”: TiffSusan Johnson
is an Independent Spirit Award winning filmmaker. “Carrie Pilby
” marks her feature directorial debut. After a successful career as a music video director, Johnson has produced 10 independent features including Sundance and Cannes’ favorite “Mean Creek
.” She earned an Mfa in Directing at the American Film Institute on a full scholarship. Johnson is a member of the DGA, PGA, and Film Independent.
” opens in NY, La, D.C. and Chicago March 31. You can catch it on VOD April 4.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words:
Sj: Bel Powley
plays Carrie Pilby
, a genius who graduated Harvard four years early, now struggling to make sense of a world she sees as inhabited by moral-less, oversexed hypocrites.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Sj: I love that Carrie is a strong, intelligent, and funny young woman, but completely flawed like the rest of us. Just when she thinks she has it all sorted, reality slaps her in the face.
I can definitely relate to many of Carrie’s views about society and the world, having struggled with some of the same issues she’s dealing with throughout my life, including her quest to be happy.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Sj: If we can send people home feeling ever so slightly less judgmental about the people they encounter daily, in person or online, we will have made a successful film. The phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” applies to everything and everyone. Nothing is black and white, and everybody is struggling with something. Be kind and take the time to get to know the world around you — and the world far away, for that matter.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Sj: Funding. It’s always the hardest part of filmmaking. We wanted to make an independent film look big and polished for a fraction of the budget with which my producers were used to working.
Plus, our story is centered on a female protagonist, written by a woman, produced by extremely successful female producers, and helmed by a first-time female feature director making the transition from producing. Getting people to pay attention to us was much harder than it should have been — but don’t get me started about gender equality.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Sj: Initially we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise development money and general awareness for the film. After the campaign, we had a handful of angel investors who enabled us to complete the additional elements needed to help us pitch the project, like casting, a b-roll shoot in NYC, a look-book, a website, etc.
With a great script and a strong cast in place, we found ourselves in the rare position of being able to choose from multiple financing sources.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Sj: The best advice I ever received came from an ex-boyfriend, who is a successful musician but significantly older than me. In a conversation about being an artist, he said, “If you can possibly do anything else, anything at all, do it — because the creative road is going to be long and bumpy and winding, with sharp cliffs and steep mountains. And if you can’t do anything else because your soul won’t let you, you know you are in the right place.”
The worst advice I ever got was from a fellow director, who had been a mentor, actually. When we found ourselves in competition for the same script to direct, he took me aside to advise me that I wasn’t really cut out to be a director, and that I should definitely keep producing. Yep.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Sj: Wear blinders. Don’t be myopic. Have a thick skin but don’t lose your sensitivity along the way. And remember, always, that film is a business: be smart and worth the investment.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Sj: I’ve been inspired by so many female filmmakers, but “An Angel at My Table
” by Jane Campion
has stayed with me for years. I find her work to be confident, poetic, accessible, inspiring, and unique.
W&H: Have you seen opportunities for women filmmakers increase over the last year due to the increased attention paid to the issue? If someone asked you what you thought needed to be done to get women more opportunities to direct, what would be your answer?
Sj: I’m thrilled that the chatter has certainly increased in the past year, but this isn’t a new subject, or a new fight. Mary Pickford
was a principal partner in creating one of the first motion picture studios and yet, here we are.
I liken this discussion to the current U.S. presidential election — women haven’t even had the vote for 100 years in this country, and the hope is that once we break the gender barrier in the oval office, women around the world will start to be seen in a different light. That said, clearly the answer in the entertainment industry isn’t “more women in positions of power” because women are running some of the largest entertainment companies in the world.
Look, it’s hard to complain about equality in film when women around the world are truly suffering just to stay alive. We live in a crazy world. Inequality sucks. But lets make it about the craft of storytelling. I have zero interest in solely making female empowerment movies. I want to tell stories — about men, about women, about politics, about science, comedies, dramas, and yes, they will all be told from a female perspective, my perspective, and that’s what we need more of — female perspective.
If female storytellers were given equal opportunities, including the opportunity to solely entertain — for example, make blockbusters and franchise films and superhero movies if we should so choose — the world would be a significantly better place. Right now we’re not really even in the game.
Success begets opportunity. Women aren’t going to be allowed to make as many mistakes as men, ever, but each successful female-helmed project opens the door just a little wider for the rest of us.
Talks “Carrie Pilby
” and Finding Funding for the Female-Led Film was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.