Project Spotlight: 'Taffy', Navigating Sex As An Awkward Teen

Amanda DiMartino is a recent grad from School of Visual Arts and extraordinary filmmaker. With her father’s passing just a few days short of her 14th birthday, she quickly found herself diving into filmmaking to express herself. With Complex, The Hollywood Reporter, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Sundance, Firefly Music Festival, Panorama, and more as her former employers (yes, all while kicking ass in school), Amanda one determined creator. We’re spotlighting her short film “Taffy” because of its beautifully honest portrayal of teen sex. The cinematography and writing made us nostalgic and was the perfect combination of youth’s curiosity and innocence. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did, the video and a quick q&a with Amanda is down below!

How did this film come together? What was your role in it?
The idea for this film came to me one night when I was attempting to fall asleep. I had this image of a girl losing her virginity and rather than seeing her actually lose her virginity, it was an image of a flower being plucked. So, I grabbed my computer and starting writing a script encompassing this idea.

Why did you choose to direct a film about youth and sex?
In every film in the mainstream, that possesses the idea of sex and youth, there is the idea that sex is this incredible, and sexy thing. However, most peoples’ first experience with sex is nothing like that. I wanted to create a film that shows you that your first time is not going to be sexy.

How do you feel sex for teenagers is portrayed in film?
This film has three very distinct characters. The one that is the most experienced and is encouraging towards sex, Sammy. Then there is the very innocent one, who has no idea what is happening, Bridget. Finally, there is Izzy who is the one who is curious about sex and wants to find out if it really is all it’s hyped up to be. Through these characters, we have three very common teenage personalities towards sex. Overall, it is portrayed as this magical moment which isn’t really that magical at all.

What did you think about while casting?
It was vital to me to get actors who were naturally comfortable with the material. My goal was to get people who could relate to the script, and help fulfill my vision. These four actors and actresses came together so naturally, it was clear they were going to be essential to the film. I had each one come in and read a few lines, as well as improv a “sexy” moment.

When I first watched this film, the first thing that struck me was how nostalgic it felt for me. The lead actresses are so young and the dialogue has a really beautiful way of capturing youth. Did this come naturally in the writing / directing process?
My cast was truly incredible. I wrote the material, but they made it come to life. We had met a couple of times before shooting the film, and each time we had all grown closer together. I think that was a really important piece of the film. We had all begun to trust each other, and that made for a comfortable set. Once we came to the shooting process, everything had fallen into place. The actors knew exactly what my vision was, and we were able to work fluidly with one another.

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How do you feel about the ways teen girls are portrayed in society?
Teen girls are portrayed as having a lack of knowledge. I wouldn’t call any of them whiny, selfish or dumb because I don’t think that accurately depicts the majority of the society. However, I do think overall they are seen as lacking vital knowledge. People are constantly taking advantage of them. Whether it be their close friends, boyfriends or even themselves. When you are a teenager, you are still learning a lot about yourself and you are very immature. You feel that you need to live up to “society’s” standards. It is unfortunate, but that is the case because the main stream media is constantly telling teenage girls that they are not “cool” if they don’t have sex, do drugs and drink.

How did you become a filmmaker?
I became a filmmaker after my father had passed away. I found myself pursing a creative outlet through film. I wasn’t able to express myself through emotions; however, I learned to express myself through visuals. Film became my aid for grieving, and it taught me so much about myself. After learning how significant film can be, I decided to pursue it as a career. Now, here I am.

What’s your process when you want to create a film?
When I want to create a film, I always start with one scene. An image comes into my mind, and I then do a breakdown based on that image. From there I will write a script, or enlist a screenwriter. Once the script is finalized, I begin to produce the piece and assess what needs to be done to carry out this vision.

What do you see yourself working on in the future?
I see myself working on more films like this one. For example, a very detailed topic tackling an issue that isn’t present in the mainstream and is visually an art piece. My goal is to work with more female crews, and to continue to produce and edit pieces that I believe in.

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If you had an endless budget, what would you create?
I would create period piece based in the 90’s and create an original killer music score with it. I have an incredible music supervisor who I have worked with frequently and I would love to create something with her that has outstanding production design and a heavy music track.

How do you feel about the state of women in film? Does it scare you? How do you manage?
It is a little scary to think about it. Only 4 percent of the top 100 grossing films of 2016 were female directors. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best director! What the heck! I know there are thousands of talented female directors, producers, editors, cinematographers etc. that aren’t getting the credit they deserve. However, I am in this industry because it is something I love to do. It is going to be a challenge, and it’s frustrating that women have to fight twice as hard to be recognized. But, I stay positive and keep working my butt off knowing that one day it will pay off. 

What resources have you found for women in film?
One of my favorite websites is Welcome to Shit People Say To Women Directors. It is reassuring to see all of the things that people have said to women directors & other crew members. It is a great outlet for women to support each other and have a platform for these ridiculous discussions towards us on set. I have also found networking with fellow women to be helpful. I know everyone says this, but I cannot stress enough how it important it is. Also, something I like to have majority of a female crew. It helps promote women in the industry, and overall a positive female energy on set.

What advice do you have to other filmmakers?
Do not let anyone tell you what is art! Anything you create is art. Don’t let anyone tell you anything is off limits, and especially don’t let people change the concept of your film because it is not appropriate! I was told numerous times not to make this short, because it is not proper to make a film with this view towards sex. I was also told that “taffy” should not be the item that symbolizes sex in this film. Instead that person wanted me to use a more phallic item. However, the whole concept of this film was to emphasize how something that is not sexy can be perceived as sexy because of a skewed view. I am so thankful I listened to my gut, and didn’t change anything about this film!

 

If you would like your short film to be featured by The Light Leaks, email us at kim@thelightleaks.com!
Follow Amanda’s journey as a creator here:
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user44096878