The past few months have felt, in many ways, for many women, like uncharted territory. We have seen trauma relived on national television, we have felt old wounds split open at the seams and splayed out in front of an audience of old men with their eyes downcast. We have felt blinding anger that sits taut as a rubberband just beneath our skin, and sadness as deep and immutable as a whale call. We have screamed in elevators and in the streets; we have cried on the phone to our mothers and our best friends. But these past few months, we have also felt, deep in our bones, something white-hot and resolute: a grit, a strength, a shift in the scaffolding of our society, a crack in the facade that has let in a beam of light. A year after the resurgence of the #MeToo movement, a battlecry has emerged. Believe women. Stand with women. Listen to women.
Now more than ever, it’s imperative to amplify the voices of the underrepresented members in our society, to rise up defiantly and keep fighting for a better world, through our actions and through our art. That is why we are thrilled to introduce Light Layer Productions, a women-run and women-focused production company and the brainchild of longtime Live FAST muses and badass babes of all trades Roxanna Dunlop and Arden Grier Dunlop. Aiming to rebuild the film industry from the ground up by championing women, celebrating women, and hiring women both in front of and behind the camera, this barrier-breaking full service company offers women from all walks of life safe, challenging, and inspiring opportunities to tell the stories that need to be told. We chatted with the dynamic and driven duo about the stories they’re interested in telling, how they are learning to “demand what they deserve,” and why the film industry needs more female heroes – “it’s hard to become what you do not see.” Learn more about Light Layer Productions here, and read their latest feature on women in film here.
Live FAST: Hi! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Light Layer Productions: We are Roxanna & Arden: business partners, sisters and best friends. We were raised watching films, making films, and brainstorming ways to take down the patriarchy. Now we are co-directors and founders of Light Layer Productions: a full service, motion picture production company based in Los Angeles, CA. We proudly focus on telling female stories and hiring women behind the lens.
LF: What inspired you to start a production company that is woman-run and woman-focused? What sets you apart?
LLP: We had been dreaming for many years of working together and were both closeted wannabe filmmakers who had never actually made any films in our adult life. Just over a year ago, we made our first short film, Say The Word, which was actually the most fun we had ever had. From then on it felt natural, and almost like a no-brainer…we thought, “Why the hell can’t we do this for a living!?” We realized along the way that we had no female heroes. We grew up watching Tarantino, Kubrick, Scorsese, and Hitchcock, but it had never occurred to us that we could be filmmakers too – it’s so hard to become what you do not see. Our goal with Light Layer is to showcase ourselves and our amazing colleagues and to let the world know that women are here and we have stories we want to tell, too.
LF: How did your individual career paths lead you here?
LLP: Roxanna started in the modeling/acting world and eventually moved into photo and event production. Arden was a tour manager for a band. Both of us knew we were slightly off in the work we were doing… Arden loved music, and Roxanna loved the fashion world, but it wasn’t what we wanted. Filmmaking takes a special kind of madness. Like any career in art, you’ve got to be slightly batshit to pursue something so exhausting, daunting, and wildly thrilling. Basically, we both worked in fields where we learned that we’re really good at getting shit done.
LF: What kind of stories are you interested in telling? Who or what are you hoping to shine a spotlight on through your work?
LLP: We want to tell stories about women. Obviously. What this really means to us, is telling stories that have yet to be told. It’s not just about women – but it is also about minorities. Underrepresented people in media. We tend to veer toward real life dramas, always laced with some genuine comedy, because that’s pretty much how we get through life: dramatic, with a hint of laughing our way through the trauma.
LF: Who are your greatest influences? Who or what inspires you creatively?
LLP: What’s interesting is, we grew up watching what you might call inherently masculine films. Our dad was a film buff and showed us all the classics at a very young age: Casino, Let it Ride, Trains Planes and Automobiles, Taxi Driver, The Shining, Tommy Boy, Happy Gilmore – the list goes on. I think our dad was one of our greatest influences. He really appreciated film as an art form, and we remember him always pointing out how beautiful a shot in a movie was or a breathtaking performance that he was obsessed with. He didn’t have a lot of money, and so he would use films as a way to entertain us. It was somewhat of an escape, but also a way to learn about relationships, culture and emotions. He really cultivated a deep appreciation for cinema and for that we are forever grateful.
Creatively, we are inspired by each other. We are inspired by our friends. Anyone out there who is doing shit is inspiring to us. People who know more than us are inspiring to us.
LF: What is the most fulfilling aspect of running your own company? What is the most challenging?
LLP: Most fulfilling: being our own bosses. Calling the shots. Trusting our gut. It’s amazing how many men still think they can tell us what to do, or tell us how much experience we have. Despite this, we lean on each other to look these idiots in the face and laugh, because we quite literally don’t need to put up with that bullshit. It’s so nice to remember that at any point, you can walk away because our only obligation is to ourselves.
Most challenging: staying consistently motivated, even when you aren’t seeing instant results. We really rely on each other for this. The only time you get the instant results you want is on set when you’re watching your dailies. Other than that, everything seems like it’s never going to pay off, never going to get done, and never going to be good (nothing’s ever as good as your dailies).
LF: What advice do you have for like-minded women looking to carve out an inclusive space in the industry?
LLP: Collaborate with women. This doesn’t mean we need to be exclusive and turn away from men, but it does mean we need to put about 7% more effort in to seek out women. Listen to women – this is for everyone! We know so many talented male directors, DP’s, writers, etc who we love and respect and who we know support us, and want to help put an end to the sexism in the industry. Sometimes it means taking 45 seconds to check in with your crew, to let them know that they’re working in a safe environment, and any problems should be brought up. You also have to do what you say you’re going to do. This was our hardest learned lesson. If you say you’re going to do something, do it so that nobody can question your professionalism (and trust us, they will try).
LF: What are your favorite films and why?
Roxanna Dunlop: The Shining – this will always be in my top five. It is all encompassing. It transports you to another time and place.
Arden Grier: Die Hard. It’s a perfect film (despite its all male crew, thank you 90’s sexism). Into the Wild is a close second, but Die Hard all the way.
LF: Running a business often means getting comfortable with being self-taught. What’s something you’ve recently learned how to do that you’re proud of?
LLP: We recently learned the importance of demanding what you deserve. We also learned how to read, redline, and draft contracts ourselves which was incredibly tedious, but was also a crash course. The exercise of reading a contract and redlining it forced us to say “Ok, this doesn’t seem fair, but I don’t know why,” and then do the necessary investigation. What would feel fair? How do I put that in contract vocabulary? How badly do I want this, and am I willing to walk away completely if I don’t get it?
We secretly think male culture teaches men to think this way inherently. And female culture teaches women to think the opposite. It’s never about what we want, it’s often about what others want. It’s never, “Do I deserve this?” It’s never, “This isn’t worth it, I’m better than this,” it’s “Whatever makes others more comfortable.” It’s important for us to change that mindset and remind women to put their needs first.
LF: What’s on your bucket list, both personally and professionally?
LLP: Win an Oscar? Skydive? The two most cliche things, but fuck it, we love cliches.
LF: How do you feel that the film industry is changing in light of #MeToo?
LLP: #MeToo is changing the film industry for the better, but it’s also important not to just put a band-aid over a bullet wound. If you’ve seen Ocean’s 8 you know it’s not enough to simply gender-bend roles because it’s “cool.” It’s important to put women in powerful, decision-making positions so that we can have a say in how our stories are told. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg says in response to being asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court: “When there are nine.” That’s how we feel about Hollywood.
LF: How fast do you live?
LLP: We have an industry to rebuild…fucking fast.