Zoe Lister Jones is a multi-hyphenate wonder woman, whose many talents include acting, writing, directing, activism, and more. SBJCT chatted with Zoe about her path and what makes her tick, including unpacking herself through her work. Besides directing The Craft this year, you can soon catch her in HOW IT ENDS, which will premiere at Sundance on Jan 29, the first feature film to be made and fully completed during the global pandemic, and a family affair to boot-Written/Produced/Directed/Shot/Edited by Zoe Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein. Read on below…
BY ERIN WALSH
DRESS, GLOVES, AND HAT Gucci
Erin Walsh ZOE! You multi-talented multi-hyphenate wonder. I have so many questions for you. Now I happen to know how you got your start in the biz as we both were at the same theater school, but to begin, can you fill our readers in on how you got started and what really got you going as an actor and then as a writer and director?
Zoe Lister Jones I know, that is my favorite part about our origin story, Erin! The world is so very small… Well, towards the end of my senior year of theater school, I was going through a terrible break up and I decided to write a one woman show as a way to process it. I crowdsourced a measly amount of money and rented out a stage at PS 122, which was an off off Broadway theater in the East Village. And I put on this show, which was called Codependence is a Four Letter Word, made postcards, and handed them out on the street, it was all extremely lo-fi… And somehow the NY Times came and gave me a mention as a critics pick for the week (even though it was only a week long run) and from that I got my first agent and manager. So from early on in my career, I became aware that writing my own material was not only important for me from an emotional standpoint, but could be quite rewarding from a career standpoint as well. I started working pretty consistently in theater and indie film, did all four Law and Orders, which is a NY actors rite of passage. And then my husband and I decided to write a screenplay together, based on an open relationship we were in, made it for pennies, he directed it, we produced it and we both starred, called Breaking Upwards, and that opened a lot of doors for us in the filmmaking space. We went on to make a number of films together, with us co-writing, co-producing, and me starring, but I was eager to direct. And it just sort of happened organically, when I felt ready to step into that role, with my first film, Band Aid, which I also wrote and starred in.
EW How did it happen that you ended up producing your own work? Were you always writing in the first place?
ZLJ Really out of necessity. When Daryl and I wrote Breaking Upwards, we took it out to producers but no one wanted to make it. So we got a friend who was studying producing in college to help us budget it for the smallest amount of money possible. And that became the start of learning how to make films on micro-budgets, which has been really important in both of our careers. Even when the budgets grow in size, those skills are always assets. Writing was also always a necessity for me, but more because it’s the only way I know how to navigate my own mind. Getting a film made is nearly impossible so being able to produce my own work allows me the freedom to see my writing to fruition without having to be granted permission by the gate keepers.
EW Do you find writing to be cathartic?
ZLJ Extremely. It’s almost a form of journaling for me, which is odd to admit, but something I’ve grown to appreciate. Even with The Craft: Legacy, which was a film that had an incredibly specific container within which I was playing, I realized early on in the development process that I was unpacking the traumas of my own girlhood through these characters. It really is a lifeline.
DRESS Miu Miu TIGHTS Fogal NECKLACE AND RINGS Arman
EW Has it ever happened that you produced a piece of work and you ended up being disappointed with the result? On that note- what are you most proud of in terms of your work thus far?
ZLJ I mean there are always things I wish I could change. There’s never enough time or money to do all the things you want in a film. And as a perfectionist, that will destroy you if you let it… In terms of being proud of my work, I would say that hiring a crew made up entirely of women on my first film, Band Aid, is definitely up there. And was certainly one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences of my life.
EW Your writing process- I know many writers almost feel like they are channeling at times- does it ever feel like there is something greater than you speaking for you? This may seem like a strange question (!) but I always wonder about us artists who feel a CALLING to do something. Do you ever feel called?
ZLJ I just made a movie about witchcraft, no question is too strange! I do definitely feel like I am channeling when I write. I also feel that way when I act. As a person, I’m incredibly cerebral, so any medium that allows me to sort of turn that off and tap into something of the unconscious, I welcome. I think every artist has to feel called, in one way or another. It’s just too brutal a business, that if it’s not something that you feel you must do, the process is too painful to endure.
EW On that note, do you feel like there is a great purpose to your work? And with that, what kind of social responsibility do you feel as someone who is contributing to the creative landscape that ultimately helps define how we remember our lives?
ZLJ I do feel a great responsibility as a storyteller to create narratives that are not only representative of the world we live in but that might be aspirational in terms of our potential to grow. Media is so powerful, we ingest the messages it disseminates on a subconscious level from such a young age. And for women and BIPOC especially, those representations have been incredibly damaging. So I’ve tried my best thus far to subvert those existing and limiting paradigms in the stories I tell and the ways that I choose to tell them.
