Happy #FeministCrushFriday feminists! This week is extra special because we have a new staff writer!!! Welcome to Malie Mason! This week she crushed on director Laura Murphy in keeping with our ‘Women Who Make Shit’ theme, here’s that interview!
Laura Murphy is an award winning director and writer who simply kicks ass. She has directed shows like ‘Girl Code‘, ‘Part Timers‘, and ‘Adam Ruins Everything‘. I had the pleasure of interviewing this groundbreaking woman in a cute café in Venice Beach, and was immediately put at ease the second we engaged in conversation. With her laid-back attitude and charming wit, I can see how she has had such a successful career thus far. I left inspired and full of energy after this dope interview, and I hope our readers feel inspired to go out and be the bad-bitches we know you are as well. We are so excited to see her new show, ‘Throwing Shade‘, every Tuesday night on TV Land!
ALG: We are here with world famous director, Laura Murphy–
LM: (Laughs) Domestically famous.
ALG: Let’s start by telling us a little about what you do and who you are. When did you know you wanted to be a director?
LM: I started as a writer in New York doing promos. I wrote for MTV back before it was just ‘Teen Mom‘ and ‘Jersey Shore‘. I was on a lot of sets where other people were directing stuff that I had written, and this was at the time where you would get thrown onto set with someone like P-Diddy and you had to just make it work. So it was the best way to learn fast, I sat on a lot of sets as a writer watching other people make mistakes or do things really well and I just absorbed it. I reached this point where I began picturing what I was writing, and I decided that I wanted a shot at actually making them look the way I wanted them to look. I never consciously set out to be a director, I really always wanted to be a writer and I really liked comedy. MTV back then was great at giving people shots. I kept bugging them like ‘I’ll do it for free, just let me try it,’ and they finally did. After I left MTV I got writing gigs for various award shows and eventually built a writing packet and made connections from doing that. Those are great rooms to be in because the writing in the room is really funny! It just goes through way too many filters before it gets on air, but those jobs were great exercises for being in a room. I was often the only girl and I had to learn how to get my opinion across without alienating people. It was great practice for pitching my own stuff or for running a set. Also, when I was in my early twenties I was really into boxing, so I spent a lot of times at boxing gyms, where it was also a bunch of dudes, telling dirty jokes. So that was another great exercise in learning how to hang out with a bunch of dudes, not trying to be one of them, just being able to communicate and exist in an environment where I was often the only female. It’s very hard to be confident and outspoken as a female without being mislabeled as “pushy,” so it’s kind of like an added art form you need to learn as a female if you want to be in charge of things, especially in comedy. It doesn’t hurt to be in a situation where you are the only female, and you can communicate well. And now, the industry is headed in a direction where men and women are working together a lot more, which I’m really happy about.
ALG: What were some of your challenges when beginning your career?
LM: I’ve been pretty lucky because, if there were things working against me that had to do with my gender, I never saw them directly. I’ve never witnessed overt sexism that got in my way. There were subtle things, I definitely remember people saying things like, ‘This is pretty organized for a girl running it,’ stuff like that, but that never got in my way. The biggest hurdles I’ve had are self-inflicted crisis of confidence. I think that has always been the biggest challenge. Every time there is a new project with a new crew, there’s definitely a transition period of proving yourself because everyone doubts you, and that is not unique to females, that is just the role of being a director. When a director walks on to set, there is always going to be a people that, are going to question if you can do it. That was hard to get used to. I’ve talked to other directors who are coming up and it can get in your head that all day people are questioning if what you are doing is the right thing to do. If you let that get to you, you will have a nervous breakdown. That was the hardest thing to overcome, not letting that get in my head. I have a confident idea of what I want to accomplish, and if I don’t have a confident idea, I’ve at least gotten good at pretending I’m confident. Also, I know it isn’t personal. People are putting money behind something that I am in charge of, and of course they’re going to question it, so be confident and make it work together.
ALG: How do you handle criticism and do you have any advice for fem forward filmmakers releasing content that challenges the social norm?
