Cambridge-born writer and filmmaker Sian Heder wrote for three seasons of the binge-worthy Orange Is the New Black before turning to her first feature film, Tallulah, just released on Netflix. She gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the dramedy, whose cast includes Ellen Page, Allison Janney and OITNB’s own Uzo Aduba.
Tell us about the film. It’s about a young woman, played by Ellen Page, who in a moment of impulse kidnaps—but she feels rescues—a baby from a negligent mother and radically transforms the lives of three very different women.
What went into the decision to release it online? I think Netflix is opening a lot of doors for filmmakers. They have a huge reach and are in countries all over the world and have millions and millions of viewers, so I think it’s a way to—particularly as an indie filmmaker—have your work reach a lot of people, and that’s really exciting.
There’s a strong theme of female empowerment in both Orange Is the New Black and Tallulah. What draws you to that? Being an empowered female myself, I do think that women’s stories have not been told enough, stories that deal with complicated, flawed women. Certainly on both Orange Is the New Black and Tallulah, I’m interested in exploring women who have made tragic mistakes and are trying to recover from those choices.
How do your roots play into your filmmaking? I always try to have little shout-outs to Cambridge or Boston hidden in my movies. There’s a character from Somerville, and she talks about waitressing at Tallulah’s Bar and Grill, which is a place I used to waitress at in Davis Square, and I put Massachusetts plates on her van. So even though the film is set in New York, I tried to have a little hometown love in there.
What’s your next project? Right now, I’m writing and directing a movie for Lionsgate, which is a remake of a French film called La Famille Bélier, and I’ve decided to set it in a fishing community in Gloucester. So I’ve been spending some time in Gloucester with fishermen to get that whole world right. /Brigitte Carreiro