Relationships Are Hard Work & Zoe Lister-Jones Thinks That’s A Good Thing

For Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), the young couple at the heart of the upcoming indie film Band Aid, verbally vicious marital spats are a fixture of everyday life. Then, the couple stumbles upon an ingenious way to hack their fighting problem: Setting each of their tired arguments to music. The Dirty Dishes, a band named after the couple's classic fight over the constantly overflowing sink, becomes the battleground in which Anna and Ben can confront the grief at the heart of their marriage.
I sit down with the actress, director, star, and producer of the film, Zoe Lister-Jones, to talk about the joys of an all-women film crew, jumping on mattresses, and why Band Aid ultimately has an optimistic message about long-term relationships.
In many ways, Band Aid is the antidote to the romantic comedy meet cute. It's one of the first movies I've ever seen about a young couple putting real work into their relationship. What motivated you to fill that gap in cinema?
"You see movies about couples who are either falling in love or falling out of love, but it's much more rare, at least in my experience, to see a movie about a couple who's working on their relationship. So much of what it means to love someone is to really focus on the hard work that it takes to stay with them. I am a child of divorce, so I've been grappling with the larger questions of what it means to stay in a relationship and why people choose to stay for a long time. It was important to explore those themes on screen in a way that I hadn't seen them done before."
So you'd say this is a movie about a couple figuring out why they're together?
"It's about what it takes to stay together, rather than the classic tropes we see in the meet cutes of falling in love with someone, or the breakups we see in so many films, when people fall out of love. The banalities of commitment and what it takes to stay committed is something that's interesting to capture on screen."
Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, and Zoe Lister-Jones in Band Aid
Do you think us unwed millennials should walk away from this movie optimistic or terrified about the whole "marriage" endeavor?
"People should be optimistic. The movie's not just about marriage, it's about relationships in general. Even if you've only been with someone for a few months, you come up against similar conflicts, once you really get to know a person.
"When I was younger, I was fixated on finding the perfect guy or the perfect relationship. As I've grown, what's been really helpful in my relationship is understanding that loving someone is accepting their imperfections, and the imperfections of the relationship. That striving for the Hollywood version of romance is actually really dangerous.
"It really does take so much work to stay committed and to stay in love. That's actually a hopeful statement, even though I'm using the word 'work' and not 'fun.' It takes work to have fun, and to keep the fun alive. That's an important and hopeful sentiment to hang on to."

The idea of hiring an all-female crew came to me, and I knew it would be essential that I was directing in order to make that come true.

Zoe Lister-Jones
I was immediately struck by Band Aid’s opening fight scene. It was so real and so cutting. It sounded like you filmed an actual couple fighting. As a writer, how did you find a way to rehash the same fights over and over again, in such interesting, accurate, and nuanced ways?
"Because it was the opening of the film, it was important to find the comedy in these sort of classic relationship squabbles. Part of the comedy lies in their commonality, in the fact that we are all having the same fight. Which is something I found so enlightening in the writing process, and one of the reasons I wrote the screenplay to begin with.
"When you're in a long-term relationship, or any relationship, the fights that you have with your partner can feel very specific to you. I was talking to to my friends about their fights and their relationships, which people are often apprehensive to share for fear of being judged. Once they started sharing what their fights were about, we all realized we were kind of fighting about the same things. So I think that distilling what those things are, finding their universality, and relaying them as best as I knew I could from my own personal experience into the dialogue was my biggest intention."
Courtesy of IFC Films
Adam Pally and Zoe Lister Jones in Band Aid
It's amazing that you wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Band Aid. How long have you been considering a project of this magnitude, and when did you feel ready to take it on?
"The three features that I co-wrote, produced, and starred in with my husband [Daryl Wein], were all projects that were, in the long run, leading up to this one. The skill sets involved in those jobs lend themselves to what it takes to direct. I felt that it was the right time in my life as an artist to take that next step. It was something that scared me — to direct — and that's always a sign that that's something you should do.
"When I wrote the script I didn't know that I would direct it. I was just writing it as a personal experiment to see if I could have fun writing. When I finished the script it became clear that this was something I wanted to have creative autonomy with. The idea of hiring an all-female crew came to me, and I knew it would be essential that I was directing in order to make that come true. There were a lot of factors. It's been a long time coming, but it all happening very quickly."

