It's impossible to not instantly notice that “it factor” that Zoe Lister-Jones has. I had not seen her prior work in films, such as Beaking Upward, Consumed, or her role on CBS's Life in Pieces, but there is an undeniable magnetism that she has. She is the director, writer, producer, and leading star in her newest film- Band Aid. It's not just blowing smoke, Lister-Jones is impressive on so many levels. She is a super talent. And of course, when I had a chance to talk with her I walked away even more impressed. She joined me at AMovieGuy.com to talk about her writing process, learning to play bass guitar, and making Band Aid with an all-female crew.
AMG.COM: Congratulations on this film. I'm such a big fan of everything you did with Band Aid. I was actually listening to the soundtrack last night.
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Oh, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
AMG.COM: I know your husband Daryl (Wein) directed both Breaking Upward and Consumed, but you wrote both of those. Was it something about finding confidence or trusting your skills before finally giving yourself the credit of director for Band Aid?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I think so, yeah. I think the features that I co-wrote, produced, and stared in with Daryl were huge learning experiences. Especially in the art of multi-tasking, it requires one to wear all those hats creatively, so I think it felt like the organic next step for me to direct.
AMG.COM: I want to ask you about the writing of the screenplay and the writing of the music, was that an organic process of first came the script, now I will add the music into it, or did it all come together at once?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I wrote the songs as a part of the screenwriting process. I didn't outline the film, so as the story unfolded from the other writer, the songs unfolded with it. Once the script was done, I brought the songs to a friend of mine named Kyle Forester and he collaborated on the music, and then Adam (Pally) and I took them on and started rehearsing them. Fred (Armisen) joined in later, because he needed no rehearsing whatsoever because he's such a good drummer.
AMG.COM: Filming the scenes where you play music as a band, was that some of the more difficult scenes to shoot? And have you always known how to play the bass?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I actually learned bass for the film, which was fun and daunting. We played all the music live in the film, so that definitely was a challenge. It was a challenge in pre-production to convince my team that we could do it, because people were really scared of what that would entail and whether or not we would exceed in achieving it. It was really cool and I just think capturing live performances on screen in the narrative format is so rarely done. I think it's so electric, I was pretty unwavering in pushing that as a director.
AMG.COM: Working with Adam (Pally) was a bit of a difficult task of balancing the humorous side of marriage and the struggles of marriage, did the two of you need to do any prep work? Or spend time together to get the great chemistry on set?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Adam and I didn't really know each other before shooting this. I had always admired his work and we had met in passing a few times. I think that whenever Adam and I did meet there was an ease between us. That made me understand that there would be chemistry if we made a film together. I also think the fact that we had to rehearse the music for the month leading up to the filming, just the two of us, it's a very vulnerable experience, and one that very few actors have to do. Especially because I was directing, there was no third party. It was just the two of us, singing in my house alone. That put our comfort level on the fast track.
AMG.COM: It's not always comedic in Band Aid and I want to ask you about your honesty. I think because you were so honest in making this film, I related to Band Aid, where you show a side of marriage that we don't see enough of, couples in therapy, how having a baby is not this snap of fingers easy thing for some. Was that honesty something you just wanted to make sure people see something real and not another standard rom-com?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Yeah, definitely. When you see relationships portrayed really authentically on screen they are generally in dramas. I felt like I was craving as a viewer a comedy that could successfully achieve the same thing. For me that meant not limiting myself to comedic tropes, even though there are many in the film. I gave myself permission to let the couple go into all different territory’s emotionally. Those are the kind of movies I respond to, where I can be laughing in one moment, and then be absolutely gutted in another. I think honesty and vulnerability and urgency were big incentives for me in the way I chose to direct the film. The writing was there, of course, but it was important for me to make directorial choices to enhance almost a voyeuristic feel.
AMG.COM: Now, I need to talk about the all-female crew, what a fantastic milestone to have that on this film, is that something you hope that more people will follow your lead and realize how great the filmmaking experience can be with more woman behind the camera?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Yeah, in this industry people always look for examples of something working before taking the risk themselves. I think Patty Jenkins is a perfect example of that. If the future is female, for opportunities for female directors in tentpole franchises, it was resting on the shoulders of one woman. That's really problematic, but unfortunately it's the reality of what we're facing. I think I was looking to create a model. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that everyone should hire only all female crews, I have wonderful working relationships with men, but I think that if you only set out to hire the best people possible, there are just so many more men with levels of experience, that women are not given the opportunities to add to their resume, it does take a hyper vigilance and hyper awareness around gender inequity and diversity in hiring to shift the paradigm.
AMG.COM: Someone I am forgetting to mention, Mr. Fred Armisen, talk about bringing him on board and was it hard to keep a straight face in every scene shot with him, because he just makes me laugh so much.
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Yes. In short, yes. I generally am a person that doesn’t break character vey often on set and with Fred I found it nearly impossible to not break. He's one of the funniest people I have ever met, both as an actor and as a person. It was such an honor to have him on this movie.
AMG.COM: Mainly I am just talking about you, but Band Aid has such a well-rounded cast of “ARTISTS”, I mean you do it all, directing, singing, producing, writing...etc. Does it make the movie easier when everyone involved is this so damn talented?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: It did feel like the truest artistic experience I have ever had in my life. Wearing so many hats made it obviously artistically gratifying. I think working with such incredible artists, both behind the camera and in front, and creating a narrative that is about art, about what it means to be an artists, or the act of creation. There was a lot of meta elements to it too.
AMG.COM: What has it been like for you to hear fans and critics (84% on Rotten Tomatoes) praise and love this film?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I've been carful to not read too many reviews, although it can prove to be pretty impossible not to, but I think I was so focused on this film with the process and finding joy in making it, that everything else is just an added benefit. Of course, as a filmmaker or artists of any kind, the way that ones work is received is very important, so I feel grateful that we have been given the reception that we have and that audiences are responding to it the way they are.
AMG.COM: I'm so interested in what your next project will be?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I am working on a new screenplay, that I would star and direct, but in my next hiatus from Life in Pieces. That will be next spring, but I can't speak too specifically on it yet, but stay tuned.
AMG.COM: Well, Zoe it has been such a privilege talking with you today. I'm in awe of your work and I can't wait to watch your career soar high, and we hope everyone goes out to see Band Aid.
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Oh thank you so much. Thank you Leo.