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Our guest today is a triple threat. Actress, filmmaker, and writer, Zoe Lister-Jones, who made headways in 2017 with her all-female crew directorial debut, Band-Aid. The decision was inspired to foster new creative experiences amidst the staggering inequity on sets.
A couple who can't stop fighting embarks on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage: turning their fights into songs and starting a band. The comedy-drama film, starring Zoe, Jesse Williams, and her New Girl co-star, Hannah Simone premiered at the 2017 Sundance Festival. Check out the trailer here
Some of Zoe’s most known acting roles include some of your favorite sitcoms like New Girl, Whitney, or Life In Pieces. I have watched Life in Pieces with my family many times and it remains a favorite.
Zoe’s love for performing and writing goes back to high school which set the foundation for a scholarship ride in NYU. Even though the film is what she’s most known for now, Zoe has a background in music and theater. In 2009 she co-wrote and produced, her first screenplay, Breaking Upwards with Daryl Wein on a $ 15,000 budget. The film explores a young New York couple who, battling codependency, strategizes their own breakup.
Operating on a thin budget like that turned the experience into a crash course or a production management Bootcamp in filmmaking for her and Daryl as described during our chat.
A couple more production gigs later and she was ready for the director’s chair.
Last year, Zoe wrote, directed, and produced the sequel to The Craft (1996), a supernatural horror titled, The Craft: Legacy. A group of high school students forms a coven of witches.
Wein and Zoe paired up again to bring a Sundance 2021 official selection cinematic experience to our isolated-covid-locked-down screens with what is described as a serene apocalyptic comedy, How It Ends. Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones) embarks on a hilarious journey through LA in hopes of making it to her last party before it all ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way.
It was chill and fun chatting about Zoe’s indie filmmaking journey and navigating the minefields of live sets.
Please enjoy my conversation with Zoe Lister-Jones.
Alex Ferrari 0:14
I'd like to welcome to the show, Zoe Lister-Jones, how you doing Zoe?
Zoe Lister-Jones 0:18
I'm good. How are you doing?
Alex Ferrari 0:19
I'm good. I'm good. Thank you so much for doing this. Like I was telling you earlier, my wife and I have binged all of life in pieces. Is that that must have been such a fun show to beyond. Oh,
Zoe Lister-Jones 0:30
that was fun. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I got to spend like most of my days with Colin Hanks who's a real dream of a person and and acting partner and, and then the rest of the cast. Yeah. Like, if you could have told my younger self that I would be spending my days across Diane waste across across from diabetes die would have been like your lying.
Alex Ferrari 0:53
Zoe Lister-Jones 0:55
But we all we are so close. You know, we continue to be close. And it was such a gift of a show to be on for four years. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:01
Collin, he keeps popping up in your films.
Zoe Lister-Jones 1:05
Can't get rid of them.
Alex Ferrari 1:07
He's He's like a dirty Penny just he just keeps he'd love to be with us that now. How did you get started in the business?
Zoe Lister-Jones 1:18
I went to NYU to Tisch actually I studied acting at the Atlantic Theatre Company acting school. And, and then upon grad, I always knew that I wanted to write as well. And I, upon graduating, wrote a one woman show for myself,
Alex Ferrari 1:40
as actors, as actors, as actors do,
Zoe Lister-Jones 1:42
as actors do, and I got my first agent and manager from that, and, and then, you know, started like booking law and order guest stars, the, the bar mitzvah of, of young actors in New York. That's how I became a woman. And then, and then yeah, I just, I started to work a lot more as an actor there in both theater and, and TV and film. And then I co wrote a film called breaking upwards with Darryl wine, who I co wrote and directed, co wrote and co co directed out ends with. And that was sort of my first foray into filmmaking. And, and we, we made a number of films together. That bring up to a super gorilla. It was like, we made it for 15 grand. And, and it was a real labor of love. But it really opened a lot of doors for us. And so we got to then make a number of more films. And then I went and made my directorial debut, which is called band aid, which premiered at Sundance in 2017. So that was kind of how, yeah, the filmmaking experience prior to that was really bootcamp. And I was,
Alex Ferrari 3:06
like, I'm ready to direct because it's not because it's not being an independent filmmaker is not just be it's like being on the set of law and order. Your craft, he is generally not as good.
Zoe Lister-Jones 3:16
crafty is generally terrible. I was in charge of crackdowns breaking up words. So it was like, Yeah, like many bags of chips that I was buying bodegas. And just like throwing them at cast members.