It was inspiring because it felt that we were doing something that had never been done before, and might actually help effect change in an industry that has been stubborn to change.

Zoe Lister-Jones
About a year ago, I heard actress Brooklyn Decker on NPR’s Ask Me Another, raving about her experiences working on a utopian all-women film set. Later, I realized she was describing Band Aid. One of the elements Decker spoke of was how efficient day-to-day work on set was. What were your own takeaways from the experience?
"What was so amazing about our crew was that it was really nurturing and supportive and free of ego, but also so productive and efficient. It was really the best of both worlds. The energy on set was markedly different from any other set I've been on before.
"It was really inspiring on a lot of levels. It was inspiring because it felt that we were doing something that had never been done before, and might actually help effect change in an industry that has been stubborn to change when it comes to gender inequity. But it also was just, for the work itself, so incredible and productive and as I said, supportive. It was a really amazing group of people creating work together."
The movie does contain three semi-nude scenes. What was acting in sex scenes, free from the male gaze, like?
"It was...amazing. It was really amazing. There are a fair amount of nude scenes. Whenever I've been put in that position in the past, whether or not the men in the crew are intentionally looking at you through that lens, I think it's impossible for them not to. As women, we're always being objectified and sexualized, and that takes it to the nth degree.
"So, I always have felt kind of uncomfortable in those situations. It was so freeing to be surrounded by women and to feel none of that dynamic, whether it's projected or real. The vulnerability level is so minimized when you know that you're not in danger in that way. As women, we walk down the street knowing that at any moment, we could be in danger. I think this movie is very much about womanhood in some ways, and what it means to be a woman, so there was a lot of life imitating art."
While efficiency and feeling comfortable during nude scenes were happy byproducts of your crew’s set-up, what was the initial logic behind your decision to have an all-women crew? How did it tie into gender inequity in film?
It was two-fold. On a personal level, I wanted to see what it would feel like to make art with other women. I had never really experienced that before. I wanted to create a set that was the most empowering version of the filmmaking experience that women could have, where not only were they being given opportunities that they might not otherwise be given, but also they were allowed to take up as much space as they wanted to.
Additionally, I was aware that at this stage in my life, couples are pairing up, and socialize generally with other couples or with families. It becomes and more rare to spend time with just women. Whenever I do it there's this sort of ineffable magic that happens. I thought it would be really cool to see what the translated to in the context of making art.
This all reminds me of a conversation in the movie. Ben (Adam Pally) finally goes to talk to his very wise therapist mother, who teaches him what he should've been paying attention to the whole time. She gives this very refined, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" speech, and explains the different ways men and women process grief. Do you think that kind of fundamental difference between men and women exists in Ben and Anna’s relationship, or even in film crews?
"I do think that men and women are different. Part of what I was trying to explore in my own creative process is acknowledging our differences as a way to bridge them in relationships. So much of what we try to do is make each other try to fit in our rhythms and our processes.
"There was something, for me at least, freeing to accept that we're never going to fit into the mold that we're trying to create for each other so that we can process things the same, or communicate in the same way. In that scene with Suzie Essman, who plays Ben's mom, I was trying to crystallize it as best as I could — if anything, for myself."
Here's one last question. At one point in the film, Anna leaps on an upright mattress to get out her anger. I know your character was going through a big cathartic moment, but it kind of looked like a fun exercise. Would you recommend people trying that stunt out?
"I would. I think that as women, we spend a lot of time in our heads, and one of my personal challenges lately has been to spend more time in my body. I think it's easy to forget to think from the neck down, and to experience life from the neck down, especially these days when we're so obsessed with our phones and technology. That was me trying to physicalize the emotions that the character was feeling. It was really fun. It was super fun. I put on riot girl music, and let it out."
Band Aid hits theaters on Friday, June 2.
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