As some of you might know, for the past year I’ve been working on a documentary about women directors. It’s kept me a hella busy, so I apologize for not blogging more!
One of the directors I spoke to (Kimberly McCullough) had an interesting insight. She said that making independent film is a lot like starting a business… over and over again. In my experience that is absolutely right. Every project you make is it’s own entity that you hope has a long life of it’s own from inception to distribution. But you are always starting from the beginning, and that’s hard work.
So it’s really important if you think you want to make a documentary or any kind of film to think about the whole journey.
Ask yourself, “Who is this story for, really?”
This will guide you through every step of the decision making, and get ready because there are tons of decisions to be made.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I started out making this film for me, because I felt really lonely as a director that happened to be female. Every festival I took my short films to was crammed with dudes. In 2015, I didn’t see any women treated like “up and coming visionaries,” only young men were. One time I was given a “producer” tag when I was the producer, writer, AND the director, as well as costume and production design… In short: it was my vision! My film! And someone doing the tags at the film festival basically couldn’t believe it.
(note: the pink sticker, qualifying me as a “producer only.”)
This, as you can imagine, sucked. And then I won an award for “Best Comedy Drama Short!” Ironic to say the least.
I recall looking at the few women who were at these festivals. I can’t say they looked that happy about what they were having to deal with either, which was, if it boils right down to it, a basic lack of imagination.
Men aren’t the only people who can have a vision and execute it. What’s so hard to imagine about that?
Because of these experiences I realized that I couldn’t just make the film for me or even just for women in the field, because the issue isn’t relegated to women directors.
It’s much, much bigger than that.
The issue is one of perception. How we as a culture SEE women.
Sometimes it feels like any time a woman really steps out and stands up for something, like crabs in a barrel, there are thousands of people (men AND women) who are ready to tear her down for her smallest faults or imperfections.
This really needs to stop. We are all so much better than this.
One woman’s success does not mean your failure.
In fact, it means there is a strong possibility that YOU COULD DO THE SAME THING.
Bethany Rooney, a director of over 200 episodes of television, gave me this wonderful quote: “Can you live without comparison?” Think about it. Instead of comparing, how about we get inspired by great women? Instead of thinking, “Oh I’m not good enough,” saying, “What do I need to do in order to be my greatest self?”
Here’s a fantastic video to help you start to see just how powerful and amazing women can be! Yes, someday, YOU could join this amazing list of women who have overcome incredible obstacles.
As some of you know, there is a very large movement afoot to make the stories that come out of Hollywoodland more interesting. And by more interesting, I mean less reductive of a woman’s existence. Women in films (and most TV) often end up playing “the wife/the mother/the girlfriend” etc… roles limited to extensions of a man’s existence. Either that, or they are roles described as being “empowering” but really only parts where women are yelling a lot, complaining a lot, naked in an embarrassing way, or doing bad things without consequence.
Now a new film by Terrance Malik is coming out, called “Knight of Cups” and although the trailer is stunning and I’m sure the movie has much to offer, the description of it is just begging for an SNL spoof. I found it in a recent blog on IndieWire that called it “a reminder of all that is wrong in Hollywood.”
“‘Knight of Cups; follows writer Rick (Christian Bale, The Fighter, ‘American Hustle’) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a search for love and self. Even as he moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Rick grapples over complicated relationships with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy). His quest to break the spell of his disenchantment takes him on a series of adventures with six alluring women: rebellious Della (Imogen Poots); his physician ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett); a serene model Helen (Freida Pinto); a woman he wronged in the past Elizabeth (Natalie Portman); a spirited, playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer); and an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas), who helps him see a way forward.”