Alex Ferrari 3:32
So you wasn't I mean, you started off as an actress. And, and obviously, you still have a very, you know, you're still acting as well. And you wanted to write and direct. But when you went into breaking upwards, I mean, it was kind of like a crash course into because independent films is definitely is trial by fire, especially in a $15,000 budget. In New York. I'm assuming you call friends and friends help, then there's all that kind of stuff. But what was it like going from, you know, what you're used to as an actress, and know that you were like, you know, you know, on the Avengers set, but you know, what I mean? Like, you know, a little bit different than 15k 15k was probably the, the Crafty budget for that episode. Totally.
Zoe Lister-Jones 4:16
You know, I think because it was the first film that the first narrative film, at least that Darrell and I had made. It was really trial by fire. And I kind of think, you know, that is the way even if you do go to film school, there's no way to really learn any of the things that you will learn once you're on a live set, because it is just, you know, navigating minefields by the hour, and especially at that budget, but but really, at any budget. I mean, I've now gone on to make a studio film as a writer, director, and and I think even when the budgets get bigger, you're still facing You know, finally similar challenges, they just they just shift in scope, but they're always, you know, like, you're always up against a budget, no matter how big
Alex Ferrari 5:11
the budget or the line you're in, you're up against the sun, you're losing the light. You're always, always trying to make your days. Yeah.
Zoe Lister-Jones 5:18
And, and that is, that's really, you know, I think something that is a muscle that, you know, you can obviously, exercise and learn how to be really efficient and quick on your feet. But yeah, it's always that that dance between the purely creative impulse, and then there's something that's, you know, slightly administrative about it, where it's just like, You're in charge of this crew of people, regardless of how big or small that crew is. And you're really just trying to, like, get the shot before, before the sunset.
Alex Ferrari 5:55
And one thing ending on exactly, and the one thing that they never talked to you about, is, honestly, the politics of sets of being on a set. And just dealing anytime you've got a group of people that you've got to manage, there's going to be some politics and things what you do what you don't do, and you have a unique perspective, because you come from in front of the camera, as well as the back of the camera. So did that when you were on set? I'm assuming there was some of that going on. And especially the lower the budget, unless it's all really good friends, things happen. But even on some of the larger projects, you have, like how do you navigate those kind of like political landmines that you have to within egos and personalities and stuff, whatever you feel comfortable saying, I don't want to get in trouble.
Zoe Lister-Jones 6:39
Yeah, no, absolutely. I'll name names. No, I think, yeah, that you are, I mean, I always say like, the ultimate goal. And I think the beauty of filmmaking is that it's like, a group of people who ultimately have to learn how to sort of operate as one single organism. And that's like, a really beautiful social experiment and creative experiment. But you are constantly dealing with, you know, like any community, you know, whether it's professional or just who's living in your house, or when you move in with a friend, it's like, you come up against, yeah, just personal things, that, that you kind of have to be the, the mother or father, you know, or parent. And you are, and I think ego does come into play a lot, unfortunately, because because the stakes feel high, regardless of how small the budget are, the stakes always feel really high on a set. And everyone's trying to do their best work, and everyone wants to be doing their best work. And, and that's a really vulnerable place, you know, to be in. So if anything, is getting in the way of someone doing their best work, or if they don't feel that they have agency over their work, or, you know, any of those issues will come up. And I think I just always tried to, I believe, like, wholeheartedly that every one on a set is like, in charge of their own artistry, and the more that you give them, that you let them know that, you know, the better it goes because everyone is ultimately there to support you know, this sort of filmmakers vision, but, but each but each person has their own incredible, unique vision, you know, that is in support of that. And I think the more freedom people feel, to sort of express those visions individually, I think the better, the better. It always goes.
Alex Ferrari 8:48
Yeah. And I think also the, that's that what you just laid out was a very secure director, someone who feels comfortable in their own skin when you have an insecure director. And I'm sure you've probably worked with a couple in your day. Career, it's not that you know, then it's all about control and make sure so I've always found being on a set that has more freedom as long as everybody understands that everything is funneled through the one vision open to all ideas. That fair.
Zoe Lister-Jones 9:19
Okay, yes. And I think you know, the collaboration is is the beauty So, like anything the more you try to control it, but the less you will
Alex Ferrari 9:30
give me like in life like in life.
Zoe Lister-Jones 9:32
Yeah, yeah, I think it is about really submitting to, to Yeah, to the collective in this one way while still staying really true to your vision. But I think a lot of that happens in you know, in prep and so that PrEP is obviously in pre production is really important and having a strong script. And then you know, the team around you is is sort of has more freedom I think to to know that like on the day We have to get shit done. And we have to get it done like quickly. But also, like, if there's a great idea, you know, it we're we're all open to hearing it and maybe veering slightly off course.
