The “work wives” behind the dark comedy “Always & Forever” join Asha Dahya on the Periodical Podcast to chat about collaboration, going viral, and how humor is a secret weapon in the fight for reproductive justice.
“It's just a proven concept at this point that comedy disrupts the status quo. A little bit of humor, a little bit of entertainment moves the needle. It works.” — Lara Everly
“Humor sneaks past people's defenses. It can be a way (in), even for people who agree but might feel like other serious videos feel medicinal … You get them laughing, you get them engaged, and then you come in with the punch at the end.” — Jessica Stamen
If you haven’t already, subscribe to our monthly newsletter where you will get each episode of the pod straight to your inbox. Learn more at reprofilm.org or at @reprofilm The rePROFilm Podcast is executive produced by mamafilm. Looking forward to bringing you our next conversation!
00:00 Asha Dahya
Welcome to another episode of the RePRO Film podcast, friends! I’m your host Asha Dahya, and I am thrilled that you are listening to this episode and also hope you have subscribed to our FREE RePRO Periodical newsletter at reprofilm.org.
This month we are featuring a short film called Always and Forever, from the incredibly talented and award-winning director Lara Everly, produced by Jessica Stamen and Elease Lui Stemp.
You might’ve seen some of Lara’s work - directing an episode of NBC’s American Auto, the Netflix family series ‘Like a Mother’, and a new Jewish dark comedy short called “Heritage Day” starring Rachel Bloom, a film about how we reckon with the past. She has written and directed for a range of platforms including Disney, Refinery29, Oprah, Funny or Die, Fisher Price, Walmart, the ACLU, and more.
Jessica is a writer/producer, educator and activist. Together in partnership with Lara, she has created advocacy videos for outlets such as Netflix, Fellow Americans, Swing Left, Red, Wine and Blue, and the ACLU. Jessica is also the Co-Founder and Program Director of DemocraShe, a non-profit dedicated to empowering diverse, female-identifying High School students to become leaders at the local and national level.
Elease is a producer on projects across diverse genres and platforms. Her recent projects include the 2020 Peabody Award winning PBS series ‘Asian Americans’, Fantastic Fungi on Netflix, ‘The Men Who Sold the World Cup on Discovery, and more.
All three of these women are passionate about using their filmmaking talents to push the needle for social change. Always and Forever was originally created for the 2022 Mid-terms elections, as a way to push back against the heinous anti-abortion laws being introduced in Texas under governor Greg abbott, in 2021 and in the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned in the summer of 2022.
As the women in this interview share, feeling overwhelmed and powerless in the face of such horrific and regressive laws can often be a breeding ground for incredible activism. Using humor and clever storytelling techniques, this film was made as a way to challenge audiences on how hypocritical these anti-abortion laws can be. We see a young school girl walking into an adoption agency looking to adopt a child, but meeting some unexpected barriers.
With some shocking recent news stories of young girls across the United States who were sexually assaulted and became pregnant, and then being denied the ability to make a choice over whether continuing the pregnancy was right for them, ‘Always and Forever’ makes for the perfect reality check about America in 2023 as we see a massive slide backwards in reproductive freedom.
The synopsis of the video reads like this: “She’s ready for the middle school musical, but is she ready for motherhood? We wouldn’t let a kid adopt a kid, so why would we ever force them to birth one?”
It is a tough topic, a necessary discussion, but as Lara, Jessica and Elease share in our interview, filmmaking, storytelling and humor can often be a powerful way to help us see a unique perspective on something, and potentially change our hearts and minds. With 26 million views on social media, clearly it is hitting the right note.
03:44 Asha Dahya
Welcome, ladies, to the Repro film podcast. It's so great to be speaking with you. I love doing podcast interviews with people who I know and have worked with and who I know are just bad asses. So thank you for joining me today.
03:59 Lara Everly
We're excited to be here.
04:00 Asha Dahya
I love that we get to feature “Always and Forever” this month. It's such a powerful film. It's a really great message. And before we get into all of that, I'd love to find out how the idea came about and why it was made.
04:14 Lara Everly
Sure. I'm going to have Jessica jump in because it was her gestational idea.