JACKET Nili Lotan DRESS Ralph and Russo NECKLACE AND RINGS Arman
Young women, coming into their powers and using it to change the world…
JACKET AND SKIRT Brock Collection
EW The Craft. How did this happen? What drew you to it and what sealed the deal??
ZLJ Well I was a huge fan of the original. So when Blumhouse asked if I was interested in pitching a take on a reimagining of it, I jumped at the opportunity. It was the height of #MeToo and a lot of the issues we were grappling with as a society, and I was grappling with on a personal level, just felt so ripe to explore within this framework. Young women, coming into their powers and using it to change the world…
EW What can we expect from the film in terms of both vibe and what you hope that it accomplishes?
ZLJ I wanted to create a universe that stood on its own, that was representative of contemporary witchcraft, and could play with the aesthetics of that in a way that didn’t feel like it was trying to recreate the world of the original. Fashion was incredibly important to me, and my costume designer, Avery Plewes, and I played a lot with masculine silhouettes, contrasting pattern and texture, really exploring what girls dressing for themselves looks like, when you take away the male gaze. And that was really exciting and empowering for all of us. Same goes for our sets, and cinematography, and score, there were women heading all of these departments, and you can feel that in its execution. That this is a film about women, made by women. And that this is a story of women in community, whose power can never be too great to harness.
EW Who are your creative allies? Do you need a partner to produce content or are you more of a loner?
ZLJ My husband, Daryl Wein, and I have been creative collaborators for over a decade. And even on projects that we do independent of one another, we lean on each other creatively in a beautiful way, and share a language that is very rare. And Natalia Anderson has now been my producer on both features I’ve directed as well as a TV pilot I wrote and directed, and is not only one of my dearest friends, but an essential part of my process as a creator. Many of the women I worked with on Band Aid have now become my forever collaborators: my DP Hillary Spera, my Production Designer Hillary Gurtler, my editor Libby Cuenin. And then new members were added to the coven, my costume designer Avery Plewes, my producer Bea Sequeira… It really takes a village.
EW You are an outspoken activist. Do you ever feel like your beliefs don’t align with projects, roles, films, partnerships you have to do? And if so, what do you do about it?
ZLJ That’s a great question. Luckily, not very often. But in the times that something comes up on a project I’m acting in that feels like it is relying on stereotype, or utilizing offensive language, I have always spoken up. I believe that’s our duty as storytellers. Now more than ever. Even, and especially when, it may not impact us personally.
LOOK Louis Vuitton
DRESS Miu Miu NECKLACES Arman
EW Tell us about some of the causes that are important to you. We would love to direct our readers as to ways they can be a part of the change you would like to see in the world.
ZLJ Racial justice, environmental justice, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, are all very important to me. Organizations that I support are The Movement for Black Lives, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), GLAAD. Following voices on social media who are outside of your own community and who are calling attention to the injustices being faced in their communities is a great place to start. And donating money to non-profits doing the work within those communities, or to mutual aid projects.
I hope we will all remain active and vigilant in our pursuit of justice and equity for all.
EW What do you hope might change as a result of this earthquake of a year?
ZLJ Oh so much needs to change. I mean I hope that there are major reforms made in the criminal justice system, I hope that police departments are defunded and those resources are redistributed to communities in need. I hope voter suppression can be stopped in its tracks. I hope we will all remain active and vigilant in our pursuit of justice and equity for all.
EW Who do you find particularly inspiring these days who wears the multi-hyphenate hat like you?
ZLJ Michaela Coel is a God. I worship at her altar.
EW Anything you are reading now that you think we should get into?
ZLJ I’m reading a collection of poems by June Jordan called Directed by Desire and they are revelatory.
EW What do you ultimately hope your legacy will be?
ZLJ These are big questions, Erin! I don’t know if I can answer that one. I guess one thing I hope is that Band Aid shifted perceptions in the industry about what is possible when it comes to gender equity behind the lens.
EW Song to get in the creative mood?
ZLJ Beautiful by Carole King
EW Favorite way to unwind?
ZLJ Put on headphones and go for a walk.
EW Favorite comfort food?
ZLJ I eat a lot of lollipops. Like a lot.
EW Must have supplement?
ZLJ Digestive enzymes.
EW How do you stay sane ps? Do you mediate, yoga, exercise, all of the above?
ZLJ I wish I considered myself sane. I’m bad at all of the above, but I do take walks, does that count?
EW Zoe, What’s Your SBJCT? What really moves, motivates, and inspires you to action in this life?
ZLJ The intersection of the personal and political.
DRESS Ralph and Russo