The A Plus Interview

Zoe Lister-Jones Of 'Life In Pieces' Talks New Film 'Band Aid,' And What It's Like Having An All-Female Crew

"There is an inexplicable magic that happens when women are alone together."

When it comes to Hollywood, Zoe Lister-Jones can do it all. Her directorial debut, Band Aid, follows a young couple who starts a band as a way to save their marriage and work through their constant bickering. In addition to receiving positive reviews ever since the Sundance Film Festival back in January, Band Aid is making headlines for another reason: employing an all-female crew.

Not only did Lister-Jones star in the film — which hits theaters on June 2 — alongside Happy Endings and The Mindy Project star Adam Pally, but she also wrote the script, directed, produced, and wrote songs for it, too.

"Band Aid feels like a pretty major milestone for me," the 34-year-old multihyphenate, who also stars on the CBS sitcom Life in Pieces, told A Plus about Band Aid. "It feels like certainly my proudest accomplishment, and I think it's going to be held very dear in my heart for the rest of my life."

For more on the inspiration behind the film and the decision to hire an all-female crew, as well as how she handles being told "no" in show business and how having creative parents influenced her life as an artist, check out our full interview with Lister-Jones.

A Plus: What was the inspiration behind "Band Aid," and what was the process of making it like?

ZOE LISTER-JONES: It started with my own personal quandaries around why couples choose to stay together. Oftentimes, the work I choose to create is an extension of the topics I'm interested in personally. My parents divorced when I was 9, so I think what it means to be in a successful relationship and how one achieves a successful relationship is something that has always interested me.

And then, specifically, the ways in which couples fight I think was something I wanted to see explored on screen because I didn't really feel like I'd seen it explored authentically or very specifically targeted as a topic. We've obviously seen fight scenes on film, but to really explore the nuances of marital and domestic squabbles and through, as you mentioned, a comedic and dramatic lens.

I've always loved music and songwriting, and I've always had a lot of fun doing it, so I think immediately, when I was trying to think what I wanted to write about for this screenplay, I knew that I wanted to focus on process and make sure it was something I could have fun doing rather than it being just another job. I wanted to find a story that had music at its center, and it was the convergence of all those things that led to Band Aid.

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

"Band Aid" tackles relationships in such a unique way. What was the biggest lesson about relationships that you learned from making this film?

In writing the script, I think I was attempting to distill the differences between men and women in relationships in order to potentially help bridge them, even just on a personal level. In talking to so many of my friends about the fights they were getting into in their relationships and somewhat based on my own personal experience, I became aware that a lot of the fights I was having in my relationship were the exact same fights my friends were having in theirs.

And it's so rare that people talk about them — even to their dear friends. I think there's a lot of fear in your relationship being judged, but fighting is really natural and oftentimes healthy. I just found it so interesting that there was so much universality and commonality between the fights we were having because they can feel so specific to your own relationship when you're in them. I guess for me it was just an interesting experience learning about all of those sort of common themes that seem to occupy the fights of so many relationships, and trying to kind of break them down and understand why we're all bumping up against the same things so often.

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

You mentioned fear, but I was wondering if you would say there’s shame involved in not discussing these things as well?

I think shame is involved, too — especially in this Instagram-obsessed culture. We're all very much about putting out the most perfect images of ourselves into the world, and I think that kind of goes back to not airing one's dirty laundry and to presenting a perfect picture. But embracing the imperfections we all have in our relationships and ourselves can be really healing, and can help other people feel less alone.

How does it feel to release something into the world that you wrote, directed, produced, and starred in? It must be a mix of emotions.

It's an emotional roller coaster — it really is a crazy experience. I don't have children but the only thing I can relate it to is childbirth. There is this thing that's incubating for sometimes for years that then you put out into the world, and it's a very vulnerable experience. I think sharing it is so often sharing parts of yourself. It's a mixed bag of emotions — there's fear, there's elation. It's sort of a thrilling ride. I think it's so dependent on the project itself. For Band Aid, the ride so far has been so artistically gratifying. It's been pretty amazing.

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

"Band Aid" had an all-female crew — which is awesome. Was that a purposeful decision and, if so, why was that something so important to you?

Yeah, sadly we're not yet at a stage in our society that an all-female crew would happen by accident. The first sort of impetus for me was a personal desire to see what it would feel like to make a movie with all women. There is an inexplicable magic that happens when women are alone together. I'm at a stage in my life where it's more and more rare that this happens because so many people are coupled up, have children and families, and you're oftentimes socializing with your partners. Whenever I socialize with women exclusively it's a really beautiful thing, and I thought in the context of making art it could be really interesting and exciting and nurturing.

Secondly, I think in my experience both in front of the camera and behind it, I had really become aware of how underrepresented women are on film and TV crews. And, because they were so underrepresented when they were in positions in the minority in the crew, the dynamic was really specific in the workplace. Already there's a lot of gender dynamics that can happen however consciously between men and women, but oftentimes women are conditioned to feel like they should not take up a lot of space, not speak up, and not state opinions for fear of being judged. There's a lot of double standards that exist, especially in our industry, so I just wanted to create an environment that not only offered up opportunities for women in departments they're rarely in but just fostered a lot of confidence among women in making art.