04:19 Jessica Stamen
Thanks, Lara. So, yeah, I mean, like anybody with a, you know, a heart or a uterus, I was devastated by the jobs decision. And I've always been an advocate for reproductive rights, as have Lara and Elease. I know. So, you know, it was definitely percolating on what kind of content we could make about this issue, because this is how we deal with issues, is we make content to try to move people and change minds and hearts. So I actually was on a jog one morning and I was thinking about a friend of mine who's had to go through a pretty crazy hoops to adopt her child. You know, this is a professional woman and yet had had home check and background check and interviews, all this to get a child. And it just struck me the irony that meanwhile, we have kids who desperately don't want to have a child who are being forced to.
05:08 Jessica Stamen
So I came up with this idea of like a child goes to an adoption agency and what they would say. And I brought the idea to Lara, who I've collaborated with on like 15 projects. A lot of projects. And she liked the idea, which was really exciting. And I wrote the first half and I couldn't crack the ending. And Lara came up with a brilliant idea. I was like, As I said, we start with a girl coming into an adoption agency to adopt, and she's obviously too young and it couldn't crack the ending. And then Lara came up with a brilliant and I think heartbreaking idea of ending the piece with another 12 year old girl coming in. But she's looking for an abortion clinic and unfortunately, it doesn't exist anymore. So anyway, that was the genesis of the idea. We wrote it together. We sent Lara to direct, and then we brought on the brilliant Elise to produce it because Alice makes things happen in a very magical and incredible way. And it took a while to find financing, but we ultimately found financing not much. A little tiny bit of financing, and we made it. Anything to add, ladies?
06:13 Lara Everly
Yeah, just that it was sort of the little project that could it, you know. We kind of reverse engineered the project into an existence versus is the financing already being in place? We had the idea and we had to personally shop it around and push it out into the ether and kind of procure our own nominal funding to get it made. And then even after that, we had to do our own strategic outreach as far as distribution, which wasn't much. But then it took off and became viral and caught fire. But it was definitely one of those things where it really started with just like a few moms, few humans behind the idea, pushing it out, trying to get it made.
06:59 Elease Lui Stemp
And I'll just add that, you know, when Lara came to me and said, Hey, are you busy these days? And I said, Yes, absolutely, I am busy. She goes, Great, Here's another project for you. And I had actually worked with Lara on a couple of narratives and a couple of docs. And truly she did say at some point, I'm so sorry I wrote you into this, but I couldn't have been more glad because it was my first project with Jess, who is a brilliant writer and producer on her own, and it came out so well and it was so well received that I am so proud of it. And, you know, so here we are.
07:36 Asha Dahya
I love the way that it really ignited such a big conversation and just struck a chord with so many people, obviously, given the decision. Can you talk about the reception on social media from photos from other organizations and how it kind of caught fire among a lot of big political accounts, especially?
07:55 Jessica Stamen
I'll give you one little interesting tidbit, which was and I don't know if I'm allowed to share this publicly, but I am like, we made it for one organization and they tested it and it actually didn't test as well as they wanted it to. I think because test audiences are used to seeing a certain kind of content about reproductive rights and this was different and it they didn't know how to rate it on the testing system. So the distribution ended up strategy ended up changing. And instead of going with that organization, we ended up sending it to other organizations who cared about reproductive rights. And then we knew there was an organization called Mothers Against Greg Abbott who was putting out content and they ended up putting it out.
And I had a funny thing. I don't even know if we knew it was going out on TikTok. Maybe we did, but it was like, Oh, it it'll go out here hearing it. I didn't know. And then actually a young woman that I was working with in my other job, like a 15 year old, was like, Hey Jess, I saw your video on Tik Tok and it's blowing up. And I was like, What? And she's like, Yeah, it's got 3 million views. And then at at least Lara and I started getting on TikTok and we just saw go up, up, up, up til about like over 20, 22 million. It was crazy. Yeah. And Lara , do you want to talk about the comments? Because they were pretty amazing.
