Director Amanda Micheli talks about meeting Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell, the parallels between the rodeo and stunt worlds and the challenges of getting access to Hollywood sets.
What motivated you to make DOUBLE DARE?
The first seed for the film was planted in 1997, when Karen Johnson [DOUBLE DARE producer] came up with the concept of doing a documentary about stuntwomen after seeing an article in the New Times paper in Los Angeles. Karen had seen my film about rodeo cowgirls, Just for the Ride, and approached me to direct the film. There is a historic connection between the rodeo and stunt worlds, so I was familiar with the history and was intrigued by the concept. That's when I signed on for the labor of love that would become DOUBLE DARE.
How and why did you choose to profile the people featured in the film? How did you meet and develop a relationship with them, and gain their trust?
Karen had found Jeannie, then the president of the Stuntwomen’s Association, and we began to film with her. The fact that Jeannie was the double for Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman made her an obvious choice for me. During the first year of shooting, we struggled with the challenges of getting access to Hollywood sets. Meanwhile, we searched for other stuntwomen to include in the film, specifically someone who was a young upstart in the industry, to contrast with Jeannie's years of experience. Slowly, the focus of the film narrowed. When a friend suggested that we contact a producer on the set of Xena: Warrior Princess, the light bulb popped in my head. The parallels between Wonder Woman and Xena made them a perfect match. Despite the distance to New Zealand, if we could be granted access to the set over there, the challenges of shooting in Hollywood would be moot. I searched a New Zealand stunt database and saw Zoë Bell smirking, with her lip-ring and ripped jeans, and thought, "That's my girl!"—and hopped on a plane. Luckily, my gut was right. Zoë was great on camera—totally natural and irresistible. The very first thing I shot was her getting her legs waxed, so I suppose you could say she trusted me from day one.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
As I mentioned, getting access on movie sets was much harder than we ever could have imagined. Most Hollywood producers don’t want a documentary crew getting in the way, and set publicists’ only priority is to get Entertainment Tonight coverage—documentaries aren’t even on the radar. Also, some actresses are hesitant to give credit to their stunt doubles for fear that it would be a detriment to their own image. The other big challenge of DOUBLE DARE was licensing film clips from the studios—that was a seemingly insurmountable challenge for us. Every time you see a clip of Wonder Woman, Xena, or any other film in the documentary, I see dollar signs flying out the window. Some of the studios worked with us to negotiate down their standard fees, but overall the price tag for the clips and the work involved to clear them was daunting. And as with any independent film, raising all that money was a never-ending challenge.
What impact do you hope this film will have? What was the audience response been so far?
I hope the film will provide an alternative to the flimsy images of women that dominate mainstream film and television. I hope male and female viewers will gain insight into the challenges that women face in a male-dominated career. So far the audience response has been phenomenal—we have won five audience awards at film festivals around the world!
What surprised you the most while making DOUBLE DARE? What did you learn that was unexpected?
I was most surprised by how hard it was to fund and sell the film. I thought this would be a film that addressed issues subtly enough that it would still be very marketable… thanks to PBS, we are now able to reach a broad audience despite the challenges we faced during production.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Supportive friends and family, a sense of humor, and plenty of red wine.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
The programmers of Independent Lens were passionate about the film from the moment they saw it, and I knew they would provide a good home for us. My first film, Just for the Ride was on PBS as well, and I had a great experience with that. I love the fact that every home in America gets PBS, so the film will reach the broadest audience possible.
What are your three favorite films?
American Movie, Pumping Iron and Gummo.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
If I hadn’t ruined both my knees in the last few years, I would still be playing rugby, but that certainly wouldn’t make me any kind of a living.
Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?
Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, the Maysles and Jeff and Joel Kreines.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Get a low-interest credit card and find people you trust and respect to collaborate with. Balance your time between projects that you love and projects that pay your bills—if one project meets both of those criteria, you’re doing really well!
Read Amanda Micheli’s filmmaker’s statement >>