Zoe Lister-Jones is a woman who wears many hats. She’s a comedian, actress, screenwriter, filmmaker, composer and recently made her directorial debut at the Sundance Film Festival with her heartwarming—and hilarious—film, Band Aid. The movie, starring Adam Pally and Lister-Jones, follows a couple who just can’t stop fighting so they decide to use music as an outlet for their quarrels by starting a band. (And P.S., they actually play all the music in the film.)
Band Aid artfully tackles what it takes for a relationship to succeed, despite it appearing to fail. Even if you’re super single, it’s totally relatable because it transcends romantic coupledom and prompts viewers to look deeply on their relationships with… themselves.
Like many native New York-based actors, Lister-Jones got her start on Law & Order. More recently, she played new mom Jen in the CBS series Life in Pieces, a seriously funny sitcom following the lives and milestones of an average American family. Her crisp comedic timing is a real treat, but we love her even more for making a difference for women in the film world.
FLARE chatted with Jones about gender roles and why we need more women in production.
I was blown away by how incredibly honest and raw Band Aid was. How did it feel to have your directorial debut film premiere at Sundance to critical acclaim?
It was such a thrill. It’s such a dream as a filmmaker to have a premiere at Sundance and to be in competition was such an honour. To top it all off, we were screening at Eccles Theatre, which is really such a storied venue and it’s huge. We screened it for 1,200 people, and then at our after-party Adam, Fred [Armisen, who also stars in the film as the couple’s neighbour and bandmate] and I all played a live set. It was goofy.
I would’ve loved to have been there for that. Speaking of music—the musical premise of the film is hilarious and super creative. How did you come up with it?
I knew that I wanted to explore a couple in a long-term relationship and the dynamics involved, and what it takes to stay in a relationship and why people choose to stay. A lot of that I knew would rest in the ways in which a couple specifically fights, and I felt like I hadn’t really seen those sorts of marital or domestic squabbles explored on-screen in a way that felt authentic and through a comedic lens. I’ve always loved making music, and I knew that I’d have a lot of fun writing music in the screenwriting process. It was the intersection of those two interests that then lead to the couple fighting through song itself.
From the get-go, you and Adam Pally have a very strong chemistry on-screen and your banter is amazing. Was the chemistry natural between the two of you?
I didn’t know Adam that well before I offered him the part in the film. We had met a few times at industry parties, but in just those brief moments it was clear that we had a certain amount of ease with each other and had a lot of fun, and shared a sensibility in terms of our humour. I’d admired his work for many years from afar, so it did come quite naturally. We stuck to the script for the most part, so it was really fun because we made those words our own with each other pretty effortlessly.
Fred Armisen plays that weird neighbour role so well. He became something of a mediator between your character and Adam’s character.
The film was so focused on these two people who are generally in conflict. Even though you’re also very much aware of their flaws and love for each other, we knew that we needed a character to bring some perspective to them, but could also provide comic relief.
Band Aid definitely provides some relatable social commentary when it comes to gender roles—specifically the pressures of being a woman in a marriage. Can you talk about the motivation behind this theme?
I’m a child of divorce, and I saw a lot of those archetypes that fall along the gender lines play out in my parents’ marriage, and sort of lead to their downfall. Throughout my life, I’ve been very aware of them in my own relationships, and without laying blame on either gender, it was important on a personal level to try and understand differences in order to help bridge them. I was seeing that so many of my friends who were in long-term relationships were coming up against the same exact issues; it felt like there was this code waiting to be cracked. Not that I’m taking on that sort of responsibility, but I was personally interested in trying to acknowledge those differences and crystallize them.
I heard that you deliberately hired an entirely female production crew. That’s awesome. What was the motivation behind that decision?
I was interested in seeing what it would feel like to work with all women. I’m not a person that goes on a lot of girls’ trips or anything, and I’m at a stage in my life where so much of the socializing that happens is with couples. Four or five years ago, I went on my bachelorette weekend, which was just a group of my close girlfriends, and there was just this inexplicable magic when we were all alone together. Something happened for me that weekend and I thought, What would that feel like in the creative process? I was also interested in creating opportunities for women in departments where they’re rarely offered them. So many TV crews are predominantly male and in order to try to help shift that paradigm, I had to subvert it completely because otherwise you fall into the same traps. We needed to shatter any of those paradigms to really make sure that women were given opportunities.
I loved the solo song that you performed towards the end of the film. It seemed like it came from a very genuine place.
That song unfolded at the moment in the story that I was writing it. I didn’t outline the script, so for me it was just about seeing where my imagination took these characters. At that moment in the story, it felt like Anna needed to sing something that spoke to a lot of her feelings around loss and grief, and her own attempt to understand the struggles that she and Ben are facing. It was an amazing moment in the screenwriting process, because it was a really different method to explore those ideas. It was challenging, but it was also very gratifying.
That’s probably one of the great things about being so in control of your own film; you get a lot of personal, rewarding growth out of it too.
Totally! It’s obviously challenging to wear so many hats but there’s so much creative nourishment that goes on, especially on this project. It exceeded all of my wildest expectations.