Zoe Lister-Jones Puts a Band Aid on a Broken System

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Zoe Lister-Jones Puts a <i>Band Aid</i> on a Broken System

If you’ve been in a committed relationship, whether you put a ring on it or not, then odds favor you knowing intimately the dynamics of coupling at play in Zoe Lister-Jones’s Band Aid. Your S.O. leaves a plate in the sink, and then a bowl, plus some spoons and half of what’s left in the cupboard, and before long you’ve got a veritable calamity of dirty dishes taking up residence smack dab in your kitchen’s midst. The incremental acts of passive aggression cannot stand. Reprimands commence, only to be met by harsher recriminations, and presto, your fight about domestic cleanliness morphs into a martial campaign over transgressions long past.

That’s the crux of the film, in which Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) can’t help but get into it with each other over anything and everything, and so, to maintain peace and preserve their sanity, they start spinning their arguments into songcraft. The rift between them starts to heal. Repairs are made, if slowly. You probably recognize that dynamic, too, and if you’re astute enough you may even recognize that there’s something much larger hiding beneath the couple’s petty and seemingly trivial sniping.

To put it another way, Band Aid gets adult relationships, and it gets them well, so when Lister-Jones came to last month’s Independent Film Festival Boston with one of her producers, Natalia Anderson, Paste met up with them and had a sit-down about the film, and of course the conversation veered into other subjects: the mechanics of the artistic process, Kathleen Hanna and what it’s like to work on a set with an all-female crew.

Paste: I get the sense that this film gestated for a while before you went through the process of making it. How does it feel to have it in theaters for a commercial audience?
Lister-Jones: It was actually a fairly quick process. The writing process was about three or four months, and then, when I brought it to Natalia to produce, from the day I brought it to her to the first day of production was five months. It [came] out a year from probably our first day of production, basically.

It’s all been kind of a whirlwind, which is not common in the independent film world, but it doesn’t matter. The idea that it’s [in] theaters is still so crazy, and amazing, and overwhelming, and yeah, I’m thrilled and terrified.

Paste: OK, so—my sense about how long it took to make was wrong, but maybe my sense about the movie being kind of personal is, I’m hoping, more accurate. Do you have a little anxiety about sharing it?
Lister-Jones: You know, the first film that I co-wrote, and produced, and starred in, was called Breaking Upwards, and it was a film that was loosely based on an open relationship that my husband and I were in, and we went by our own names in the film. So I started out by over-sharing. This feels like nothing compared to that, and the truth is, while I drew on some personal experiences, this is not by any means an autobiography. So I actually feel quite a bit of distance from the narrative that I created, but that doesn’t take away from how kind of intrinsically vulnerable it is, as an artist, to share your work, and being both behind and in front of the camera, it all falls on my shoulders, whether it’s good or bad.

So yeah, there’s a lot that I am sharing, for sure. And it is a personal movie, as it would be, having worn all of those hats. It’s very much born of my loins. We’ll see how it goes!

Paste: I wonder how people are going to react to it, because I feel like there’s malleability to it. Anyone, whether they’ve been in a long-term relationship or whether they’ve been married, or whatever, will maybe see little bits and pieces of themselves in the relationship at the film’s center. What kind of response have you gotten so far from people in terms of that?
Lister-Jones: I think there’s definitely universality to the subjects that this movie is exploring. Everyone has been in a relationship, and everyone has fought within their relationships, and I think everyone has experienced grief in whatever forms it may come in. I think that the greatest compliment that I continue to get is that when men watch it, they tell me that they go back and watch it again with their wives. I love that reaction! I do think it’s, like, a movie to watch in a pair if you’re in one, because I think it does speak to the power dynamics within relationships in a way that can make you laugh about them, and laugh about your own fights and also, maybe, lend insight into some of the factors at play within those fights.

Paste: I want to circle back around to the idea of distance—you were talking about that earlier—is it kind of freeing to be more removed from the story than in a case where you are over-sharing, or really making yourself vulnerable?
Lister-Jones: I think that the act of sharing one’s art is so vulnerable regardless, that the line becomes blurry. Of course, in this film I’m drawing upon personal experiences, but I think just generally speaking, I have opened myself up in a pretty raw way that, I think, whether or not it’s over-sharing, is still sharing pretty vulnerable parts of myself, and my artistry. Yeah, it’s always scary.

This movie in particular has been one where I’ve been really focused on process. There are a lot of questions I find asked around what I want people to take away from it, and how it feels for it to come out, and those are all totally valid questions. But I try to focus on what we made, and how we made it, and how it was so incredibly enriching, artistically speaking, that this is all just icing.
Paste: And that’s appropriate, because the entire crux of the movie is that art is…
Lister-Jones: It’s a process!
Paste: It is a process, yeah! So there’s a bit of reflection between your process, and what the movie actually ends up being about.
Lister-Jones: Yeah, totally. And I’ve worked with my husband a lot on projects, and there are elements of that, but I think the movie is about what it means to be an artist and how art can both enrich and debilitate one’s life, sometimes simultaneously. So yeah, there are definite parallels in my personal experience with that.

