8 Female Filmmakers: Lana Read on Heroes and Villains
This story is part of a series of interviews spotlighting eight local female filmmakers in collaboration with the Cindependent Film Festival. Read more female filmmaker stories and thank you to everyone who came to support the inaugural Cindependent Film Festival! Stay tuned for our recap on this incredible event.
The rain was like a woman of Cincy: powerful and persistent. I had forgotten my notebook and my thoughts were as organized as the line for Gomez on a Saturday night in OTR.
And of all the coffee joints in all the cities in the world, Lana Read walked into mine. “This coffee shop isn’t big enough for the both of us,” I told her.
(Okay, we actually planned to meet there at College Hill Coffee Company, but Lana’s story had me in a “Casablanca” mood…)
Lana Read was the name. Writer. Director. Filmmaker. Lover of dramas and westerns. Mother. Woman of Cincy. She is the founder and owner of Garnet Films production company, where she’s produced 11 short films, one feature film, and one TV pilot since founding her company in 2006. As we let the conversation roll, she shared her lens on topics ranging from the perfect story arc to the community building potential of local film to balancing leadership and femininity.
First things first, tell me about yourself.
I started out as an actress, about 20 years ago, doing extra work on films. I noticed I would get in trouble for being too worried about what was going on behind the scenes when I was on set. So I came to the conclusion that I needed to be behind the camera. Soon, I started writing and directing my own stuff.
What genre do you tend to be most drawn to with your work?
I lean more towards drama. I love crime dramas, like police procedurals. I haven’t done any of those [police procedurals] yet because they’re a bigger budget. Westerns are my thing.
Did you watch “Westworld”?
No. It’s funny. I’m a director, but I don’t really watch a lot of TV or movies. I’d rather be doing it as opposed to watching it. I had a cinematographer recently ask me, “Shouldn’t you be watching more movies? Studying them?” And I said, “Yeah, if I want to direct like those directors.”
When you’re writing and directing, what are you thinking about from an audience perspective? What do you want them to feel?
That’s it. I just want them to feel. I want them to get pulled in and I want them to find a character they can relate to – someone in whom they can see reflections of themselves. I want them to care.
Your hero always has flaws. I think that’s what people love.
Is there a female filmmaker you look up to?
Kathryn Bigelow. She’s a phenomenal director who pays great attention to the small details of characters. She’s also excellent at directing action and drama. In a heavily male dominated profession, most people don’t believe women can direct action. She proves that theory wrong!
Tell me about the series you’re working on.
It’s in a territory in Wyoming called Dogwood Pass, set in 1877. It’s a little town that has a silver strike. As people are starting to move into the town, the strike attracts an east coast lawyer – Randall Montgomery. He buys the mine at auction and from there, plots to take over the entire town. Until Montgomery’s arrival, the sheriff in town has been, for the most part, untested. So now he has to step up and defend the town.
So it’s sort of a classic, good-versus-bad story arc that serves lots of different metaphors for what has unfolded throughout the course of history?
Yes, it’s bare bones: good versus bad.
If you look at the movies that are popular right now – for example, “Avengers” and all of the comic reboots – they have that same plot. Do you think people are looking for that more now, or has it always been a favorite story line?
I think people have always loved it. Either you identify with the good guy or you identify with the bad guy. And your hero always has flaws. I think that’s what people love.
A protagonist that’s not all good?
Or [a villain that’s] not all bad…
What is it about that ambiguity in a character do you think people resonate with?
I think they identify with it in so many ways. You can be watching the bad guy and not identify with much of what he is doing because it’s so bad, but then he does something that makes genuinely good people identify with him because he has the quality that they have. I think people can see themselves in both the hero and the bad guy.
All the female characters are strong in the series, and that’s because I think all of the women in the 1870s era would have been strong. It was not an easy time to be a woman.
What impact do you think portraying multidimensional characters like that has on the way we relate to each other? Do you think viewers absorb anything from portrayals like that?
I think you see situations unfold in movies that have actually happened to you in real life that make you think, “Boy I really handled that wrong.”
The goal of the Cindependent Film Festival is to build comradery amongst, and recognition for, local filmmakers and storytellers. What role do you see film playing in developing local communities?
