Conversations...with Director & Writer Lauren Fash.


Lauren Fash

Recently, I watched a film called Disappearance at Lake Elrod or to give the movie its original title Through the Glass Darkly starring Twin Peaks and Teen Witch alumni Robyn Lively. I was really taken with the film; with its subject matter, it’s tone, Ms Lively’s performance and most of all the direction and production value.


The film was directed by Lauren Fash, or simply Fash as she likes to be known, and I, very cheekily, contacted her through Instagram and asked her if she would chat with me about her career and the industry.


Much to my delight, she agreed.



Lindsey Bowden (LB)

Hey Fash, how are you doing?


Lauren Fash (LF)

I’m good thanks, how are you?


LB

I’m alright! Thanks for chatting with me today. I want to start by going right back to the beginning. Was film always the main goal for you?


LF

No, not at all. I played sports from a young age. I think there’s some directors who came out of the womb with a camera, but that was not me at all. I never really thought of film as a potential career. I wanted to be a professional softball player, even though that wasn’t really an option then, but when you’re a kid logic doesn’t come into play! But, my father passed away when I was 17 and I lost my passion and my nerve. It was a pivotal moment, so I moved to California a couple of years after. It wasn’t until I was in college that my counsellor suggested this film class. I remember thinking ‘film? You can study that?’. It was my first time doing anything in that realm and I really fell in love with the whole process. I ended up getting a job as a production assistant and eventually found my way to film school.


LB

You went to USC, the University of Southern California. Do you feel that through your training there you were equipped with the tools you needed to head into the film world?


LF

Absolutely. It’s interesting because you hear some filmmakers that say film school is a waste of time, don’t waste your money, and I think it’s the case that, absolutely, you do not have to go to film school to have a career in film, but for me, I was a bit wild, the discipline of it was necessary. Also, you’re in this world where you’re allowed to fuck up, you can make mistakes and try things and there’s not huge stakes. It allows you to study and appreciate the art form, and the history of cinema, I loved that part of it. For me, I wasn’t growing up and making short films, so for me this was all new, getting behind a camera, working with actors, all of it.


LB

I completely understand as I went to Drama School in London and trained as an actor, and like you, I was good fun when I was young and needed the discipline and focus. I mean if you were 5 mins late you were thrown out for the day! So, you touched on short films there and I want to chat about your short film Quiet which showed at a lot of festivals and is actually based on a true story?


Quiet, directed by Lauren Fash. Written by Lauren Fash & Susan Graham.

LF

It is yes. I made Quiet right out of film school, it was my first independent short and it was based on a New York Times article about a woman called Janice Langdon. She was denied the right to say goodbye to her partner in a hospital in Miami, this was before gay marriage was legalised. Can you imagine? She was in the hospital, in the waiting room, and she wasn’t allowed to say goodbye because she wasn’t “related”, there was no legal connection. So, for me that was a moment of knowing we have to change this and that was the inspiration for this story. I’m really interested in stories like that, putting yourself in the centre and saying “well would I have done”. It was so clear that this is why we needed to legalise gay marriage. You can argue all you want about why you’re against it, I grew up with that, but at the end of the day we are human beings, and that was a horrible way to treat somebody at the end of their life. So, I got in touch with Janice and she was touched. So, it was a fictional story but based around her experience. And thanks to Obama, Janice ended up getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


LB

Wow! That’s amazing. You had quite a lot of festival exposure with Quiet?


LF

Yeah I did, about 35 festivals, it was a good experience.


LB

So keeping with short films, a lot of filmmakers tend to make shorts before moving onto features. Do you think that’s a good path to take?


LF

I do, you know, just in the progression of storytelling. A short film has lower stakes, and it’s an opportunity for you as a director to take risks, figure out how to convey tone throughout your story and, the thing that people don’t really talk about, you still have to tell a complete story. Well, that’s really hard to do in 10-0 minutes. That’s the challenge, which I think is wonderful as it forces you to think outside of the box. The only way to gain experience is simply by doing it and getting behind the camera. I can’t recommend short films enough, and again, this is why film school is wonderful because we did so many.


