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Zoe Lister-Jones On Directing Her Debut Film Backed By An All-Female Crew

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It's rare for the composition of a film crew to make national headlines, but Zoe Lister-Jones's directorial debut Band Aid has been doing just that. The same weekend that Wonder Woman made box-office history for the biggest-ever opening weekend for a film directed by a woman, Lister-Jones' Sundance smash opened in select theaters boasting an all-female crew. Yes, that's right, every crew member on Band Aid—from the cinematographer to the production assistants—was a woman. It was, as the New York Times proclaimed earlier this week, "an extremely rare feat."

In the critically-acclaimed film, Lister-Jones' Anna is an Uber driver clinging to a long-dead book deal; her husband Ben, played by Adam Pally, is a wannabe graphic designer with an empty "Original Ideas" notebook. It's clear from the movie's first scene (an achingly familiar fight over a sinkful of dirty dishes) that Anna and Ben's marriage is strained; the film follows the couple as they struggle to define themselves—together and apart—in the aftermath of recent heartbreak. When Anna and Ben play a stoned, impromptu live show on kiddie-sized guitars at their godson's birthday party, it sparks an idea; why not turn all their squabbles into songs?

"It feels like we're both just stuck, and that leads to anger, and that leads to fighting," Ben tells Anna, and the Dirty Dishes, the band they form along with their weird neighbor Dave (played to weird-neighbor perfection by Fred Armisen), is an attempt to unstick themselves.

We spoke to Lister-Jones about the significance and logistics of Band Aid's all-female film crew, songwriting, fear of failure and Liz Phair.

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In Lenny Letter, you wrote about how important it was to you to work with an entirely female crew on Band Aid. On a nitty-gritty basis, how did you fill all those positions?
I had actually never worked with any of our crew members before, except for my producing partner, Natalia Anderson. There are some great resources like Women in Moving Pictures (WIMPS), female collectives like that that were very helpful in finding crew. There are many, many women who are hungry to work in these positions, but we did sort of come up against some challenges in finding women in departments that are almost exclusively run by men; in order for them to have more opportunities, they have to be given the experience in the first place. So I think it's all about fostering those relationships.

Did the all-female crew create a different vibe on set, as opposed to other projects you’ve worked on?
I felt so deeply supported that I think that absolutely impacted the work itself. The energy on set was really calm and patient and efficient and nurturing, and I think in telling the story that I chose to tell, all of those elements (in terms of working environment) were incredibly beneficial to the product itself.

"Band Aid"s premiere at the Ace Hotel last week was followed by a live performance from you, Adam Pally and Fred Armisen; is that the last time you guys will perform as the Dirty Dishes?
I hope not! Our EP came out on iTunes on June 2, and I'm hoping that the band has its own life, only because it's so much fun.

Is this your first time performing your own music live?
The only band I’ve ever been in was in high school and college;and I was a backup singer and had a few of my own songs, but the songs were all written by our frontman. That experience really helped me find my voice as a singer, and my persona onstage as a live performer. I started to write lyrics more once I graduated college, and started collaborating with a friend of mine, Kyle Forester, in putting my lyrics to music. On my first feature, Breaking Upwards, which I co-wrote and starred in, we had a few songs where I wrote the lyrics and Kyle did the music, so we collaborated again on the music for Band Aid.I’ve been writing songs over the years, but I’ve never played an instrument. I learned bass for the film, which was a scary and exciting challenge!

What musical influences did you draw upon while writing lyrics for the movie?
There’s an era in New York of music that I really loved‚—this band called The Rapture served as inspiration for some of the dancier tracks. The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this band called the Liars, they all had a big scene in New York when I was in college. In my adolescence, the bands that were most transformative for me in terms of my musical tastes were Pavement and Liz Phair.

I was actually thinking a lot about "Exile in Guyville" when I heard the movie's score.
That album was, like, everything to me. Anyone who was on Matador Records, I was very excited by.

In a lot of ways, Band-Aid is an exploration of failure, and what it means to fail creatively. Did you draw from your experience as a writer and actor to tell such a vivid, relatable story?
Absolutely. I mean, obviously the life of an artist is one that is filled with heartbreak. (Laughs.) I think that it’s impossible not to have to confront a lot of those fears around failure or success, especially when you’re putting your own work out there.

What was it like to paint such an intimate portrait of a rocky marriage, particularly working with your husband (writer/director Daryl Wein)?
I’ve worked with my husband for many years on films, and Band Aid is about going through the artistic process in collaboration with a romantic partner, which I think can be a really interesting process, but can also totally interfere with the relationship itself. My husband was an executive producer on the movie, but he was not allowed on set. (Laughs) We had five male executive producers, but none of them were allowed on set. I had to draw some very distinct boundaries in terms of creating a space where women were calling every shot. I always want to be inclusive, but there was an element of not being so with my own husband in terms of the production itself. My husband was really excited and supportive, though.

You looked so confident performing onstage, in Band Aid and at the movie's premiere; was it nerve-racking at all for you to play music live?
Yeah, totally. It was very important to me that we play all the music live, because whenever I see film or TV where live performance has been pre-taped, it really takes me out of it. In this story in particular, where the imperfections were very much part of the storytelling, we had to play live.It was scary, but it was also really fun - I think all of the things we were really feeling about playing live were very much a part of the characters we were playing, so it worked out.

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Band Aid is currently playing at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark will be released on VOD on June 9.