Kind of the same old thing, right? I thought it would be fun to take the exact same writing and do a female version, by changing nothing but the pronoun “he” to “she” and the men’s roles to women’s roles. I did not change the descriptions or the grammar. Check it out:
“‘Queen of Cups; follows writer Sarah (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Black Swan, ‘Leon the Professional’) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as she undertakes a search for love and self. Even as she moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Sarah grapples over complicated relationships with her sister (Mila Kunis) and her mother (Deborah Messing). Her quest to break the spell of her disenchantment takes her on a series of adventures with six alluring men: rebellious Bill (Liam Hemsworth); her physician ex-husband, Charles (James Franco), a serene model Harry (Robert Pattinson), a man she wronged in the past Anthony (Shia LaBeouf), a spirited, playful stripper Carl (Taylor Lautner), and an innocent Jonathan (Michael Sera), who helps her see a way forward.”
What do you think? Would you go see a film about this woman? I think I would. In fact, I would LOVE to see it. It could be even more interesting with a gay woman or a trans woman in the lead, but even a story about a hetero woman and her quest to be awakened by love would be a big step in a more interesting direction. I am aware that not every film must be a political statement, but we’ve been seeing this story in the film by Malik over and over again, just with a different director. “Successful ‘man versus himself’ tale finds our hero in a big city, detached from caring via over-indulgence. The women he meets are a continued distraction, except for one who acts as his road to reattachment of his Self through love.”
So many people have an idea for what would make a good doc, but not that many people act on it. If you are one of those people considering getting into the field of documentary films, here’s some advice from the frontline!
First, you need to have an idea that inspires you so much, you are willing to spend a full year or more of your life on it. That’s really important. You are going to eat, sleep, and dream about your subject. Even worse, your wife or husband and all your friends are going to hear about it ad nasuem because it’s pretty much going to become an obsession. So choose wisely what subject you are going to spend endless amounts of time with.
For me it was women directors, partly because I am one and was feeling like an endangered species. Women directors have been up until recently practically invisible. Now, in part because of the EEOC’s investigation into charges of discrimination against women filmmakers in Hollywood, there is a lot more media attention on the subject.
Although there are some important changes starting to happen, it is the larger, overall understanding of what women are capable of that is still stuck in the past. For example, just the other day I was talking to a very nice fellow, telling him about my project.
He said, “Oh, I didn’t know women directed movies. How cool!”
I reminded him that a woman won the Oscar for directing a few years ago, thinking he must’ve recalled that historic moment.
He said, “Oh right. What was her name? She’s the only one that directs movies, right?”
I am positive he is not the only person who thinks this.
I think it’s fair to say that most people have no idea how many women are out there fighting for respect and a place in creative leadership positions. Positions not only in the film and television industry, but in finance, tech, the sciences, and academia. Women worldwide are still dealing with a pervasive idea that we are limited in our capabilities based on our gender.
This is the perception that I, and many others, are trying to change. People like directors Lesli Linka Glatter, Leah Meyerhoff, and Sarah Gavron all care about making sure other women in the directing field have opportunities they they themselves have had to fight tirelessly to achieve. I’ve had the privilege to interview them and can tell you, they really are doing everything they can to help change the landscape of bias and transform it into opportunity for women.
When I think about the years of time these women (and women like them) have spent working to make it in their field, women who could just focus on themselves and their careers but who still do everything they can to help others, it inspires me.
I know I can spend at least a year or more of my life on a documentary about these women. I know that my film, no matter it’s level of success, will ultimately be an effort full of integrity and passion, meant to help uplift all people, but especially those of the female gender. For me, that feels like something worthy of my time here on the planet.
What do YOU feel passionate about changing in this world? Think about it. Are you willing to spend a year of your life thinking about it? Then I bet it would make a really interesting documentary.
Shana is an amazing woman. She’s the very first director I called to talk to about this documentary and she was immediately supportive. As you might recall from an earlier post, we got on Skype immediately (the “I look like shit,” “That’s ok I look like shit, too” convo) and started brainstorming about what this project could look like.
