Women and Hollywood got the chance to speak to Liz W. Garcia, writer and director of The Lifeguard, which opens in theaters on August 30th. The film is also available on ITunes now.
Women and Hollywood: Are you excited for the release?
Liz Garcia: I am excited. It’s proof that we actually made this movie. I still can’t get over that little fact. We actually made a movie.
WaH: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for the script? Why did you want to see a woman revisit her adolescence or the end of her adolescence?
LG: I guess there were a few key puzzle pieces that existed independently of one another all in my imagination that I wanted to write about. The movie is
the result of all of those things coming together. I knew I wanted to write about the job of being a lifeguard in that setting because that was the job I
had in high school and college. I was able to spy on people and look in on their lives because you don’t do a lot of actual lifesaving while you’re a
lifeguard at a pool, you do a lot of eavesdropping. I had a lot of nostalgia for that job and that feeling of being that age and working a job where I grew
up in suburban Connecticut, getting out of work at 7:30 and knowing that there were still 2 more hours of beautiful daylight and this incredible feeling of
freedom that I would have in the summer in the evenings. That feeling is something that I feel quite nostalgic for. When I was around the character’s age,
turning thirty and getting married and I started to feel the longing for a more simple oblivious life. So that’s when it clicked for me.
WaH: Do you think that Leigh had realistic expectations of her life or were they just expectations that society places on women?
LG: I think she had the same sort of expectations that we all have about what life would be like and feel like when you are an adult. I think she thought
life would feel vibrant and exciting and that she would feel relevant and part of the world. You are anonymous, like a cog in the wheel. You don’t
anticipate anxiety and depression, normal feelings that come with being a young adult trying to find your way in the world. In that sense, I feel that the
movie is about something universal, about waking up to your life.
WaH: Do you think it’s harder for women or is it hard for everybody?
LG: I think it’s hard for everyone to find their way as an adult and to match up their expectations from their youth to what their adult life looks like.
But, I was interested in telling a particularly female story because that’s who I am and what I love to write about. I see the world as a woman. You are
starting to see more of these stories, but there still aren’t that many” important films” about the simple journeys that women take the way there are
simple journeys of the male experience. To me, there was a legitimate and important story to be told about the existential crisis of a woman in her late
twenties. I think its very real and not talked about so much that women reach the age where they know that soon they’ll be married and soon they’ll be
mothers and its terrifying because you are expected to be independent and have fun and work towards your dreams in this modern age when you are a woman in
your teens and your twenties and then there is sort of a model of what it looks like to be a mother and what it looks like to be a wife that is not as
enticing. Your dreams are supposed to be satisfied by having the greatest day of your life–your wedding. Then, by having the second greatest day of your
life when your kid is born and then the story has stopped being written after that. That is scary.
What that means is that the images that are out there to become independent or have a self-realized life, those images stop after women enter their
thirties. Then, you become scared that you are not going to have a life after that. Or that you won’t have yourself anymore, your identity will get all
wrapped up in being a wife or being a mother. I think that makes growing up particularly scary for women and people don’t really talk about that. They talk
about how men can be scared of getting married and you have to sneak off to Vegas because that’s the only way you can get any freedom anymore but there is
no equivalent of that sort of story for women. You’re just supposed to be happy about it and not terrified, but it’s a little terrifying.
WaH: Did you write the film for Kristen Bell?
Liz Garcia: I didn’t write it for any for any actress in particular except maybe I was thinking of my husband, Josh Harto, to play John.
WaH: I feel like this August has a couple of movies of women trying to find themselves and I don’t want to say its a trend because anytime I say it’s a
trend about women, people always say it’s a fluke. I was thinking what does it feel like having a film coming out at the same time as with Lake Bell,
Jerusha Hess, Jill Soloway.
Liz Garcia: It feels really awesome to be a part of this Sundance 2013 slate of female directors. One, it’s an honor because these women are so talented
and they have specific voices and I admire all of them. Two, it feels like an exciting shift. I feel like independent film has become such a great space
for women, people of color, and people with alternative stories to view their work. I felt that making the movie. I felt like you don’t have to look like a
traditional Hollywood director to make a film. The crew is a bunch of scrappy outsiders and they just want to make a movie and keep working. If you are a
director and you know who you are and what you want, that’s a really exciting feeling.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge for you in making the film?
LG: The biggest challenge was the challenge affecting all directors making a movie at this scale which was not enough resources and not enough time. But,
that being said, we actually made a movie, which feels like an incredible accomplishment and makes me feel incredible.
WaH: Explain to people–you premiered your film at Sundance and then people liked your movie. How long did it take you to get a distributor and how has
that experience been for you? Can you give people some advice on that process?
LG: Well, many movies go to Sundance and only a handful of them are actually sold at Sundance. What happens to most of us is that your film is shown a few
times and during that time various distributors watch it and some express interest and they make offers. It’s a process of sorting out all the different
offers, thinking about offers, making the deal and that was how it was for us.
WaH: So, you came in to Sundance with an agent? Some people don’t come in with an agent.
LG: Yeah. I had a very specific experience of having my agency submit my film and having a follow-up with Sundance. I didn’t have to send Sundance a
petition at all, but it gives me pretty much the illusion that you know what they are thinking or at least you are included.
WaH: You have been a little bit outspoken, which I love, about the issue related to women directors in the industry. I just want to push you a little bit
more on that and the Go Into the Story piece you did. There are two really important prongs of it–getting more women behind the scenes as directors. But,
a really important piece of this that needs so much work is the valuing of women’s experiences. That’s a really hard thing to articulate to people because
regular people who are well-meaning don’t understand how women’s experiences are not valued. But, they are not valued in the cultural arena in the same way
that male experiences are.
LG: There is so much to say and it becomes for me at times overwhelming. The problem has to do with a global epidemic of misogyny. American television is a
huge product that is exported around the world and what that means is that what our movies and films say about who women has global ramifications. I
include TV because it has such a significant cultural impact. There is a burden and a responsibility when you are someone who is very aware of how far
we’ve yet to travel in granting women equal rights and equal respect and you are creating cultural products. You have to be responsible and be aware of the
message that you are sending out. I think that the most significant thing that we can be doing is continuing to make product, through movies and
television, that comes from the female point of view–that tells about women’s lives.
WaH: Do you feel pressure as a female director because there are so few?
LG: That doesn’t feel like pressure to me. I’m aware of wanting to serve as an example because I want someone who was the 15-year old me to be able to look
on IMDB and to find more female directors who make movies. My only pressure is maybe when I wonder if I’m winning the game or wonder if I will make a
better example if I make my career about money, For example should I try to get into the kind of four quadrant, graphic novel, application game. But,
that’s not me. If there is a woman out there who can do that and make big bucks like these dudes, then she should do that and I will really admire her.