For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-director-producer Elizabeth Page. Olympia Dukakis produced one of Elizabeth’s first plays, Spare Parts, which moved Off Broadway to Circle in the Square Downtown and brought her into television where she won six Emmy awards and four Writers Guild awards and fell in love with the camera which brought her to film school and on to making award-winning shorts and online content for artists like Melba Moore. Page is the founder of From Script to Preproduction, a lab for women filmmakers. For more information, visit www.elizabethpage.org.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I’m working on a narrative feature film about an exuberant, ambitious 18-year-old woman who wakes up after a raucous campus party and discovers she may have been sexually assaulted – she has no memory of what happened and everyone at the party has a different story. The film follows her efforts to get help, find the truth, and ultimately reclaim her life, jumping out to retell what happened in that dark room six different ways and never telling you what really happened.
We explore the impacts on everyone involved – the young man who’s initially accused, his so-called best friend who may be more involved than he claims, his teammates who have reasons to hope she never remembers, and her roommate who has her own secret. While the film is certainly issue-driven, it also aims to attract its core audience – high school students looking to college, college students, survivors and their friends and family – by leaning into classic movie tropes: mystery, suspense, courtroom drama, romance, and friendship.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
My daughter is an only child and grew up tagging along after another only child in our building. When this slightly older girl headed off to college, we cheered her on, only to discover a few months in that she’d been raped at a frat party. She was devastated and her life derailed.
It enraged me and upset me, and when my daughter was also cornered at a party – and mercifully escaped – I began to research what was going on and discovered that while sexual assault had always happened at colleges, it had now become a “thing” – that in fact 1 in 4 college girls were being sexually assaulted. Colleges administrations had no idea how to handle it and then when the Trump administration began rolling back the few protections and processes in place, I felt compelled to do something.
And so I wrote this script, convinced that only by raising questions and challenging students to take the issue into their own hands, would real change happen. The plan is to make the film with students and then to take it to colleges and high schools and finally release it where students consume their content – on streaming platforms.
Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment?
At the moment I’m doing what is possible.
I pitched a weekly column about the impacts of COVID-19 on the community to a string of Hearst newspapers in Connecticut last March and they loved it. I’ve been doing that for the past year. It may end up as a book – if we get a happy ending. In the column, I am able to talk about how the virus is impacting all aspects of our lives, and also help persuade people to trust the science and follow the recommendations.
I also took my lab, From Script to PreProduction, online when COVID hit. The lab helps level the playing field by helping women filmmakers create all the materials they need to attract financing and producing partners. We choose up to eight filmmakers and work with them collaboratively for six months to create loglines, synopses, pitches, lookbooks, reels, social media imagery, websites, preliminary schedules and budgets, and business plans. I know it’s been of great comfort to the women in our cohort to be able to meet weekly and continue to work on their projects – in other words to have a community and to feel like they are progressing as artists. While I usually only do this once a year, I decided to do it again this spring to help as many filmmakers as I can during this pandemic. Applications are open until February 15th on Coverfly and thereafter by reaching out to me.
I’m also preparing to go back out to continue raising financing for About That Night as soon as the vaccine is more available and it’s safer to meet. I think it’s very important to have faith in ourselves and our work and keep going.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
Way back when I was of course inspired and influenced by every great writer out there – in particular Shakespeare, who still dazzles me; Dylan Thomas, who’s always been my boyfriend; and Fugard, who never fails to break my heart.
Right now I’m swept away by Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Kitty Green’s The Assistant. Fantastic films. Can’t wait to see what they do next. And can’t wait to see Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow – love her work.
I am also very inspired by the women out there today who are giving back to the film community. Tema Staig, who founded Women in Media and is focusing on training women below the line and getting them hired. Leah Meyerhoff, who founded Film Fatales and has built it into a huge resource for women directors. Naomi McDougall Jones who, along with Joanne Zippel, reinvented indie film distribution, put together a film fund and wrote a brilliant book, The Wrong Kind of Women, that takes down the film industry for its misogyny and short-sightedness. All of them have been very supportive of my lab and their example motivates me every day.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
I have a prayer and meditation practice that keeps me grounded and inspired. Also my work often centers on a social issue so I feel a real obligation to get the work made and out there. Finally. my work with other women filmmakers in my lab inspires me every day – there are just so many brilliant women out there making amazing work.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I have been making notes on two screenplays – a tragi-comedy called In Your Dreams and a romantic thriller called Fever set 100 years ago. I hope to make both films with friends.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Any time I walk onto a set – especially if it’s to direct something I’ve written – I know I’m living in my vision. I just love it.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
The barrier I face – and most women filmmakers face – is money. If I were able to have ready access to the money I need, I’d be making a film.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I consume art. Whether it’s reading scripts or novels, watching films or plays, listening to music, looking at paintings or sculptures. I really love great art and it always inspires me.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
It’s kind of hard to argue with the facts – that it is in fact much harder for women to get financed and distributed. And yet on another level, I think it’s necessary to let go of that “truth” and go for it with the expectation that it’s going to happen.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
The desert island question – what would I bring… anything by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
I have to say that in my lifetime, I most admire the Obamas. The courage it took to walk into the buzz saw of the presidency given the racism in this country – in the world! – and how they did so much to move the country forward, and did it with such grace, good humor and excellence was just astounding.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
That my work has helped women.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
First, “guilty” and “pleasure” should never be in the same sentence. That being said, I love the water – I love looking at it in every light, in every season. I love smelling the salt. I swim and sail every day as soon as it’s warm enough.
I also like to cook and I like to garden. As a writer and filmmaker, I spend so much time in my head, I just love taking a break and working with my hands. And in both cases – cooking and gardening – the rewards are immediate. I love to eat and after an hour or so of cooking, I get to sit down to wonderful food. And with gardening it’s even simpler – I get to dig in the dirt!
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
It gets better.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
I’m very lucky. I have a little house by the water that we rebuilt slowly but surely over two decades and I just love it there. We also have a place to stay in the city. So I get to live in my two favorite places.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Being paid to do my own work.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Doing my own work.
Q: Final thoughts?
Thank you so much for asking me to do this. Thinking through all these questions was really rewarding.