LB

It feels like short films have had a real resurgence in the last few years – how important to the industry do you think they are?


LF

Yes, I think it’s a great way to find talent, see who’s up and coming. They are very challenging and I don’t think people give them enough credit in that sense. I think that short films are really focused on the art, but once you get to the feature world you’re on the business side of things. The stakes are much higher, you’re dealing with way more money, and you have to keep your audience entertained. With short films, you can go play, have fun and see what you create.


LB

So whose work inspires you Fash?


Billy Wilder - Golden Age of Hollywood Director

LF

I’d say Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Year Itch) is probably my favourite director. I feel like a lot of people probably feel that way, the guy was a genius in terms of blending genre. I love the way that Some Like It Hot was a noir but was also a comedy. There are a lot of people, I’m a huge fan of Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Working Girl) and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley), but then working people today, Dee Rees (Pariah, Mudbound) is so talented, and I’m really excited to see what she does with her career. It’s really fun to watch people’s careers progress. Craig Gillespie (Director – I, Tonya) is a good example of that. I remember when Lars and the Real Girl came out, I think I was still at film school, but he’s developed this incredible shooting style and has done so much great work.



Dee Rees - Filmmaker

LB

I love hearing about who inspires who as often it introduces me to filmmakers I wasn’t aware of, like with Dee Rees, I’m excited to explore some of her work now.


LF

Yeah, I feel like when people go to the movies they’re always looking at trailers, but I’m always looking at who’s directing and who’s doing what. Part of what nobody tells you is what projects to take on, so I’m always intrigued to see what projects people who inspire me are doing.


LB

Yep, I’m always the person in the movie theatre who stays right until the end of the credits to see who is doing what. So, let’s talk about Femme Fatales, of which you are a member, which is an organisation of women who are striving for equality in filmmaking. Can I ask how you came to be involved and how important you think it is for women to champion each other in this industry?


LF

They contacted me through another director, they were wanting to build their network. So, I joined as I think it’s a great group, and it’s very interesting if you look at the numbers, because when I was at film school it was 50:50 men and women, and even in independent film there are many female directors, but once you get to those big studios budgets, I think the number used to be 4% women. I’m not sure if it’s still that low but it was for a long time, and what you’re seeing is the drop off as the budgets go up. Patty Jenkins, for example, directed Monster which is an incredible film and Charlize Theron wins an Oscar, and then she hardly did anything. Then she did Wonder Woman. This incredible filmmaker, there should have been an offer immediately to be in the studio world because that’s what happens with guys. That’s where I think we need to see more help and growth, and be trusted with these big budget studio movies.


LB

Absolutely. We’re living in a very interesting world right now which has a lot of conflict – how important do you think film is to our world?


LF

I would say that film is just the most powerful tool ever created in allowing us to see empathy and see the world in a different perspective, and that’s insanely important. I can’t tell you how many films have had an impact on me. I mean, I remember the time I first watched Fried Green Tomatoes, because when I was growing up I would watch Disney films and think “well, am I the Prince or Princess?” cause I’m sure as hell not wearing the dress and waiting for some dude to come kiss me! But, I’m not a boy either. So, when Fried Green Tomatoes came out I was itchy! I was like “there I am!”. People always say representation matters and I have to say, as a little lesbian being raised in a Southern Baptist environment, that was insanely important! It’s so fun to see the world from new perspectives, it just makes us better.


