This Director Used An All Female Team To Create An Epic Lesbian Love Story
Dudes love the idea of two girls getting sexual. Just take a look at the top searched porn categories.
But real lesbian relationships are nothing like the scenes you see in porn. In fact, real lesbian relationships are probably nothing like what you’ve seen on the big screen. Why? Because lesbian love stories, and love stories in general, are primarily written by and directed by men because the entire entertainment industry is dominated by men.
Director April Mullen wanted to change that. When confronted with the script for Below Her Mouth, a story about two women who unexpectedly fall in love, she decided that the film needed to be handled by those who actually understand how women fall in love–women themselves.
April tackled the production of Below Her Mouth with an all-female team. From the set designers, to the camerawomen, to the costume designers. We talked to April about how Below Her Mouth is different than your average love story, how she worked against mainstream ideas of what sex should be like, and advice for aspiring female directors.
You chose to create Below Her Mouth with an entirely female production team, why did you make this decision?
I wanted to bring something refreshing to the screen, we really just wanted to hit a female perspective about what it’s like to fall in love and lust and what desire feels like. So the script included that, but when I stepped on board I thought why not go further and use a crew that was completely female so that the set design, the editing, the sound, everything about the film would have this female gaze, female aesthetic and try to stay as close as we can to our original goal. So that’s how we decided that and it obviously helped the performers in terms of you know, the scenes and the contents that they were doing were so intimate. They were really excited to be a part of something like that and it made the actresses feel extra comfortable and excited to embark on that adventure with us.
Do you think that the all female crew allowed Below Her Mouth to be more realistic in portraying lust and sex?
Everybody was able to look inwardly and really expose themselves creatively. Like, whatever department really, the performances and the script demanded such raw and honest and beautiful moments, you have this really thin veil between us and the audience. We all also felt, including me, that we all had to step up to the plate and really reveal parts of ourselves, unique things that we’ve experienced as women. What turns us on and how to captures that kind of, desire or like, you know it’s like lightning in a bottle, how do we capture that on screen and bring that to real life?
How is working with an all female production team different than working with a co-ed production team?
I think [with] every project that you embark on…there’s a communication style and an energy. Stepping onto a new project there’s always uniqueness. For Below Her Mouth I feel that the communication between the departments was very fluid and every department was helping with each other making the actresses feel comfortable and really supported one another. I don’t know whether it was the fact that it was an all female crew or if that was just the vibe on our set. There was no judgement and so much respect for everybody on set, it was really nice, it was a really great feeling.
Lots of men claim that women cause office drama, but it seems that lots of all-female companies have no drama, what’s your experience with this?
I think that’s really funny. That should be in a comic book from the 50’s or something. The vibe on Below Her Mouth was so calm and you know, there was like, no such thing.
Do you feel that the entertainment industry is still largely male dominated?
I feel like the percentages obviously don’t lie. The balance is quite off and those are hard numbers that nobody can sort of argue with. I do notice a huge trend in awareness and right now what’s happening is putting spotlight on the fact that there are so little women in the industry especially in the director’s chair and for writers. So I feel like it’s good that they’re shedding light on the fact that we’r underrepresented.
I also see a huge awareness campaign to celebrate the women who are achieving and trailblazing to really encourage younger female filmmakers to see what’s possible and really celebrate the women that are making strides in the industry. If you were to ask me a year ago what it’s like directing, that’s what I would expect, but this year it feels like everybody’s first question is “what’s it like being a female director” or “did you find it difficult becoming a female director?” It’s almost like now it’s a label. And it’s kind of the hot topic of the year. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s an important thing. It’s just interesting to me because I was working so hard I didn’t really label myself as anything, just kind of a creative person doing my thing.
[If it continues to be] a strong commitment and a long term commitment to continue to encourage and hire more women then we’re on track for some percentages to go up and even out. I hope it doesn’t just go away.
That’s interesting. Do you ever dislike the fact that you’re now labeled as a female director rather than just a director?
