Filmme Fatales: A Conversation with Brodie Lancaster

The creator of the incredible print zine dedicated to feminism and film spills her secrets. Read on to hear Brodie and E talk John Waters interviews, zine design, and Tavi Gevinson’s contributions to the feminist movement. 

Issue #5! Purchase here.

Issue #5! Purchase here.

In case you haven’t heard of Brodie Lancaster, brace yourself. She is the creator and editor in chief of Filmme Fatales, a quarterly print zine which I fell in love with after reading only a description of the first issue. Since then my love has become a full-fledged affair, which I have no plans to end anytime soon. What Brodie is doing in Fatales (taking a deeper look at the places feminism and film intersect) is not only culturally vital, it’s straight-up fun. Reading the zine is like having a conversation with your clever/ culturally aware/sartorially genius best friend: you feel emboldened, and appealed to on all the best levels (intellectual, cheeky, aesthetic…). Having the chance to talk to Brodie herself has only heightened my love, and I’m honored to now share her thoughts with all our readers. Enjoy!

Your subject matter (“the intersection of feminism and film”) is powerful, and intimidating. How do you break that missive down into actual quarterly content?

Each issue of Filmme Fatales has a different theme, which really helps to narrow the focus (“women in film” is SO wide-reaching!!) and find cohesive threads to tie the stories and artworks together. The most recent issue was themed around POWER, and my call-out included ideas like “Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her, Miss Piggy, Jackie Brown, Nancy’s misuse of power (both social and supernatural) in The Craft, Heathers, the closing credits to Jennifer’s Body, A League of Their Own, M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias (hell, anything Sally Field has ever done), The Hours”.

I like to keep the themes broad (issue #2 was MUSIC – super broad!) so my contributors have the freedom to interpret them. As an editor, having a theme is really helpful because it helps me make decisions about what stories or artwork to commission, and guides some of my feedback to writers to ensure everyone’s different ideas and styles make sense on the page alongside one another.

What’s most difficult about putting the zine together? Any problems you didn’t foresee?

Now that I’ve made five issues of Filmme Fatales, I’ve kind of got the hang of all the particulars of editing, designing, printing and distributing. At the very beginning it wasn’t like that, though! Everything from commissioning artwork at the right resolution to choosing a paper stock that would look great but wouldn’t be too heavy to mail out took trial and error. I’m learning new stuff with every issue.

The art direction of each issue is stunning, particularly issue 5. How has the look of your magazine evolved over time? Are there particular artists you like to work with, or places you look to for inspiration?

Thank you! That means a lot, because issue #5 is the thing I’m most proud of, like, in my entire life. Issue #5 was the first one that was designed by an actual designer; for the previous four issues it was just me faffing about with InDesign. It was also printed full colour using the offset process, which is why the pages look and feel different to issue #1–4, which were printed digitally with only coloured pages on the cover and centrefold.

My designer Jessica Njoo used highlights of yellow/gold throughout the issue (to tie in with the cover photos by Rose Lichter-Marck), with title pages dividing different sections. (They featured my handwriting, which I really loved!) She also helped the zine have consistency from story to story, and designed with certain stories in mind. For example, we had a story about makeover montages in movies called “Oh, Make Me Over!” and Jess wrote the title in red lipstick ON HER SCANNER to get the title treatment!

The look of the zine has really evolved over time, from issue #3 having full colour photographs on the cover, to the switch to perfect binding (as opposed to pages being stapled together) on issues #4 and #5. I’m very proud of how it’s evolved and like switching things up as the tone and scope of Filmme Fatales changes.

You feature interviews with some pretty powerful forces (June Diane Raphael of Ass Backwards, Desiree Akhavan, and John Waters among them). Who’s been your favorite interview so far?

Everyone I’ve interviewed has been pretty incredible! I talked to John Waters at 8.00am on my 24th birthday and he sang me happy birthday; I hung out with Desiree Akhavan twice (because my recorder fucked up during our first interview) so felt like I got to know her better; I only spoke to Mae Whitman over email but she gave such honest, conversational answers it felt like we were chatting. It’s hard to choose a favourite, but Janet Pierson has been a hero of mine for years, because of the work she does programming SXSW Film, so being able to speak with her was a real honour.

Any dream interviews you’d love to land?

There’s a few on my brainstorming list for issue #6, but I don’t want to jinx anything!

