Fledgling directors and seasoned best buds Kerry Furrh, Olivia Mitchell, and Cailin Lowry weren’t die-hard festival hopefuls when they decided to submit their short film, “Girl Band,” to the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It was more of a whim.
“Submitting was kind of an afterthought,” Mitchell said. “Like, ‘Oh, I guess we’ll enter Tribeca,’ thinking we probably wouldn’t get in.”
Lowry agreed: “It was like applying to Harvard.”
Competition for a Tribeca Shorts slot is severe; out of approximately 2,900 submissions each year, only about three to five percent actually make the final cut onto the festival’s hallowed screens. Even a smaller fraction of these films are directed by women; though Tribeca has taken initiative to emphasize the inclusion of women directors, statistically the majority of films (about two-thirds) are still directed by men, reflecting an industry-wide gender disparity.
This makes the selection of "Girl Band" — starring four best friends who ditch small town ‘Murica in pursuit of making it musically in L.A. — that much more noteworthy.
Not to be mistaken for apathetic, the trio, who met while studying film and music at the University of Southern California, is properly appreciative of the opportunity. Getting this level of recognition, especially as young women with no major film credits to their names, is “an honor and so validating,” Furrh said. Their surprise is rooted in the fact they aren’t actually in the business of making short films, or even films at all. “Girl Band” is their pitch for a TV show.
“We didn’t create the film to create a short for Tribeca; we created the film as a proof of concept of this TV series we’re trying to make,” Furrh said. When pitching around the show, they felt producers liked its girl-power-friendly theme, but still didn’t quite grasp the exact vision. So they decided to make it easy and show people what they meant.
The result is a high-spirited short film whose characters already feel richly developed, and they are. The friends/co-directors (who also triple as roommates) have been developing the “Girl Band” project since their college days. Over the past few years, they added and subtracted from the premise, recorded music, and wrote at least 20 pilots until an entire world inhabited by their four girl-rocker protagonists eventually emerged. And, quite intentionally, this world reflects the lives of the directors themselves.
A huge impetus for creating “Girl Band” was the trio’s desire to see characters like themselves on TV; women who are (sometimes crudely) funny and not afraid to make a poop joke, but also seriously career-minded and highly committed to their group of equally ambitious female friends.
Explained Lowry, “You so rarely, if ever, see women who are ambitious and confident when they’re young and aren’t prioritizing boys [on TV]. If I ever see a self-assured young woman in media, it’s somehow a negative. She’s either shown as a bitch or selfish.”
Some TV shows — “Broad City,” Furrh mentions — meet one or two of the criteria. But it’s virtually impossible to find a fictional friend group of women possessing the complete trifecta.
“There are so many shows about bros, and the group of dudes who hang together,” Mitchell said. “‘Broad City’ is so funny, but they don’t have that career motivation to inspire girls.”
“We have a huge priority in making characters who really know what they want, and what they want isn’t the guy."
Beyond creating a new brand of women on-screen, the three are also entering the directorial world at a time when the lack of women behind the camera is a hotly contested issue. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union called on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate Hollywood’s hiring practices in light of the grim ratio of male-to-female directors. Over the last dozen years, women have directed only four percent of top-grossing films, and they don’t fare much better in television. The number of TV episodes directed by women in 2014-2015 was just 16 percent, according to a report from the Directors Guild of America.
The friends reported seeing elements of this disparity while in film school at USC, although it wasn’t really openly addressed. “I noticed in my classes when you’re directing a crew of guys, you’re questioned more than you see your male counterparts questioned,” Furrh mused. “It can be hard to decide, are they questioning me because I’m a woman, or are they questioning me because my idea’s not good enough?”
Another key issue is the lack of female professors to serve as mentors to young director protégés. “A lot of times, professors at USC are guys, and they’re going to see young men who they see themselves reflected in,” Lowry said. “That doesn’t happen as much for women in film school.” It’s also common to be on the receiving end of inappropriate comments on set and sexist jokes. “One of my professors made a joke about how women are dialogue editors because they like to talk a lot,” Furrh recalled. “A professor said that!”
Ultimately, the trio believes all they can do is focus on their goal of getting "Girl Band" picked up for TV, and initiate dialogue about sexist industry standards when they can.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself and be like, ‘Oh, there’s a dearth of female directors, which means I can’t do it,” Lowry said. “We’ve always had the attitude that you just do your best work.”
"Girl Band" premieres Friday, April 15th at 6:45 p.m., with three additional showings during the festival. Tickets are available on the Tribeca Film Festival website.