Fighting for Survival Alongside Antonia Bogdanovich

Paste talks to the filmmaker about her debut as director, and what it means to both live up to her father's name and be a woman in the industry.

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Bogdanovich is a last name many cinephiles know well. With it come two Oscar nominations and well-respected titles like The Last Picture Show, Mask and Targets. Writer-director-actor Peter Bogdanovich could claim all the credit if it weren’t for another filmmaker by the same name making her own way into the industry: Antonia, daughter of the famous filmmaker, has just released her feature debut, Phantom Halo.

After acting in films in her childhood alongside Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, and then going on to study at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Antonia worked in journalism for LA Weekly and CBS. All along, she possessed a love for the theatre, directing regional shows in Charleston, South Carolina. But, as she puts it, “I think I always knew I’d go back to film.”

With Phantom Halo, she explores close-knit familial dynamics, namely between brothers Beckett (Luke Kleintank) and Samuel Emerson (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Struggling to support themselves as their alcoholic father, Warren (Sebastian Roché), continues to gamble, the boys turn to Shakespeare and comic books for comfort, until Beckett gets himself mixed into a dangerous counterfeiting operation. The brothers must step up and make crucial choices for their family

Paste had a chance to talk with Bogdanovich about her winding road to filmmaking, her experience in theatre and her devoted affinity for Lady Macbeth.

Paste: You’ve worked as an actress, a journalist and now a filmmaker. Did you always know you wanted to end up making your own films?
Antonia Bogdanovich: I wanted to be a filmmaker. I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a director. I thought about producing, I probably thought about doing something that involved filmmaking. I remember telling my mother when I was fifteen, “I don’t want to go to college. I just want to work.” That’s what I did for about three years and then I decided I didn’t know about life! I went back to school to educate myself, but I think I always knew I’d go back to film.

Paste: You went to Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting—it’s an amazing program. Was there a moment in your training where you had an epiphany that you didn’t want to just pursue acting?
Bogdanovich: My teacher at RADA, who directed a bunch of plays in West London, he was really critical of my work, mostly in that he kept saying, “You’re directing and you need to be an actress and take direction!” I would get quite a bit that my temperament was [that of] a director, but I just completely ignored it because of my dad. I definitely did not have the temperament as an actress because I just couldn’t take the rejection. You just keep getting rejected because you’re not physically right [for the parts]. I was a singer and dancer but I wasn’t an actress.

Paste: How has your work in the theatre affected you as a film director?
Bogdanovich: Definitely working with actors and understanding the kind of pressure they would have on a set helped; being able to have weeks and weeks of rehearsal. Would I want to direct more theatre? Yeah! You’re so much closer in a theatre setting. You get a test screening every night! Oh, that didn’t work: You can change every night. With a film, you only have a day to shoot a certain amount of footage. I think naturally I know what I want and I know that directing is the best job for me because it’s instinctual. I know whether I have it or I don’t. I really relied on that in this movie. If it didn’t sit well with me and I moved on anyways, it was because I was frustrated with the actor or I was running out of time. Some of it, I was able to fix with ADR. The second time, I was able to edit around it. It was a lesson learned!

Paste: This film is your first feature and you also had a short that was the launching pad. Why choose this story? It feels personal to me.
Bogdanovich: It’s very personal—it’s good that you see that! I have two sisters and a brother and definitely the older brother is emotionally based on me and the younger brother is based on my sister.

Paste: Was writing about this cathartic, then?
Bogdanovich: It was definitely cathartic in that I don’t feel like I need to tell the story again of my childhood. The comic book in the story is the fact that I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid. My parents, especially my dad, had a certain standard of what we could and couldn’t watch in his house. My mother too, but she wasn’t as stringent and she wasn’t around as much. I really didn’t watch TV. I didn’t like it growing up. There were some shows I wanted to watch that my dad wouldn’t let me watch. It’s that thing like, You have bad taste and it’s lowbrow. But you’re wrong, Dad. Just because it isn’t Mozart, doesn’t mean it’s not good music. It’s that thing we all struggle with.

Paste: So what films were the Shakespeare films you grew up on or did you read the plays?
Bogdanovich: I introduced myself to Shakespeare. I watched a couple of really great Orson Welles films. I started reading the plays when I was 17 and got completely fascinated with them. Kenneth Branagh did Henry V and I loved that! When I was traveling Europe I would make sure and stop in London. I always went to the National Theatre and saw as many plays as I could.

Paste: You’ve said your favorite character is Lady Macbeth. How do you feel like that relates to your work as a female filmmaker? She’s all about battling the man for power!
Bogdanovich: I’ve never had that question asked! I wish that I could just be not male or female. People may not consider women minorities, but we are. I just want to be identified as a filmmaker. I’m worried I wont be able to work because I’m a female. Yeah, Lady Macbeth was looked upon as unattractive and negative, a dark character, but she was—
Paste: Fighting for survival.
Bogdanovich: Yeah! It’s hard to see some of these big studio movies that I know that I could accomplish and deliver on and I may not get the chance because I’m female. I think that’s changing, slowly… I think we all should be given that chance. Not to mention, I’ve worked on so many studio films; I don’t bring my emotions to work [nor do I hold a grudge for] all the things women have held against them. That’s something that I’m going to have to contend with.

Paste: What’s next for you?
Bogdanovich: I want to direct a WWII movie that my parents wrote a long time ago that I revised. It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Schindler’s List. It’s a heist movie set in Warsaw in WWII. It’s a big action movie. I’d like to work with some really great actors in their early 40s. I’d really like to do a commercial film that’s also got a lot a heart and I feel like this is like that. I have a smaller dark comedy that’s female-driven. It’s one of two projects—and [I’m just going to] go with it!

Meredith Alloway is a Texas native and a freelance contributor for Paste, Flaunt, Complex, Nylon, CraveOnline, Press Play on Indiewire and The Script Lab. She writes for both TV and film and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare nerd. You can follow her on Twitter.