I flew to New Orleans, where she’s currently living and scouting for her latest film, to interview her. Here’s a little taste of what she had to say. I think this is good advice for any woman looking to go into fields of work that are currently dominated by men. Until the issue of gender bias is resolved and our minds are able to think in a new way about where leadership and creativity come from, we have to learn to be stronger without losing our kindness and compassion for others.
I recently finished watching “The Intern” by Nancy Meyers. Granted, it was on a plane and the sound and picture resolution were not what you would get in the theater, but I have to say as far as movies go, it was pretty damn good. I’d give it four and a half stars. The missing half star is only because it’s a highly commercial film, and although it digs into some really important topics, it skims just above the surface of the deeper and more painful aspects of gender bias, keeping the viewer from having to look too hard at themselves or society. But is that such a bad thing?
I know immediately some people out there will say, “Well of course you liked it. It’s a chick flick and you’re a chick!” But the fact of the matter is: you see more of Robert De Niro in this film than you see Anne Hathaway. And his character actually has the line, “I hate to be the feminist among the two of us but…” The film seems to say, “Hey ladies, don’t hate the good guys! Some dudes are really great, and lots of them really love and support women who want to be or are successful.” Now this certainly isn’t a message I disagree with, but it left me wondering why it needed to be said in the first place. Just how much “male bashing” is going on out there? Do women really need to be told “men are not the enemy?”
IF this is the case, it makes me wonder why. And it worries me. Because no group is going to rise based on the diminishing of another group. Life just doesn’t work that way. The fact is: those who scream and point their finger ALWAYS create suspicion in others. This, however, doesn’t mean they are always wrong. It just means that there is a way to talk about bias and “bashing” anyone isn’t one of them. On the flip side, was this ultimately a way to tell the patriarchs of the entertainment industry, “Don’t be threatened by us gals on the rise because us gals really need your love and guidance?” I don’t know… but it did make me wonder.
I also wonder if some women hate “chick flicks” because they have heard them demeaned so often that they don’t want to be associated with something that some people look down on. But who are “those people” and frankly, what should anyone care what “they” have to say? If you think a movie is good and you like it, what is more important than that? (And if you don’t agree with me, I hope you agree at least that it’s ME you disagree with, not who I “represent” in some generalized way.)
Speaking of generalization, why do Nancy Meyers movies have to get stuck in the “chick flick/women’s movie” genre in the first place? Why does her work have to minimized in that way? She makes good, successful films that a lot of people pay money to watch, no matter what you think of their deeper message. Films that have interesting male characters and strong male lead actors as well as very strong female characters and actors. And the point of view of the film doesn’t feel particularly “feminine” in my opinion, as if it suffered from another way of minimizing the import of films called the “female gaze.” Her films just feel like “fantasy” to me. A particular kind of fantasy, but one that I think can appeal to men as well as women. I’d call it “the good life” fantasy.
(I realize this isn’t much of a review, classically. But I am trying to put my oar in the waters of review-land one way or the other because I think more voices of humans-who-happen-to-be-women need to be out there talking more about the stories we are consuming as part of our mass culture. So love it or hate it, I’m basically putting my money where my mouth is.)
So (hoping that you forgive the fact I did not finish college) let me touch on the classic review principals as I understand them via Google.
ACTING: The film is very well acted. I felt that the actors were committed to their roles and the worlds that they inhabited. I did not sense cynicism or commenting coming from any actor. As an actor myself, this tells me that the actors themselves were feeling really happy to be there and enjoying the script, the director, and the general environment. I think this is really important because it says that the film was probably made in a positive environment, not under duress. This tells me it was a good production with a capable leader at the helm (none other than Nancy Meyers herself.)