It definitely allowed me to question why all of a sudden it’s become literally in the headline right in front of my name. But then I also definitely don’t take offense to it. It was odd at first to be labeled by my gender because I had spent 12 years directing and nobody ever mentioned that before. It was just like, a director was a director. I still feel that way, you just bring a voice to the screen. It’s you, it’s not necessarily your gender, you’re bringing a piece of yourself and your creative vision to a project.
What tips would you have for aspiring directors?
I would say definitely find a creative group that you feel really comfortable with and you feel like you have a similar aesthetic or a similar passion. Stick to those people and start creating work right away. When you’re out of school there’s a lot of momentum and also a lot of confusion because you don’t have a structure and you don’t have classes. Literally focus on setting a goal and attaining that goal as soon as possible, creating your own work is a huge one. Aim big, take big risks, find your own creative voice and start creating right away out of school, whether it be a short film or a 30 second creative piece. Whatever it is I would say start creating as soon as possible and stick to the position that you feel most passionate about, you know?
Is it easier to capture love or sex on film?
Interesting. You know, I found it extremely challenging…It was such a huge thing that we wanted to bring a female perspective, that was one of the biggest parts of the film. We wanted to let the audience in on a female gaze of some of those erotic scenes and what sex can really be like and how we could depict that.
So, when I was doing all that in terms of blocking, lighting, location set ups, I was constantly playing a tug of war with myself and reminding myself to forget about literally everything, whether it be TV sex, advertising sex, or film sex, whatever it was that I had been exposed to over the last two decades is predominately written by men, directed by men, and made for men, you know for a male audience to turn men on. All of these images kept creeping into my brain and I had to keep throwing them in the trash and rethinking and looking inwardly and really thinking about you know, what is it from my life experience or from talking to my three younger sisters or from the women I know? What is it that really is honest to me? What is it that’s honest from a female perspective? What does intimacy look like? What does connecting with another human being look like when the connection is really fast and the connection is really strong? What kind of physical pull, what pushes us over the edge to want to connect and literally transform ourselves to be one with another person?
To find those gorgeous, quiet, frenetic moments whether it’s just looking at each other or breathing a certain way, not going for shock value or pornographic images rather than following a journey and really finding the connection between the two actresses and that was way more important and that really propelled the sex scenes and drove the story and drove the characters as well to, you know, just bring us to the bedroom and literally to allow them to have this deeper connection between the two of them.
It’s so interesting hearing about your process because sex is everywhere and you’re really influenced without realizing it.
Exactly and it’s so hard because it’s literally ingrained in our brains. It’s ingrained in us that certain positions turn us on, but actually no, if I really think about it, what really actually turns me on? You know? Like, forget about what I’ve been told or what’s on billboards but really, really, truly in my life what made me turn a corner or talk to somebody or literally touch somebody. Or like, I can’t spend another second without being without you. What is that driving voice as women? Whatever it is, at least it’s coming form an honest place.
Do you think other lesbian portrayals in film are lacking or tied to stereotypes?
I would never want to put judgement on other film, but I do know that…I want to say 99.9% are either written by men and what their perception of what they think women do behind closed doors, or you know, directed by men in a fantasy of what they hope two women do together. I just know that when I leave the cinema [after showing Below Her Mouth] people come up to us and say thank you for portraying such an authentic representation of what women do with each other and what we feel and how we interact, thank you so much for bringing something new to the screen and something with depth and perception rather than just being a fantasy.
It really feels like we’ve captured love. Like, just pure love. It’s genderless. When you leave Below Her Mouth it feels like genderless love. You have this notion of what it’s going to be, but you leave and say, “oh it’s such a beautiful love story.” You know, the sex was something I have never witnessed before on screen. You just can’t help but be drawn into the screen. that’s what the film offers that different from material out there, it’s a very vulnerable honest connection. There’s purity and there’s innocence in their love. Even though there are sex scenes, it’s innocent because it’s just out of the fact that two women didn’t expect to cross each other’s path, but they’re so drawn into each other’s worlds. There’s very much no barrier between the audience and the two actresses.
How can our readers view Below Her Mouth?
Not yet but it will be coming to theaters soon. I believe it will be happening in February, on Valentine’s Day.