SxSW 2021 Interview – SALES PER HOUR director Michelle Uranowitz

A young woman faces a moral dilemma when she witnesses a sexual encounter in a dressing room at the clothing store where she works. We speak with filmmaker Michelle Uranowitz, whose SALES PER HOUR is having its World Premiere at SxSW 2021 Online in the Narrative Shorts Competition.

Tell me about SALES PER HOUR and getting it made!

The script is based on a personal experience I had while working in retail. In creating a narrative around this incident – I became interested in the ways in which people are guilty of aiding and abetting ambiguously criminal acts – in this case, sexual assault, and how willing we all were to quietly turn our eyes because of the size of the sale. This is the third short film i’ve made, but the first I’ve directed, so I was obviously very nervous. I was lucky to have Chloe Sabin as our producer and Daniel Jaffe as co-director, without whom I can’t imagine how it would have come together so quickly. 

Who are some of your creative inspirations?

I found a lot of inspiration in the Maysles’ brothers documentary SALESMAN and the manipulation entrenched in selling that has driven consumerism in this country for decades. The shooting style of a movie called COMPLIANCE by Craig Zobel was a huge influence as well. It follows an assault that occurs in the workplace and the ways in which the employees all deal with it. So often we follow the point of view of the victim of assault. What interested me with our story were the ways in which everyone but the victim dealt with it. Another source of inspiration was E. Jean Carroll’s article featured in The Cut entitled “Hideous Men” in which outlines, in detail, how Donald Trump forced himself on her in the dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman’s. 

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint and the look of SALES PER HOUR?

We knew we wanted the film to sway between doc style and steadicam shots. There’s a certain performativity in the retail world that we wanted to capture through sweeping camera motions and longer shots. We hoped the documentary feeling would penetrate that, and support the gravity of such heavy subject matter and what occurs in the dressing rooms.  Our DP, Adam Gundersheimer, is someone we have worked with for years – I trusted him completely. We wanted to make sure we considered the sensitivity and morality behind telling this story – and he put a lot of care and heart into this. 

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is it going next?

We just hope to expand our community – to meet other artists and learn about other projects! We will next be screening at the Atlanta Film Festival. 

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

Take your time. Listen closely to what pulls you, and then follow that curiosity, even if it leads to nowhere. 

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

Janicza Bravo has a bunch of short films I’m obsessed with, but she made one of my favorite’s called WOMAN IN DEEP which premiered at SXSW actually! 

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com

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