WRITING: Nancy Meyers is terrific writer. I challenge anyone to write as neat a script and as fun a plot as she manages to come up with time and time again. Although I question some of her choices regarding how much the lead female comes to depend on the lead male, I give her the benefit of the doubt that she really gave it a lot of thought before she sat down to give us her ideas, so the least I can do is take some time to consider them. “Women do NEED men, just as men NEED women,” I think that was pretty much what she was getting at. And that’s not necessarily a terrible message. I think she really addressed a lot of gender based issues and how much almost everyone has trouble wrapping their heads around the shift of women from secondary citizens to leaders equal to men. Everyone but Robert De Niro, the old white feminist. I know a few old white male feminists myself, so I know that his character isn’t all fantasy. But he isn’t all reality either.
COLOR AND TONE: Although somewhat bright and glamorous looking, the overall color scheme fit the “youthful” tone that the film seemed to strive for. The trees were in bloom, the office was light and airy… even the trip to a warehouse seemed clean and organized. Apparently part of a “new life” that Robert De Niro’s character suddenly finds himself living in at the ripe old age of 70. That said, there was no poverty, no homeless, no rugged reality other than that one of the characters, a 20-something intern guy, couldn’t afford the rent in New York City. But don’t worry, he gets rescued. Basically there’s almost no suffering other than that by overwork. Every character was “on the way up” and enjoying good luck and the fruits of their labor. Again, this makes it a fantasy film, but it reminded me more of films of the 30’s and 40’s that were created to help distract people after the depression. Escapism in the guise of modernism. I’m not complaining.
MUSIC: The music felt like classic “rom com,” unobtrusive for the most part, and lighthearted although strangely familiar. It guided you through the film, without lyric, allowing the scenes to be viewed without too much “let us tell you how to feel” blasting through my earphones. At times it felt slick, but it never made me feel like I was being talked down to, which not all films manage, musically. Again, it kept me floating in the pretend bubble of the film’s created world.
Although it may sound like I’m bitching in some kind of super-subtle way, I really don’t think that the film was dishonest. At no point did the film try to force me to feel like this was a “reality” I had to accept. Instead it showed the pretty New York full of possibility that inspired me to move there in the first place: the cleaned up brownstones where a single family lives, the leafy green trees bursting with green over a city block in the springtime, the big warehouses in Brooklyn full of busy young people working hard at making the world a better place. A city full of hope and possibility.
That’s a not always a fantasy New York, but I’d rather remember it that way than as it tends to be most of the time: an overcrowded metropolitan area that’s now too expensive for the middle class to live in, not to mention the working class. A place where people yell at you if you walk too slow, or too fast, or for no reason at all. A place where the winter is cold and unforgiving and the summer equally hot and unforgiving. A place that runs on aggression and competition, merciless to the weak, the poor, or the unlucky.
I think you’ll agree with me that life can be hard in any town so a little fantasy can go a long way. It’s delicious to look at the lithe and lean Anne Hathaway in her fantastic wardrobe, living in her gorgeous brownstone, being driven to work in her BMW. Why not allow ourselves the taste of a cupcake?
Speaking of which, I must make a stop at the original Magnolia Bakery when I’m next in New York City. The frosting always tasted the best there.
Yeah. So. I’m doing a doc on women directors. Why? Well… it’s kind of a long story. The basic skinny is that it occurred to me that every once in a while I would hear about a woman director, and I’d sort of “pine” for her. Like when you hear there’s a new Jimmy Choo shoe coming out that you know you can’t afford but you’d really like to see all the same. Do you dare to look or will it make the pain of not having even worse? I know it’s sorted of effed up to compare a woman to a Jimmy Choo shoe (or is it?) but that’s how I felt. Like there were these women out there who had created something and I knew I should be closer to what they were creating… but it just kind of HURT to even think about it.
Funny thing about pain… it’s always the great motivator.
So the pain got bad enough, or the desire to be out of pain got big enough… and someone actually said, “OH MY GOD THAT’S A GREAT IDEA YOU SHOULD DO THAT” in such a way and at such a time that I said to myself… “Well, shit. I guess I should do this.”
