“The Novice” is the feature directorial debut from accomplished sound artist Lauren Hadaway. The film follows college student Alex (Isabelle Fuhrman), who finds herself obsessing over whatever she puts her mind toward. Her new focus becomes being a collegiate rower and wanting to move up to Novice status. In addition to rowing, she is working toward a degree she isn’t particularly good at, all the while chasing new relationships.
Cinema Femme had the pleasure of speaking with Lauren Hadaway about her film, her own story as a rower and a driven person, bringing the role of Alex and its physicality to the screen, and how she hopes the film will lead to a discussion about when “enough is enough”. It’s also worth mentioning that Hadaway has an impressive resume working in sound with 48 credits prior to this debut, contributing her skills to critically acclaimed projects like “Whiplash”, “Selma” and “The Hateful Eight”. Her background in sound is reflected in her debut feature through the tensions, emotion and sharpness of rowing. The film is streaming now via the Tribeca Festival.
What was your inspiration for this story?
“The Novice” is inspired by my years as a collegiate rower. I was rowing for four years, and it was an obsessive part of my life. In hindsight, it was somewhat traumatic and it defines me in a lot of ways.
I come from a background in post-production sound, and in November 2016, I hit a stride in my sound career. I went back to this dream I had when I was younger. I ended up getting imposter syndrome in college. At 27, I decided I wanted to transition into writing and directing in five years. At that moment, I really started paying attention to the careers of different directors that I admire, and what stories are getting told. You always come back to the cliché advice to write what you know. I always wanted to tell a story about rowing because it was such a huge part of my life.
You mentioned imposter syndrome. I think it’s something a lot of us feel. What is a way you’ve dealt with that and were there moment where you ended up being like, “whoa, I’m actually good at this?”
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt suddenly empowered or felt like I had all the answers. What I realized instead is that no one has all the answers. There’s a lot of people working in the industry who are pretty successful who I look at and think, ‘if they can do it, I can definitely do it.’ I think it’s a combination of me getting the experience and sitting back and observing that everybody is trying to figure it out and there are no rules.
I wanted to talk to you about the physicality of the film. It’s a film about rowing, and I love the way you showed it through the visuals, the editing and the sound design. Can you talk about the process of doing that, and is what ended up on screen what you had imagined?
One of the creative challenges going into it is rowing isn’t very cinematic. You are rowing in a straight line and races are won by a portion of a boat length, so you’re doing the same motion for five to eight minutes. When it came time to do a whole film about rowing, I was faced with the question of how to make each scene feel different. How does every scene tell a story? There’s love in the film between Alex and Dani, but that is not the love story of the film. The love story is between Alex and the sport of rowing. I really framed the entire relationship with the sport as a relationship: the first spark of seeing the appeal of rowing, the clunky beginnings, the first time you make love, the first fight, the blissful honeymoon phase, and then things start crumbling and it becomes toxic. It becomes a twisted, fucked up thing, and then there’s the breakup. I tried to look at each scene differently and see what is the emotional component that I wanted the audience to feel.
There was a quote in the film, “you gotta know when to quit.” I was wondering if you could tell me about a time when someone told you that you were out of your league and you were like, “no I’m not.” Or a time when you felt like you should quit, but you kept going anyway.
I was obsessed with “Kill Bill” and in college we had to do an editing project where we made a fake trailer. I made a fake trailer for “Kill Bill 3”. I was so proud of this trailer and posted it on YouTube, and one of the comments said something like, “This is the worst thing ever. I hope you never go into the industry. Don’t quit your day job.” And that comment appeared right around the time I was working on “The Hateful Eight”. That stuff fuels me. The best revenge is living well.
Especially since this film is loosely based on you, and it’s your feature directorial debut, what’s a way you’ve grown since making this?
It’s a neurotic character, and I’m a neurotic, driven person to a fault sometimes. Being this way can become self-destructive. It’s important to learn how to manage anxiety when everything is hitting you by stepping away and taking three deep breaths when it feels like the world is about to collapse. I really try to tell myself there’s no point in being anxious. If you can do something about [a problem], then do something about it, and if you can’t do anything about it, there’s no point in worrying about it. If you’re going to procrastinate on something, then worry about it later. I’m constantly on the verge of burning myself out, so I’m trying to find balance.
What do you hope people see in your film?
This film is really my existentialist anthem. Nihilism is this idea that life has no meaning. And to me, life has no meaning, so you have to create your own meaning. Alex’s journey is about figuring out why she’s doing this. For me, if I don’t have a purpose, I have no drive. I need to be building towards something, whether it’s a career or relationships or working on myself. I want people at the end of this to really be asking, was it worth it for Alex? I’d like the film to start a discussion about that.
What advice do you have for emerging female filmmakers?
When you feel lost in this industry, what’s important is to just set a goal. You need a light post to walk towards. For me, I wanted to do a Tarantino film and that’s all I knew. I didn’t know how the industry worked and I didn’t know who to talk to, so I just did research. I set tangible goals. And then you do the steps to work towards it. Everything you are doing should be getting you one step closer to that goal. And just remember that nobody knows what they’re doing.