Filmmaker Lisa Ebersole On Egg-Freezing & Treating Your Creative Projects As A Business

You can definitely tell when women write stories about their own lives and experiences for TV and film, because it means you see a more realistic, complex and nuanced portrayal, rather than the stereotypical rom-com fare we are used to seeing. Not that two-dimensional rom-com characters don’t have their place in film iconography, but as we are in an era of craving female-driven content and the female gaze, it is refreshing to see filmmakers, writers, directors, creators and storytellers reflecting back to audiences what life really looks like for women.

Creator and writer Lisa Ebersole is one of these people who made a series called ’37 Problems’, which is a comedy web series which came about from experiences in her own life. Tackling issues like motherhood, careers, social and family expectations, relationships, her series is a refreshing, honest and hilarious look at the kind of narrative many women today go through.

What is awesome about seeing content like ’37 Problems’, is that it reminds us as women that it is OK not to have everything sewn up into a neat little box in life, as many decades of TV, film and media would have us think. We spoke with Lisa about her series, the parallels to her own life, and why she wants to encourage other filmmakers to look at their creative process as a business. But first, prepare to LOL hard at the ’37 Problems’ trailer:

First of all, thank you for making ’37 problems’, we totally need some badass female-driven comedy in such dark times! How did you come up with the idea?

Thank you! To answer your question, the idea originated from what was happening in my real life – I was 37, in grad school, single, childless, and conscious that biology was catching up. But, I was not in the position to have a baby, nor was I sure I wanted one. Two friends froze their eggs – one of them had a successful egg-freezing experience, but the other found out she was basically infertile. As I considered whether I wanted to open Pandora’s Box and max out my credit cards to freeze eggs, I wondered what I’d do if I found out I had only ONE egg left? If the decision to have a baby were really now or never?

Your main character juggling pressures of motherhood and career is so relatable. Does some of her journey come from your own experience? And what do you hope especially female audiences will take away from watching ’37 Problems’?

We’ve heard a lot about “having it all” from successful career women. But what about “having it all” when you’re single, still trying to make it in your career, living paycheck to paycheck on Obamacare? It’s a different proposition. I was not in a place to become a single Mom. I didn’t have the resources for it, nor the support of friends and family in LA. Most of all, I was not ready to make motherhood my #1 priority. Freezing eggs to “buy some time” is an option if you have the money, but it’s expensive – minimum $10,000 – and not at all a sure bet in terms of producing an eventual baby.

I loved Tracee Ellis Ross’s “Glamour Woman Of The Year” speech because she took on marriage and having kids as a societal expectation. As women, we’re raised to believe motherhood is a life stage, something we need to experience to be complete. I don’t think that’s true. Women like Oprah, Tracee, Meghan Daum, are showing us another path. That’s what I want women to take away from 37 PROBLEMS – you have choices. Having children is not a requirement for living a full and meaningful life. You don’t have to be part of a couple to be whole.

How do you hope your film will shift stereotypes about gender roles in today’s society?
My Dad re-invented himself until he died at age 77. He had a dozen careers; he was always learning, exploring, mastering one field and then moving to the next. There was a lot of freedom in the idea that he could become a Dad at any time and that he didn’t have to if life didn’t lead that way. My Dad was born in 1930. I doubt that many women born in that time felt the same sense of possibility. The idea of a fluid life without a fixed identity is one that I want all women be able to consider.

Not everyone has that dreamer/searcher personality, but for those of us that do, it’s not “less than” to explore and evolve your desires. I’m all for motherhood and I still think I will be a mother some day. But it hasn’t happened yet. And I’m getting to the point where it may not happen biologically. Rather than mourning that as a missed opportunity or a fuck up on my part, I’m excited about the options for motherhood later in life. Rosario Dawson is Mom to a daughter she adopted at age 12. That is awesome to me.

Let’s talk about your process behind the camera. How did ’37 Problems’ come about from inception to distribution?

I was finishing up my MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA and desperately missed “making things.” I had been a playwright/actress/director in New York and writing was only part of the artistic process. All my plays were eventually produced. I wrote 37 PROBLEMS so I could make something again and Write, Direct, Act in and Produce it. I love being a multi-hyphenate creator and all the roles are important to me. The script took 9 months to complete. I did a reading of an early version with more characters and storylines and decided that for the web comedy format I could really only focus on one character’s emotional journey.

