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Filmmaker Spotlight: Justine Bateman


Justine Bateman’s feature debut as a writer/director recently made its Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere. Violet stars Olivia Munn as the titular character, a Hollywood production exec who struggles with an internal monologue (voiced by Justin Theroux) that constantly criticizes her. Bateman told The Hollywood Reporter that she drew from her own experiences to write the character. “I did a lot of research for the role, which is my jokey way of saying [that] I’ve been through a lot,”’ she shared. “I’ve processed this in my life.”

Bateman grew up in front of the camera after landing the role of Mallory Keaton on the ‘80s sitcom Family Ties at the age of 16, a series that went on to run for seven years. The young actor picked up two Emmy nominations along the way for her work on the show, along with widespread recognition. Some of her experiences from that time were detailed in Bateman’s first book, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality, which its publisher Akashic Books describes as “a visceral, intimate look at the experience of fame.”

Thanks to the success of Family Ties, Bateman made her feature acting debut in 1988 as the lead in 20th Century Fox’s Satisfaction. The coming-of-age tale also housed the talents of actors like Julia Roberts and Liam Neeson before they became household names. (One Los Angeles Times review of the film even listed the former as “Joan Roberts” by mistake). Bateman continued gathering both film and TV credits from there, notably recurring as Sarah Stretten on the NBC comedy series Men Behaving Badly, Lynn Barstow on the ABC dramedy Men in Trees, and Ellie Leonard on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. Bateman also made a number of one-off guest appearances on popular series, including Arrested Development, which her brother led as Michael Bluth.

Bateman’s first step behind the camera came in 2008, when she wrote the fourth episode in season two of the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place entitled “Racing.” Her next writing credit didn’t come until after she’d gone back to school and graduated from UCLA with a degree in computer science and digital media management in 2016. The following year, Bateman wrote and directed her first short, Five Minutes, which premiered at TIFF. 

After the budding filmmaker’s first full-length film had to make its premiere virtually at South by Southwest earlier this year due to the pandemic, Bateman detailed to Deadline how TIFF provided the opportunity to “have the in-person experience as a feature director at a festival.” That moment was likely made even more impactful due to the personal nature of the film. Bateman shared during the same interview that she’d worked to “get on the other side of making fear-based decisions, where I’m making instinct-based decisions instead.” That same struggle is portrayed in Violet, and its filmmaker detailed to Moviefone why Munn was the right choice to play the title role. “There was a quality to her that I could see in her other projects that I really wanted to tease out and expand in this,” Bateman noted. 

Relativity Media acquired North American rights to the film and will start its limited theatrical release on October 29 before Violet becomes available on November 9 to home viewers via on-demand. You can view for yourself Bateman’s feature writing/directing debut then, but in the meantime, we certainly think she’s earned her filmmaker spotlight.