Natural Storytellers: How Hiring a Crew of 90 Percent Women Strengthened Suzi Yoonessi’s Unlovable

I wouldn’t call the suburbs of Buffalo, New York a melting pot. But the world always seemed vast and infinite because of the power of my grandmother’s Persian fairytales.

From childhood, it was ingrained in me that women are natural storytellers. If someone was going to tell a story, I wouldn’t choose my Snoozefest Dad, when there was the option of Mama Drama and Grandma Epic Fairytales. After my grandmother hooked me into the oral tradition, I played guitar in Buffalo’s first all girl punk band, writing songs about a mutual love of Nancy Drew and taboo summer camp trysts during the Riot Grrrl movement.

Directing my second feature Unlovable, it was instinctual to surround myself with women as my key creatives. The film is based on writer/star Charlene deGuzman’s real-life experiences with sex and love addiction, and my producer Jen Roskind, co-writer Sarah Adina Smith, Charlene and I felt strongly about building on the core creative team of women. In seeking out a female DP, my intention was to tell the story embracing a female gaze, empathizing instead of objectifying the protagonist Joy’s sexuality.

In the past, I’ve visited Cinematographers XXThe International Collective of Female Cinematographers and Film Fatales to find talent. They are platforms that shine a light on female creatives in the film industry and promote inclusivity. On Unlovable, we were fortunate to hire DP Moira Morel who is incredible with talent and has a keen understanding of story. Since Unlovable deals with a subject matter that is often subject to sensationalism, Moira and I discussed capturing sex scenes in a way that is not exploitative and chiseled away at a look that is evocative of a desire for love and intimacy. Moira filled out her team with a gaffer and key grip who were women, and we ended up with a crew that was 90 percent women. The level to which the female-driven creative team on Unlovable related to the material and Charlene’s perspective is clear in the artistic cohesion achieved on a micro-budget film.

Having worked with predominantly female crews on three features, I find that women are incredibly invested in the work and a “yes, and” philosophy permeates the set. On Unlovable, when we hit a wall with the budget, powerhouse producer Jen Roskind would say, “Let’s put our heads together and think creatively” and our assistant director Stephanie Janesh kept the day moving, while making sure everyone felt respected and heard. I also believe having a female crew allowed Charlene to feel she was in a safe space, emotionally exploring past demons and triggers.

As creators it is priceless to bring in three to four department heads from disparate backgrounds to pitch on the films. There are so many talented men and women in the film industry, and the creative who is right for the job will be clear in the room. Women have worked hard to have a seat at the table, and are historically natural storytellers, so it is our job to provide that opportunity. We are so lucky to be in the industry we’re in, making films, so let’s pay it forward so our crews are reflective of the world we live in. MM

Unlovable opened on VOD November 2018, courtesy of Orion Classics.

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