Don’t be intimidated by gear. I know that sounds silly, but it takes a lot of stuff to make film and tv. The amount of stuff needed for a 30 second commercial is mind-boggling. There are some real gearheads in the industry that can make you feel like you aren’t ready to execute your own vision because you don’t yet know the difference between a Steadicam or a Ronin. I let myself feel overwhelmed by cameras for a long time and stayed safely in my bubble of directing theatre and being in front of the camera. I could have trusted my vision devoid of gear worries much sooner.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lara Everly.
Lara Everly is an award-winning director who celebrates female-driven content and dark comedy. An Upright Citizens Brigade graduate, Lara’s sharp wit and clever comedy sensibility first gained attention in her sketch comedy content. She’s adept at bringing humor to unexpected topics and disrupting the status quo. As a filmmaker, her narrative films and documentaries have played the film festival circuit, winning awards and procuring distribution through Amazon, ShortsHD and New Wave Entertainment. Lara has written and directed for a range of platforms including Disney, Netflix Family, Refinery29, Scary Mommy, Oprah, Funny or Die, Awestruck, Swing Left, Acronym, Babycenter and more. As a commercial director she’s worked for Fisher Price, Walmart, Little Tikes, Supermajority, Netflix, Schwarzkopf to name a few. She’s about to direct an episode of “American Auto” for NBCU in the fall. She is repped by Gersh Talent Agency, Echo Lake Entertainment and Backyard.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up with documentary and nature film parents. So, their job was to basically film everything from sunsets, to timelapse clouds to different cultures around the world, and my sister and I would spend our summer breaks traveling with our parents and twelve heavy film cases. It started off ragtag, like camping in our vanagon. But as we got older, we would travel to Africa and Asia to gather footage for their stock footage library. And then contrast that worldly and privileged exposure to more or less being a latchkey kid during the school year. I would come home after school and my parents would still be at work, so the TV was kind of my babysitter. From 4–5 pm every day was reruns of “I Love Lucy” and “Three’s Company” that I watched over and over again, starting at too young an age to even understand all the jokes (hello Mrs Roper and her randy ways). But what I did get is that it was funny, and I liked it. I fell in love with Lucille Ball, this hilarious female lead always in a situation she had to wiggle herself out of. And I was equally smitten with John Ritter and his impeccable physical timing. I truly credit those re-runs as my first love of comedy.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was always putting on “shows” when I was kid. My neighbor friend, Dana, would come over and we would spend all day creating a whole damn play. We would make my parents not only watch it, but film it on our VHS camcorder and then we’d watch it back. It seems comically obvious now that, in a way, I was always doing exactly what I am doing now. Film is just a paid game of dress up.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
The second thing I ever directed was a music video where I had “relations” with a puppet for FunnyorDie. It started as a joke with my amazingly talented puppeteer friend, Jonathan Kidder. We were like — what if we made a a funny music video about a tortured love affair, but the affair is between a human and a puppet? And then…..we made it. Like literally made the furry puppets from scratch, made the song, gathered friends, came up with choreography, borrowed a camera, and shot this music video. Puppets usually require at least two puppeteers to animate, so for our silly sex scene, it was in a very tiny Porsche, and these two puppeteers (Jonathan being one of them) were crammed down in the footwell hiding, and it was a such a ridiculous behind the scenes situation.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Directing Geena Davis in a pilot presentation last year called “I Can By Friday” was a dream. I’m a huge fan of hers, not only because she is a spark plug of raw and indelible talent, but because she is also a powerhouse and champion of female-identifying filmmakers and gender equity in the media. She’s a huge changemaker for inclusion of women and better representation. Growing up, I was obsessed with “Beetle Juice”. In 4th grade, I was the guy with the shrunken head for Halloween. Geena actually brought The Handbook for The Living from “Beetle Juice” to set as a prop, and I got to take a photo with it which made my 9-year-old heart sing. And “Thelma & Louise” was literally one of the films that made me want to become a director. It was one of the first times I saw two women being so empowered together on screen and the inspiration was resounding. It can be a little nerve-racking when an Academy Award winner is asking you for answers, but I learned the work always takes over. Everyone is there working toward the same goal and that’s all that matters.