LM: The reality of criticism is that it’s going to happen no matter what, it’s either going to be how you do your eyebrows or how you make a feature. So you take the criticism about your feature the same way you would about your eyebrows. If you really like how your eyebrows look, which your eyebrows do look great…
ALG: (laughs) Thank you.
LM: …And if you are really happy with your movie, then you have done your job. At the end of the day, we’re making comedy stuff we’re not doctors in an ER. We’re not saving lives. You just need to put the criticism into perspective. There’s always going to be people who don’t like it, who say it’s not their taste. There’s going to be people who criticize it because they have to write think pieces and they need content all the time. It does get to me if I’m having a bad day anyway, but then the next day I have to get up and do it again so I can’t dwell on it. No one will ever be harder on you than you will be on yourself. And if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, who cares! It’s much harder seeing something that I made, and thinking that it could have been done better. Sometimes when you start on a creative project, you have a vision, but you just don’t have the practice. So, when you make stuff in the beginning, it inevitably is going to be disappointing to you, and I think that is when a lot of people quit. If you can make it past that window, then you’ll work forever. It can happen in one year if you are constantly making stuff, or five years if you make stuff once in awhile, so just keep making stuff because soon the quality will catch up to your creative vision.
ALG: Love it. Let’s talk about your new show. Are you allowed to talk about it? When is it being released?!
LM: Yes. It’s this show called ‘Throwing Shade‘, which was a podcast originally. It stars Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi, who are Funny Or Die alumni. They’re hilarious, and they had a podcast that went on for six years. It centers around LGBTQ issues and women’s issues. I met with them a while ago for a head writer position and then they called me when they wanted to make it into a show to help run it as the Co-EP. Because I loved scripted shows so much and I came from Girl Code and sketch stuff for so long, I wasn’t sure about moving into the late night talk show format, but I loved their podcast so much. Also, comedy with a message is my happy spot. That’s why I loved Girl Code, that’s why I always work with John Oliver when they call. It’s the smartest way to get people to learn things. You get them to laugh then, accidentally, they learn things. So this is right up my alley. And they’re both so funny that I was like I definitely want to work on this, I’m excited to work with them. We just shot the first episode last Thursday, and it airs Tuesday at 10:30pm on TV Land. It’s super funny it’s a late night talk show set up with sketches in it. It also sticks to the roots of the podcast in that there is some current pop culture, some news and comedy stuff all centered on LGBTQ and women’s issues. So it’s a really nice blend and I think it targets so many different demographics.
ALG: How do you think your work impacts feminists and the comedy world?
LM: I think ‘Girl Code‘ had a way bigger impact than any of us thought it would. I was really proud of that and fought really hard for that.. There was some pushback early on that it was too dirty, that it was maybe too edgy. It was predominately female producers, and we pushed back and fought for that (the show) and I’m so glad we did. I think what I realized was, prior to that, most of the shows for girls, even if they were written or made by girls, passed through the network that was predominately male driven and would get ‘cutesified.’ Obviously ‘Girls‘ is the exception, but that was speaking to a particular audience. When we started even Amy Schumer did not have the voice she does now, maybe for the same reason. The cast of ‘Girl Code‘ was so willing to be honest, all of the comedy came from actual stories, personal stories, so there was an authenticity you couldn’t argue with. You couldn’t do a scripted show that brutally honest, it wouldn’t have worked, people would have been like “Too dirty, forget it.” No one would have taken a risk on it, but these were all stories coming from a real place. Weather if it was me and the producers crafting what the topics were, or meeting with writers for the sketches, the cast was really willing to go there, to be honest and also funny. It was a perfect magical thing. My creative perspective on comedy for females, or comedy from a female point of view, is that the joke should be just as much about us as it is about everything else. I think empowering female comedy that comes from an angry place is where you lose the audience. I’m not saying there’s no reason to be angry, I think for the purpose of what we wanted to do for that show, the comedy had to be honest and self-deprecating as much as it is addressing larger-scale problems in society. The show was pro-female but not anti-male, which was the directive that I gave from the very beginning. If we’re going to make fun of everybody else, we have to make fun of ourselves because we are sometimes our own worst enemy. We got some flack after season 1. There was a think piece written, of course, think pieces are going to bring down society, but they said something like, ‘Girl Code‘ is feminist but it’s packaged like a Taylor Swift Song.’ There was a moment when the network executives were up in arms about it, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a good thing… our audience is fourteen and fifteen year olds, they need feminism packaged like a Taylor Swift song!’ If we came at them Gloria Steinem style they would have changed the channel.’
