Giles Alderson and Tobias Vees chatted with writer/ director Lisa Azuelos on this week’s episode of The Filmmakers Podcast. Lisa shared, among other things, how she went from indie failure to Hollywood success.
Her Style of Writing
“When I was drawing things, I could only draw things that were in front of me. And when I’m writing a story, I can only write about things that happened to me, because I can’t imagine different worlds. I would have not been able to write Harry Potter or a fantasy world.”
Lisa prefers to focus her writing on her own personal experiences, being able to link her “very intimate self with everybody else’s. I don’t believe in the myth of separation, I believe there’s a unity and this is the unity that I’m looking for.”
It is important for her to force herself to just live her life, without detailing every little thing that happens. The writing comes afterwards. She says that she takes notes, but will wait until the right moment to write the story.
“Like a tree, you’re blossoming, you have green fruit, then you have a fruit. The writing is when the fruit is falling off the tree, but I’m not deciding that this is the day that the fruit is falling off the tree. When I’m full of links that I’ve made, now I’ve got a story.”
Getting into Filmmaking
After graduating, at the age of 16, Lisa had to wait two years before being able to work.
“In the beginning, I thought I would be an actress and I was proposed many roles, but my parents would say no all the time. And because I wasn’t 18, I couldn’t work without their permission.”
So she went to University and studied finance. “I had a major in finance. And everybody told me: why don’t you go into the stock exchange, which I did for a year. At the end of one year, I was like, this is not my area. I can’t be in an office. I can’t have a boss. I can’t obey – maybe that’s my major problem.”
Everybody in the finance world was looking forward to long weekends, and “I wanted my whole life to be freedom and decided to quit. My best friend was working on set. So, I began to do coffees and garbage and things on set. I had less money, but I was happier.”
She’d found her tribe and after that, she knew where she belonged.
Writing for A Sitcom
After making some films, Lisa “accepted a job, writing some sitcom. It was a really shitty sitcom, but super successful. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever made in my entire career because I learned how to be efficient, how to have a boss, how to write in a very difficult way and to obey someone.”
She was earning money while writing and found it very humbling because “you become just hands that write. I learned a certain efficiency and a certain humility that I was lacking before. This was my real school of writing.”
How She Writes
Lisa used to plan her writing, focusing on the structure and the characters, and then she’d add the dialogue. But “now I’m more intuitive and I feel the story inside me.
I just write, and because I’m structured in the way I write, I don’t need to write the structure. I know what it’s lacking and I’m improving that. It’s very organic, the way I write now.”
She went on to say that she loves collaboration but finds it difficult to find the right collaborators at times. “Sometimes, I’m trying to find a collaborator, and by the time I find them I’ve finished the script.
I’d rather write with someone because I like to be fed with somebody else’s brain and it’s much more nurturing.”
From Writing to Directing
Her films are about “what’s love? How do men and women become good lovers, good people to each other? Why are we fighting? And what it is to be a mom, and a woman when you’re not a wife, when you’re not a mom? Femme means woman and wife. It’s the same word.
So, it’s very difficult to know the essence of being a woman when you’re not a wife and you’re not a mom and this is what I’m always trying to understand. And how women can connect with men.”
She had a moment, after her children were born (and growing up), where she’d “rather be a mother than a liberated woman who thinks she’s an artist. She didn’t want to be a failure as a mom and continually wanted to represent, in her movies, that “there’s no such thing as a bad mother. Women have so much pressure. And when you have a clear intention: I want to be the best mom I can be. And I want to write that script. Then life makes it happen.”
Lisa was passionate about making films, and after going to Los Angeles and doing a screenwriting course with Robert McKee she “became obsessed with writing a good script. He said something that really changed my life: a good script is a script that you can’t take anything away from. You always feel that you have to fill it in, but it’s not true. As much as you can, empty it out and then it’s going to be good.”
After that she wrote and co-directed her film, 15 août, “and it got picked up immediately” which was incredible as her “first movie was such a failure, and it broke my heart.
I’d felt ashamed walking in the streets. I thought everybody was shaming me because I thought everybody knew. I decided that the next one is going to be a hit.”
LOL From France to America
After writing and directing a few more films, she released LOL in France. And then about four years later, after planning to sell the script for the American version, she was asked to direct it too.
“I didn’t plan on that, but it was my dream. And I had the dream cast because Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore were incredible and I loved doing the same thing, but it wasn’t the same. I loved casting new people and to see the difference between the American and the French culture.
The big difference is what is it to be a good parent? What is appropriate in America and what is not appropriate?”
When casting, Lisa doesn’t base her decision on whether someone is “an actor or a non-actor. I choose them as the character they are in real life. I think that a good director can make anybody a good actor because acting is just being yourself and being natural.
“I’m never playing a role of I’m the director and you’re going to obey me. We have this project and we’re going to try to make it together. It’s a collaboration. I love having people who’ve never had an experience on screen, it’s giving them something that they will always remember.”
For more from Lisa and her writing and directing experience, listen here.