Poster for Through the Glass Darkly

LB

Yeah, I think film is so important for it’s incredible reach, and I call it the 3 e’s which is education, entertainment and escapism. I love nothing more than going by myself to the cinema and just letting myself go for a couple of hours, but I also love that film can educate so much. So, let’s talk about your feature film Through the Glass Darkly or Disappearance at Lake Elrod as it’s known over here in the UK, which is currently streaming on Netflix. I really loved this film for many reasons. I loved the tone, your direction and really enjoyed Robyn Livelys performance, because let’s face it, she’s the Teen Witch!


Cue laughter from Fash.


LB

And we were just about to invite Robyn to the 2020 Twin Peaks UK Festival and then Covid hit! But, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Robyn in a role like this. It’s a very gritty, dark role and she’s incredible. So, you’re the co-writer as well for the film so how did it come about and why Robyn Lively?





LF

Well, I didn’t know Robyn, I had never seen Teen Witch, I was living under a rock, but I have to tell you it was the best thing that I wasn’t familiar with her. Basically, I had cast every role in the movie and was in pre-production in Atlanta. Time was getting on and I still didn’t have my lead. So, I went to the casting directors and asked them to just put some people on tape so I could see what’s out there. Robyn Lively’s audition was the first one I clicked on, and it was like a movie moment in itself. I was sitting there in the production office, it was quite busy and I just zoomed in on her audition and was like “who the fuck is this?”. It was the best audition I’ve ever seen in my life. I’d spent 2 and a half years on that script, did 14 drafts and lived with that character. You know, you’re creating a character out of thin air and then it’s like you’re meeting them for the first time, you’re just like “there she is”.

So, I chatted with her the next day, hung up on the call, called her right back and said “I don’t think this is how this is supposed to work, but will you please take this role?”. She accepted and was on a plane in a few days. She is so insanely talented, but the reason I was so glad that I hadn’t seen any of her work was because the character of Charlie is a butch lesbian, and Robyn couldn’t be more feminine. We’d be on set, and I’d call action and Charlie would appear and then I’d yell cut and Robyn Lively would be back. It was like Jekyll & Hyde, she a chameleon which is so rare because there are actors who are so talented but don’t have that kind of range. But she transformed into a different human being in front of my eyes, and I don’t think I would have been able to see her play this role if I already knew her work. Seeing an actor effortlessly play a character you created was just great.


Robyn Lively in Through the Glass Darkly

LB

And how are your stress levels?


LF

I’m good now! But yes it was very intense, 27 day shoot schedule, then there was the weather. We were shooting in the North Georgia mountains, it nearly killed me but it was also the best experience of my life so I cannot complain. It was utter chaos and I loved every second of it.


LB

What do you think are the main challenges between making feature short films and making feature films?


LF

Ah man, the stakes are just so different, it’s just a different world. Like I said, short film it feels like art, not that the passion is any different, just the pressure….just a different world.


LB

The finance for one?


LF

(nods in agreement) Yeah. With a feature there’s so much responsibility and you have to carry the story all the way through. You have to be on point and prepared. I do not understand directors who just turn up to set and are like “ok let’s figure this out”. To me, the preparation is so key and so important. So, I would say that, it’s a different level of pressure and expectation from those around you as well.


LB

Well, let’s talk a little about the LGBT+ community. You are gay yourself and also feature LGBT+ characters a lot in your work. Do you feel the representation is right at the moment and can we be doing more?


LF

I feel very positive about representation right now. You know, I walked into a Barnes & Noble the other day and there was a book, and it said “boy meets boy. Boy falls in love with boy”, and I started tearing up. I thought can you imagine being a little gay kid and seeing this?


LB

Yeah, it’s incredible.


LF

When I was a kid, I was told that gay people were monsters who were going to burn in hell for all eternity. We have grown in strides in terms of that and I think a lot of that can be attributed to film. I feel amazing to see these kids who have positive coming out stories, that does not exist in my generation. I don’t know a single friend where it was a celebration when they came out. For me, I think gay films are great as there is a want and a need for that, but I love the idea of just creating a film that just happens to have a gay character. It’s just a character trait, it’s not the main focus of the film. And, that’s what I tried to do with Through The Glass Darkly, it’s a psychological thriller, Charlie just happens to be gay. I actually got a note from a well-known agent saying “this isn’t gay enough”, and I was like “that’s the point”! If you are able to reach the broadest audience possible, that’s when you are able to affect the most change.


