Rookie makes jump to directing from photography, video

How often does this go down in Hollywood: Two veteran producers (Art and John Linson) option a book with commercial potential (the true story of a famous 1970s all-girl rock band), then hire a first-time filmmaker with virtually no narrative experience and not a single finished screenplay under her belt to both write and direct the film with two of the town’s most bankable young actresses (Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning) in the lead roles.

But that’s exactly what happened with veteran photographer and musicvideo director Floria Sigismondi and her debut feature, “The Runaways.” Based on the true story of the band that spawned rockers Joan Jett and Lita Ford, pic focuses on the relationship between Jett (Stewart) and lead singer Cherie Currie (Fanning), who joined the Runaways when she was just 15. “It’s definitely more of a coming-of-age story than a traditional biopic,” says Sigismondi. “I wanted to tell a story that was really raw and authentic.”

Born in Pescara, Italy, but raised in Hamilton (Ontario), Canada, Sigismondi grew up in a creative environment. “Both of my parents were opera singers, and that kind of made us fish-out-of-water in Hamilton,” Sigismondi notes. “I went to art school as soon as I possibly could.” Starting out as a painter, she eventually became entranced by photography and after graduation quickly found work as a fashion and music photographer. “Film was just a really natural progression for me from photography, but once I started experimenting, I just fell in love with the whole process,” says Sigismondi, who has directed musicvids for artists including David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, the Cure and Christina Aguilera.

Sigismondi met the Linsons through her manager, Brian Young. “I had only read Cherie’s book (“Neon Angel”), but I knew what story I wanted to tell and what I wanted to focus on, which was her relationship with Joan. I really saw parts of myself in both girls.”

So far, producer John Linson’s faith in Sigismondi’s vision has paid off. “Floria was and is a truly amazing collaborator,” says Linson (“Lords of Dogtown”). “She’s extremely focused, is a great visualist, and has a phenomenal sense of detail, which is backed by tons of research. She’s also the hardest worker I’ve ever met and truly good people.”

Financed by Bill Pohlad’s River Road, “The Runaways” premieres at Sundance and will be released Stateside by Apparition on March 19.

VITAL STATS

AGE: 44


HOMEBASE:
Los Angeles

INSPIRED BY: Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini and German helmer Uli Edel’s seminal 1981 Berlin drug-scene film “Christiane F.”

REPS: Manager: Brian Young (Untitled); agent: Robert Newman (WME)

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