We made the first 3 episodes with money I had saved from a job I did for Disney and I tried to find a network or distributor who wanted to help me finish the series. I figured, “they will see my brilliance and want to pay for the rest!” Um, no. Onto plan B – I crowdfunded $37,800 on Seed&Spark and finished the series myself, 15 months after we shot those original 3 episodes. From there, I went the self-distribution route, making 37 PROBLEMS available on Amazon Prime and Seed&Spark. I am actually making some money back, so that is nice. More importantly, my series is out there and people can watch it.

You are a big proponent of encouraging artists and creatives to treat their filmmaking like a business. Can you explain more about this and why it is just as important as art?

Two things, 1) There’s the sense as an artist that you need to be “chosen” to have value or “make it.” That is bullshit. No one has ever chosen me. I chose myself and found ways to produce my plays and films that did not require somebody else’s permission. Early on, I got pushback from theater professionals and critics who questioned my desire to work that way – “Isn’t it just a vanity project?” was a phrase I heard more than once. That stung for a while and I did feel insecure, especially about casting myself in my own work – there was this fear that the play could be better with a more experienced actress.

I acted in spite of that fear. By the way, production of your own work and casting yourself as the “lead” is totally common in the business world. Entrepreneurs don’t ask for permission to launch their product or business. They get the capital and do it and they are the boss because the idea originated with them. For some reason with art, there is shame in “choosing yourself” and running the show. Like it’s not as valid. I try to tell people that it is SO MUCH HARDER to do it yourself. It’s MORE valid. It takes way more work. I have lots of filmmaking hacks on my Instagram @lisaebersole that talk about ways to propel yourself into production and keep going as a truly independent filmmaker.

2) This may seem counterintuitive, but having a VISION and BOUNDARIES are your friend as an artist. I used to make fun of people who had 5, 10, 20 year plans, now I see their value. Constant improvisation day to day is exhausting. You will burn out. If you have goals, you can create action steps to reach them. You can break it down by month, day, hour, and give yourself structure and support. Knowing how you’re spending your time is an essential component to business/filmmaking success. If you give yourself 20 minutes to write 5 pages and set a timer, I guarantee you’ll somehow do it. If you give yourself all day…well.

With so much focus on Hollywood’s sexism problem, how can female filmmakers get over the barriers that exist?

I feel like my career is happening in parallel to Hollywood. Because of everything I talked about above, I’m not waiting to “get the job.” I’m giving myself the job. I’m proud that I had an all-female crew for most of 37 PROBLEMS production. I certainly think as women we can combat the problem of equal representation by hiring other women. I’m part of an online group of female filmmakers who share resources, jobs, contacts, and experience. Support like that lifts us all up.

What is the best piece of advice you learned along the way or a filmmaking hack that can help up-and-coming filmmakers?

I think a lot of people are frozen by fear and shame. Fear that they will fail, shame at the idea of putting themselves and their work front and center. First, I want to say that FAILURE is part of the artistic process. If you don’t believe me, Google “MOTHER of all failures” and “Lisa Ebersole.” You will read a SCORCHING review of my 2009 play, MOTHER. It starred Buck Henry and Holland Taylor who were amazing in it and amazing to work with. F– that New York Post critic. SHAME is tricky.

I somehow got the sense that I shouldn’t “think too much of myself” and it was egotistical to build a project around myself. I don’t know where it came from specifically, but I blame childhood as it is the root of most of these tortuous ideas. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have similar childhood hangovers. Shame is what you feel when you do something morally wrong. The idea that we feel “shame” over making art? Well. That is some messed up math designed to keep us small. Go big. Believe in yourself and your vision and surround yourself with collaborators to support you.

When I can’t muster belief in myself, I go bigger: “By making this web series, I’m going to make people laugh. I’m going to employ a cast and crew and patronize the businesses who feed us and clothe us and rent us equipment. I’m going to show other filmmakers that they can make their films too. This is way bigger than me and I have responsibility to see it through.” That usually does the trick.

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You can watch all episodes of ’37 Problems’ on Seed & Spark or Amazon.

 

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