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​Collecting Movies with Nicole Rodenburg

Cinema | February 19th, 2022

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

Nicole Rodenburg is the New York-based actor, writer and director. She’s known for her work developing new plays with our most groundbreaking and lauded contemporary playwrights, starring in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick,” Samuel D. Hunter’s “The Whale,” and Ming Peiffer’s “Usual Girls” at the Roundabout Theatre Company.

“Glob Lessons,” written with longtime collaborator Colin Froeber, received the Prairie Spirit Award and honorable mention from the 2022 Fargo Film Festival and will screen on Saturday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre. Nicole and Colin will appear live on stage for some conversation immediately following the film. Tickets are $12 and go on sale at noon on February 22.

Greg Carlson: In the early days of the Fargo Film Festival’s 2-Minute Movie Contest, you and Colin submitted a movie called “Deed I Do.” I still think about it.

Nicole Rodenburg: I believe it was the second thing I made with Colin. The first thing was a movie we made for our drama teacher Gwen Stark called “Study Date.” With echoes of “Glob Lessons,” it was an odd couple story. “Deed I Do” was based on a very short story from a book Colin had. “Study Date” had dialogue, but it didn’t sound like movie dialogue – I didn’t know how to make it sound like a movie. That was so frustrating to us. So we switched to making movies that were set to music. No synchronous dialogue.

GC: By doing without dialogue, you and Colin became pure visual storytellers.

NR: “Deed I Do” got second place that year. We were really proud. I listed the honor on my college audition resume.

GC: What movies inspired you and Colin as filmmakers?

NR: I remember watching “Casablanca” together. I got really fixated on “Mulholland Dr.” I watched that movie with everybody I knew. You could not come to my house without having to watch “Mulholland Dr.” with me.

GC: What was the first movie you saw that made you realize you wanted to be part of moviemaking?

NR: I think it was two things. “The Little Mermaid” is the first movie I remember seeing in the theater. The experience left a big impression on me. I believed that the creatures and the animals who appeared in the film were hidden behind the curtains that line the sides of the auditorium. I was sure Sebastian the crab was backstage until he made his entrance on the screen. I was obviously crossing my theatre and film wires.

The other thing I was obsessed with was the 1960 performance of Mary Martin doing “Peter Pan.” I enlisted all the kids at my daycare to help me put together my adaptation. Even as a four-year-old, I wanted my production to get picked up as a CBS Saturday morning TV show. I convinced some of the kids to make costumes out of paper but I had to give it up when my mom wouldn’t allow me to fly off the balcony in a harness.

GC: How long have you been in New York?

NR: Since 2009.

GC: In New York, you move around. You have to minimize physical possessions.

NR: I used to hang on to a lot more of my DVDs. Once I started moving around I put them in binder sleeves. When streaming started taking off, I let even more discs go. The change to Blu-ray, yet another format, was another factor that had the effect of steering me even more to streaming.

My ex-partner, the filmmaker Dean Peterson, maintained a physical Netflix account. So we rented Blu-rays of movies we really wanted to see. But in New York, you also have access to some of the best movie presentations in the world. You can go watch a 70mm print. That’s hard to top.

I was in this play called “The Flick” by Annie Baker about three people working in a movie theater in Massachusetts with the last motion picture film projector. The setting of the show is the period of time when digital technology was replacing the way we had watched movies for decades and decades. I played a projectionist. So that also got me thinking about the differences in consuming media. It wasn’t really something I had considered before that time in my life.

GC: What was the first movie you collected?

NR: When I was a teenager, my mom bought me the Stanley Kubrick box set for Christmas. Those were the first DVDs in the house that were mine. At that point I had only seen “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange,” so it was an introduction to an entire world that I did not yet have the artistic maturity to fully understand.

GC: Your mom is brilliant.

NR: She is. And my dad was a projectionist. So I received some knowledge and had some awareness about how movies were presented in different settings and contexts. A lot of my introduction to film was through my dad. We regularly went to the movies when I was a kid.

As an older teen, me and my pal Matthew Bakko would go to the Fargo Theatre every Sunday after church. We would just watch whatever was playing. For me, you can't replicate the experience of seeing movies in the theater. You get to share a powerful experience with other people at the same time.

