After years as an assistant director, Susan Walter steps into her first feature directing effort with All I Wish. Centering on a fashion buyer with dreams of becoming a designer, Sharon Stone delivers an engaging performance in the respective role. During our phone conversation, Walter talks about collaborating with Stone, working with the talented cast (which includes Ellen Burstyn and Tony Goldwyn), and the secrets to shooting in Los Angeles sans a big budget.
Why do you think there are very few films like All I Wish, where the lead is a woman who is trying to find herself in her 40s or 50s? It’s a rarity in cinema, and Stone was a great choice.
I really couldn’t tell you. One filmmaker I really admire is, of course, Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated). She’s been doing this for quite a few years now. I have a confession to make – I didn’t initially set out to make a movie about a woman in her 50s finding herself. That was Sharon’s idea when she got the script and it had been written for a 30-year-old.
She said to me, ‘What’s interesting about a 30-year-old who doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up? What about a 50-year-old who doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up?’
As soon as she said that, I realized that was a fresh idea – we would be seeing something that we haven’t seen. I followed her lead. We did it together. She’s my collaborator. She’s my star. I’d love to see more movies like this too.
Did you find your screenplay and journey in making this movie become a deeper experience for you?
That’s a great question because I was in my forties when I finally stepped on the set to direct, even though it had been a longtime dream of mine. For me, to sort of grow into that and making a film about a woman who is growing into the person she ultimately dreams of being made it super personal. So yeah, you’re absolutely right.
Can you talk about the actors speaking into the camera between chapters of the film?
It’s no secret that the film is a little bit of an homage to one of my favorite films of all time – When Harry Met Sally. I needed a device to sort of give the audience a moment to breath in between the birthdays because the film jumps year after year after year. So how do you give the audience a moment to take a breath?
In When Harry Met Sally, they bring in strangers and they talk about how they met and that’s charming. But I thought I can’t exactly do that. How do I deepen it? So instead of picking strangers, I decided to set the characters out of the film to give them a moment to break the fourth wall and reveal a secret about who they are, what they wish for.
My hope was that it would deepen the narrative and in some cases even advance the narrative and you understand who these supporting players are as you see them talking about what they wish for on their birthdays.
Regarding deepening the narrative, is it great having actors such as Ellen Burstyn, Tony Goldwyn and Sharon Stone anchor your storyline?
Oh my gosh. So much easier. The first time I met with Ellen, she flew in from New York and we sat in the hotel room and we looked at the first scenes together. We went through them word by word – I think it took a couple of hours and she really wanted, even though she’s not in a ton of scenes, she was pretty meticulous about developing the backstory of this character and what’s going on in the scene and what’s going on in the years between.
Just to have her, and Tony and Sharon also – what’s so great about coming on the set as a first time director is the actors had so much more experience than I had. They know the work. They know the process and I’m just there to answer questions. A lot of times I didn’t answer them – they asked a question and I would say ‘this is why I came at it that way, but I’m really more interested in how you would resolve that.’ Just giving it back to them and letting them do what they do – because they do it so well.