After graduating from Southern Methodist University, Texas born and raised writer-director Lauren Hadaway went on to forge a career as a dialogue and ADR supervisor, working on movies like Justice League (both cuts), The Hateful Eight, and Whiplash. Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film proved particularly impactful on her, and she describes her intense, utterly gripping debut feature The Novice as “Whiplash with shades of Black Swan set in the college rowing world”.
Her semi-autobiographical film world premiered at Tribeca in June, where it won multiple awards including Best US Narrative, Best Actress for Isabelle Fuhrman, and Best Cinematography for Todd Martin. Ahead of The Novice screening at Outfest LA 2021 on Wednesday August 18th at 7:15pm, as the festival’s U.S. Centerpiece, 2018 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Fellow Lauren Hadaway had an exclusive chat with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: What’s the draw for you of film as a creative outlet?
Lauren Hadaway: “Writing The Novice was cathartic for me. I essentially took four years of rowing and ten years of coming of age and wrote Alex’s story.”
How has your work on major studio movies prepared you for making your debut feature as writer-director?
“Most of my sound work has been as a dialogue and ADR supervisor, which is not a very “sexy” job on paper, but it is actually pretty cool. I spent a lot of time on ADR (dubbing) stages with actors and directors, and tons of time on the mix stage with editors, directors, and producers, working with a lot of my heroes. It gave me a unique education and the confidence to pursue directing, even if I didn’t have the “traditional” first time director experience of tons of short films, commercials, and music videos.”
What was your approach to sound in The Novice, and what storytelling and filmic potential to you think the element of sound has?
“A big creative question for The Novice was, how do I make an audience who knows nothing about rowing feel what it’s like to row? What it’s like to almost black out? To be tunnel-vision obsessed? For me, everything on screen and coming out of the speakers was an opportunity to help put the audience in Alex’s headspace. Coming from a sound world, I know firsthand how underutilized this relatively cheap tool is, even though it’s half the cinematic experience. I just tried to push it. In the words of Craig Mann—who I worked with back in 2013 as a baby sound person—who mixed Whiplash, “Let’s fucking break it!” I’m not one for subtlety.”
To what extent is the film autobiographical?
“I essentially took four years of rowing and ten years of coming of age and wrote The Novice. A lot of the most traumatic emotional scenes were pulled from breakups, while the physically traumatic elements were pulled from my experience as a rower. They were either things I experienced firsthand, saw in teammates, or spoke to other rowers about.”
The film’s editing is impeccable, why was it important to you to be one of the editors on the film?
“I truly believe the cliché that you make a film three times: when you write it, when you direct it, and when you edit it. I do have a background in editing and was eager to see some of the more visual scenes put together while we were shooting, so I just started cutting on our “off” days. Once we wrapped, I kept going. It wasn’t so much planned as it was an organic progression of the writing and directing process. It was also marvelous working with my co-editor Nathan Nugent who brought a fresh take to a tired story, and I’m guessing—assuming I’m fortunate enough to make another film—that I’ll continue working this way in the future.”
What does it mean to you to have this particular work shown at Outfest LA 2021?
“Outfest was an early champion of The Novice, the script went through the 2018 Outfest screenwriting lab, so it’s nice to come full circle. But more than that, I hope LGBTQ+ audiences will be excited to see a film with a queer character where the film’s plot has absolutely nothing to do with the character’s sexuality.”
What was your approach to handling Alex’s sexuality in the film?
“The approach was that there was no approach. I didn’t want there to be any kind of message narrative attached to her sexuality. She is who she is. While we need stories of coming out and the oppression that LGBTQ+ people face, I think we are severely lacking stories where a character’s sexuality isn’t even a thing. To me, that’s the next frontier. I’m waiting for a superhero film or assassin film where the macho sexy dude goes home to his husband.”
What do you make of The Novice being compared to Whiplash and Black Swan?
“Those are two of my favorite films so of course it’s an honor.”
Which filmmakers do you most admire and find inspiring?
“I really admire and aspire to Damien Chazelle’s career. I remember the first time I saw Whiplash in the editing room, before it hit Sundance, before anyone knew a thing about that film. It blew my mind. Seeing his career grow and reading about his origin story really inspired me when it came to setting out to write and direct. When we were shooting The Novice and it felt like everything was going wrong, a quote I read from him about making Whiplash really kept me going, it was something like, ‘every day felt like walking the tight rope between creating something really beautiful and utter, crushing disaster’. That made me feel like I wasn’t fucking things up more than those who’d come before me.”
By James Kleinmann
Lauren Hadaway’s The Novice screens in-person at Outfest LA 2021 at the DGA on Wednesday August 18th at 7:15pm and screens virtually August 19th – 21st.
IFC Films will release The Novice on December 17th 2021.
The first time I read about this film and learned about Alex’s sexuality, I thought it would be a more dramatic/romantic movie about her love life, but I loved learning about this different proposal from Hadaway.