make Dedication? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Selina Sondermann: Production started in the summer of 2018. As it was part of my MA Directing program I had started pre-production at the beginning of the year. I spent a long time writing and rewriting the script. It took some time for me to find out where I could take liberties and where it was better to stick to the original narrative. The casting process helped me very much in terms of refining the script. I didn’t hold formal auditions but I met all my potential Marthas for coffee. It was essential for a woman of colour to have the final say in Martha’s characterisation. It took us a week to film everything, but we spent 6 months in postproduction.
Money is always a sensitive subject. But I will say this: Dedication had the highest budget of any of my previous films, and it still wasn’t enough to pay everyone the rate they deserve for their hard work. We had a successful Kickstarter campaign that covered a portion of the budget but I am still working to pay off what the film cost me. That’s the drawback of a Dollar Baby film, it is hard to get people to invest in a project that can never create a return.
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
Selina Sondermann: Somebody told me about the Dollar Baby program right when I finished my Bachelor degree in Filmmaking, so when I went back to school for my Master’s I knew I wanted to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had always written my own stories, so to adapt a script from somebody else’s source material was a new challenge for me. It definitely happened at the right time, I believe that without any experience the translation of a story from one medium to another is very difficult.
SKSM: How come you picked Dedication to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Selina Sondermann: Truth be told, I didn’t particularly like Dedication as a story, which is exactly why I wanted to make the film. In my opinion there should always be a reason for an adaptation. Yes, I absolutely wanted to make a film based on a story by Stephen King but I also felt that I had to contribute and not just make it for the sake of seeing my name next to his in the credits. Survivor Type was on the Dollar Baby list for a long time and it’s my favourite short story of his, but I didn’t want to adapt it because I didn’t feel I would really add anything in doing so. The story works so well because in its diary form we see and feel the main character’s mental health deteriorating. Film doesn’t offer the same experience.
As far as Dedication goes, the story is somewhat problematic in its depiction of a woman of color. At no point in the original story does Martha Rosewall make any decision for herself. She is a passive bystander in her own life – basically the opposite of what we mean when we ask for a “strong female lead”. What particularly bothered me was that the magic ritual was performed without her consent.
Furthermore the reason for the supernatural intervention: exchanging the father in-utero so her child could inherit creative talent from a misanthropic white writer is particularly tone-deaf and at best a very naive approach to genetics. I was intrigued by the possibility of a modern re-examination and the potential to be of help in executing what I believe Stephen King meant to be a story about a mother’s dedication to her child.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Selina Sondermann: In order to prepare for the film (which is set almost entirely in a hotel) I started to work in Housekeeping – I’m a bit of a method writer/method director. I feel very strongly about representation in film and making sure a character’s personal experience is portrayed truthfully and with empathy. Because my background is so different from Martha’s, I felt like this was the least I could do to find her and get close to her. After we wrapped the film, I kept the job to earn some money back. Suddenly all these weird things started happening, that were just like in the film: I found blood stains on bedsheets, I met a colleague named Martha, I had encounters with rude guests. It was an eery case of life imitating art.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Selina Sondermann: Films are meant to be seen so it’s always a pity when they don’t reach their intended audience. At the same time festivals all want to have some sense of exclusivity so it makes sense that there is a limitation to distribution. At this point I have no idea how far this film will go but if Mr. King re-evaluates the terms on internet publication, I’d be happy to share the film in the future.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Selina Sondermann: So far there has only been a small university screening, where at a pivotal scene of the film there came a resounding “What the fuck?” from the audience. I was ecstatic. It’s not easy to startle an audience, to create something unexpected and elicit such an honest response. In my work I don’t aim to please, I think “okay” is the worst review you can get for a film, so I am truly happy that I managed to perturb some people.
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Selina Sondermann: We have submitted to several medium-sized festivals this year and are waiting to hear back from them, hoping to premiere the film this fall. Then there are also several smaller festivals that tie into the fantasy and women niche that we plan to submit to next year.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
Selina Sondermann: Absolutely. He’s my most-read author. My favourite works of his is his “feminist trilogy”: Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game and Rose Madder.
My favourite film adaptations are Carrie (1976), The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Selina Sondermann: We’re just preparing the DVD to send to him. We’ll let you know should we hear back from him personally.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Selina Sondermann: I was under the assumption that the Dollar Baby program was open only to film students so now that I’ve graduated I’m not sure I’d be eligible for the short stories any longer. But I’m hereby happily offering myself to direct Rose Madder. The novel has really stuck with me and it has been an inspiration for my version of Dedication. So far it’s one of the few works of Stephen King that haven’t been adapted yet, and it is one that definitely needs a female director!
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Selina Sondermann: I’ve been doing more writing lately, narrative fiction as well as screenplays.
SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Selina Sondermann: I’m not sure… That I have a cameo appearance in Dedication? Maybe that’s surprising to some.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Selina Sondermann: Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts! It’s an honour. Thank you for reading!