Alex Ferrari 10:12
Now you your parents were artists, and you were kind of grown grew up in an artist's kind of family. Did that scare you? Or did that embolden you to go into the arts because the artists life is not an easy life. And in any art form.
Zoe Lister-Jones 10:32
It scared me, my both my parents are still artists, although, you know, they both had to work other jobs in order to support themselves and raise a kid in New York. So I obviously feel very grateful and lucky that I was and continue to be able to make a living from my art because that is, you know, it is a real rarity. So I think seeing that struggle growing up definitely scared me.
Alex Ferrari 11:11
But not enough, but not enough cuz you're here.
Zoe Lister-Jones 11:14
Enough? No, I mean, I think seeing the heartache, you know, in the end, the rejection and the and, yeah, just the sort of the vulnerability that comes with it, and how much pain can also come with it. When Sure, we're all making art to make art. But ultimately, we also, you know, would like that art to be received well, and you know, and, and I think, to watch, you know, that happen, firsthand, as a child and see the pain that could accompany the pursuit of those kinds of dreams. It was, it was scary. And I think when I, I knew that I really loved performing, I knew that I loved writing. But I did not know that I was going to go to college for it. And it was actually my mom that pushed me to not in like a stage mom way before I had started to act in high school, I was quite shy, and I started to act in high school. And then I ended up getting like, I ended up auditioning for NYU and getting a scholarship. And I was like, I don't think I should go because I didn't want to put all my eggs into that basket. And my mom was the one who's like, No, you should definitely go. So yeah, big ups to mom for encouraging me.
Alex Ferrari 12:33
Now I've talked to you know, when I do my projects, I've always tried to be as kind as possible to actors. Because I feel in the in the, in the hierarchy of abuse, that creative abuse that you get actors are they have no control, they're essentially almost a commodity sometimes like, because until someone gives you permission to do your art, you really can't do it at all, you know, to get paid for it, then writers are the next abuse. And then filmmakers and so on. But how do you how did you deal with the rejection? Because I mean, it breaks my heart every time an actor walks into a casting session I'm doing I try to be as nice even though I know that they might not be right for the role that has nothing to do with them. But it's just like, I'm looking for a six foot tall black man. Yeah, you're a white woman who's five foot five. First of all, how did you get in this casting?
Zoe Lister-Jones 13:25
Totally. Yeah, I mean, well, it's interesting. I don't know that this sort of like hierarchy of the pain of rejection. I don't know, I don't know that I would put actors at the top of the pain region.
Alex Ferrari 13:42
In our industry in our industry. No,
Zoe Lister-Jones 13:44
no, I know. No, in our industry, I even is what I'm saying. Like, I think that it's like, having done at all, I will say that it's all painful. But I but I do think that like, you know, when when you write something and share it, it's incredibly personal and vulnerable. That's really different, you know, then being like, well, that part wasn't for me, and I spent, you know, you write days, days learning the lines for this audition. It's like you can spend years on a script or on a pitch for a TV series and then it these things go away, you know, and they are they're gone forever. And you're just like what? So, you know, I try not to pity actors too much. I can say that because I'm one of them. Easy, no, it's hard. It's hard. Being an actor. It's hard. Being a writer. It's hard. It's hard being a director, I mean, actors. I think the volume of rejection is really difficult. But I always do try to be Yeah, as nice as humanly possible in in my auditioning people and and being an as encouraging as possible, and I think it also takes to a certain extent giving actors some leeway because some people just are very nervous auditioners and it actually doesn't speak to their level of talent. So it's sort of having to look at everything you know, if someone has an energy that feels right, but you're kind of like I think you're self sabotaging right now go outside and like breathe for 10 minutes and come back and start freaking out, you know, can sometimes be helpful.
Alex Ferrari 15:34
Now your your project breaking upwards and a handful of your other projects as well got into some pretty big festivals I love always love to ask especially like South by and Sundance. When you got the Paul, what what's that, like?
Zoe Lister-Jones 15:50
Bringing up this was our first was our first film, and it got into South by and we were just so excited. And going to Austin was you know, it was it was just a thrill. And we were in narrative competition and being there. Everyone, you know, the line around the block to get in? Yeah, it was amazing. Um, Sundance was always like, the whole the Holy Grail. And on my directorial debut, it was the first time I got into Sundance and that that call was truly like, yeah, it was it was out of body I left my body for sure. And to be in narrative competition at Sundance was just Holy shit, you know? And they they were like, and you're gonna play at the Eccles which anyone listening? Oh,
Alex Ferrari 16:39
yeah. Oh, yeah.