LB

I completely understand. Many years I ago I created a theatre company and cast a mix of disabled and non-disabled actors to try and help move forward the movement of disabled actors in non-disabled roles, to show that first and foremost that person is an actor, and doesn’t have to be cast just as disabled characters.


LF

Yeah, I think that the progression is happening. I do worry that we’re living in a time of censorship and we’re starting to do a little too much box checking. It feels very insincere because it isn’t organic, it doesn’t feel honest when the financiers or studios say “you’re going to need to add this”. It happened in the 50’s in cinema, you saw this pretty severe censorship and that’s means putting the art or the story in a box.


LB

Is there anybody’s story that you would love to tell?


Dorothy Arzner - the only female Director from the Golden Age of Hollywood

LF

(smiles knowingly) Yeah…Dorothy Arzner. She was a director in the Golden Age of cinema. She started in silent movies and I think stopped making movies during World War II. She was like this rad butch lesbian and the only female director in Hollywood in that time. She wore 3 piece suits to set and she directed actors such as Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn and did major films. I’m so obsessed with old Hollywood, so I think if I was to do a biopic it would be her.


LB

I hear you, I love that period in film too, in fact I used to curate an afternoon of those films for an elderly audience, or elderflowers as we called them, and I would introduce the films and tell them interesting trivia. They loved it because it was nostalgia to them, it was the films they grew up with. So Fash, for anyone who is wanting to carve out a career in film directing, what’s the one piece of advice you would offer them?


LF

Arm yourself! No, I’m kidding. I will say, a mentor of mine gave me a really good piece of advice one time. “When you’re starting out, surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you are”. So, that. I also think if you really want to be a good director you have to understand story. You don’t have to be an incredible writer but you have to understand story and what makes good writing. Character arcs and structure, you need to be able to grasp that and see it, because it’s your job to convey that, to understand the story and why it works. I think a lot of people want to do cool shots and love working with actors, but the entire story is what you really need to have a strong hold on.


LB

Yep, agreed, it’s the basis of everything, you’ve got to have a good script in your hand.


LF

Yeah, you’ve got to entertain them. At the end of the day it’s a business and you have a job to do. I think also you have to dive in and just do it and figure it out! Again, short films, start small and get bigger. That may not be everyone’s path but it worked for me.


LB

Yep, and I guess by doing that you also work out what kind of filmmaker you are?


LF

(nods in agreement) Yeah.


LB

So, what’s next for you Fash?


LF

Well, I’m in development on my second feature and working with Blue Fox Entertainment again. I’m very excited about this project. It’s a bigger project and a period piece. It’s set in World War II, in Europe, and I love Europe. You love LA, I love Europe, we can trade.


LB

It will be like The Holiday!


LF

Yeah! It’s always been a dream of mine to shoot in Europe and I’ve carried this story with me since I was 18. I find that after you do your first film you have to be very careful about your next project. You don’t just want to sign on to the first thing that’s thrown at you if it’s not going to do you good as a storyteller. You are in charge of your career and the films that you are going to put out into the world, and if you’re going to be doing it, then you have to be obsessively doing it. Through The Glass Darkly took me 7 years to get made.


LB

Fash, I wish you the very best of luck with the new project and thank you so much for having this chat, it’s been great. Next time I’m in LA we must say hi properly.


LF

Oh absolutely, thanks for having me!



Follow Lauren Fash on Instagram @fash_lv


Follow Lindsey Bowden on Instagram @lindseybowden76 and Twitter @lindseybowden76


Disappearance at Lake Elrod AKA Through the Glass Darkly is now available on Shudder.

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