Posted on August 15 2018
Amy Photo by Ashly Covington
This week, we caught up with Amy Adrion - Director and Writer. Amy's recent documentary "Half The Picture" shines a light on gender discrimination in the film industry and includes in-depth interviews with prominent female filmmakers including Ava DuVernay, Jill Soloway, and Lena Dunham.
In this interview, we discuss her childhood, the challenges of female filmmakers, tackling sexism in Hollywood and the importance of telling our stories as women.
Here's her story:
Natalie Bardega: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, what were you like growing up and how would your parents have described you?
Amy Adrion: I’m an only child who spent a lot of time dreaming up stories and putting on plays and shows with my friends. A highlight was when a couple of friends and I interrupted the 4th grade boys kickball game and told them, “Ok, you’re Kenickie, you’re Danny, you’re Sonny” etc. and we made them act out scenes and sing songs from Grease... (I was Rizzo). Lots of make believe and putting on shows. I loved it then and I love it now.
My parents are the least critical, most supportive people in the world - so it would probably be embarrassingly nice. Though they might also reveal that I’ve never sent a non-belated birthday card in my life.
Bardega: What inspired you to get into filmmaking and what has been your experience/challenges you have faced working in a male dominated field?
Adrion: My parents are huge movie fans, so classic movies were always on TV growing up - The White Sheik, The Thin Man, The Great Escape, Fireman's Ball, Slap Shot - highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between. I was always drawn to filmmaking but it seemed like such a crazy idea, to actually make a living as a director - like, who does that? But after working in independent film production in Boston and New York, then in film distribution, it became clearer that I didn’t want to be working on, or selling, other people’s movies - I wanted to make my own movies, so I attended UCLA’s MFA Film Directing program.
Personally, I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences in this business. Where I’ve faced sexism has been more in having my work deemed small or niche because it centers women. Even at Sundance this year, where Half The Picture premiered, the two dominant narratives coming out of the festival were that there were really strong films by, and about, women and also that there was nothing to buy. Those ideas are very interrelated and the industry needs to wake up and realize that women’s stories are not niche but are universal in the same way men’s stories are.
Bardega: Your documentary Half The Picture features amazing female filmmakers - can you tell us about it - what inspired/motivated you to do this project?
Adrion: Half The Picture is a celebration of the groundbreaking work of women directors that also explores the systemic challenges that women face in the business. I’ve been following this issue for years and when the ACLU got involved, opening an investigation into systemic discrimination in the hiring of directors, it felt like finally, something might change. Huge props to Melissa Goodman and Ariela Migdal at the ACLU who have done so much to legitimize the concerns of women directors whose complaints had been dismissed as the grumblings of a few untalented women for decades. Statistically, it’s been shown, women have been fighting an un-winnable battle. Despite their talent, their hustle, their determination, women are being systemically shut out of the business and it’s exciting that finally, our concerns are beginning to be treated as the employment discrimination issue that it is.
I approached all the women we interviewed through a friend or colleague. I’m so grateful to the women who sat down with us as they are incredibly busy and it’s a risk for them to talk candidly about what’s wrong with the business that employs them. I greatly admire their bravery in speaking out.
Of course, there are a few women I approached whose experiences I would have loved to include in the film and either it didn’t work schedule-wise, or they just didn’t want, or feel comfortable, speaking about this issue on camera and I understand that. There’s been a longstanding atmosphere of fear in Hollywood where women feel they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by speaking out. Thankfully, that’s changing, and the women in the film are a huge part of that change.
Kasi Lemmons as seen on the Odyssey recorder/monitor, Photo Soraya Selene
Bardega: What were the biggest challenges you faced making this documentary and how did you overcome them?
Adrion: The biggest challenge was having limited resources, which is the case for many (most?) independent filmmakers. You need to convince people that your story is worth telling, that it will find an audience and that you’re the right person to direct it. And when you don’t have a huge body of work behind you that can be tough, so you wind up working with limited resources and doing many of the jobs yourself. I also have to give a shout out to our talented, indefatigable, absolutely down-for-the-cause crew, who went above and beyond in their commitment to this film, which is the only way we were able to get the damn thing made! To overcome not having money, you have to get creative in your storytelling, surround yourself with the right crew and work your ass off. Which we did.
Bardega: What are some of the things you’ve heard from the audience who have seen it?
Adrion: After every screening women come up to me and tell me they’re going home that night to work on their script, short film, doc, feature - that our film has given them the push they needed to make their own movies and that just blows my mind. I think some people may fear that "Half The Picture" is a bummer or “educational” in the “eat your vegetables” kind of way, and nothing could be further from the truth. People come out of the theater pumping their fists in the air, fired up, and I love that.
Bardega: Why is it important for women to tell their stories?
Adrion: Because we’re on a blue planet floating in space and there’s a bunch of us human beings on here and yet the same old stories have been told by the same group of people, over and over and over again. It’s a fundamental human need to share our experience, our perspective, our story and in so doing, we live a richer, fuller life. And in so doing, we also enrich the lives of others who will be more entertained, more challenged, more delighted and more empathetic than they would have been had they not been exposed to stories outside their own experience.
Bardega: Who inspires you and why?
Adrion: I’m inspired by each and every woman we interview in HALF THE PICTURE - dreamers and fighters, all who have managed to endure, despite working in an industry that systemically sidelines, undermines and ignores their talent.
I am in awe of women like Lena Dunham who bravely speak their truth and refuse to be shut down by those who are threatened by a young, smart, fearless woman taking center stage. Ava DuVernay and Jill Soloway are leaders of movements who so well state the importance of representation and creation, of activism and community. Outside of the business I’m deeply inspired by Hillary Clinton - talk about a survivor. Disagree with her politics all you want, but that anyone can withstand the level of hatred and vitriol she’s been subjected to in public life and not just want to hide under a rock amazes me. She just refuses to get knocked down. If she can keep fighting for what she believes in, after taking that kind of abuse, goodness knows I can keep going!
Lena Dunham with the crew of HALF THE PICTURE, Photo Tommy Kha
Bardega: Finally, what is the best advice of advice a woman has given you?
Adrion: "Half The Picture" itself is the best distillation of ALL the advice the women in the film gave me and I hope everyone checks it out - it’s on iTunes now, people! Support a woman-directed film about women artists! That said, the cliff notes version goes something like this:
• Have a thick skin, be mentally tough, take advice/notes/criticism and work on getting better at your craft every single day.
• Invest in yourself and your ideas. Not just money, but time and energy - so often we put ourselves last - after family, jobs, relationships - but if we want to be artists we need to prioritize our own creative work.
• We all have our own path, don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
• Listen to your instincts and SPEAK UP when something feels wrong or off - you know your story better than anyone, so don’t be pushed around, even by people with more experience.
• Surround yourself with people who are excited by your vision and who want to work with you. If a collaborator feels like they’re doing you a favor, if their heart isn’t in it, if you get a vibe of disrespect or disinterest, cut them loose (assuming it’s in your power to do so) and find someone else.
• Find your tribe of other creators who support you and support them back. Whether that’s your film school crew, film groups in your town or online, people you know from festivals, creative writing workshops, whatever - find them and support one another - you’ll need it.
• Make something you care about deeply! Don’t try to gauge or predict what the “industry” is looking for - make something you’re obsessed with, passionate about, excited to work on every single day for years, because that’s how long it’s going to take. Then, even if the film doesn’t find phenomenal success or reach a huge audience, you can still be proud of what you’ve made.
• I’ve heard the following: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” There’s movement and energy in beginning, rather than just thinking or dreaming about what you want to do. So, just start - NOW!
Half The Picture is now available on iTunes