Zoe Lister-Jones 16:40
It's the dream of dreams. You know, this, this theater. And it's where I had as a, as a viewer watched so many filmmakers go and you know, introduce their films there. And it was always like this huge life goal. It was absolutely surreal. And, and for band aid, which premiered there. I mean, it was just crazy. Because it was, I stood up on that stage after the film ended. And I think that that theater holds
Alex Ferrari 17:09
Zoe Lister-Jones 17:10
Yeah, like 2500 people. sanity. Yeah. And everyone got on their feet and stood and I was it was just, it's truly one of the one of the greatest experiences of my of my life. And I'm sure it will continue to be until I die. But yeah, that those calls are always amazing, and how it ends which, which just premiered at Sundance, even though it was virtual this year. That call was it never isn't exciting, you know, it's not a bad call. It's not bad call no matter what it is. and South by to like, how it ends, we've been really lucky. It's the first film I've ever had to play Sundance south by and Tribeca. And so like, you know, every time we get the call, we're like, we really, for each festival, we're like, we get to come to you, too.
Alex Ferrari 17:59
It's the holy, it's the Holy Trinity. He got he got a festival smoking question. Now, when you shot band aid, you, you famously had an all female crew, which I'm embarrassed to have to have a conversation about this. It shouldn't. It shouldn't be a thing. It just shouldn't. But did you realize that it was going to cause so much discussion? When you're like, Oh, yeah, we're gonna do an all female and everyone's like, why, like their head people's head started to explode. First. Yeah. Did you expect the dialogue that all this dialogue to happen? The secondly, as a female director, what was it like? Just walking around looking at females? constantly everywhere? which I'm sure is not the the experience normally.
Zoe Lister-Jones 18:44
Yeah, no, totally. Um, I, I guess, I guess I was aware. I mean, I think because the reasons why I chose to hire all women on the crew of band Aid, you know, we're like, multi fold. Part of it was was just on a personal level, I really wanted to see what that would feel like, you know, like, I'm really into creating environments that that can foster a new creative experience, you know, and I think, as it was, I was a first time director, I'm a woman. I've seen women, you know, have to take some shit, especially first time directors on sets when I've been an actor and I wanted to protect myself.
Alex Ferrari 19:35
art fairs. In other words, you didn't you didn't want that 65 year old dp. You know, who you know, he's smoking a cigar on set doing this chick doesn't know what you said you didn't want that experience, because I've had that experience as a man when I was thinking
Zoe Lister-Jones 19:49
direct. it you know, it doesn't always discriminate you always get some sort of crotchety person the caffeine
Alex Ferrari 20:00
It's always it's always.
Zoe Lister-Jones 20:05
Yeah, God is tough. But But I, you know, I think and I've had amazing working relationships, you know, with men, I just, I think I did just want to see what it would what it would feel like. And then on top of it, I think I was, as we all continue to be, sadly, this we shot it in 2016 just the inequity on on sets, what is still so staggering, you know, I mean, you will oftentimes be on a set with one woman on on the crew that's, you know, not counting hair and makeup or wardrobe, but like, generally, it'll be, it'll just be script. You know, it's script, which in France is still called script girl. It's like the secretary of cruise. And it's an incredibly important issue, but it is like, it's such a broken system to hold on from the olden times.
Alex Ferrari 21:03
Zoe Lister-Jones 21:04
Yeah. And it's so difficult to change. And I and I had witnessed that, you know, I chose to do this pre Me too. But, you know, pre pre many things happened, the world changed. I wasn't 16. But, but I think, in watching in the hiring process, just for me in that in that film, even my women keys, you know, we're nervous about hiring other women who had less experience than the dudes they've been working with, for a decade, you know, like, and it's not, it's not that they were discriminating, it's that everyone's everyone wants the best person for the job, I'm putting that in, in quotes for people who are listening. But the best person for the job can sometimes be a person who has, you know, less experience, because there's hunger and because, and because there's ingenuity, and you know, and I think there is a real roadblock for so many women and people of color for that reason, like it is, it becomes just sort of, we're gonna hire the same people we've been hiring because we know they're working, because it's a safe bet. And so I think it was a really interesting experience for everyone on on the crew of band aid to have to step outside their comfort zones and work with new people and see, like, oh, man, that actually does work. Like we can do that in the future. And, and it's also like, you know, to a certain extent, about mentorship, and, and we shot band aid in 12 days, with many people who didn't have the experience level that, you know, necessarily would make a person comfortable in a larger film, we got, you know, what we were able to accomplish with this crew of people is like, a real testament to taking those risks. And I and I do, you know, I have continued to try to do that, as best I can, of course, when you get into like, the studio system and, and larger things and, and the television studio system, it becomes more challenging, but But yeah, it was, it was definitely one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences in my life.
