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A Conversation with Molly Manning Walker & Mia McKenna-Bruce (HOW TO HAVE SEX)

How to Have Sex was written and directed by Molly Manning Walker. The film stars Mia McKenna-Bruce as a teenager on a spring break trip with her mates. It played in the Cannes film festival in the Un Certain Regard category, taking home the main prize. Recently, at the British Independent Spirit awards How to Have Sex was nominated in 13 categories and won best lead performance, best casting and best supporting performance. Prior to writing and directing this film, Molly Manning Walker served as a cinematographer on many fantastic short films, the television show Mood and on some excellent music videos including A$AP Rocky’s Sundress. Mia McKenna-Bruce has delivered great performances in the past in films such as Kindling, Persuasion and the show Vampire Academy. Their collaboration in How to Have Sex is amazing. The film should be sought out by everyone. I spoke with both Molly and Mia in the following conversation edited for length and clarity.

Hammer To Nail: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really thought the film was terrific.

Molly Manning Walker: Thank you!

Mia McKenna-Bruce: Thanks!

HTN: Basic question to start but, what was the inception of this film and Mia how did the role come your way?

MMB: I first taped for the film in December. We wound up shooting in September. I got the script and had to send in tape for a couple of scenes. I also had to create a tiktok video as Tara. Me, as Mia, I am not that into tik tok, so I had to enlist help from my little sisters. I got my dog in the TikTok because who doesn’t love dogs. Somehow Molly was like, “Let’s see her again.”

MMW: The inception of the project was a bunch of memories from holidays I had been on as a teenager.

HTN: Molly, how did coming from a cinematographer background help you with this project. What were you and cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni going for with the look of this film?

MMW: To be honest, I do not think I would have been able to make the film without that background. Especially those first 2 weeks when we had hundreds of people on set. The scale of it was quite big, so knowing how to navigate a set like that and understand what you need and what you do not need was really invaluable. Nicolas and I designed the film in 2 parts. The first part is meant to feel a lot looser. It looks at the 3 of them as a group. As the film goes on, the feeling is much more pressurized as we get closer to her face. It was all mostly hand held with a bit of static in there.

HTN: The film can feel very real while also having this free spirit at its core. I am wondering with how a lot of these conversations unfold if there was a lot of improv or did you guys follow the script to a tee.

MMB: We were following the script. There were these rehearsal periods before we started filming where we were able to add in our little bits there. We all worked on stuff together. Sometimes before shooting a scene Molly would realize that maybe it needed something more and she would add some stuff on the day, but, it was all written.

HTN: Mia I feel like one of the central components of your character and really all of the characters are there clothing. How did costuming work for this film?

MMW: The costume designer and I worked really closely to find a color palette. All the colors have a representation in the film. Orange is danger, Patty wears orange shorts, Blue and pink are safety. We started the film with a lot more blues and pinks. This is meant to trick you into a false sense of security at first. Green is Skye’s color. The pressure of Skye on Tara is hopefully realized through those colors. The actual clothes, none of it quite fits right because they are all at that awkward age where nothing fits. There are some predators on Patty’s clothes like the scorpion on his shorts. You do not notice it until that last moment where he puts his hand over her face and you see the scorpion on his hand as well. There was definitely a lot of thought that went into the costumes.

HTN: I think the sound design is extremely important in this film, from the start it sets the tone as contrasting against this “best holiday ever” Molly talk about that sound design process and what you guys were going for, and Mia if you could talk about acting with that in mind? I get the sense that at the hour and 5 minute mark when the music cuts and it’s you dancing in front of the dj, that you were aware of what the sound design was doing at that moment. Your physicality is very disturbing to me here.

 MMB: It is disturbing to me too! Hahaha. When Molly shouted out, “ok Mia we need you to dance on your own!” Everything internally in my body was cringing. I had to do it for Tara though! We had a few songs we would play on set to nail where these characters were at and get the energy levels right. “Losing It” was one of the songs, “One Kiss” was another one that would get us going as well. The idea was to dance to her own beat. I do not remember what song I was dancing to or if one was even playing.

MMW: I actually think you are not dancing to a song because we recorded your breath in order to use it within the sound design. The same thing goes with the music in the first half vs the second. In that first half it is all much more ethereal. The second half the bass gets deeper the drums get faster it’s meant to increase the pressure and induce more anxiety. It’s also claustrophobia. You cannot sleep or relax because of that bass.

HTN: When these kids wake up with brutal hangovers, I felt hungover. I think that is because of the performances but also the way the film is shot. Molly, were you going for something different with the look of the film when they are hungover, and Mia talk about what you were trying to express when you are hungover.

MMW: The idea in the script was there would be these two really harsh differences. There would be this moody alluring night contrasted starkly with the piercing sun of the day time. I wanted to express how uncomfortable it would be to wake up in that burning heat. That sweat that you feel when you are on holiday and hungover.

MMB: For us, I think a lot of it came from the set. Everything was placed as it would be if I was actually hungover. You got the leftover noodles in the sink that make you feel grimy and other stuff like that. It felt like we were really there and we were really in it.