Across the board, the numbers are pretty staggering. There's been a lot more attention paid to it in the public discourse to gender inequities — but in action, very little has changed. Part of my intention was if you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. 

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

Some people might think that of course women would want to work with an all-female crew — but would men? Did Adam talk to you about what it was like for him?

What was really cool about the whole process was, for a number of days, Adam was the only man on set, so there was a sort of social experiment happening. His reaction was so amazing because he immediately was so enthralled with this community of women and what it meant to work in that environment. He continues to talk about — and talked during production, too — that he just wants to constantly work with all-female crews because it did really change the way he viewed the workplace. It's really easy for all of us, including women, to just accept a lack of female representation on crews as normal, but once you're forced to look at it through a different lens, and look at the differences in ways men and women often communicate, it can be very enlightening.

Do you think the film would have had a different feel if there had been an all-male or at least mostly male crew?

You know, it's hard to hypothesize those kinds of things — and I never want to vilify male crew members because I've obviously worked with a huge number of men. The all-female crew created a sense of intimacy in process. Susie Essman [who you might recognize from projects such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Broad City, or Those Who Can't] came to set for the first time and said, "It's so quiet and kind and efficient." There was this sort of complete lack of ego in creating the work that I'd never experienced before that really did impact the artistic environment. There was a sense of communal creativity that was really amazing and that sense from top to bottom was really infectious and really impacted the work we were all making.

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

You have so many varied interests — music, acting, directing, producing, and writing — is it ever hard to balance all of those creative sides? If so, how do you make sure that each of those interests are being adequately satisfied?

It's definitely challenging to take on a number of responsibilities — in this case directing, acting, producing, writing, and songwriting — but more than anything it's so fulfilling. The sort of artistic nourishment that happens outweighs any of the challenges. It's something that I really love doing and I'm excited to keep doing.

I've always, since my childhood, had varied interests. I went to NYU to Tisch [School of the Arts] for conservatory training for drama, and making that decision was really difficult for me because the idea of limiting myself to one artform was really scary as I've always felt there were so many paths I'm interested in following. So even when I did go to Tisch I was still writing a lot, and when I graduated from Tisch I wrote a one-woman show I produced and starred in.

Creating my own work and exploring many facets of what it means to make art has been something that's been part of my process for a really long time. I don't think there's ever been a moment where I felt I've focused too strongly on one thing or the other. I've made a living from my acting, which has been very fortunate, and simultaneously I've been writing and producing and starring in films for the last decade. It's never felt like one or the other but it definitely does get exhausting to have your hands in so many pots. But again, it is so exciting at the same time and it allows me to always keep going and wanting to do more.

Courtesy of IFC Films
Courtesy of IFC Films

How do you deal with being told “no” in an industry where that’s something people are told to expect a lot? Any advice to others in handling this?

Oh my gosh, I've been told "no" so many times. In this industry — whether it's acting or getting a movie made — I would say that "no" is the thing you hear most often. It's really about being able to understand why you're being told "no" so you can grow from certain elements of rejection. But, at the same time, you can never let it break you. It's this very fine line of sometimes defying that rejection and not believing someone when they tell you that you can't do something or that you shouldn't do something. You do need, in many ways, a defiant spirit to persevere but that has to be paired with humility so you can also know what you need to be doing to always improve as an artist. It's just about really understanding who you are as an artist and who you want to be as an artist so the barometer for defying the "nos" you hear can be really clear.

Whenever someone says, "I don't think this movie is blank enough," if you know very clearly this doesn't ring true for you, ignore it and keep pushing through. For me, I've been producing my own work and writing my own work in many ways because of that, because there have been doors closed in my face and my only option was to say, "Well, I'll go do it myself."

Your parents are very creative people and clearly you got that gene. Was there something they instilled in you that helped you become the artist you are today?

More than anything they [were] just endlessly supportive of any artistic pursuits I wanted to explore and I think it's so valuable for children to feel that way. I almost had the opposite experience of so many people I know that when I got a scholarship to NYU I was nervous to put all of my eggs in the basket of acting. I thought I should study something that could be more stable in terms of income like a doctor or lawyer. I had been so aware of the struggles of living as an artist because of my parents that it was almost my parents saying, "No, be an artist." Whereas so many of my friends wanted to pursue art and their parents were like, "No, go to law school." They were constantly so encouraging and were constantly exposing me to really interesting art. I think that just shaped me as a person and as an artist. I grew up in New York in the art world and because I was an only child my parents also never shied away from bringing me to everything they were going to. That was, I think, a very important part of my upbringing in terms of the artist that I became.

Cover image via Instagram

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Visit on the last Thursday of each month for the latest installment.

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