GC: Did you have conversations with your parents about the kinds of movies you were watching then?

NR: I think once I was old enough to want to see certain movies, my parents gave me the freedom to investigate on my own. And I am grateful for that. I remember getting together with friends to watch “Requiem for a Dream” after the Trollwood mainstage musical ended. Kids just really want to feel things!

GC: How did “Glob Lessons” begin?

NR: We started writing in 2013. Colin and I have written together since high school. And he had moved to New York after doing a theatrical tour like the one depicted in “Glob Lessons.” Working creatively has always been the glue of our friendship. Mrs. Stark’s drama class was so incredible because it was focused on creating.

GC: She has inspired so many people.

NR: She definitely has. Colin and I had become acquainted through theatre and had the same larger friend group, but we paired off because we knew each other from drama class. Once we started imagining, it was like wildfire. To be able to think of something and have the other person think it at the same time – we’d draw the same connections. We had two brains processing in tandem. The older we get, we not only understand ourselves better, we understand the differences in our minds better, too. We make each other laugh. We make each other feel understood. Everything we did was so much fun that we could not stop working together.

GC: Are you writing another movie with Colin?

NR: Yes. I have a script that I want to make. And I hope it will be our next film, in the same kind of low-budget world that “Glob Lessons” comes from. We’re also collaborating on a longer term project about our mutual curiosity regarding the turn of the millennium and growing up in a religious community, which Fargo really was at the time. Religion was such a part of the landscape. We don’t want to do a takedown of religion. It is more the thematic basis for how we learned, at a formative age, to interpret the world. But it’s still going to be funny.

GC: “Glob Lessons” is your feature directorial debut. Where did you look for inspiration?

NR: I met Dean when he was making his second feature, “What Children Do.” He saw me in “The Flick” and reached out to me. When we met up, we exchanged scripts that very day. I thought he just wanted me to read his screenplay. I did not immediately understand that he was offering me a role in his movie.

Dean encouraged me to make “Glob Lessons.” I said, “Of course I want to do that but I have no idea where to start.” Being an actor is a hard profession. You have to wait around for someone to choose you. And I have a lot of creative energy. But I had no idea how one became a filmmaker. It just felt so far away. Dean reminded me that no one knew these characters better than we did and encouraged me to direct it myself.

Directing a movie is a lot of work. And it never stops. “Glob Lessons” is still my responsibility, with Colin, all these years on. My friend Grace Rex, who played my sister in “What Children Do,” is an experimental filmmaker. Her short “Others” was at Slamdance last year. So getting to know some of these artists made the idea of moviemaking seem more feasible to me.

After we finished the first draft of “Glob Lessons,” I took a class in low-budget, independent filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. That is when I started to get the pieces of how movies get put together. How to budget. How to break down a script. How to schedule. All the different tasks and positions.

GC: Did you see any movies that stoked the fire?

NR: Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” inspired me to keep working toward the goal. The seething jealousy that I felt after seeing it made me realize that this was something I wanted to do myself. Jealousy can function as a North Star that outlines and defines something that a person aspires to do. The year after “Tiny Furniture” came out, Brit Marling co-wrote, produced, and starred in “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth.” Suddenly, it seemed possible for me to do this.

As invested in the arts as I was, seeing these young women take their own voices so seriously and not only that, seeing that the world took them seriously, made me realize I might have something worth contributing to the conversation as well.

GC: Have you watched “Glob Lessons” on a huge screen in a theater with an audience yet?

NR: No. Colin got to see it in Tampa when it played in a festival there. I did see it at a festival in Fort Worth. The screening was in an art museum. So seeing it in March at the Fargo Theatre with a hopefully large group of people is going to be my first time viewing it like that. And the Fargo Theatre is my favorite place to see movies. Ever.

GC: It is for me as well. I have only seen “Glob Lessons” streaming as part of Tribeca, so I cannot wait to watch it with an audience.

NR: There’s a scene in the movie that takes place in the Fargo Theatre. A dramatic moment when the lights come up and Colin walks across the stage after having performed in cafeterias and libraries. I think I’m just going to lose my mind. 

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