09:17 Lara Everly
Yeah, I think this was our first project or spot that really had a strong presence on TikTok and it was a bit of a learning curve for us older millennials about Tik Tok because it is a younger generation. There was so much positivity, you know, it was it was just so many comments that were like, This is amazing. I'm going to you know, I never thought of it. This way or this is actually going to change the way that I vote or I'm going to share this with my family. And there was it was just it wasn't just the view count. It really was. You know. The comments and and also, you know, I think that we sort of hit a chord in middle America. There is because a wonderful activist and advocate for reproductive rights, Olivia Juliana, is that her name?
10:11 Asha Dahya
Oh, yeah. She's from Texas.
10:14 Lara Everly
She shared it on her Tik tok. Yeah. Which is, I think what launched it and how it caught fire. And then so we were really hitting a lot of younger people in Texas and in some of those middle states where abortion bans have been firmly in place even before the Dobbs ruling. So that was really neat to hit that target audience and have all of those people comment and speak up about it. And then from there, it got submitted for the Webbys and we actually won for best in Activism and PSA, which was really cool as well.
10:50 Jessica Stamen
And we also just as a random fun thing, there was a MSNBC blog that talked about the best political ads of the year, and it was, you know, all these like expensive ads paid for by big PACs, whatever. And we were on list. We were mentioned indeed.
11:05 Asha Dahya
From being the little engine that quarter. And now that Lara, you've kind of described that before and to be on these best lists and willing winning awards and getting this traction, it just shows that when you hit the right note and get that messaging film can be a really powerful medium. And just for a bit of background for people listening, this was for the 2022 midterm election ads in the Texas governor race, where Greg Abbott was up against Beto O'Rourke, who sadly did not win. But clearly it's it's a changing landscape and messages like this really make a big impact long term beyond just one beyond just one election. So talk about let's talk about the goals of the goal. What were your initial goals for the film? And now that you know, people are still sharing it, people are still talking about it is still very relevant. What kind of impact are you hoping to make going forward, especially looking to the 2024 presidential election year?
12:05 Lara Everly
I think one of the conversations that the reproductive rights tends to be a conversation that is super prevalent among women, but really we want to bring more men into the conversation and kind of destigmatize that This is a gender ized issue. And. You know, start talking about just contraception as a whole and just, you know, bodily autonomy as a whole. And so we have some other ideas that kind of just bring general awareness to the freedom of contraception, the freedom of reproduction, all of it. And so, I mean, really, we just want to keep making more content. I mean, as Jessica mentioned, we were able to get on that list with a budget of, you know, probably 1% of the other spots that were on there.
And so it's like if we can do that on that means what can we do with more support and more resources? It's just a proven concept at this point that comedy disrupts the status quo. A little bit of humor, a little bit of entertainment coming in through the back door versus the front door in a super didactic way, moves the needle. We've done it on multiple issues. We've done it several times on reproductive rights issues. And it works. It works, it goes viral and it reaches the audience that that is already in agreement with you. And then beyond, because of the humor, because of the the story and the entertainment value. And so we want to just keep doing that but on, you know, keep evolving and elevating it so we can reach even bigger audiences and not do every single job, including patching pain, and vacuuming one in the morning after the shoot is done, although anything for reproductive rights. But that was definitely us on this shoot.
13:52 Elease Lui Stemp
Yes. And I want to add also that, you know, this project is more or less evergreen, like the topic. And it's it's unfortunate that it is, you know, and that it can have the staying power because we've been fighting the last 50 years and maybe fighting another 50 more. And this topic of, you know, reproductive rights is so, you know, on the forefront in the next presidential election. And, you know, even the media, the current events that's happening daily, you read about it and you just like, why are we still talking about this? And as horrible and, you know,
Lara was so eloquent in her reply. But, you know, as far as the decisions that are being made about reproductive rights are largely made by men. And you're just like, why? Why is this happening still? And and a few women, you're like, why are you voting with them? Is like, what? What doesn't make sense? And this, you know, this project always and forever when you watch it, it's such a simple concept with such an impactful and you're like, this is true. What and why is this still happening? You know, why are we, you know, forcing teens, early teens who, you know, get pregnant to have their babies and then make it completely impossible for mothers who can't have or rather women who can't have babies to adopt. I mean, like Jess said, I have lots of friends and couples that just have gone through the hoops and like. Are so. You know, able to provide a caring home for any baby that they can't even adopt the year after year and all the money they spend, all the interviews and all that home check. So, yeah, I'm hoping this will not be an issue after the 2024 election, but I will not hold my breath.