Alex Ferrari 23:36
Now, when you um, when you're writing, what is your process? Do you outline first you start with character? Do you start with plot? How is that process when you're starting the writing process?
Zoe Lister-Jones 23:46
Um, I tend to not outline unless I'm working with a studio has forced me to, but I do tend I really like writing and not knowing exactly where it's going. There's just something about the there's some sort of like channeling that happens that I think it's really interesting, where you're, like, where this dialogue coming from are, where's this plot twist coming from, you know, and, and just sort of getting into the flow of that. Now that that can't happen once you're outlining to you can surprise yourself, but, um, but yeah, I have tended to not outline personally and then, you know, when working I made like a pilot for ABC that I wrote and directed and then working on the craft legacy for Sony and blumhouse. You know, those things start with outlines and, and outlines are sort of, they're pretty heavily vetted that before before you got the green light, right.
Alex Ferrari 24:51
Yeah, and fair enough. It's their money. So fair enough. Fair enough. But you said something really interesting, too. Like the channeling, and I completely am on board with what you're saying when it comes to that, where I always love asking, you know, creatives and artists and writers, you know, where does it come from? Is that that question is like, Where is this coming from? And anyone who's ever been in an art artistic form, they understand the zone. If you're an athlete, you understand the zone, when you're writing is like you're in the flow. And I love what you're saying, like, I don't know when because it just kind of like, I like to be the surprise, like, Where's this dial up? Because sometimes when I write same things, like, Who's talking, I'm just diktat. And parent Dino says that all the time is like, all I am, is I just dictate what? The conversation. So where do you think like, what state Do you have to be as a writer to kind of allow that? Because I'm assuming it doesn't flow all the time?
Zoe Lister-Jones 25:46
Yeah, no. I feel like I get a lot of ideas when I'm going to sleep and when I'm waking up. And I think a lot of people do people say, when they're in the shower, I think it's sort of like the liminal spaces where your, your conscious mind is like, able to, I don't know, expand in a different way. And then, and then generally, like, when I'm in that, I will just like wake up and go right to the computer. And I tend to write pretty quickly, like, I'll, I like to get everything down. Like if I'm writing a feature, you know, I like to just like, I don't I don't do a lot of like going backwards and looking at scenes. I just like keep going, I like to push through till I have a draft. And then and then, you know, get it. fine tuned. And then I have my, you know, group of readers that I send it to who I trust and, um, but yeah, I mean, I think getting in the flow is something it's like, it comes at such interesting and unexpected times.
Alex Ferrari 26:58
And generally, it's like I do it when I'm driving. It comes to me sometimes it's horrible, because I can't write, but I'll record I'll record but I think it's when your subconscious mind takes over your normal like walking, or at the gym or showering, like it's, it's an automatic movement that you've done 1000 times. So your subconscious mind is doing it. And your, your conscious mind is like, Hey, why don't we over here now, because I don't have to think about this and where I go. And it kind of fives that it can get you get into that vibe. And if you figure that out and how to do that constantly, then yeah, then it's great. It really. Yeah, absolutely. Now, when you work with when you work with Blum House of blumhouse, excuse me, on the craft, which I was a huge fan of the craft back in the 90s is such a great movie. How did you get involved with that project? Cuz that's, I mean, that's it. You're, you're, you're stepping up now you're in that now you're in the big leagues? And, and, you know, how did that How did that come about?
Zoe Lister-Jones 27:59
Well, I think band aid, you know, fortunately, like made up enough of a splash for me to then be in consideration for a number of sort of bigger, bigger things to direct and, and that my agent came to me and said, Do you want to pitch or take on a remake of the craft? And I was like, absolutely, because, you know, it's such a legendary film, and it excited me to reimagine it in today's landscape. You know, what, what, for young women stepping into their powers would look like and, and so I went and I pitched it to Blohm. And, and the rest of his team there and and some and, and Doug wick, who produced the original. And, yeah, Jason was like, I mean, very sweetly. And he said this, I'm not talking to my own horn. But he did say it was the best pitch he had ever heard, which was really exciting. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 29:09
that's that's high praise from Jason.
