We expect friends to have a common interest, but it's unusual when that common interest is a boy who is one girl's ex, and the other's current boyfriend. In "Banana Split," now available on demand and digital, co-writer Hannah Marks stars as April, who broke up with her boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse) and then gets jealous when he almost-immediately starts dating the new girl in town, Clara (Liana Liberato). But her best intentions to hate her new rival are thwarted when Clara turns out to be pretty wonderful. So, they decide not to let Nick know they are friends.
In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Marks spoke about creating dialogue that is "not too quippy," the technical and dramatic benefits of characters who text each other, and what she's watching while avoiding the coronavirus.
Your characters communicate by text a lot, typical of teenagers. But for you both as a writer and as an actress, what kind of additional opportunities and challenges are there in showing texting on screen?
I think this is a more technical answer than you were looking for, but the beauty of having texting in movies is that it allows you to manipulate the story in post-production. So when you’re editing, if there’s a plotline or something that isn’t working or landing or becoming clear to people, you have the chance to manipulate it so easily, because you can just change what’s on the phone. That’s something that’s really beautiful and helpful as a filmmaker, getting that extra freedom to tweak the story. And then, as an actor, it’s just the reality of how we live our lives now, so much of it via texting, or the phone, or Instagram. It’s just impossible to avoid or be able to tell especially a teenage story, honestly and accurately. You can’t really do it without these tools, because that’s what kids are really using.
What is easier to say in a text than it would be to say in person?
Oh gosh, anything that has any kind of meaning or weight. Anything worth saying is probably easier to say over text.
And any wait for a response is more agonizing over text.
Oh yeah, there’s nothing worse than seeing those dot dot dots appear.
What is so delightful about the movie is that it’s about the friendship of the two girls, and the boy is almost incidental. How do you create that remarkable instant chemistry between the characters?
Well thankfully, Liana Liberato and I have been friends since we were little, little girls. I mean, I met her when I was 11 and she was 9. So that chemistry hopefully seemed real, because it was real! We’ve known and loved each other for a long time and it was always a dream of ours to get to work together, so it was really just about having fun together and getting to experience it, and hoping that that translated to the audience.
The music in the film is exceptionally well chosen. Were you involved in that?
I definitely made a ton of playlists, but I don’t think I can take credit for that. That was all [director] Ben Kasulke, who is a big music lover, and used a lot of his Seattle friends and Portland friends. That’s where he’s from, so he used a lot of local bands that he knew and loved, and I think he did a really great job with it.
He did! Is there a song from the soundtrack that particularly resonates with you?
When we’re hiking together, there's a song called "Crimson Wave" by Tacocat that is about periods. And I remember thinking it was so cool that our male director picked a menstrual song for that part of the movie. And then also of course, “Bling Bling Bitch” was a song that Liana and I had chosen from a list of songs that we could get the rights to for that rapping scene. We both immediately gravitated towards that song, and it was so much easier to memorize because it’s basically just “bling bling bitch” over and over!
In what ways do being a writer and being an actor inform each other? What have you learned about writing from acting, and learned about acting from writing?
When you’re writing something that you’re acting in, you know the story so well, and you know the intention of every line. Whereas when you’re an actor using someone else’s material, you have to make a lot of decisions on what the intentions were behind the lines, which you don’t always get to know, because you don’t always know the writer. So it was really exciting to get to do scenes where I knew why every line was on the page, and I could then best inform my performance around what the story needed. And then being an actor definitely helps my writing in every way because I’m so used to reading a million scripts and memorizing dialogue, that it really helps the dialogue part of screenwriting come naturally.
The dialogue, especially between April and Clara, is very witty, very sharp, and—this is a compliment—the rhythms of it had a 1930s movie feel. Do you watch old movies, and is that an influence on you?
Yeah, I watch everything, everything I can get my hands on. Anything that looks appealing to me, I watch it! Joey Power and I wrote it together, and we were always riding that line of not wanting it to be too quippy. We want it to be funny and quick and clever enough to be a movie, but not so quippy that it feels like you’re not in reality. And there’s some movies that do that fantastically, like any Diablo Cody movie. They’re so sharp and so wonderful, but that wasn’t really our style. So we were trying to create a balancing act. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach do it really really well, their characters are so sharp, but also kind of a mess.
I liked your film "After Everything," very much. Would you say there’s a through line to the stories you like to tell, an issue or a situation that continues to appeal to you?
Definitely! I didn’t necessarily think there was a thread in the projects I was making, and then I looked back and realized there totally is. I really am fascinated by temporary love and temporary relationships, so really everything I’ve made so far as a filmmaker—not as an actor—has been about a relationship that was really meaningful for a certain period of time, and then just because it doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it didn’t impact who you are as a person. So that’s really been the unintentional thread of the projects that I’ve made.
Are female friendships particularly interesting for you to explore?
Definitely, especially at the time when we were writing it. This was before "Booksmart," before a lot of these great movies came out, because it was a long journey to getting the project made. So it felt like there weren’t very many at the time, but now thankfully there are a lot of great stories. A huge inspiration was "Frances Ha," speaking of Greta Gerwig. That was one that I think really nailed the female friendship.
And what are you doing next?
I just made a movie called "Mark, Mary, and Some Other People," which I wrote, directed, and produced, but I did not act in it. That was a super exhilarating and fun experience. We just wrapped that last month. And I’m adapting a children’s book series, I’m acting, I’m doing a lot of stuff right now, thankfully. I like to stay busy!
What are you doing to take care of yourself during the era of the virus shutdowns?
It’s forcing me to take a break, which is nice. I can’t edit my movie right now because of what’s going on, but in a way that’s good, because it gives me some time away from it to have outside perspective. So I’m really just playing with my dogs, hanging out with my boyfriend. We’re staying inside, we haven't left the house in over a week. We’re binging shows. It’s nice to just be with each other.
While you’re home binging, is there any one thing that you want to recommend?
Oh my god, yeah. I just watched "Tiger King" yesterday, I watched the whole thing in one sitting. It’s a new true-crime doc series on Netflix. It’s about the big cat industry, and all the characters in that industry. People that privately own tigers and lions. It’s insane, the crimes that went down, and these crazy, twisted stories that you’ve never heard of. Definitely recommend watching it, it’s super addicting!