15:41 Jessica Stamen
Well, and as you know, and as we've seen, abortion was probably the most galvanizing issue in the 2020 election ballot measures. Just in Ohio, there was the ballot measure defeated. It's the one in Kansas, Kansas or Kentucky. Someday I'll note Kansas. So I think part of what I think for the three of us, I mean, we would make content about reproductive rights even outside of elections because it is something we're so passionate about. But I think as we're coming into election season, seeing that this is an incredibly galvanizing issue, saying that the majority of Americans are with us, it's really about that. And how do we galvanize them? How do we harness that energy to change election results? And so, you know, as Lara said, I think comedy is sticky. Comedy sticks with you in a way that I think generally drama does not. And so if that little bit of stickiness is what gets them off the couch to vote or what it gets, it's sharing with some family and friends. You know, we feel like we've helped move the needle in terms of like elections as well as obviously getting people to.
16:47 Asha Dahya
Support the cause. Absolutely. I just want to say, Elise, you made me super depressed when he said we're going to be fighting for the next 50 years about this. So hopefully not. But let's let's talk about humor for a moment, because it really is a vehicle to stick in people's minds and hearts. And you think of something and it's not so overwhelming. Talk about how humor can be used to talk about abortion bans. I mean, you know, there are people out there, especially anti-abortion people, that kind of are so shocked when abortion rights content create as filmmakers and creatives are using humor. But this is what we need to do. And so talk about using humor to get a serious message across and why it's so effective.
17:38 Lara Everly
Yeah, I mean, I think that's something that we pride ourselves in, which is bringing humor to unexpected topics and to complicated topics. I think that a lot of people shy away from that. The first project I ever did with jazz was about gun safety and we were in a meeting where they were like, We want to do you want to make a bunch of content about gun control and gun safety in the home? And, and Jessica and I had a bunch of ideas that that were a little bit more comedic that were turned down. And then we actually ran into each other at a rally and we were like, we know people, we know platforms. We're just we believed in it. Even if the first answer was no, this is too complicated of a topic.
This is too tenderizing of a topic to handle with comedy. We don't want to come off, you know, everyone's afraid. They don't want to come off in any kind of negative way. But there is a huge benefit to taking that risk because comedy reaches more people and it literally sits in your brain in a different way and people want to click on it. People even I like you know, we're all activists here in this podcast. I don't necessarily want to watch super depressing things because I'm already so worked up about things. So someone sends me a video and I know it's going to enrage me or upset me. I often don't want to click on it, but if I know it's going to make me laugh or smile or, you know, I, I watch it and there is a way like the way that we process humor and our brain is chemically different than the way we process things that are traumatizing and dramatic.
And so there is a real honest tool about it. And just side note, you know, big project that I've been working on with at least it's not playing film festivals. Is. Bringing humor to the topic of the Holocaust. So bringing this particular group together, Elise and Jaz are like my two work wives that have helped me master bringing humor to difficult topics. So this was sort of my dream team to be like, Great, lovely to work with as we're all going to work together and like make this, this project on very little money I've talked to enough, but I am just such a huge believer in the power of using dark comedy in order to, to move the needle and disrupt the way people think about things.
20:07 Jessica Stamen
I totally agree with all that. And I think, like the other thing that humor does is I think it sneaks past people's defenses. And so I think it can be a way a as Lara said, like even for people, people who agree with you but might feel like other serious videos feel medicinal and this is like one they're excited to watch. And then even people who might not agree, but you're watching something, you're laughing in the way that we usually do. You know, we start with the humor, right? You get them laughing, you get them engaged and then you come in with the punch at the end and the you know, the very first video we made together, as Lara said, was about gun safety.
