How Family Ties Influenced Justine Bateman’s Approach to Directing Violet

Bateman also discusses why she knew Olivia Munn was right for the lead role even though she hadn’t played a character like this before.

Decades after becoming a household name courtesy of Family Ties, Justine Bateman is celebrating a major milestone in her career – the world premiere of her feature directorial debut Violet. You’ll hear me say as much in this video interview, but do know a written synopsis can’t do Violet justice because of how instrumental Bateman’s visual style and narrative choices are to the sky-high engagement level of the film.

For the sake of having some background information, Violet stars Olivia Munn in the title role. She’s a 32 year-old trying to make some big moves as a film executive in Hollywood, she stays connected with family back home if/when they call, and is considering taking steps forward in her romantic life. But how many of the decisions made in those departments are purely her own? Violet often struggles with the voice in her head, a committee that encourages her to make decisions based on what’s expected of her rather than what feels true to her.

With Violet celebrating its world premiere at SXSW 2021, Bateman took the time to join us for an extended chat about the film, a conversation that also included a look back on Family Ties and a discussion of how that experience is influencing her own work as a director now. Here’s how she put it:

“I think the method that influenced me the most, bar none, and this is not from a director, but from Gary David Goldberg who created Family Ties, the series I was on from 16 to 21, because that was my third job in four months; I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a whirl,’ and we wound up on a really popular show. But he created that show, he created that set, he hired all those people. Because he was so classy and talented and even keeled, so was everyone else because he picked them. And I’ve been on sets since, of course, where that wasn’t the case and they always seemed very unusual to me. To me, having an even keeled set where if someone’s got a great idea and it drives our thesis statement of that scene or the film deeper, we’re gonna use it. And respecting each other and having a good god damn time. So that to me is normal. All the rest of it to me is abnormal. So that’s the kind of set I like to be on, that’s the kind of set I like to have and hopefully will always have.”

The Cast of Family Ties
Image via NBC

Bateman is one for one in that department thus far because that’s exactly how she described the environment on set while making Violet:

“It was fun and just a bunch of can-do people and no drama, you know? It was just great. And I think that’s entirely possible depending on who’s at the top of this hiring pyramid, do you know what I mean? Like if I hire department heads that are well suited and have the same work ethic as me, I totally trust that the people they hire are gonna be like them too.”

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Narrowing the focus to one particular person on that set, Bateman took a moment to discuss her approach to casting, specifically discussing why there’s no need to have seen an actor play a similar role prior:

“Olivia hadn’t had this type of part before, but there was something in all the work that I saw of hers – not just for the purposes of casting this film, but you know, I’ve been watching her for years – there was always these qualities that she had in her work that were like glimmers and I was like, ‘Oh, there, there, there.’ And I thought, okay, I know if I bring her in and then just tease those elements out and expand them – for me, casting is pretty simple. There’s a quality I need for that character and I don’t need an actor to have played that character before, but if I see elements of that character in what they do while they’re not even paying attention, I know if they’ll allow me, I can go in and sort of harness that small element and expand it.”

Olivia Munn in Violet
Image via SXSW

If you’re looking for more from Bateman on her experience writing and directing Violet and her plans for future projects, be sure to check out our full conversation in the video interview at the top of this article!

Justine Bateman:

  • 00:30 – What is Violet about?
  • 01:31 – “There’s only so much you can do with the types of roles you get” as an actor.
  • 02:13 – Why the cancelation of SXSW 2020 hit especially hard.
  • 04:02 – Why Bateman opted to wait for SXSW 2021 rather than accept offers to screen Violet at other festivals.
  • 06:23 – The journey from the genesis of the idea in 2011 to what we see in the final film today.
  • 07:30 – Why choose Violet for her feature directorial debut?
  • 09:20 – Bateman is eager to tell stories using a more tech-based approach to film.
  • 11:47 – A quality of the Family Ties set that Bateman strives to bring to her own sets.
  • 14:18 – How Bateman knew Munn was right for the role of Violet even though she hadn’t played a role like that before.
  • 17:07 – A quality Bateman likes to see in the actors she casts in her films based on her own experience as an actor.
  • 22:02 – Bateman highlights working with Zachary Gordon from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies; the importance of the authenticity actors bring to smaller parts.
  • 24:17 – Bateman details how she incorporated her three key voices in the film – Munn’s performance, Justin Theroux’s voice work and the text on screen.

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