Also, as an actor I got to film a dream sequence dance routine with Issac Hayes in “That 70’s Show”. I’ve always had a strong affinity for 70’s culture, and I was over the moon to be filmed with such a legend.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a holistic answer, but I’m in this mom group that is laden with a lot of successful women in the entertainment industry. We joke we are the illuminati. We are all so supportive of each other’s projects and collaborate. It’s a great way to fill a position too. I’ll just post: looking for a female editor for this spot, who you got? Who can read my script this week and give some feedback? Need to cast an actress for this film, would love your recs, etc. I’ve directed many amazing moms I’ve met in the group, including some very established actresses, and you realize you’ve chatted online already about strategies to remove baby barf from a car seat and there’s an instant camaraderie and trust, a willingness to help each other succeed. I guess motherhood is a great equalizer.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was kid in Hebrew School, I remember learning this quote from a Rabbi, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” First off, let me confess that I was a small terror in Hebrew School. I was an excellent student at school, so I used Hebrew School to live out my alter ego and I would ditch temple service, write notes to my friends and generally paid little attention. But this one quote struck a chord with me. I like how it galvanizes and empowers you to take action, not to be a bystander in your own life, but to not act simply on selfish terms either, to think of others. Fight for yourself. Fight for others. Do it now. I’ve always had a push and pull when standing up for myself. A part of me is very brave, even daring, and another part of me is a painful people pleaser. It’s been a journey to fuel the fire of the former part of myself, give less f*cks, be a professional troublemaker, advocate for myself and for what is just in the world. The ocean is vast. It’s okay to make waves.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
First, let’s talk about on-screen representation. Diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount to entertainment. We are a culture that consumes stories and content all day long. From Oscar winning films to Tik Tok, we are devouring media. Showing diverse representation — race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability is a wildly powerful tool. If people don’t see themselves represented, we are failing at being good storytellers and, by omission, we are also teaching the next generation they don’t belong. Things have changed radically in this department in the past couple decades and there’s no going back. This goes for animated films too. Disney is doing a solid job right now showing different female and racially diverse leads, but it’s still crazy how much unconscious inequity there is. My sons are obsessed with Paw Patrol. And no shade on those pups, I mean they save people all day long, but they were all boy dogs, minus one girl, until later episodes, they finally added one more supporting character that was a girl dog. They must have gotten flack about this because they then finally added a third girl dog in the movie version. I know, I know, I’m talking about cartoon puppies, but these crime fighting canines are my kids’ idols, and programming the way we think starts young.
Second, there is the need for diversity behind the camera. How in the world are female directors still in the single digits when it comes to percentages in TV and Film? I have to say one of the most gratifying parts of being a director on a project that I’m helping shape from the ground up is hiring power. I get to make sure the crew is diverse in many arenas and in fact, stack the cards toward as many women and BIPOC people as I can. Friends hire friends, and we have to collectively burst these white cis men in power from hiring each other over and over. I’m not saying they aren’t talented! But too many have been squeezed out of opportunities for too long, especially in comedy.
Third, there is diversity in the stories we tell. That’s partially why I got into directing. As an actor, I found myself auditioning for the same role over and over, and the story was almost always through the male gaze. Even the character description would be how a man would describe the character: pretty, girl next door, smart but can hang with the boys. Seems benign, but it kinda makes me want to smash my head against the wall. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to de-victimize women in projects I’m directing. I’m like well, let’s not treat pregnant women like fragile dolls, or what if this was a same-sex couple, or crazy idea, what is the wife was driving the SUV? There are a lot of ingrained and limiting stereotypes that need constant disrupting. And God bless streaming. Really, it’s brought on such a slate of new content that doesn’t need a thousand suits approving it, and culturally, we are seeing some fascinating incredibly diverse stories being told.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished a short film that I wrote and directed called “Heritage Day” starring Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Vivien Lyra Blair (Obi Wan Kenobi) that is a mother/daughter story and dark comedy about how we reckon with the past. In the film, 8-year-old Evie dresses like her estranged grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, on “Heritage Day” at school and becomes increasingly obsessed with what her grandmother experienced. The film is inspired by my own heritage and an incident in my childhood. We will be submitting to film festivals at the end of the summer.