Zoe Lister-Jones 29:12
Yes, it was very high praise. And yeah, apart like that day, he just called and said, You got the gig. And. And then, yeah, it actually happened quite quickly. Like it was, I think, from that day to when we shot, it was like, two years, or when we wrapped it was like two years. So it all happened quite quickly.
Alex Ferrari 29:39
Right. And we're the only business that two years is is fast. Very quickly was like the least 24 months it was finished.
Zoe Lister-Jones 29:48
And that's like not quickly for blumhouse they turn things out, but I think this was just a different you know, they've been trying to remake the crafts and for many, many many suits
Alex Ferrari 29:58
and stuff. Yeah,
Zoe Lister-Jones 29:58
yeah. And So it did feel fast, relatively speaking to like that one hears that had, they've been trying to remake.
Alex Ferrari 30:07
Now, when you walk on the set for that first day, you're on, you know, you're at the show, as they say, you're at the show now you've been, you've been working you've uh, you've been, you know, you've been taking a lot of at bats, but now you're at, you're in the you're in the game. What does it feel like walking on set that first day on a studio project with the cat had a fantastic cast? You know, all this stuff? What does that feel like?
Zoe Lister-Jones 30:32
It was, it was surreal, you know, because leading up to any film, it never feels like it's going to actually happen, you know, I mean, the day before some bomb will draw up and you'll be like, Oh, this movie is in dire straits, you know, and we hit many of those things in, in the lead up. You always just have to fight as a filmmaker like tooth and nail to get that thing just on its feet, just to get it, you know, just to get to get to that day one of production. So I was just so happy that we had made it there. And, and I always like to do like a little like, ceremony up at the top. So I did that. And it was really nice. It was like, you know, we're all entering into this really fucking intense thing that we're about to do for the next 27 days. You know,
Alex Ferrari 31:33
like, and the funny thing is, and the funny thing The funny thing is, is that like, I'd like to do a ceremony which is very apropos for the film that
Zoe Lister-Jones 31:46
well, we had real witches on set who were our like, our consultants or which consultants so they were helping lead us in some ceremonies to
Alex Ferrari 31:56
amazing that that's the thing. Which consultant only in Hollywood only in Hollywood, is there such a thing as what which consultant? Now your latest film how it ends? I had the pleasure of watching it. It is a quarantine film. Correct. So you shot it during quarantine? It is not it's not it's not about quarantine. Yes, absolutely. But it is a quarantine from the minute he was produced there. Because you said it very lovingly shot during work. Which is great. But the the film is so LA. Anyone who lives here, it's just such an LA film and it's so wonderful. Can you tell everybody what it's about?
Zoe Lister-Jones 32:36
Yeah, howdens follows. Live by who I play. On the last day on earth, as she's in conversation with her younger self is played by Kelly Spinney, who is the star of craft. And so it's like a walk and talk through the streets of La on the last day on earth, as we're trying to make it to the last party on earth. And we run into like, an amazing and eccentric cast of characters along the way.
Alex Ferrari 33:07
It's like a it was I just I felt like you were Dorothy going to the wizard. I swear. Like everything is just this is a journey journeys. You just weird wacky characters and things and you just kept working and you just kept it's great. I
Zoe Lister-Jones 33:21
know. We've talked a lot we've talked a lot in quarantine. I mean, we Darryl and I devised the narrative you know to be shot entirely almost entirely outside and six feet apart because we started shooting it pretty early on in quarantine so so yeah, this sort of walk and talk running into people everyone is in we have this insane cast. You know, it's like Olivia Island Charlie Day, Nick Kroll, Fred Armisen. Helen Hunt, like, we just luckily called our friends, and they were all available because they were stuck in their houses.
Alex Ferrari 33:58
So this was this was this. I don't mean to interrupt it. Was this the pitch? Hey, we're just gonna come over with a crew. You don't just get out into your party, just get outside your house. And we'll just fill you out there. Yeah, I
Zoe Lister-Jones 34:10
mean, not everyone was at their house. You're like, whatever you feel comfortable with. If you want to meet us at someone else's back yard, we enter through this, you know, the side gate will show up there if you want. If you want us to come to your backyard, we will show up there if you want to be on a street corner, and I think because the film you know, we wanted to make a film that wasn't about the pandemic, but that was sort of exploring a similar emotional landscape. Because we all were in this really, in this really, you know, like bleak atmosphere, but we're still like, you know, watching Netflix and there's this like, banality to like the apocalypse that I think we thought was really like something that we wanted to at least be able to laugh You know, amidst The darkness and, and I think when we were having those conversations with, with the, the actors in the film, we, a lot of them were afraid to, to this was their first time in front of the camera. And I think it was like, Can we be funny right now like, you know, it was such a, it was such a dark and, and sort of desperate time. And I think what we, you know, wanting to instill on the set and when we were having these initial conversations was like, you show up wherever you are emotionally on the day, you know, like, and that's the beauty of, of this being the last day on earth, is that like, if you're in a deep dark depression, you'll show up and be in a deep dark depression. We'll meet you wherever you are. And, and I think that was really freeing for all of us as actors on the film that we could sort of just experiment with wherever we were on that day and use it as a form of catharsis.
