Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeks™ Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from August 3 through August 30 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films—the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Lindsay Ellis, director of The A-Word.
Synopsis: In the fall of 2009, Lindsay Ellis, a 25-year-old graduate student, made the decision to terminate her first and only pregnancy, finding the decision much more difficult than she anticipated. In this film, she attempts to humanize the experience by exploring both her own and others' by asking, is there even such a thing as the "right" choice?
IDA: This film is a very personal essay, and for a good reason: it serves the points you are trying to make about the conversation surrounding abortion. When you first started this project, did you know that the best introduction to this conversation would be through your voice and your story?
Lindsay Ellis At the beginning? I was on the fence. Since this was a project for my Masters program, I had a lot of voices pulling me in different directions. Ironically, one of my professors who eventually became one of my bigger supporters tried to talk me out of it, partially because it was too fresh (when I pitched it to the school it had only been a few months) and partially because she didn’t see how I could make it anything other than a series of talking heads describing an event that happened in the past. But I came to the conclusion fairly quickly that it needed to center around me, because many people told me that it would be pretty hypocritical for me to ask other women to be up front about their experiences if I wasn’t willing to do the same.
IDA: The inspiration for making the film seems pretty straightforward since you set out to describe your experience. But what made you turn to documentary instead of, say, writing a book?
LE I heard that argument as well; the very same professor suggested that perhaps I fictionalize it, perhaps in short form or prose form. I came to the conclusion very quickly that it absolutely had to be documentary, because I needed the format to convey that this wasn’t hypothetical or speculation on what someone might feel, but a document of what living, breathing people actually went through.
IDA: How did you meet the women you interview about their experiences?
LE: They came to me in many different avenues. A lot of them, especially for the pitch, were just women I knew personally. Some, like Aspen Baker, I found through Internet research. Others I found through referrals through pro-life groups. Some reached out to me through my blog and on Twitter. Oddly my "day job," such as it is, is as something of an Internet comedian, so it gave me a bit of reach in reaching out to people in both fundraising and trying to find subjects. So when I blogged or tweeted about the project, I had a few people reach out to me, one of whom (Melissa) ended up in the film.
IDA: How did your vision of the film change over the course of production? Did you have a short-form documentary in line the whole time?
LE: Because of the requirements of USC, it had to be short form, but given the opportunity to make it a feature I’m not sure I would take it. Twenty-six minutes drained the life out of me; I don’t know if I could handle longer, but if it were longer there was a lot of footage I loved that we shot but weren’t able to include, such as some academics who had done some studies on the subject and their findings, as well as how the experience effects men, as well. That was the hardest bit to cut, how the experience of abortion affected men (three of the five guys on my crew had gone through it as well), but with the restrictions we just didn’t have enough time given to explore their stories, besides Ritvik’s.
IDA: What were some of the challenges you encountered when making this film? What were some of the things you did to overcome those challenges?
LE: Many! I’d say the biggest was time, and scope. We benefited from more or less knowing what the structure, tone, and framing device would be from day one, such as the use of signs and the slightly irreverent tone; that was always in place, and that never changed. Believe it or not, having the "babydaddy" as both a subject and a part of the crew wasn’t as big a problem as one might imagine. We fought constantly, and that got to the other editor (who turned out to be crucial in finding the emotional weight of the film). But it was the kind of fighting that wasn’t personal; we’d fight over shot choices, editing, sound, music, because we cared about the final outcome so deeply. So there was a lot of friction on the crew, but I feel that was ultimately to the benefit of the piece. I find that’s often true of many art forms.
IDA: As you’ve screened The A-Word, how have audiences reacted to this film?
LE: The reaction’s been surprisingly positive, if we’re ignoring the gritty depths of the Internet. I’ve had people say they, being themselves pro-life, hadn’t wanted to watch it but were pleasantly surprised to find out our objective was to humanize and validate different viewpoints rather than proselytize some sort of political message.
IDA: So now that this film is done and you’ve entered it into DocuWeeks, have you had a chance to look beyond that at what’s next? Do you want to continue as a filmmaker?
LE: I’ve always told people that I don’t want to make films just for the sake of making films; I only want to direct (or produce or write or what-have you) if I’m the right fit for it, and if I have a story to tell. The reason I rushed this documentary out when I did, as quickly as I did, was that I knew I had a story to tell right then and there, and if I didn’t do it right then and there, it would never get told. I maintain that that’s still the case; there’s no way I would do it now, because I’ve moved on from that experience, and I don’t relate to it in the same way that I did when I made the film.
The A-Word will be screening August 17 through 23 at IFC Center in New York