It’s tough here. You get people used to working together with the same actors, same crew, and from there it can turn into different silos. I think it would be great if people could work together and pool their resources and their funding more. I think meshing people together in the way that the film festival will do can begin to help the local film industry do that specifically.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about female representation in the film industry, from the cascading effects of the #MeToo movement, to most recently, the Cannes festival where 82 women stood together as a symbolic representation of the mere 82 women honored compared to the almost 2,000 men in the festival’s 71-year history. Similarly, female filmmakers represent just a small portion of the industry’s highest-grossing films. Is that something you’re cognizant of as you’re directing, pitching, or thinking about distribution for your films?
One of my requirements is that the female characters are strong. Especially in the Western. I didn’t want to go with the typical “she’s subservient to her husband” or “she works in the general store.” Whether people want to relate to that or not – that’s going to be their choice. But all the female characters are strong in the series, and that’s because I think all of the women in the 1870s era would have been strong. It was not an easy time to be a woman. I also don’t only cast striking women, and I get knocked for that. One of the shorts I did a while back, one of my lead female characters wasn’t a thin woman, but she was beautiful. And I received remarks about, “Why would you cast her? She doesn’t look like the leading lady.” And I have to challenge that and say, “What is the definition of a leading lady? I cast her, and she played the part perfectly.” I think there is that bias against women that you have to be under 30 and have to look a certain way and can’t be over a certain amount of pounds. You always have to be made up and you always have to be shaven. I buck against it as much as I can. As far as the women standing together [at Cannes], I think it’s fantastic. I think a lot of distributors are starting to realize they need to be banking on them because women know what the hell they’re doing. I still want to see more women get the opportunities men are getting with funding. A woman shouldn’t have to do five films to get a huge budget, where a man only had to do one. We still have a long way to go, but it’s starting to shift.
Why do you think women aren’t receiving the same opportunities you mentioned? Is there some perceived sense of risk in investing in them?
I think the industry has been so tightly controlled by men, specifically older men, for so long that they’re still living in the ’50s and ’60s mentality that you should get married, take care of the kids, and go make dinner. And I think there’s still a lot of that in Hollywood. I think as those people move out, we’re starting to see a new generation of people come in and shift things to say, “This isn’t how things are done anymore.”
This conversation is happening at the national level. What could happen at the local level to help knock down some of those barriers?
We’re so conservative here that I think any shift that happens on the national level is going to inspire a shift here locally. I feel pretty accepted here, but the one thing I’d like to see stop is the “Do you need some help with that? You seem like you might be getting a little upset.” It’s not okay to assume I’m bringing emotions to my work just because I’m a woman. I think males still respond more positively to other males questioning them or taking direction from them than they do females – and that’s what I’d like to see change.
And how do we begin to change that? It’s something that women are responding to across sectors, whether it’s on a film set, in a board room, or on the playing field. What kinds of things do you typically do when you face challenges to your leadership position?
I think we need to stop nodding. Stop agreeing so much. And when we disagree, disagree. If a man interrupts, everyone stops and listens. That’s not the case when a woman interrupts. I think we need to start standing up for ourselves a little more in those situations where someone tries to do that. We need to be a little more bold. We sometimes are of the mentality that we need to be nice. We don’t want to rock the boat. And we need to.
I want women to know that they should never give up.
What’s the biggest lesson from raising your teenage son? What are your hopes for him and the world he’s entering?
Patience. He’s at the age where he’s changing a lot. I struggle with letting go because he now wants more independence. He still tells me he loves me every time I leave. My hope is that he is more successful than me, happier than me, more patient than me. I hope he does a billion times better than me in every possible way I can imagine. I hope he remains kind, caring, and safe.
If you could write a quote that describes your life, or name an actress that would play you in a movie, who would that be?
Kate Beckinsale. And my quote would be: “I would consider myself to be a badass with a huge heart. That’s me.”
I like it. So what else should Women of Cincy know about you?
I want women to know that they should never give up. That’s the big thing. You’re going to face so many obstacles. You have to do what you want to do, learn to do it well, and just keep pushing forward. That’s my advice. And if they say you’re difficult? Get immune to that. Just keep doing what you do.
[Fade to black with the sound of a super enthusiastic high five.]
Explore the rest of our female filmmaker series here, and thank you for joining us in celebrating independent film in Cincinnati.