And it was about two moms and their kids are having a play date and one mom is asking the other mom about all the things in the home. You know, oh, my mike is allergic. Do you have anything? Peanuts in the home. And my kid is afraid of dogs. You have dogs in the home and it escalates to like, you know, my kid is afraid of sharp corners, and the mom's like, all of our furniture is round. Fine. That always makes me laugh. But. And then. But the one thing that the parent does not ask about is, is there a gun in the home until, of course, the little girls discover a gun. But I will say we made that video five years ago and I still have people who come up to me all the time and say, I think of that video every time I go on a play date. And now I ask about guns in the home. And I don't. Know. I feel like maybe they would be the same for a more tragic video. But I think there is something about the humor of that that caught them a little bit unawares and that it made it stick. I think.
21:37 Elease Lui Stemp
I agree. And just a note of humor is like you can all recite like, you know, kind of punch lines from movies because they stick with you. You don't recite any, like, depressing, like last words.
21:49 Asha Dahya
Yeah, that's so true. And I love what you said, Jess, about it sneaks past your defenses. I mean, that's such a way to encapsulate the power of humor. So kudos all three of you for doing this. I think it's really, really, really fascinating and also encouraging to filmmakers and creatives that if you have an idea, you don't have to have the million dollar budget. You just need a bunch of good wives and a good village around you to make it happen. So that's some good encouragement. Switching gears a little bit, let's talk about all three of you on Mothers Watch, All Mothers on this podcast. This is really great. We're a village of mothers, but as mothers, I'd love to hear your perspective on this issue. Specifically, what does it mean to have worked on a film like Always and Forever as parents, knowing what having a child always and forever actually means in reality? And Jess and I, you mentioned your friend who's gone through the adoption process. But yeah, talk to me about what this meant for you as mothers.
22:49 Lara Everly
I don't mean to sound. Ungrateful. But, like, mothering is hard. Parenthood is hard. And to not to have it when you're unprepared for it, when you're not the right age for it. We don't have the resources, the money that you know when you're not there, not choose it. I can't even imagine. I wanted to be a mom so badly. I worked actually quite hard to get pregnant and become a mom. And I still struggle every single day. And it's just the reality. It's difficult. It's just the most taxing, the most sacrificial, the biggest life change anyone can ever make in their lives. It's the biggest paradigm shift. No job, no relationship. Well, shift Your paradigm will shift your world like becoming a parent. So to have that.
Forced upon you when you're not ready for it, when you're not capable of it, I mean, I can't even imagine the challenges that that brings about not only for the mother, but for the child as well. It's just. It's it's. A lose lose situation. I mean, that's I mean, I'll pass this to just the baton to just in the least. But yeah, I mean I think about it every day. Every day. How, how like I show this and I'm still like so exhausted then
24:21 Jessica Stamen
I have three kids because I'm a glutton for punishment. I have three kids and with the drive me crazy, which they often do, I'll say like, Oh, you guys are driving me crazy. And they're like, Well, you asked for this. They always go you wanted this. And I'm like, You're right. So here I am. As Lara said, it's like we, you know, worked hard to be mothers. I also went through, you know, some challenges on my way to having three kids. And, you know, I have a husband and we have a house and we have resources. But every day they do drive me bonkers. And the same thing. I can't imagine what this would be like if I hadn't wanted it. And yeah, Elease, what about you?
24:59 Elease Lui Stemp
Yeah, I mean, I have one and Lara has two. Just three. She is. She wins. But just reiterating just how hard it is every day is hard and every day is the best because this is what we chose. You know, it is a decision that, you know, we may have not set intentionally, oh, we're going to get pregnant. But I never not wanted to be pregnant at some point. So so I did have resources in place. I did have a very supportive partner. And and we still struggled and we still struggle daily. I have an 11 year old now, so when we were making Always and Forever, I so many times I would just think about like my child in that position, like being 11 or 12 and pregnant and like one, you know, it's like one What one formation did I did I not impart on her to have gotten to that point? Like, I mean, we can have a longer discussion and a maybe a different project about contraception and like, you know, sex education. But that's a different day. But it is so scary. Like, I mean, I wake up some days, I'm like, how did you know I get entrusted with a child. I barely get through the day myself. But you fake it. Honestly, so much of parenting is faking it. They're fed. They might not be clean, but they're asleep.