Something I admire about Filmme Fatales is that it’s able to seamlessly straddle the high and lowbrow. You move effortlessly from discussions of Josie and the Pussycats to Beyoncé’s role in the feminist movement. Is this balance something you think consciously about, or does it flow naturally as you work on each issue?

I think it’s a reflection of both my interests and the interests of my contributors. That tone is something I’m always conscious of; it’s important to me that Filmme Fatales feels approachable and accessible, and doesn’t dabble too much in academic language. I want it to be playful and funny and smart, because that’s the kind of writing I want to read, whether it’s about politics or movies. But I also value intelligent criticism and that’s something I’ve been consciously trying to install in every issue. I try to break it up with visual stories, lists and interviews so it’s not just a bunch of essays.

Here at The Tonic, we’re huge fans of Tavi Gevinson, whose (brilliant) college essay was featured in your fifth issue. What do you think Gevinson’s greatest contribution to women and feminism has been so far?

Oof, big question! I was just thinking about this yesterday, but I think Tavi has played a large role in making it cool to want to be an editor, be professional and be a boss. I don’t know anyone who grew up a) knowing what an editor was or b) wanting to be one – I certainly didn’t! – until they watched Press Gang or The September Issue (depending on your generation). But Tavi has not only made this job aspirational, she’s made it seem achievable for girls.

Also she’s a brilliant thinker and we’re lucky to have her and she is a great role model for female bosses and I wouldn’t be writing to you right now if she didn’t exist, etc. etc. etc.

I’m sure you’ve seen the depressing numbers on women working behind the scenes in film today (page 17 of the annual Writer’s Guild of America Report is a great place to start for those who haven’t). Why do you think more women aren’t writing, producing, or directing films? What points in the production channel do you see as most problematic (studios, writers’ rooms, etc.)?

I have never worked in filmmaking so really can’t comment on the problem areas in the production process, but if you look at film the way you do any creative industry – music, publishing, art – you see the same trends emerging: men in positions of power who are not following or consuming the work of women are not going to put their eggs in a woman’s basket (gross, sorry for that visual, but you get the metaphor, right?). Recently in Australia the program for Vivid Live was announced with all-male headliners and something like three female musicians across the entire festival program. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of female musicians to book – just as there’s no shortage of women writing, producing, or directing films – it’s that the people doing the booking do not follow/respect/think about the work women are making. It’s a vicious cycle though, because this kind of environment makes it hard for women to be visible in creative industries in the first place, to even get to a point where they can be booked at a festival. I don’t have a solution for it, but I really hope that TV shows like Broad City and films like Obvious Child and musicians like Courtney Barnett and artists like Minna Gilligan play some part in motivating a) other women to make their work and b) programmers and producers to pay more attention to the work these women are making.

On a related note, I’m assuming you’re aware of The Bechdel Test. Any thoughts?

I am aware of it; I actually interviewed Alison Bechdel for Rookie last year! I think it’s dangerous and misguided to equate “films that pass the Bechdel Test” with “feminist films” or “films with strong female characters” or “films where women are fairly represented”. Midnight in Paris passes the Bechdel Test, as do recent releases like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Wedding Ringer, The Other Woman and Birdman. You’d be stretching to describe any of those as being feminist or even good for women [ed. note–completely agree, see my thoughts on Emma Stone’s character in Birdman]. I think the Test is actually more about the films that fail; it provides a short-hand to let you know to avoid or be particularly critical of those films.

Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (who wrote, among other projects, The Devil Wears Prada) has spoken favorably about the older days of screwball comedies, in which female heroines were allowed to be bold. plucky, and brassy without apology or qualification. Do you think those sorts of roles exist for women today?

I think those kinds of roles definitely exist for women! You may have to dig to find them, but they exist and often they’re roles that women are writing and creating for themselves. Earlier, you mentioned my interview with June Diane Raphael – that was all about her film Ass Backwards, that she and Casey Wilson fought for years to make and it’s a totally bizarre, bonkers comedy about two delusional, wacky women. Broad City has been the biggest comedy on TV for two years and Tina Fey’s new series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has just recently blitzed Netflix. Diablo Cody continues to write really complex, funny, bold women; Gina Prince-Bythewood is responsible for so many incredibly powerful films in the last 15 years; Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair write and play incredible characters on Playing House, as well as in the series Best Friends Forever, which was cancelled a few years ago; Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and its less-good sequel) show plucky, brassy women in the final leg of their lives; Life Partners is one of the best films I’ve seen this year; Joe Swanberg is one of the most prolific independent filmmakers in the game and he champions complex female characters and performers.

