In Conversation with filmmaker Zoe Lister-Jones

Zoe Lister-Jones far surpasses the traditional definition of a triple threat, with writing, directing, acting, and producing under her belt. Lister-Jones wears many hats in her latest film “Band Aid,” as not only did she write the script and direct the film, but she also starred in it as well. As if these three jobs weren’t enough, she co-produced the movie and hired an all-female film crew to make it. That’s pretty awesome. “Band Aid” served as Lister-Jones’ directorial debut, and her intimate cinematography is visually striking and gracefully captures the audience’s attention.

The film follows a couple living in Los Angeles– Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally)– whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. As the couple attempts to move past a heartbreaking miscarriage, all of their peers are starting families of their own. As noted in a review of “Band Aid” that I wrote earlier this month, with so much unspoken anger and pain, Anna and Ben’s marriage transforms into a non-stop bickering match over the most trivial things, such as dirty dishes. In a final effort to save their crumbling marriage, Anna and Ben decide to turn their fights into songs and start a band with their quirky neighbor, portrayed by Fred Armisen. 

I had the incredible honor of interviewing Zoe, and I cannot wait to see the amazing projects she will create in the future. If you haven’t already watched “Band Aid,” it is an absolute must-see. In her Zeitgeist interview, Zoe discusses everything from her advice for aspiring young filmmakers to learning how to play bass just for the film.

I absolutely loved “Band Aid.” What inspired you to create the storyline?
Thank you! I’ve always been interested in exploring the inner workings of relationships and in this case I was interested in delving into the dynamics of a long term relationship and sort of why couples choose to stay together in a time when it’s much easier to drift apart. I think creatively I was looking for new outlets to explore and music was something that had always been really important to me, but I felt it was lacking in my life. So I knew I wanted to also incorporate music into the narrative, and that’s where the story was born.

Do you have a favorite song from the movie in particular? It’s so exciting that the EP is available now.
“Love and Lies” is a personal favorite because I think it was really fun to play that song in the club setting, and it was on our final day of shooting. There are a lot of fun memories around what that song holds for me, meaning-wise. But it’s hard! The songs are like all my children. It’s impossible to say which is my favorite overall.

Did you know how to play bass prior to the film, or did you learn how to play it just for the part?
I learned how to play it for the movie. I never thought of myself as being very good at musical instruments, but I always liked lyric-writing and singing. It was so nice to have an opportunity to actually learn an instrument.

“Band Aid” served as your directorial debut. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
It was amazing and totally exceeded all of my expectations. I had written, co-written, produced, and starred in three features prior to “Band Aid,” and so I think I had been working on those muscles for a while, but to take the leap into directing was something that definitely scared me. I think that was part of the reason why I wanted to do it because that’s part of what it takes to grow as an artist. It was such a creatively gratifying endeavor on every level for me, from working with actors who I love and respect to hiring an incredible crew and collaborating with them and the editing process. It was at the intersection of so many different parts of my soul and spirit.

As an aspiring writer and filmmaker myself, I think it’s fantastic that you enlisted an all-female crew to make “Band Aid.” Was the energy on set different from what you had experienced in the past?
It was an incredible energy, and I think everyone who came to set as actors would immediately acknowledge how distinct it was from any other set they’d ever been on. It was a very collaborative and easy vibe. Everyone just really had each other’s backs, and there seemed to be a true lack of ego. It just felt like a true community in the best sense, and that is what often makes the best art.

You wrote, directed, and starred in this film. WOW. What were some challenges you encountered while wearing so many hats, and what were some of the best aspects of doing so?
I often refer to this as what I have been told giving birth is like. *laughs* It’s incredibly painful and difficult, but once it’s over, you black out all of the trauma and are ready to have another baby. Obviously there were many, many challenges, but I think because it was so enriching artistically, I never felt burdened. I would say, specifically, probably the hardest scene to shoot was a scene in the third act toward the end of the movie where Adam and my character get into their biggest blow out fight. I wanted to shoot it all in one take, and it was a seven-minute scene. That was probably the most challenging, from a directorial standpoint and a producing standpoint and a performer standpoint. But that was something that really excited me, so I was able to approach a lot of the obstacles with enthusiasm.

The emotions of heartbreak and disappointment in the film were so authentic. As an artist, have you ever related to these emotions in a way similar to the movie?
Totally, and I think it’s impossible not to draw from personal experience on many levels, but it’s also a fictional narrative—so it’s a mixed bag. My character in the film is both similar to me and very different. But as an artist, I have of course confronted challenges. When you commit to pursuing the life of an artist, it’s something that happens. I think I was very aware of that growing up, as my parents were artists, too. Definitely there have been moments where I’ve faced similar challenges to those in the film.

There were so many fantastic cameos in the film. What was it like to work with so many different actors, all of whom are so talented?
I was lucky because many of them are friends of mine, and I asked, and they said yes. It was so nice, and they’re so supportive. It was so nice to hang out with them at work. I had never met Fred [Armisen] before, and Adam and I had only met a number of times very briefly, so I admire both of them as actors, and it was really amazing not only to build off of them but to really get down and dirty.

Who are some of your professional role models?
I absolutely love Liz Meriwether; I think she’s an absolute genius. She created “New Girl,” and she’s written one of my favorite roles of all-time on the show. She just has a mind that I always want to burrow in and live in for a while. *laughs*  She’s someone I love and admire. Miranda July is also an amazing artist and filmmaker, and my mom has always been an inspiration to me.

What’s something that someone would be surprised to learn about you?
Oh gosh! I’m very sensitive, although I don’t know if that would be a surprise, especially after seeing this movie! *laughs* But I feel like in my past roles, I often play hard-edged, brash women, and I’m in fact quite sensitive in real life.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in film?
I always loved storytelling, and I loved performing, and I loved writing. I do a lot of creative writing, and my mom is a video artist. So I was definitely inspired by that.

What piece of advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
I would say find people you connect with, that you would like to create work with, and just start small. Find a story that compels you, and in this time in history that we are fortunate enough to have some amazing technology available, you can create things on micro-budgets. Definitely be self-motivated in that way, and definitely connect with people who have equipment and find your own artistic community and start cultivating it.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new screenplay, which I can’t talk about yet. But I’m excited to dive into something new, and then I go back to work on “Life of Pieces” at the end of August. For the summer months, I’m going to try the next project that I can direct and star in next spring.

Featured image courtesy of IFC Films. 

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