Alex Ferrari 36:06
You know, what I found fun is I started seeing some memes during the pandemic on social media that where it says like, what I thought the pendant what I thought the end of the world was going to be like, and you see like a scene from walking dead. What the real end of the world is, is like you and your pajamas, watching Tiger King. Like it's and when your movie was very much like that was about like, it was the not that the zombie fighting won, it was more about like, we're just gonna walk around and watch. It's like, essentially that energy of like, dying today, but are we gonna do?
Zoe Lister-Jones 36:38
Yeah, and I think you know, Darrell, and I have not seen a film an apocalypse film that wasn't, you know, like, sort of like violent mayhem. And we thought it'd be funny and interesting to explore. Just like, everyone's been preparing for this day for like months, so they're just kind of like, chilling. You know?
Alex Ferrari 37:02
There's nobody going crazy. There's nobody robbing anybody. I mean, except except for the car. But But no, it's in your set you thinking about it? Like, what would happen? I mean, would it be? What's that movie? Oh, God, when you have the one night one night to kill everybody to do any that? The there's a series of Oh my god, I can't believe the purge. Is it the purge? Is it like the purge where all mayhem is gonna run loose? And like, well, no one's gonna stop us. Or I love your ending, by the way, I wouldn't much rather live in your world ending. And then the purge?
Zoe Lister-Jones 37:39
Yeah, well, I think, you know, I think we the world at large needs, needs needed and need some tenderness. And I think that was part of also what we wanted to do. And to make a film that was like, funny and playful and irreverent. But like, ultimately tender, you know, because we're all pretty raw.
Alex Ferrari 37:59
It's still our it's still, we're not out of the woods yet. If we see the light, we see the light we showed you, when you were making this, there was no light, no light, no light whatsoever. Now, what was it like, you know, you've worked with your husband, as a co director and a lot of projects. I mean, I, you know, cooking dinner with my wife. Sometimes it has issues, let alone directing something with her. How would you navigate that? I mean, that's a, that's a landmine in itself. lanphier. Yeah.
Zoe Lister-Jones 38:34
This was the first one we actually co directed, we had co written
Alex Ferrari 38:39
and co produced you work together?
Zoe Lister-Jones 38:42
films. So we had a lot of experience working together. And you know, I mean, I think there are pros and cons to it. Like, we're a great, we're a great team in many ways. Because we share a sensibility, we share an aesthetic, you know, we trust each other's taste. There's a common language that, you know, I think is really important when it comes to like, efficiency. And then, you know, I think the lines between personal professional can sometimes be challenging, you know, but doing it within quarantine was Oh, he decided to add an extra an extra challenge to, to living with your partner. Yeah. During, during a global pandemic.
Alex Ferrari 39:32
It's funny, it's funny, because a lot of people realize that, like, when the pandemic hit, and they were quarantined, like, I really don't like you. Like, I think this is Yeah, I mean, that happened. And then the other other side's like, I really like spending time with you, you know, which is so it that the pandemic has forced us to do things. Mm hmm. It's everything head on. Oh, it's it's remarkable. And what was it like when you got the call MGM I mean, MGM bought you film. So what's that? Yeah, was that called like,
Zoe Lister-Jones 40:04
it was so exciting. And they've been such great partners and just yeah, their their enthusiasm for the film, their love for the film is just like it's so it's just a, it's like a big studio hug. Nice and they're so wonderful. And they have great, you know, tastes like I think it's just been so exciting, like they sent us like a pass like the posters and the trailers and that can go really wrong, you know, like, like, get those things and just be like, you are off base like, this is not the movie, please don't embarrass me. And they came in with just like, amazing trailers, amazing posters, like, they really get it and and it's just so exciting. And it's exciting that, you know, we're gonna be on demand and streaming but also in theaters in select theaters. So I think especially coming out of out of quarantine, that's just so exciting to go to be able to see our movie on the big screen. And once it come out.