I’m also very excited to be directing an episode of “American Auto” for NBCU in November.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I’m adept at bringing humor to unexpected topics. My latest film project, “Heritage Day” (mentioned above) is a solid example of that liminal space of infusing shadowy spaces with comedy. The Holocaust is almost always handled through documentary or drama, but I was interested in exploring it through the lens of comedy and subsequent generations. Humor is a great tool to reach people and disrupt the status quo. I made a video that went viral for Scary Mommy called “The Play Date” about gun safety in the home. That’s another topic that is deadly serious, but by using the portal of comedy, we brought in a bigger audience, and made some important points without people feeling like they were watching some didactic. I currently have an idea about abortion rights that falls under the same category using comedy to hit some hard truths (if anyone would like to reach out to fund that… ☺) Another example, in the doc sphere, is a film I directed (originally on Oprah.com and currently available on Amazon Prime) called “Free to Laugh,” about the power of comedy post prison where women on parole and probation learned improv and stand up.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t be intimidated by gear. I know that sounds silly, but it takes a lot of stuff to make film and tv. The amount of stuff needed for a 30 second commercial is mind-boggling. There are some real gearheads in the industry that can make you feel like you aren’t ready to execute your own vision because you don’t yet know the difference between a Steadicam or a Ronin. I let myself feel overwhelmed by cameras for a long time and stayed safely in my bubble of directing theatre and being in front of the camera. I could have trusted my vision devoid of gear worries much sooner.
- Write. People actually did tell me this, and so I did, but for years only with writing partners , because I thought, “I’m not really a writer”. I was okay saying, “I’m an actress who writes” or “I’m a director who writes” but saying “I’m a writer” felt like imposter syndrome. I thought I needed someone else to do it with me, to “yes and” all my ideas and thoughts, which only slowed me down dealing with their schedules and their baggage, etc. I still co-write many short form ideas, but I finally learned to trust my voice independently for the big ones. I love directing because it’s so collaborative. It’s jumping into a project in the middle. Writing is the gestation. It’s a drastically different energy. It requires confidence to do alone and to be the start of something. So, if you have ideas burning a hole inside you, or even just nagging at you and won’t go away, get over your bullshit, dive into the scary quiet abyss and start writing.
- Compare and despair. Cliché AF I know. But it’s a competitive, grueling business. It can be brutal. And everyone’s trajectory is different. Some people do one thing and shoot to the top, while some people seem perpetually stuck in the grind. There will always be someone to compare yourself to, someone inspiring that you love/hate because “go them! but also why not me?” Let it go if you can. It’s a nonsensical industry. It’s political. It’s confusing. It’s not linear. Just do you.
- Don’t be precious. You don’t know what’s going to stick. I’ve made things that I thought would resonate much farther than they did, and I’ve made things that took off like wildfire when I didn’t expect it. Directing is such a team sport, and good ideas come from everywhere, so you gotta be an open book and ready to roll with the punches.
- This is specific, but I wish I applied to some of the diversity directing programs sooner. At the start of the pandemic, I got into NBC Female Forward, now rebranded as NBCU Launch. It’s opened a lot of opportunities and connections. There are more and more programs out there to help under-represented directors get their first episode of TV or get their first feature made or get commercial representation. Take advantage.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I have a strong sense of my vision and will argue for the integrity of something I believe in…within reason of course. When I can, I always make a director’s cut. It’s easier to just show what my version of it would be. Maybe the client will like it more. Maybe they won’t. I’ve had it work both ways. But in the end, whoever financed the project, whether it’s the client, the production company, the network, they get final say. And that’s where #4 above comes into play — you just can’t be too precious.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh man. I’m feeling really depressed about the state of the world right now, so that’s an overwhelming proposition…okay, how about this? Completely restructure the government. Expand the court. Put way more women in power, make sure at least 50% are mothers. Increase diversity one hundredfold and re-write the Bill of Rights which was made by a few slave-owning white men who thought women had no place in charge. We can call it the Matriarch Movement.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’m gonna say Natasha Lyonne. I’ve always loved her edgy rockstar energy and am really into everything she’s creating and working on these days with Animal Pictures. I feel a kinship with her. Like me, she is also a third generation Holocaust survivor, breathing wit into dark spaces.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I’m @laraeverly on Instagram and Twitter
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Lara Everly: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.