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Guest Post: Collaboration, Not Competition

Guest Post: Collaboration, Not Competition

I’ve always been a woman who liked to think herself in control of her own destiny.  What I found, though, was that in order to collaborate with destiny, I had to collaborate with other women.

I am a writer by vocation; I write because I don’t have any other choice.  Writing is often stiflingly noncollaborative, which is especially ironic for me, a person who thrives on social contact.  When I was writing my first novel, Sister Mischief, I had just moved from New York to San Francisco; I was lonely and bewildered, and the practice of inventing four girlfriends on an adventure almost seemed to replace the real girlfriend adventure I had left somewhere on the streets of Brooklyn.  I cherish the conversations the novel eventually generated, but I left the process of writing it hungry for an artistic medium more conducive to conversation itself.

With this I began the creation of my first feature film, Farah Goes Bang, which follows a twentysomething woman, Farah Mahtab, who tries to lose her virginity as she campaigns with her two best friends for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.  My best friend, sometime roommate, and longtime artistic collaborator, Meera Menon, and I had been talking about moviemaking for a long time.  We met when she acted in my first play in 2003, our sophomore year of college, collaborated on several short films and created a relationship in which we could always rely on each other for artistic support.  I came to realize that my relationship with Meera was actually the most influential artistic relationship I’d ever had–that not only had knowing her quite made me a better artist, but that I wanted to get behind all her projects.  We both agreed that we shared a "bottom line about women and art." 

On a beach in Venice, I took out my notebook and we hashed out the first outline of Farah Goes Bang, and over three weeks in a coffee shop in Berkeley, we wrote the first draft.  Within a month, we were in too deep to go back.  We had set out to write a comedy about a girl struggling to lose her virginity; we’d lived the process, but the films we saw told only the stories of male desire.  Our idea was simple: we wanted to tell a diverse, powerful, and hilarious story not about desirable women, but about a woman’s desire. 

I recount all of this to emphasize how authentic it feels to Meera and I to be making a film about women actively pursuing an objective, an agenda, and a destiny, about women who support and inspire each other to "Do Something" and "Be Somebody."  This ethos of female collaboration pervades every aspect of Farah Goes Bang, from the road-trip buddy story our heroines Farah, K.J., and Roopa enact, to the close personal and professional relationships we have with our core crew, to the rapport we’re building with and between our stars, Nikohl Boosheri, Kandis Erickson, and Kiran Deol, to the way we relate to other women filmmakers. 

We live in a society that tells us that female ambition is a zero-sum game: that there are only so many rungs on the ladder for women, so we have to knock each other down in order to reach them.  This, we believe centrally, is a myth.  Meera and I have seen too many times the destructive power of female competition, and we insist upon female collaboration as its antidote.  We want to provide great jobs, above the line and behind the camera, for women.  In front of the camera, we want to give smart, talented actresses roles beyond those of girlfriends, wives, and accessories.  We’re not just artists anymore: we now co-own a woman-powered business that creates jobs and values its employees.

Every artist has a responsibility to illustrate her flawed, complex, subjective, and unique vision of the world, and the way Meera and I inherit that responsibility with Farah Goes Bang is undeniably distinct from many other examples of female-led projects.  Because of our own unique experiences, we feel a responsibility to portray complex, whole characters of color.  We feel a responsibility to interrogate the boundaries of what “mainstream” images are.  “Make it new,” I’ve muttered to myself again and again in the midst of creation, channeling the poet Ezra Pound.  Meera and I are declaring our own vantage point on the world, one that privileges our own points of view and sacrifices some others.  Collaboration doesn’t mean always having to agree, and I think many of the disagreements Meera and I have had about our film and our business have been incredibly productive.  I always say that conflict reminds us that we’re separate people, and Meera’s and my separateness, as well as our unity, is one of our strengths: it’s what allows us the credibility to make a truly multicultural film, in fact.

As I’ve been writing this, I received a Facebook comment about FGB that feels strikingly appropriate.  “I've lamented for years that women characters are so often "the love interest" rather than the three-dimensional protagonist with a quest,” a friend from my childhood spelling bee days writes, “and have hypothesized that there would be less violence against women if men consumed more female-centric fiction and thereby learned to empathize with us as being no less complex than themselves. Well, here comes Farah Goes Bang to demonstrate once more that narrative fiction can change the culture and save lives.”

In this way–because women’s lives are most authentically represented in the hands of women themselves, and because truthful media forces all of us to enter an experience outside our own–the female collaboration that emboldens fair representation really is a matter of life and death.  It’s why I get out of bed every morning, it’s why I write books, and it’s why I make movies.  Meera and I wrote a story about women traveling their own American odyssey, and every member of our team will be living that story when we shoot this summer: an American odyssey in a female voice.  

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Laura Goode is a filmmaker, novelist, essayist, and poet.  Her first novel, Sister Mischief, was released by Candlewick Press in 2011, and her first feature film, Farah Goes Bang, which she co-wrote with Meera Menon and will produce, is currently in pre-production. 
 

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Comments

Shannon

Laura, I love this post! Are you still in San Francisco? I'm a screenwriter in Oakland and run a lady writing group: Bitches Who Write. I'm always looking to meet other women who are striving to make feminist films! Let me know if you are interested in meeting up or stopping by one of our writer groups.

Meeta Kaur

Lovely post! I love how you are holding every ounce of yourself, your partner, and women with grace! :)

Mina

Yay! So glad you're out there. Count me in.

Melanie

Love this! Thanks for writing, keep up the good work (obligatory 'not a spambot' comment here).

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