Editor’s Note: These fourteen and fifteen year old girls exclude Suzee Dunn,because she has been obsessed with politics since she emerged from the womb. Back to original programming.
LM: We started to realize that we were having an impact when every single girl (in the cast) went from having one hundred twitter follower to 1.2 million in like two days. We knew what we wanted to say, we just weren’t sure if people were going to hear it, and the right people heard it. So then the challenge came: maintaining being responsible. ‘Teen Mom’ or ‘Pregnant at 16‘ or something like that came before us so we had to make up for the damage that did! Now we know we have young girls watching, so we’re responsible but also can’t stop being funny and honest because as soon as you start catering a message and being too careful, you also lose why the message became so important in the first place. We won an award, season 3, because we did a sketch on race that was really funny and it won a Gracie Award, which are awards for shows made by and for females. That is what I think had the biggest impact. On a bigger scale, every single girl who was on that show had an experience working with all females. That environment was important to me because I have worked with so many males coming up, and to have a situation where I worked with a bunch of females and could walk away saying, ‘That was an amazing experience.’ That was something that I had not experienced. Usually it’s a couple females, or a couple females fighting for a position. I wanted to walk away from that project knowing that every girl had the same amazing experience I had, through working with all females, and they did. I have to give the network executives credit and the show creator, Ryan Ling, because we crafted positions for women who wanted to learn jobs on set. If someone had always wanted to AD, we would figure out a way for them to learn how. I give them credit (Ryan Ling and execs) because I think they were nervous helming a ship full of girls running everything because they had never done that before. But just as much as the positivity trickled down to everybody working on it, it also trickled up. It was a predominately male executive show, and every man working on it also learned about working with females and had a really positive experience. I think that, on a smaller scale, is what I’m really proud of with ‘Girl Code‘. Also everyone started having their period at the same time immediately and there is something so great about openly handing around tampons to each other. It was also a male camera crew, and they all went home better husbands and better boyfriends because they were in a room all day that normalized things like periods, and girls talking honestly about sex.
ALG: Why do you love directing?
LM: There’s an art to filmmaking that I completely respect and I am always learning more and more about. But the part that I enjoy the most is working with actors. There is the comedy that’s on the page, then there’s another whole layer of comedy that you get out of the performance. Making actors feel comfortable and confident in what they’re doing, so that comes through on camera, is my favorite part of it. I love getting the best out of people and having fun, because, often times, we’re not getting paid a lot. I also love the process of shooting and being on a set, I like moving fast and making the process fun. I like making people laugh. I’ll never be on camera, it’s just not how I am wired, but I like to create a fun environment on set, so this is my way of performing. I have incredible respect for actors and comedians in general. And we all work long hours, so if we’re not enjoying what we’re doing, what is the point? I’d rather be close to ruining takes because a grip is laughing, then having tension. So I really love the whole process.
ALG: What does feminism mean to you?
LM: I’ve spent a long time discussing this. On ‘Girl Code‘, we would write sketches about it. The show I’m on now, did a pilot that did a whole segment on it. It’s pretty simple and clear to me that women should be paid and treated the same as men. I honestly think that if you believe that, then you’re a feminist. I don’t know why there’s still such a stigma attached to the word, so many people add all these other meanings to it or are fearful of all these other meanings. Every celebrity that comes out and says they don’t want to be a feminist is kind of hurting the cause. The reason is always something along the lines of, ‘Well I don’t hate men,’ well that has nothing to do with feminism. Feminism is about, ‘Should I be getting the same as someone who is also doing my job?” Yes. I don’t want more, I want the same. It’s not like getting paid the same amount is taking money out of someone else’s pocket.