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  • Thank you so much.

  • Janet.

  • This is This is extremely cool.

  • And I'm very, very, very honored to be here, Especially after that intro.

  • I'm just gonna locate my water now.

  • We had a good night last night.

  • It was it was very exciting.

  • So I'm here because I directed a film called Book Smart.

  • I can now call myself a South by Southwest Film Maker, and that is a huge honor.

  • It also makes no sense.

  • I'm an actress.

  • Most people know from movies and TV streaming currently for free in your hotel rooms and hopefully on airplanes, where altitude takes everything from a 62 and nine.

  • So I appreciate you all being here today.

  • Maybe you've seen book smart and you like it.

  • And you're curious.

  • I hope so.

  • And you're curious as to how the hell of first time female director got to make an R rated comedy about smart girls.

  • Or maybe you haven't seen it, But you're someone as unlikely to become a director as I was.

  • And you're curious and skeptical and maybe a mixture of both.

  • So I'm here today to explain how I got here my entire life.

  • All I wanted to do was act.

  • It's been been my dream since I was five years old.

  • I announced it to my parents before kindergarten and freaked out when my older sister starred in her high school production of The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie, which she was so fantastic in.

  • And it really threw me into a tailspin because I was the best be in in the family.

  • That's how much I really identified with Bigon, actress since a young age.

  • For 30 years, I put everything I had into making that dream come true, and it did.

  • I'll always be grateful that I've been able to achieve that dream.

  • I've been able to pay my rent, doing what I love almost everything that I had wanted to do.

  • I had done by the time I was 27.

  • But as time went on, I couldn't deny that something didn't feel right.

  • I was unsatisfied because the paradigm that I was brought in to where I was told to just look pretty, sit in front of the camera, don't ask questions.

  • Don't give us your opinion.

  • Didn't work for me anymore.

  • It's like hearing about a party you've always wanted to go to and then you finally get invited to that party and you get to the party and you realize the party's sucks and you have to take over the deejay booth because you don't want to leave the party.

  • You just want to make it better.

  • I realized that if I wanted things to change, if I wanted my voice to be heard, I was gonna have to shift the paradigm from within.

  • And that's really hard, especially because I've been working in this industry since I was 18.

  • So four years just getting 17 years, almost two decades, which is truly insane.

  • I got to celebrate my 35th birthday here last night at our premiere on It was truly the most special day of my life, and I have two kids.

  • So don't tell them that I moved to L.

  • A in 2002 right after graduating high school for going college to work as an assistant for a casting director.

  • I did this because I read somewhere that Catherine Keener did this, and that's all I needed to know.

  • Truly, I was fresh out of boarding school, huh?

  • We're skipping College was unheard of and Everyone thought I was insane, but I was determined.

  • Okay.

  • I worked for a brilliant woman named Mali Finn.

  • She was extraordinary at her job as a casting director.

  • Seriously, Look her up, even if you've never her name.

  • Never heard her name before.

  • She is responsible for a movie you've loved.

  • She's cast over 88 films, including Titanic L A Confidential, The Matrix elephant.

  • Uh, all the real girls.

  • I could go on forever.

  • And she had a very real knack for discovering new talent.

  • She was infamously tough with the highest possible standards for preparation, professionalism and creativity.

  • Much later, I learned that a family friend it helped me get that job as a way to dissuade me from wanting to go into show business.

  • She thought a few 100 hours of sorting headshots would alert me to the unlikelihood of me ever making it and would send me back to the East Coast with my tail between my legs.

  • But I couldn't be deterred.

  • Malley was inspiring in a town where most people were expected to get famous based on facial symmetry, Malli demanded brilliance.

  • She would routinely throw people out of an audition room for not being off book or having any original ideas, and then would casually asked me to call the agent and tell them their client should come back when they've done the work.

  • I would then pick up the phone quivering with fear while I dialed, see a and waited to get screamed at.

  • But now they're my agent.

  • So things have really come full circle.

  • And I'm very, very grateful.

  • She was amazing at her job, and she was doing her job as the most important and least appreciated collaborator of her directors.

  • This is a right we have to wrong.

  • You guys know casting directors get enough credit for the value and talent they bring.

  • Two movies.

  • They are essential to the process and the texture of a movie.

  • And they should be celebrated with more awards and accolades than any other department I can speak towards.

  • My brilliant casting director on book smart Alison Jones, who is the most brilliant woman.

  • And without her, the movie wouldn't exist.

  • I learned a lot from Ellie.

  • Some of it is seared into my brain forever, like her lunch order gazpacho.

  • No onions at a mommy, no salt cottage.

  • She's no fat.

  • I will remember that as long as I live.

  • When she first asked for it, I had to Google every single item.

  • I was from the East Coast.

  • It was all very new.

  • I would spend the first half of every day sorting headshots of women who looked eerily like me and wondering how the hell I would compete with them.

  • I didn't have a head shot, had no idea how to make one, and my resume included 14 high school productions and a special skills section detail ing three different styles of horseback riding.

  • And then, during lunch, I would dredge up the courage to ask Molly questions about how to build a career as an actress looking down at her cottage.

  • Huge, no salt, she would.

  • She chewed her food silently and then gave me the best advice I never took.

  • Create your own content.

  • Make what on Lee you can make.