So what happened is, my husband knew this one woman who he thought I should talk to. She’s a director named Shana Betz. We had had dinner with her a few months back and I really dug her, like a mini, unexpressed girl crush kind of dig. She was a bad ass. My husband said she might be a cool person to start talking to, so since we were already friends on FB I screwed up my courage and messaged her.
Here’s exactly what it looked like. For real.
I seriously couldn’t believe this. Almost fell out of my chair.
(Isn’t it funny how all you have to do sometimes is say “YES” to a deep idea, and th universe is right there, waiting for you?)
Okay, so I said YES in a really, um, BIG way.
(Forgive me if it offends.)
I thought this was totally hilarious.
And that’s how it began… the journey has continued and I have so much more to share and to say… I’ve learned and grown so much in these past few months… but meanwhile, please join me on the FB page for this film:
I was thrilled to be asked to attend the 2014 Daytime Emmys with my new colleagues of “The Young and the Restless.” Oh what a time it was! It has been so long since I felt that sense of genuine camaraderie and friendship among a group. Everyone was so excited for whomever won from the cast and crew, and then to have the chance to stand up on stage as we won for BEST DRAMA, even as the “new girl,” was truly a thrill.
What made it even more special was attending with my now husband, Jon Lindstrom. As you might now know, Jon and I got married in a very small ceremony at the Beverly Hills Courthouse in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day of this year.
Jon and I have both worked on different soaps over the years so it’s especially fun to run into people we haven’t seen in ages. I got to say hi to Windsor Harmon, who played “Dixie’s” brother “Del” on “All My Children” and Jon caught up with “Y&R” producer Tony Morina, who directed Jon in the first scenes he directed on soaps!
I decided (since I am new on the show and not nominated) to dress in a more restrained style as to not take the attention away from those whose “Big Night” it truly was! I wore a black Tom Ford dress I bought a few years ago but splurged big time on a Prada bag and shoes! I felt pretty and my feet didn’t hurt all night!
Thanks to GirlyGoGarter.com for the gift of a fun garter to put a flask in! I brought “St. Germaine,” an elderflower liquor that you can add to Champagne (my favorite) or even Vodka (my second favorite!)
Cady McClain’s memoir arrives at a hugely significant time for women. Just a few weeks ago the social media movement #YesAllWomen launched as a response to the massacre in Isla Vista, California. While it’s difficult to say for sure what drives a person commit mass murder, it was clear to many people that Elliot Rodger was partly motivated by a set of misogynistic principles. Murdering My Youth is, on the one hand, about McClain’s complicated and often traumatic life as a child actress and soap star. But what makes it a more powerful text, is that—whether intentionally or not—it also reads as a critique of a dangerous society where men (including male relatives) feel entitled to a young woman’s body. Hollywood functions as an escape for McClain, but also as a predatory environment for the young actress. In sharing her story the author, no doubt, speaks for many others, but it has to be said that her journey is simultaneously, entirely unique. Pastecaught up with the Emmy Award winner to talk about this amazing story of survival and—in spite of it all—unconditional love.
Paste Magazine: I love that part of what you’re doing in your memoir is advocating for therapy. In your writing you mention that two of your therapists—Ron and Colette—talked you into writing more in general, and also writing about the trauma. Cady McClain: I think it was really more Colette who encouraged me to write, but not as a form of therapy. She really believed that therapy is about the connection between two people, about talking and working through your relationship issues by being in a relationship with a therapist. She felt like the writing was very helpful for me just as a project. I’ve since done some research, and my new therapist has done a lot of work with veterans at UCLA. She actually pointed out to me as I was finishing the book that one of the techniques used with trauma victims is getting them to tell their story. The idea is to get them so comfortable with telling it—whether it’s recording it and listening to it over and over and over again, or if it’s writing it down and reading it—basically the idea is to help them own it. Owning your story is a way to release the trauma. I think it’s called immersion therapy.