Paste: “Debilitating” is a very interesting word. Could you maybe talk a little bit more about that?
Lister-Jones: Yeah! I think that it’s very common for artists to become paralyzed, to be paralyzed creatively, I think especially—and this is a question that comes up for me—when you create something, it’s wholly yours. When you share it, you then become subject to outside opinions on your work, and those inevitably are going to factor into your process the next time you make something. And sometimes they’re going to factor in too much. I think that that can often be paralyzing. It’s like, “How do I make something that’s going to please all of these people?” or “How do I make something that’s going to counteract what that critic said about my last thing?” You know?

I think that is why, having made some features in my past, not as a director but as a writer and a producer, I did want to really vigilantly focus on process in this. I didn’t want to let those factors impact the artistry. I wanted to create an environment that felt really open and safe to make mistakes if we needed to, or to take risks if we needed to, without worrying about the end product.

Paste: I remember reading one interview with you where the word “purity” came up. Was that important to you to get to a process that was a little more organic?
Lister-Jones: Totally. Totally. And it was really helpful because we had an all-female crew…But it also sort of inhibited outside voices from visiting set. [Laughs] Not that our executive producers would have been detrimental, but I’m just saying, there was no one to come and try and put an imprint on the vision that we were all creating together. It did feel very much that there was a purity to the process that I hadn’t yet experienced before.

…I do think it alters the creative process significantly, to have an all-female crew, and I think that was intentional, for me, to see how that would shift the energy, and how it would ultimately even really impact the art we were making, which I think it did.

Paste: You know, a couple of times, I thought of, like, Kathleen Hanna, like when you’re screaming “I’m in no mood for your mood!” at Adam [Pally], that’s where my mind went.
Lister-Jones: I like that. I love Le Tigre, and I think Kathleen Hanna is an absolute badass, so I take that as a very high compliment.

Paste: Onto the next project: Would you want to replicate the experience with the all-female crew and do that again?
Lister-Jones: I think that I would like to, yes. I think that, depending on the budget and scale of the next project, I’m sure I’ll be faced with roadblocks in achieving that vision. I think we were able to achieve it on this film for a variety of reasons, but even on this film there was roadblock after roadblock, and that’s not because there aren’t amazingly talented women in those positions. But I do think it’s because department heads are afraid to take risks on women who don’t have what they would deem “enough” experience on their resume.

And I get it. I got it as a director, too, to say, “Oh gosh, is that going to impact our product? Is our film going to suffer because that person doesn’t have enough experience?” But I think that part of this process was to offer opportunities to women who might not be given them otherwise because of that catch 22. If they don’t have the experience, how do they get the experience? So yeah, I’m hoping to, if not replicate it, to have the majority of crew members be female on my films in the future.

Paste: You were talking about the roadblocks, that catch 22 of needing experience to get hired : What’s the best way to shatter those roadblocks and to break that loop?
Lister-Jones: I think it’s to take the risk. If you’re in a position of power in terms of hiring, it’s your responsibility to take the risk, and the worst thing that will happen is that that person doesn’t do a good job, and then you hire a different person. But I think you have to give that person a chance, and I would say nine times out of ten, that person is going to work so hard to prove themselves. They’re going to be so much hungrier to help you achieve your vision, or support your project, because they are not given those opportunities, rather than some veteran person in whatever field you’re in who’s just showing up, and it’s a job, and they’ve had a thousand of them before.

I think that was the experience on this film: Everyone was so excited and inspired to create the work we were creating, and that’s really rare, especially in indie films, to have that energy permeate the set.

Paste: How did you feel, being involved with that energy?
Natalia Anderson: It’s exactly what Zoe’s saying—it didn’t feel like a job. It wasn’t like, “Ugh, I gotta go to work today.” Everyone was so thrilled to be there, and to be a part of it, and that energy was so palpable. We do have to acknowledge that our executive producers were on board from the day we brought this to them and said we wanted an all-female crew, and then we put the mandate out to all the department heads, that this is what we were doing. It was so interesting to see the different reactions come in, for that information to settle upon someone, and then for them to say, “OK!”

It caused a lot of people to work outside of comfort zones, to make new working relationships that they’ve taken on. So, I hope that it was ultimately a very positive experience for everyone, even though there were roadblocks along the way—I know it was for us!
Lister-Jones: It was so interesting, because at our wrap party, everyone was invited—like, you could bring your partner—and only two female crew members brought their husbands. It was an all-female wrap party, and it was such a testament to the fact that we just enjoyed this community so much, you know what I mean?
Paste: Yeah.
Lister-Jones: At every other wrap party that I’ve ever been to, everyone brings their partners. It’s just a thing, you know? But this was like, “No, let’s not leave this just yet! We’ve got one more night!” And it was just so sweet, and at the wrap party, so many of the crew members came up to me and said, “This was so inspiring.” Not to pat myself on the back, but there was a sense of doing something larger, of being part of a larger movement to subvert a broken system that I think everyone felt, that charged the set with a lot of amazing energy.

Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for The Playlist and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.