Alex Ferrari 41:08
July 20. So is it day in day, or is it going to be a delay? Yeah, is the end date? So it'll be available on streaming as well as in the theater, but go to the theater? Yeah, I mean, get first of all, be vaccinated first, then, then go to the theater. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today? buckle up baby. May I quote you on that? I'll put it on a T shirt.
Zoe Lister-Jones 41:41
Buckle up, baby, it's gonna be a rough ride. It's a living nightmare. What advice would I give, I would say, you know, just find a community of people that you'd like making art with. Because I think that making those relationships, you know, creating those relationships early on is really such a gift. And, you know, I've worked with my same dp every film I've directed, she's amazing. Her name is Hilary Spira. And, and, and the TV pilot, like, my same editor I've worked with on any every film and it's, it's really nice to, to, especially when you're just breaking in to find other people who are in a similar, you know, position is you similar level, you can all be sort of learning together and creating together and then creating this this common shared language. And I think if you're in film school, especially like making those connections is so important. Because Yeah, just like finding a great sound person, like, while they're young, you know, that denim cheap, cheap? Well, exactly. I mean, it really is about getting them cheap. And, and when we made breaking up words, it was our dp Alex Bergman, who Darrel literally, he was working at a like a mailboxes, etc. But he owned a camera and wanted to make a movie. And then literally two people we found on Craigslist for free. And that was our crew. And, and you can make movies that way. I mean, especially and that was in 2008. I mean, the technology has, has advanced so exponentially, that I would say just go start making shit. You know, like, don't be afraid of, of making mistakes and not getting it perfectly right. Like just start. Just start getting out there and, and flexing those muscles because you're gonna fail, you're gonna fail even when you're successful. I mean, especially when you're, you know, the thing is like, is, is and that's what we're always up against, right, like creatively is to not let the those moments stop the creative spirit. So I would say also know that you have there is going to be a lot of gatekeepers. And sometimes those gatekeepers are important to listen to, because you can learn from them. And other times you're you can say, fuck, fuck the gatekeepers and just go make things on your own.
Alex Ferrari 44:13
not do that. Which brings me to a question you as an actress decided to take kind of control of your own destiny and start writing and then eventually producing and directing. Do you recommend other actors do that and if you're a director to start writing until you have something to direct and, and vice versa, if you're a writer, start learning how to direct and just even if it's at the lowest, even as a $15,000 indie get it done. It's something right.
Zoe Lister-Jones 44:41
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think as an actor, especially. I mean, there's so little that you are in control of. So to write your own work is, it's for me, it's been like a real lifeline. You know, Because I get to write the parts I want to play like, what a What a cool thing to be able to do. And yeah, so I definitely I recommend, I mean, I think the interdisciplinary nature of like learning everything is so important because even if you're not going to do it professionally, like, if you're directing, you should take an acting class. Like, if you're, if you're directing, you should take a writing class, you know, like, even if you're not going to do that ultimately, I think, because I do think I think being an actor has informed so much of how I direct and being a writer has been informed so much of how I direct and and being a producer certainly informs a lot of that stuff too. So
Alex Ferrari 45:47
now , what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life
Zoe Lister-Jones 45:53
um, um man, I guess Don't take it personally.
Alex Ferrari 46:07
Yeah, and then three of your favorite films of all time.
Zoe Lister-Jones 46:13
Moonstruck one of my favorites Morvern calor. Which is also one of my favorite, my favorite films. What's my third? I love. I really love love and basketball, if I remember, right, yeah, I think it's just like a beautiful love story. It's such an epic love story that I feel like is sort of an unsung. But she's an amazing director, and is still making amazing films.
Alex Ferrari 46:58
And then again, where can everyone find how it was and how it ends is going to be in theaters and all streaming services.
Zoe Lister-Jones 47:05
Let me select theaters, it's gonna be on demand. And then I think it will be on all streaming services
Alex Ferrari 47:11
at one point or another, either for transactional or another. Yeah, yeah, we'll put we'll put it in the show notes. So we thank you so much for being on the show. It's been an absolute eyeball talking to you, thank you. And continued success and hustle recognizes hustle because you You are a hard working, hard working woman. And so congratulations on all your success.
Zoe Lister-Jones 47:34
Thank you so much. So nice.
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- Zoe Lister-Jones – IMDB
- Zoe Lister-Jones – Instagram
- The Craft: Legacy – Amazon
- Band Aid – Amazon
- Breaking Upwards – Amazon
- Life In Pieces (S1) n- Amazon
Where Hollywood Comes to Talk
Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)
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Emmy® Winning Writer/Director/Actor
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