When actor and writer Zoe Lister-Jones (Breaking Upwards, Life in Pieces) set out to make her charming directorial debut Band Aid, a film in which she stars opposite Adam Pally as a couple who tries to save their marriage by starting a rock band, she assembled a depressingly rare kind of production team: one entirely composed of women. In addition to producer Natalia Anderson and director of photography Hilary Spera, the film had a fluctuating team of 30-50 women each day that included female art directors, camera operators, electricians, sound editors and more.
While conversations about female representation in film tend to focus on on-screen portrayals and, most recently, the pay gap between women and men when it comes to acting, there’s arguably more work to be done getting women behind the camera. Here, Jezebel premieres the trailer for Band Aid and talks to Lister-Jones about making a movie just with women.
JEZEBEL: You’ve co-written and produced several films like Breaking Upwards and Consumed but Band Aid is your directorial debut. What made you finally want to direct this time?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: It was kind of a long time in the making. In co-writing and producing and starring in previous films I had sort of been working on those muscles and it felt like this was the next logical step. My husband Daryl [Wein] and I had made a lot of work together and had both came to the decision that it might be helpful to create some space in our relationship for things that weren’t work! When you’re making independent films it’s hard to set boundaries around where the work ends and your personal life begins.
This is very much a movie about a woman sort of finding new ways to express herself and overcoming trauma through art. Are Anna’s experiences with making personal art in the film similar to how you’ve ever approached your work at all?
All art is coming from a pretty personal place even if you’re telling someone else’s story. It’s impossible not to meld that with one’s own experiences. The first film I co-wrote and produced in starred in with my husband, Breaking Upwards, was loosely based on an open relationship that we were in so that was like being shot out of a cannon into public space with a very personal, vulnerable telling of our own experience! For [the characters] Anna and Ben, they’ve hit a roadblock where their convergence of their personal life with their creative lives has paralyzed them in both aspects and that’s something every artist faces at some point in their career.
You made the deliberate choice to hire an all-female production crew for this movie. When did you first decide you wanted to work with just women?
It’s hard for me to distill the exact moment but it was almost cellular for me, it wasn’t even a decision that was made at any point. My mom is a feminist and raised me to look at the world through a pretty specific lens when it comes to gender inequity. She’s a media artist so it was very much about how women were represented in the media for her. When I decided to do this my mom reminded me that when I was a kid I had made this fake all-woman construction company and the slogan was “There’s No Job Too Big For Big Women” [laughs.] More than just being sociopolitically motivated to do this, just for me as an artist I was really interested in seeing what it would feel like to make art with just women.
How was the experience on set?
It really exceeded my expectations. I would say that in its most basic terms the crew was just incredibly nurturing and empathetic. The difference I witnessed was mostly in the way that this crew communicated. I think, at the risk of generalizing, for the most part men tend to be really direct with the way they state their opinions and women tend to state opinions as questions or almost apologize for stating opinions at all. I didn’t want anyone to feel that they should be taking up as little space as possible. And I think that this was such an incredible dynamic because women were allowed to take up space and they did so while paying attention to what their fellow crew members might need as well.
In creative industries sometimes people don’t hire women and will use the excuse, oh I just couldn’t find any female cinematographers or sound designers, etc. How was the experience of assembling a team like this?
It varied from department to department. There is an ample amount of brilliant female DPs, that’s a bullshit excuse when people say there isn’t a big enough talent pool. I had no issue there and my DP Hilary Spera came highly recommended. When it came to departments like camera and grip and electric that’s where I faced the biggest challenges. I think that’s because of the lack of opportunities for women which then creates a lack of women of a certain level of experience for productions. I think there are plenty of women hungry for experience in those departments but because people who are doing the hiring are afraid of taking a risk on someone who might not have the same credits on their resume than their current male counterparts, those women are never given the opportunities to gain those credits.
In the past two years actresses like Rose Byrne and Jessica Chastain have both launched all-female production companies. Do you think the industry is getting better when it comes to putting more women in charge and behind the camera?
I think the conversation has gotten better when it comes to gender inequities in the film industry in the last few years but if you look at the statistics they actually have not changed since 1998. It’s a really pesky and stubborn mountain to climb and the only way to do so is through action. I think talking about it is really important but it doesn’t necessarily shift the paradigm enough. Even in my own experience I was faced with that so often, like it would have been easier to hire just some women. But when you do that the numbers are inevitably always going to be stacked against us. I felt like I had to subvert [filmmaking] extremely for the experience to feel, on a personal level, like it was really making a difference.
Band Aid hits theaters June 2.