“The Female Brain
is a Los Angeles-based comedian, actor, writer, producer, and director. Best known for creating and starring in the NBC series “Whitney
,” she also co-created and co-wrote the Emmy-nominated CBS comedy series “2 Broke Girls,” along with Michael Patrick King
. Her acting credits include “Unforgettable
,” “The Wedding Ringer
,” “Made of Honor
,” and “The Ridiculous Six
“The Female Brain
” will premiere at the 2017 La Film Festival on June 17.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Wc: The film is a neurology comedy — not that I even have any idea what that means! We made a movie that depicted how our reptilian/primal brain undermines our modern day relationships. When conflict happens in scenes, brains are superimposed over the actors to show which neuro-chemicals are being released. The only way I know how to describe it is that it’s like a sexy, funny “Magic School Bus.”
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Wc: I read Louann Brizendine
’s book “The Female Brain
.” I was fascinated by all the things I learned about not only female brains, but the brain in general. I was shocked that they don’t teach us about our brains in school. It’s so unfair that we go through life being labeled as “crazy” or feeling like jerks when a lot of our behavior can be explained by our primal brain reactions.
I was so relieved to find out that a lot of my nutty behavior, and the behavior that frustrated me about the men I was in relationships with, could often be explained by primordial neuro-chemicals. It led me into a wormhole of trying to learn about the difference between nature and nurture, and to have more patience for people in times of stress given I now know how powerful cortisol and adrenaline can be.
Similarly, I have more patience and even compassion when people do selfish things given how strong the pull of dopamine is. I felt the need to be an evangelist and spread the word of the neurological gospel, but of course needed to do it in a funny way, so I or the viewer wasn’t bored out of their minds.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Wc: I want them to have the same sense of relief I had when I read the book, and the same feeling you get after leaving a comedy show. Nothing makes me feel less alone than when someone admits to something and you think “I thought I was the only person who did that!”
The idea of the movie is to reveal private moments we’ve all had but maybe are too embarrassed to talk about, or too ashamed to be honest about. I hope that moving forward, when someone in a relationship gets jealous or hurt, they can maybe use the science to feel less guilt or shame and to calm themselves down, i.e. “that wasn’t personal. This is just adrenaline. My primordial brain thinks I’m in danger but I’m really not.”
Our brains have not evolved fast enough to catch up to modern technology and to how safe our current environment is. Often, our instinct to snap into fight or flight mode is obsolete and just makes a mess of harmless situations that can easily be explained by neurology.
I hope everyone leaves the theater with an interest in how our brains work, and maybe just a bit more patience for themselves and for others. After this movie I hope people leave with a new vocabulary for how to talk about their behavior and feelings.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Wc: Making an independent film is so hard and requires so much surrender. I think that was the hardest thing for me — to detach from the plan I had in my head and to allow for the curve balls to change the movie into what it was meant to be.
I got great advice from a friend who is a director who said, “you have three movies: the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one people see,” and that really helped me. Casting, location changes, weather, and technology fiascoes — these forces all get involved and fate starts directing the movie at a certain point.Letting go
and accepting that not everything was going to be the way I had it in my head was very challenging. Also as a comedian, I tend to want everything to be funny all the time, but this movie, whether it was because of the incredible cast or the subject matter, wanted to be more emotional than I anticipated so I had to surrender to that as well. I’m proud that it has so much heart but I didn’t quite envision it that way initially.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Wc: Making an independent film is a Rubik’s Cube of complications and weird math equations that I’ll never quite understand, and it had a bizarre road but finally it landed with Erika Olde
at Black Bicycle Entertainment
, an incredible woman who is supporting female-driven films.
She’s brave and fearless and a champion of risk and all things fresh and new. I was lucky enough to have her support and patience. She responded to the script and trusted me for some reason, so we jumped off this cliff together and managed to pull it off, but not without a couple premature gray hairs.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Laff?
Wc: I’m honored to be able to screen the movie for the first time in La. It’s where we shot the movie, it’s where I learned about movies, it’s where our film business is. I’m glad that other parts of the country get to film movies these days, with so much shooting in Georgia and New Mexico, because it’s great for their economies and the overall health of the business.
However, there was something special about shooting in La — being able to sleep in my bed, get actors I would not get to have if we shot out of state, and now screening it here, the original home of the business and so many passionate movie geeks.
This is an unapologetically commercial movie, and with other festivals being so specific, Laff just feels very right and welcoming to the vibe of this weird neurology movie.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Wc: I love this question. Some good advice was “80 percent of directing is casting.” I found out that this is very true. I cast people I’m super fans of, people I admire, people I love watching, and people I know are kind and patient humans.
It really paid off because when things take a wrong turn and you’re shooting at 4 am, actors being patient, kind, and still funny under an incredible amount of pressure despite being completely exhausted is invaluable.
The worst advice? Shoot on film.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Wc: Go through your budget like a hawk. Understand what everything means — every acronym, every shorthand. Learn the economics of a budget so you can be empowered to understand what it means to go into overtime, so you know where you can cut, compensate, what you need and what you don’t need, and what you can and can’t compromise. This isn’t just for women, it’s for everyone.
Also, hire other women and wear sunscreen.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Wc: I love Nicole Holofcener
. Her movies are so complicated and dimensional yet so simple. “Enough Said
” was incredible, charming, and special. I loved “Lovely & Amazing” and how she is able to show women as vulnerable and fragile and emotional but never as pathetic victims. She has a very impressive relationship with the truth and has an uncanny ability to know how much information to give the viewer.
I love how bravely she attacks uncomfortable topics. She also has great patience, she really lets the stories unravel at a pace that isn’t too slow, but still makes the viewer earn the payoff. Okay, I’ll stop now.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Wc: I’m very optimistic. I have tons of girlfriends directing their films, so I actually see a ton of progress every day in my inner circle, so maybe I think it’s better than it actually is since I know so many female directors.
For me, the key was just writing something for myself. I wrote the script with Neal Brennan
and we hustled to get it made — if someone else had written it I would have been on a list to direct it. I have no idea how directors get hired in the studio system so I like sticking to generating my own material so I’m not waiting around to win the lottery.
Laff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Whitney Cummings
— “The Female Brain
” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.