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Making Therapeutic Art

The dramedy, created with an all-female crew, explores relationship dynamics

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Zoe Lister-Jones as Anna, Adam Pally as Ben and Fred Armisen as Dave in Zoe Lister-Jones’ Band Aid. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

A leaky faucet is a small problem at first, but can become a much bigger issue if ignored for too long. Hence the opening shot for Zoe Lister-Jones’ directorial debut, Band Aid (in theaters June 9), where the drip-drop in the kitchen sink predicates a vicious argument between Lister-Jones’ character Anna and her husband Ben, played by Adam Pally.

What starts as a trivial squabble over dirty dishes quickly escalates into each character spitting sing-songy expletives at each other that is both nervy, yet (as strangers to the scene) comedic. When both have run out of words, neither knows what to say – “I’m sorry” seems to be out of the question.

In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, Anna and Ben decide to turn their fights into song. They bust out an old guitar and bass from the garage, and commission their neighbor Dave (played by Fred Armisen from Portlandia) to play drums. Converting their arguments into lyrics actually makes for some catchy, indie pop tunes, and the band even gets good enough to play a few local open mics.

The solution works for a while, and the couple’s initial chemistry shines through: They duet in their driveway, take mushrooms on the beach and even their friends notice they’re happier. All is well, at least, for now.

“What the characters are doing in the film is more of what I call, ‘theraoke,’” Lister-Jones laughed. “It’s like more of a therapeutic act that becomes more of an artistic endeavor, but it’s first intention is therapeutic.”

The director/producer/screenwriter/songwriter says Band Aid is a drama-comedy that explores the in’s and out’s of relationships and how the people involved function as a whole, but also as individuals. There are several occasions where we’re caught in raw and vulnerable moments with these characters, but despite the initial firestorm we see of Ben and Anna’s marriage, the film’s mood dims and lightens with the film’s fun jam sessions and actors’ quick-witted one-liners.

With a little help from Kyle Forester, Lister-Jones said she wanted to use music as a more light-hearted vehicle to explore the real, universal issues couples face. From there, it was about asking the big questions of what it means to be in any relationship, why couples fight and why they choose to stay.

As the director, Lister-Jones said she wanted to take on an “almost voyeuristic” approach, infiltrating on Anna and Ben’s world as they uncover the true root of their frustrations with each other. Anna’s issue with Ben is that he hasn’t properly processed their miscarriage; Ben’s problem with Anna is that she’s become over-emotional and too caught up in what they lost.

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Courtesy of IFC Films.

Beyond the issues they have as a unit, both characters are struggling creatively: Anna drives for Uber after her book deal falls through and Ben spends most of his days creating corporate logos at home in his underwear. According to Lister-Jones, she knew writing her characters as artists would add another layer of complexity to the story.

“I think being raised by artists and being an artist myself, those notions of failure and heartache around one’s own creative process and rejection are very real for me,” she said. “I felt it went part and parcel with the struggles that the couple was going through in their relationship; Their struggles as artists and individuals was all inter-connected.”

Lister-Jones’ own work spans across the indie circuit, with films such as Stuck Between Stations, Breaking Upwards, Lola Versus and Consumed.The last three she worked on in partnership with her husband, Daryl Wein, who served as executive producer for Band Aid, but was hardly on set. What made Band Aid unique behind the camera was Lister-Jones’ all-female crew policy, which was part of her pitch to the film’s financiers.

She explains that although some departments were so dominated by men – such as grip, electric and camera – that there were so few opportunities for women to gain experience.

“It sort of becomes this catch-22,” she said. “So, I think for us, it was about taking risks on women who might have less experience on the page in order to create opportunities for them and hopefully open other doors in the future.”

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Zoe Lister-Jones as Anna and Adam Pally as Ben in Zoe Lister Jones’ Band Aid. Photo by Jacqueline DiMilia. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

Much like Anna and Ben, Lister-Jones views her stature as an artist not just as a profession, but also a means to create and explore. Band Aid unravels a number of complexities that begin and end with the innate human desire to just make something worthwhile. She said while technique and theory and industry are all very important, art is also about letting your own voice come through and making something you believe in.

“I took a lot from the technique I learned, but I also tried to throw it away,” she said. “I think once you learn it and you trust it’s in your body, it’s then about letting it go; it’s about seeing where you as an artist incorporate it and also choose not to incorporate it. I think that’s what this movie was for me, it was for me to say, ‘I’m going to throw away all the rules and just make something that I really wanted to make.'”

Band Aid is now playing in San Francisco.