The Double-Edged Sword of Being a Young Female Filmmaker

An interview with up-and-coming filmmaker Zane Rubin.
By  · Published on July 25th, 2017

An interview with up-and-coming filmmaker Zane Rubin.

If you’re one of those people that likes knowing artists before they get big, then you should remember the name Zane Rubin. She’s 20 and she’s already written and directed a feature and a handful of shorts, 2 of which are for the hyper-hip production company Super Deluxe. What’s most impressive about Zane Rubin when talking to her is not the fact that she already has a considerable body of work to show for herself, but that she seems to have already found her comedic voice. She started making short films at 15 and at 16 made a feature. From her earliest shorts to her latest, she has the same dry and slightly surreal humour. Her interest lies in representing teenagers who aren’t walking school hallways or obsessing over boys.

Following the release of her two shorts in partnership Super Deluxe, I reached Zane in LA. Here is our conversation:

How did you start making films?

I always wanted to be a comedian or an actor,  but I never found that there were any roles that I wanted to play. I didn’t want to play female characters who’s world’s revolved around high school and boys. So when I was 15 my Dad found a little bit of camera equipment and I made my first short film called The Dairy and I was like “wow, this is so much better than being a female comedian.”

Wow, 15 is super young! 

Well, when I was 15 I already wanted to be an adult. So I just started making shorts. My aunt sent me a message saying “Nice job!” on Facebook. Recognition from family at the beginning was enough to make me think “yeah, maybe I can do this.” Then I made a couple of shorts and when I was 16 I decided to make a feature.

Did you self-fund all of your shorts and feature?

Well none of them had very big budgets. The feature, The Moon and the Starr, was about $4,000.

And the last short I did, The Last Virgin in LA, cost about $700.

But Ashton Sanders from Moonlight is in that!

Yeah, he worked for free. All the actors worked for free. Moonlight hadn’t actually come out yet. I just contacted him personally.

$4,000 for a feature is incredibly cheap.

I didn’t know that that wasn’t how you were supposed to make a movie. I realized that model of making a feature for a couple grand, even a film that looks like shit that’s just people talking, that model doesn’t really work anymore. But basically I made it and thought that it was going to be a big success, but it got rejected from 20 film festivals. So then I didn’t make anything for about a year because I was so depressed. It was a year’s work of my life and I work. Obviously, people talk about how hard it is for a female director, which is true, but it’s even harder when you’re 16. So nobody would listen to me or take me seriously. And I had very little control over the few cast and crew members that I had. But I thought, ‘well I’ll get into a festival and it’ll all be worth it,’ but when I got rejected from all of them I was like ‘wow, that’s gonna be hard to come back from.’ So I decided to make another short because I dropped out from high school when I was 16 so it was either ‘you’re gonna do this, or you’re not gonna do anything.’ The main thing I learned is that you can’t make a feature for no money. It doesn’t work [laughs].

I would say my goal is that people actually know I’m a director.

I would imagine being a young female filmmaker is a bit of a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, people are very impressed with you, but on the other hand, they might not take you that seriously.

Yeah, sure. I think there are a lot of negatives to it, but there are a few positives too. Obviously, Hollywood is obsessed with young women, and tell a woman to go die at 27 or whatever. So they say ‘oh wow she’s young, sure go ahead,’ but they say that but they don’t actually take you seriously as a director a lot of the time. I’ve had positive experiences with the production companies and they’ve all been very nice, but actually being on set. There are always moments where I’m like “oh wow, this person doesn’t trust me.” I just ignore it and try my best to prove them wrong. I would say my goal is that people actually know I’m a director.

Is it mostly older men?

I would say it’s both.

Who are some of your comedic inspirations?

I would say Maria Bamford and Louis CK. For a while I was doing the whole Woody Allen -style ‘talking comedy’ in my shorts, but Louis CK’s show is so funny but he doesn’t really talk that much in it. So I realized that maybe if I shut my mouth, maybe it could still be funny. So he was a big inspiration for me.

Yeah, there’s this similarity between you too in that you both will take a joke to the very extreme. Like in that episode of Louie where his date escapes him by jumping onto a helicopter. You do the same with the concept of the last virgin in LA. You take the joke as far as it can go.

Yeah, exactly! His show has had such a big impact on me. I feel like when you’re working in shorts you have to take the joke as far as it will go.

Yeah, you gotta get noticed. What’s impressive about you is that what with the democratization of filmmaking, everyone who has a phone can a make a short and upload it. So amidst all this infinite content, it’s really hard to stand out. 

For sure. Definitely, a big thing for me was getting a manager which happened to me last year. I became friends with this comedian Jake Weisman who has a Comedy Central show coming out and he tweeted about me, and my manager’s boyfriend saw it and showed it to her. So she checked out Netflix and Chill. She got me the Super Deluxe gig.

How is that collab going?

We’re actually done now. It was just 2 episodes. We might be doing something else together, but right now I might be doing a web-series with Comedy Central. Maybe. But nothing I’ve ever worked on had the budget that I had with Super Deluxe. I mean, that was the first time I worked with an AD. On all of my other films, the crew consisted of 2 people. It was amazing. I just get to show up  – like I only curled up into a ball and cried once, usually that happens like 5 or 6 times.

I think I already know the answer to this, but I’m guessing you’re not interested in going to film school given that you’ve done more than a lot of film school grads have done.

Yeah, I am just trying to keep making things and ideally get paid to make those things.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a feature and there are a couple of production companies that might develop it. And I’m about to pitch a 30-minute series. I’m just trying to do all the things. I just don’t want to die in poverty.

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Writer/Director/Actor/FKA the girl at the party who'd ask, "does anyone wanna watch a movie?"