Even more so. She told me a story about a woman who’d been raped in the military in a very violent fashion and she was asked to come and speak to other survivors. And the way she would calm herself down to prepare to go and speak would be to listen to herself tellthe story on tape in her car. In a funny way, it’s like when she’s reminding herself of what she was able to survive and to go through it reminded her of how strong she was. So she could move forward and help other people. Instead of feeling victimizedshe owns it in a creative fashion, and it ends up empowering you….
It has been an amazing year for me so far. I feel so blessed and grateful. Here are five amazing pieces of news:
Number one: I got married. I feel like Jon is the most beautiful human being (inside and out) on the planet. Warm and caring, sexy and funny, a great friend to all, and a true artist. I could not have imagined a better person to be my husband. I feel so lucky.
Number two: I finally finished my book and am ready to share it with the world. It’s a memoir about the first twenty-five years of my life. It was very painful years to write because it’s intensely personal but it is full of things I felt needed to be said. More news on the exact date.
Number three: I got offered a job on The Young and The Restless. I am SO grateful for this incredible opportunity. I have always loved the show. Quality writing, great characters, beautiful production values…what’s not to like? I am replacing Cynthia Watros who has to leave because she was in a pilot for MTV that got picked up to be a full series. I feel bad that she will be losing out on the fun of Y&R, but so grateful and lucky that TPTB thought of me.
Number Four: I got to be the keynote speaker at an AMAZING writer’s conference called Write The Dream, as well as teach my “Dreaming Into Art” class. I LOVE teaching and helping people develop their creativity. It is truly one of the great joys of my life. I was so blessed by the people that joined us in Kansas City. Their courage and art will always be with me. A special thanks to Leanna Brunner, who invited me to come to Kansas, and who, through her company Studio Z Publishing, is helping me make my dream of putting my book out into the world come true.
Number Five: My short film, “Flip Fantasia,” was accepted into the Macon Film Festival. It screened in the main theater to a full house that filled the place with laughter. I am so happy that its two leads, Christopher Gabriel Nunez and Julie Lucas, were able to represent the film at the fest and keep me updated with all the news. Although not an award winner, it was still a success to me because of the joy it brought to the audience.
As you may or may not know, I have finally completed post-production on “Flip Fantasia,” my short film that I wrote, produced, and directed. I am so lucky that the MORE show has done some great promotion of the film, sharing some behind the scenes moments with all of you. Now I want to share with you where I am at with releasing it into the world.
I was strongly encouraged to submit this film to film festivals, even though I refused to even consider this option while I was making the film. I didn’t want to allow my creative process to be influenced in the slightest by the idea of what others might want or expect from a short film. I feel like if you listen to all the “should’s” and “must’s” you can totally end up freezing your creative impulse.
However once the bloody thing was finished, I felt it was time to perhaps test the waters, so to speak, and put it out there to festivals. I know that the festival audiences are really wonderful, true supporters of independent works of art, and that part of it I feel is really worthy. I also know there is a business side to it, where you can meet like minded people, form relationships, and even perhaps find future funding for the next project. So I am letting a little bit of time pass while I await hearing back from these festivals.
Therefore, I have only shared the finished film with some trusted friends and colleagues, and of course with the cast and crew. What is AWESOME has been the response. Here are some of them:
“Like Kafka mixed with Weekend at Bernie’s“
“It’s darkly twisted and hilarious… My kind of movie!”
“Its beyond all my expectations and hopes and down inside, it matters.”
“It’s so beautifully, professionally, very creatively produced!”
“Great music, great visualizations…”
“I totally dig the way all the music fits the film and the actors did a wonderful job.”
“You’re even more twisted than I thought…..I LOVE IT!!!!”
I am so happy that these folk are “getting” the film and I hope that you will too! Thanks for staying in touch and interested in the process. As soon as I have more news about the next step, you KNOW I am going to be sharing it with you!
MEANWHILE, check out a little Suzy Fcking Homemaker on TOLN, where she interviews Thorsten Kaye from All My Children. Yes, I am completely f-ing nuts.