Something Virginia Woolf tells us in A Room of One’s Own is that women’s interests often aren’t taken as seriously as men’s in literary fiction:
It is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally this is so. Yet is it the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.” And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.
I think the same problem exists in screenwriting, which is why a movie like Brosh McKenna’s The Devil Wears Prada was so revolutionary. You’ve written about Nora Ephron in your zine, and a gift I think she gave us is heroines who didn’t apologize for being who they were, and caring for what they cared about (I’m thinking Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail, not bothering to vote but caring greatly about the smell of newly sharpened pencils in autumn). What do you see as Ephron’s legacy in film, and how do you think we’re surviving on this front in her wake?

You know, You’ve Got Mail is one of my favourite movies (I just watched it last week after having a bad day) and I never thought of it like that! I think we see Nora’s legacy anytime we watch a rom-com with a smart, funny heroine who’s not tripping over her high heels in an effort to seem likeable. Films like Obvious Child by Gillian Robespierre (who I also interviewed for issue #5) depict women trying to navigate work and love and friendship and family and New York City (the sense of place in Nora’s movies is SO REAL and nowhere/nothing/no one shines brighter than the city) in equal measure. Nora’s character’s affectations – like Kathleen Kelly’s love of sharpened pencils or Julia Childs’ passion for butter (not a fictional character trait, but it still counts!) – never felt like quirks or throwaway ideas; her characters felt real and fully formed. In that sense, even if these characters were interested in “trivial” things, as Virginia Woolf might call them, they were still valid and important, because they felt human.

On a personal level, how do you balance showcasing what others are doing with your own creative work? Do you find it inspiring or draining to constantly be highlighting what other people are doing?

As an editor you can’t try to make yourself the centre of attention (says the girl doing an interview about herself); your work is to stay in the background, finding the best writers to do your publication justice and helping their work be the best it can be. I make Filmme Fatales and my name is on the cover but it is in no way about me.

My own creative work (which is often about me!) is not totally separate to FF, and I’m very much inspired by the ideas and enthusiasm of my contributors. I am well aware that I wouldn’t have the writing or speaking opportunities I have now if it weren’t for Filmme Fatales – it’s how people have come to know who I am and what I do. I am proud of every single piece of writing I publish, whether it was written by me or one of my contributors.

I don’t really think of what I do as showcasing the work of my contributors, purely because they are adding an essential piece to the puzzle that will make each issue the best it can be; no one writer or story is being highlighted above any others.

I’m feeling lucky I’m talking to you now, because I think soon your zine is going to blow up to the point where you won’t be able to casually give interviews to just anyone. In that vein, where are things headed? What’s next for Filmme Fatales, and you?

Um, that’s so nice, if a little premature! I can’t see myself getting that big any time soon, so don’t stress. I have a few big speaking engagements coming up in a couple of months, I’m developing a proposal for a book of essays and working on a new magazine project that will be separate, but related, to FF. Issue #6 is in the pipeline right now and we’re looking to get a little more experimental with the design and printing processes, and to have a really exciting launch event later in the year. That’s all in the next four months. Did I mention I also have a full-time job? Pray for Brodie.

Beyond subscribing to your zine, what are some ways our readers could support the feminist movement through film? Any organizations or resources you’d recommend?

I don’t offer subscriptions to FF because I’m a one-woman postage department and they’re a bit tricky to manage BUT you can subscribe to the mailing list 🙂

The most important thing we can do is show our support with our dolla bills. Or, more accurately, credit cards. Buy tickets to see films that women have made or star in, contribute to crowdfunding campaigns to help get these films produced, to go talks and panel events where women are speaking about cinema, attend film festivals that highlight and support female creatives, buy Filmme Fatales (hehe). This goes for all creative practices, not just film: support women who are making work and you’ll help their work to be valued which will help more women make more work for you to consume.

Brodie, thank you so much. I loved your thoughts on the Bechdel Test, and now have a million movies I’d like to see after hearing you speak to their merits (Obvious Child this weekend? Anyone?) It’s an honor to interview someone who is not only so clearly knowledgable about her work, but deeply passionate as well. J and I more than tip our proverbial hats to you, and Filmme Fatales. You can bet we’re buying issue #6.

And readers, something to note: if you’d like to contribute to Filmme Fatales, you can send Brodie a pitch! She outlines what she’s looking for here.

xox E

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