Breakthrough Director: Helen Hunt

“Then She Found Me” first came to Helen Hunt as an acting gig. Ten years on, the dramedy premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as her feature directing bow.

Based on a novel by Elinor Lipman, the project took a long time to adapt and find its shape, Hunt says. “There’s only a bit of it from the book — the mother-daughter relationship. There was no baby wish in the book, and there were no men in it.”

Hunt, who had decided to tackle rewriting the script herself, also took on directing duties along the way.

“Directing was so daunting it didn’t become daunting anymore — we had so little time,” says Hunt, who shot the film in 27 days, mainly around the schedules of her co-stars Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick. “It would have taken more time and money to communicate (to another director) what I wanted for the movie. … It became easier to do those jobs myself.”

She admits she made “every rookie’s mistake” — that is, acting in her own movie. Still, says Hunt, “My character is in every scene, so I knew one actor would be taken care of.” (She remembers fellow thesp-helmer Warren Beatty’s advice was, “If you’re in it, there’s at least one actor in the movie who sees it the way you do.”)

“And casting the best actors around me made it easier,” she adds.

Gotham’s Killer Films jumped onboard the project as a producer early on. It was eventually financed independently with a mix of equity and foreign sales.

Killer’s involvement “made it clear it was a small movie,” says Hunt, who notes she fought for it to remain “a small movie — in the tone and being brave about story choices and the way it would look. It was important that it had its own aesthetic: down-and-dirty versus glossy.”

ThinkFilm releases “Then” in late April, and Hunt is working on another script to direct that echoes some of the tone of her debut. But, she says, “The minute someone gives me a good acting job, I’ll throw it away — or put it on hold.”

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