HTN: At the 51 minute mark we get this long shot of that road in Malia with the lamb gyro and the pizza place. it’s just a very grotesque space. We slowly zoom in to Mia who is crying but trying to conceal it. Very powerful moment, for both of you, what were you hoping to accomplish.

 MMB: I wanted to get across where Tara was at mentally and how she was in a place of trying to figure out her own emotions. That state of confusion was important.

MMW: I wanted to redefine the walk of shame in a sense. So often women have been judged on that moment but actually, it’s not a walk of shame

HTN: One moment that is just so piercing is at the hour and one minute mark where Skye tells Mia that she basically has no choice but to work in a cloakroom. Mia you look so innocent and sad but trying to hide it while Skye gives this evil look as she apologizes. Scrolling around reviews online it seems like a lot of people are relating to the dynamic between Mia and Skye. If Molly you could talk about what you were going for at this moment and if Mia you can talk about working with Skye and what you guys were going for.

Mia McKenna-Bruce in HOW TO HAVE SEX

MMW: There was always that friend who was trying to joke around but always took it too far and it would get harsh and uncomfortable. I had a lot of friends growing up who would push me into uncomfortable scenarios or made me feel uncomfortable but then they would excuse it as a friendship thing. I would not put up with that behavior at my age now but I did then because that’s what I thought friendship was. I really wanted to take a look at early female friendship and what that does to you.

MMB: For me and Lara who plays Skye, we also definitely wanted to dive into those early dynamics of female friendship. When I first read the script that was something that really jumped out at me and something I resonated with. I spoke about that a lot with Lara. It was something we had both experienced so we really wanted to get it right. We had a really strong bond on set that we still share.

HTN: Mia you and Samuel Bottomly had a very complicated role to play. I would like you to talk about working with him and for Molly I am wondering about the scene on the beach and the decision to reveal what happens there slowly over the course of the film.

MMB: Working with Sam was amazing. He is honestly incredible. All of the actors bonded really closely. We were all very comfortable with each other. For us it was all about really checking in with one another to make sure we were ok along the way. We spent a lot of time together out and about getting to know each other. We did feel that we could 100% trust each other

MMW: The beach scene is an interesting one. When we first screened the film we realized that sadly not many people saw anything wrong with that beach scene. We were hoping it would hit home how disturbing it is that she says, “no” so many times. The nuances of that situation were important. It is not consent if you have thrown her in the water and taken her clothes off. It was about reassessing what people see as safe sex. We got a lot of feedback that was like, “what’s wrong with the beach scene?”

HTN: Unless you’re stupid I think you can see what’s wrong with it.

MMW: You would be surprised!

HTN: One of the more shocking moments in the film is when Mia goes to the front of the big crowd with Badger. He is then selected to be on stage and then some pretty crazy stuff ensues. Molly, can you talk about what you are going for at this moment and Mia, besides your obvious discomfort, what else were you trying to express?

MMW: This is something that I witnessed when I was on holiday about 14 years ago. It was a very vivid memory that I had. It was shocking at the time but reflecting on it down the line with our friends we realized how much it affected us and our concept of consent. It is assault. He never consents, is pulled on stage, and then has to pretend it is the best night of his life. This was meant to show how men can be pulled into situations where they are meant to be powerful and meant to know exactly what they want, and what they need, actually, everyone is as vulnerable as each other.

MMB: I was trying to portray how vulnerable Tara was at that moment. She feels like she is the only uncomfortable one in this situation. One thing Molly and I talked about was how everyone felt uncomfortable but did not want to be the one to voice it. The whole thing with Tara is that, yes she is uncomfortable, but she doesn’t want the rest of the crew to know about it. She was so uncomfortable that all she could do at that moment was remove herself from the situation.

HTN: I would like to talk about the ending. Molly the moment Mia tells Em the truth the camera is very sterile, there are no additional effects or music, it is a very piercingly true moment. This is very quickly contrasted as soon as they call for their plane and led by Skye and Em they celebrate their time together running to the boarding gate seeming to all agree it was an amazing holiday….obviously besides Mia….still the last shot is her being pulled by Em who says, “we got this” which boosts her mood as she screams ”WERE COMING HOME!” credits roll, a house music track plays. Molly, what is your thinking behind this moment, and Mia do you think your character feels better because of Em’s slight support or is it a facade?

MMW: A lot of people like to talk about the ending. I think that there are a lot of preconceived notions of who was assaulted and what a typical victim is. What we were trying to say is that you do not know what people have been through and often its the loud bubbly people you do not think are carrying any baggage or trauma but, maybe they have been through something like this. There’s this moment where they decide they are going to get through this together, and despite the fact that Tara will have to deal with this for her life, the ending is meant to say that she is going to carry on in Tara’s way.

MMB: The outburst was a major feeling of relief that she started to air that with Em. Even that tiny opening she was able to give to Em relieved so much pressure for her. It is a very important moment. We see the life sucked out of her for a good chunk of the film and I think this moment shows that she is still there and it has not completely defined her and who she is.

MMW: That is very important.

HTN: Well, thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me. I thought the film was terrific and I look forward to recommending it to all my friends. I also cannot stop saying “bangin” since I saw the film.

MMW: hahaha I love that!

MMB: Thank you!

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS


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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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