It’s always a delight to see an actor and a director collaborate on several projects, though it is a little rare to see them team up during the early part of their career just as they’re taking off in the industry. We’re referring to actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij who have both catapulted the other’s career into a higher level than they could have ever imagined. This time around they’re tackling a rather controversial topic of corruption within the system in their latest movie “The East.”
Not only did Brit and Zal work as actor and director on the project, but they were co-writers on the script as well. Their vast knowledge in the topics of today combined with their determination to let everyone know that they can make a difference and change the system for the better easily stands out in this movie. We got the chance to speak with the two about their strong viewpoints on corporations in America, how to change it and the overall process of creating “The East.”
We see so much discontent in the film, so where was the line drawn for you guys that made you think we have to make this a film?
Brit Marling: I feel like it came recently. Maybe part of it was even being out here in Hollywood and trying to make movies and the difficultly of making movies when it comes to making different kinds of stories or trying to tell it differently, having strong female protagonists. At that time we hadn’t really started doing the jobs we do now. We weren’t an actor and a director, we were just young people who couldn’t get the jobs we wanted to do and were trying to make sense of our experience. We were reading a lot of things about direct action groups. We were also reading a lot of things about corporate crimes. What’s so interesting about this movie is that The East is a fabrication but all the corporate crimes are just borrowed from the headlines of things. The financial crisis and the aftermath and how it was handled, where things are with the banks, you could just kind of look around and you’re like really? Is this the best we can do? And we’re not really talking about it. Then there becomes this energy, the discontent or the frustration that creates an energy source for telling a story that’s set in this landscape about what everybody seems to be thinking and feeling at this point.
What was the atmosphere like on set? Was everybody just one big happy family to a degree like it is on film with the group?
Zal Batmanglij: It was not only true for the actors but for the crew. The entire crew, some of them would sometimes cry during certain scenes. It felt like a family and I didn’t really try to make that happen, it just happened because people believed in what we were doing. I think the crew at first was a little suspicious, but when the soup scene happened during the first Friday of shooting, they all lined up and shook my hand and said “Can we shake your hand? We like your movie. We get it now.” So that was nice.
Is there any movies in similar theme to “The East” that influenced this film?
Zal Batmanglij: Yes, big time. “Children of Men.” The movies of the 70s like “Parallax View” or “All The President’s Men.” Those wonderful thrillers of the 70s that married the feelings of that time, the frustrations and anxieties of that time with the thriller genre. I think that a thriller is a great way to talk about these things.
Where exactly did the whole straitjacket dinner scene come from?
Zal Batmanglij: It’s from a parable that Brit and I love. It’s a parable that heaven and hell are the same thing. They’re a banquet and it’s filled with amazing spoons with long spoons and they’re just out of reach while being chained together. In heaven they’re feeding each other, and in hell they’re just trying to get the food and they’re starving. Brit said that for her, it’s the idea that heaven and hell is about who we are, what we bring to the table. It isn’t about the circumstances. It’s about the people. So we tried to visualize that and we came up with the straitjacket.
What do you do on a daily basis in order to fight against these corporations outside from your own work?
Brit Marling: I think part of it is just trying to make your life smaller and more meaningful, more about connecting with other people and less about consumer culture and the incessant thing to advance and buy things. Pay more attention to your environment. Also a huge part of it is just getting this film made. It was an intense endeavor and years of our lives so you hope that you can make something that’s entertaining and that enters the world well, that carries along some questions.
Zal Batmanglij: We’re not against some corporations as much as we are against the dehumanization of our society which of course a corporation can lead to because there’s no accountability. People can… the only accountability you see from corporations is that they get fined. They get fined like tiny fines. We get fined more for traffic violations proportional to our income than corporations get fined for huge grievances.
Brit Marling: Part of the problem is when you make everything about profit. The profit is like where money is the god, and that’s where all of the power comes from.
Zal Batmanglij: And growth. I think people right now, everyone is very afraid of messing with the economy, so no one wants the economy wants to go downhill because they’re afraid of the consequences of that. Therefore, if you really put bankers in jail, it would devalue the stock of a certain bank. Let’s say you put the CEO’s of a certain bank who’ve committed real crimes like money laundering. If you put them in jail, then a huge bank will fold, and that will start a worldwide economic collapse, and people are so afraid of that.
Brit Marling: They’re like the former monarchs and kings.
Zal Batmanglij: They’re untouchable. It’s too big to jail instead of too big to fail.
“The East” is out in theaters now.