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Guest Post: Why I Couldn’t Turn Down Starz’s Filmmaking Experiment ‘The Chair’

Guest Post: Why I Couldn't Turn Down Starz's Filmmaking Experiment 'The Chair'

When I was offered the role of filmmaker/guinea pig on Chris Moore’s The Chair, a filmmaking experiment-turned-docu-series currently airing on Starz, it was a no brainer. The premise of The Chair was that the series would chronicle two directors making two separate films based on the same script. At the time, I was a fledgling filmmaker, and I was being offered the opportunity to (re)write and direct a feature film; complete control over a budget of 600K; and final cut. Had I shrunken from that moment, I would have had to walk the earth for the rest of my days knowing that I had been a coward.

Did I feel completely ready to direct a feature film? No. Did I suspect that I’d never feel completely ready? Yes. So I did it.

I signed up for a reality show.

All at once, I was vacillating wildly between overwhelming gratitude and extreme paranoia and fear. While Philip Quinaz, Victor Quinaz, and myself (a writing team with one movie, Breakup at a Wedding, and an online short film series, Periods. Films, under our belts) were frantically writing the screenplay for Hollidaysburg on separate coasts, I found myself bursting into tears at the idea that I could write whatever I wanted and know that I would get to see it come to life. Such a luxury I had never known as a writer on a feature-length screenplay!

Alone in the still of a four o’clock living room, waiting for scenes of what would become Hollidaysburg to come to me, the level of gratitude I felt towards Chris Moore for taking a chance on me would sometimes manifest itself in random outbursts of joyous sobbing, often times to pop songs. I was at the point where I simply couldn’t believe my luck, and during the rare and fleeting moments where I could believe it — where my brain truly grasped the depths of this luck — I would sob… to the musical styling of Lorde. I was alone in the living room for most of that time, and our neighbor Klaus was never around, so, whatever, I went with it.

I’m a person who cries when I feel things big, and I feel things big quite often these days. I realize now that, regardless of how much I wanted it, before this experience, I truly thought that I would never direct a feature film in my lifetime. For someone as ambitious as I am, I’m not sure what that says about the amount of female directors currently getting films made in Hollywood and the effects of those humbling statistics on women, even subconsciously. What I do know is that in 2013, of the 250 top US films made, 6 percent were directed by women. Which means that 94% of the stories we consumed last year as a culture, were directed by men. Guess how many women shot the top 250 films, as cinematographers? It’s 3%.

I don’t know what these numbers do to the hearts and minds of women with filmmaking ambitions. What I do know is that, before August of 2013, when Chris Moore first brought the idea of The Chair up to me, and despite my previous experience in the film business and a trajectory that now in hindsight was climbing towards directing the entire time, I truly believed at some core level that I would die never having seen the world from over here, from having directed a feature film. I just balls out did not believe it was going to happen for me. But happen it did, and man did I have a time processing it.

Did I have the instinct to want to pretend to be confident and know exactly what I was doing as a director, doubt-free, the entire time the cameras were rolling on The Chair? Of course I did. Did I want to portray a strong, unwavering filmmaker from the start, so that I could serve as a strong role model for young women interested in film? More than anything!

Was it more important to me that I allow myself to be completely honest instead, because otherwise I would have gone insane? Yes.

What I realized going through one of the most awesomely stressful, egomaniacally fantabulous experiences of my life, was that, if I could speak my panic out loud, the panic then became manageable. I could see the panic for what it was, and I could make sure it didn’t screw up the task at hand, which was to make a great movie. Because as Fred Rogers once famously told his massive audience of children: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”

Not all women would cry in fear at the prospect of directing their first feature film while also being filmed doing it (not even close). But I did. And I’m okay with that. The truth is, it’s okay that men and women are different, just as it’s okay that they’re equal. One does not cancel the other out. There are lots of things that don’t cancel each other out, (even when it seems the world is telling us that they do, like being strong and being emotional. Or being a woman and being a leader.

So with that in mind: I willingly cried like a little girl on nationwide premium cable.

And then I directed the fuck out of a feature film.

HOLLIDAYSBURG becomes available on iTunes and all digital platforms on September 23rd. The Chair, a ten-part docu-series, airs Saturdays at 11pm on Starz. The first 5 episodes are available now on StarzPlay.

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