  • This is invaluable wisdom that applies to every aspect of the filmmaking process.

  • Write the script only you can write.

  • Shoot the film on Lee.

  • You can shoot designed the set, the way only you can design it and play the part.

  • The only only way you can play it.

  • It took me a decade to understand that, but like a lot of good advice, it didn't sit, get sink in tow much, much later.

  • I was 18 and my plan was to, you know, be discovered by some genius filmmaker.

  • Wist, too, can asked about my process and say things like, I just trust my director and let go So, you know, I was so desperate to be someone else's muse.

  • It didn't even occur to me that I could be my own.

  • Eventually, I scrapped together.

  • A head shot entered the dizzying shitstorm of pilot season pilot season doesn't really exist in the same way anymore.

  • But back in the Jurassic age of network television, an actor with no real experience could audition for three or four pilots a day, never reading the entirety of any script because they didn't give it to you.

  • Just flash memorizing a few pages of sides before marching into a cattle call of 18 to 35 year olds in various stages of bitterness, I naively tried to make friends with the other girls in the waiting room.

  • My secret was that I brought many of these same actresses coffee while they waited to be seen by my own boss.

  • But this was war, and there was no time for pleasantries.

  • And then a miracle happened.

  • An actress got fired from a pilot at the last minute, and I was cast to replace her to my complete shock.

  • It got picked up, and suddenly I was the lead in a one hour drama on television.

  • I kid you not.

  • Within one hour of being cast, I was swept off to a hair salon to get my hair bleached Barbie blonde before a fitting where, I was told the producers wanted to see as much navel as possible.

  • And oh, what I mind trying out these chicken cutlets until one size was officially approved by the male producers.

  • It's easy to cringe now, looking back, but in the moment I was thrilled I had been cast as the lead of a TV show.

  • This is what I came here to do.

  • It was big time.

  • I shot my first scene at Mel's Diner in Hollywood at 2 a.m. With an entire film crew standing around and gawking at how much food I could eat because I didn't understand that actors didn't actually eat the entirety of the prop departments work during eating scenes.

  • And I thought, I've made it now every single time I drive by that males, I want to run in and grab that Barbie blonde chicken cutlet container and drag her out of there.

  • But here's the thing I needed to know that career.

  • To understand that I didn't want it.

  • I needed to achieve my dream to realize that I could dream bigger.

  • Years later, I would learn that the actress originally cast in that role had been fired for, and I quote, not being fuckable enough.

  • What a town to dozens of people's disappointment.

  • That TV show was canceled after three episodes, but I had my foot in the door.

  • I got auditions and meetings, and soon I was a working actor.

  • In many ways, my career has been everything that I'd hoped for.

  • I got to be a part of one of the first high school lesbian relationships ever aired on television and work with my heroes behind and in front of the camera and play someone who became a Lego.

  • I've been in good and bad movies directed by brilliant people and a few hacks.

  • But recently I realized that I've been have been in over 50 movies and TV shows, and I have never been in a movie that passes the Bechdel test.

  • That test is, of course, named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and it defines its criteria as follows the movie must feature to named women who speak to each other about something other than a man.

  • That's it.

  • That seems like it should be very doable.

  • Look, Helen, it's raining.

  • That's all you need.

  • I mean, stranger concepts abound in Hollywood.

  • This is the business of imagination.

  • Ah, woman is more likely to have a love affair with a fish than speak to another woman about something other than a man.

  • It was kind of a stunning realization.

  • I'd love to the stories I've been a part of telling, and I hadn't even noticed how little agency women had in them.

  • I was starting to feel the boundaries of the paradigm I was stuck in, and I didn't like it.

  • Ah, huge turning point for me in my career and an incredibly meaningful moment in my life in general happened here at south by Southwest in 2013 when we premiere drinking buddies.

  • I'd been to the festival many times before, but this was the first time I felt really creative ownership of a project.

  • I was a producer on the film, and I felt our tiny team had truly crafted something unique together.

  • It was an entirely improvised film.

  • Joe Swanberg's process was initially terrifying and bewildering to me.

  • No script, no predetermined description of the character.

  • I was supposed to play no studio, no guarantees.

  • But I wasn't just an actor for higher.

  • We were attempting to create something from nothing.

  • The process was going to have to outweigh the result, because any results other than us all watching it together on a food Thanh seemed very unlikely.

  • I found that incredibly liberating.

  • I suddenly found myself operating from a different part of my brain.

  • I wasn't acting.

  • I was telling a story and people liked it and found it truthful and still approached me with I, P.

  • A's and tales of their workplace romances.

  • I'm grateful for that movie because it shoved me into the realization that my instincts might actually be worth listening to.

  • I finally understood that I enjoyed controlling my own narrative and that I might actually be good at it.

  • Sitting in the Paramount Theater for that premiere was the moment I decided I was ready to take more control of the stories I was telling.

  • I knew I had something to say.

  • I wanted to be a part of a movie that passes the Bechdel test.

  • I felt I wanted to be the boss and be in a position to hire people the way I wanted to and create the set environment I'd always wanted to be on.

  • But acknowledging that you want that opportunity is only the first step, because then you have to demand it.

  • When the people who hand out money picture director the usually picture of fresh face dudes and baseball hats and glasses who can barely grow a beard and they don't picture the actress, they've pegged a someone's wife or mother or love interest.