26:25 Asha Dahya
26:26 Elease Lui Stemp
It's clean enough. You pick your battles and. Yeah, it's a struggle. So to have a nuclear family, as we'll call it, struggling. I can't imagine a teen with no other support, you know, just raising a child and that that's her future. Like her future has pretty much been taken from her. I mean, it's not in every case, but, you know, statistically that does happen.
26:55 Lara Everly
Yeah, I think it was interesting that Jessica and Elease both had kids that were the age more or less. So it was very close to home. And I also just wanted to share that the two girls that we cast were both 12. There wasn't like 17 playing 12. Like, these are genuine 12 year olds playing 12 year olds. it just also goes to show 12 can look like a lot of different things. You know, everyone it at different stages. You know, those are two girls that are having very different experiences of 12, and that's very much just the reality of that age.
27:37 Asha Dahya
Yeah, it's really is terrifying to think about it. And I know maybe you all have seen this article. It was this week or last week on Time.com, and there was a girl in Mississippi, I believe, a teen girl who became pregnant. And her parents, she and her parents wanted to terminate the pregnancy because she's so young. She's still in school and because all the states around them and the state that they're in, all abortion has been banned or nearly banned. And the travel was just unfeasible. They weren't able to do that financially. And so she was forced to have continue the pregnancy and just the ramifications of that living in a country where there's such high poverty rates and, you know, there aren't enough resources for teen parents and things like that, it just really brings all of that back. And so a film like this can just use that humor point to open up all of those discussions and make it really powerful. So yeah, it's and sometimes when I think about, holy crap, I am in charge of two humans, like it's very terrifying. So I try not to think about it too much and I love hearing other people's perspective. So I don't feel as alone.
28:50 Lara Everly
I was just going to say to you, this is like unrelated, but I just finished a project that was a doc series about single mothers going back to college to get their degrees, and it was just sort of like a tale as old as time. Every single one of those single mothers got pregnant early, didn't have the support from the partner, raised the kid on their own, dropped out of high school, or didn't think they couldn't go to college because they were raising a kid. And now at like, you know, ten years later, you know, it might be and they've got like eight year olds. They're trying to go back, get a degree so they can get a better job, so they can make more money. But it was just, you know, we featured probably ten different moms and it was like, well, same story.
Here we go. And it just always seems to fall on the woman and the loss of education, which becomes a loss of a high earning job, which becomes a loss of stability in life, which becomes, you know, and it's just it is a bit of a broken system and it really is, for the most part, on the onus of the woman, because she is the one that gets pregnant and carries the child, that suffers all the ramifications. And these children are beautiful and thriving, but it's just that no one should have to go through that much struggle. I mean, that I've heard now, working with these single mothers stories of suicide to, you know, complete depression, just you name it, it's it's this shouldn't be anyone's part of anyone's parenting journey if we can have the choice about it.
30:26 Asha Dahya
Yeah, well, I definitely want to see that series. And I think the last time I read the statistics, I should probably check this, but I think it's something like less than 2% of teens who get pregnant end up going to college, and therefore they aren't able to get a high earning job. And so they repeat that if they're not already in a cycle of poverty, they're repeating it. And and then, you know, that impacts the way that their child is brought up and all of those things. So yeah, these this is a it's not just it's not just about abortion. It's about choice in all facets of life and generationally, too. And so these are the kind of things that we need to be talking about more. And every every day, every election, regardless of what is the, you know, the number one topic right now. But I want to talk about how beyond political politics and elections, how films in general can play a really important role in the cultural landscape of creating change. You talked about, you know, this film, you're always and forever, not necessarily testing well, but it hit the right note. It got millions and millions, tens of millions of views. Can you talk about this from your own perspective, since you've all worked on a number of projects that include social impact messaging? You know what drives you to create films that are creating change?
31:41 Jessica Stamen
I mean, one thing that I think a lot about is I think about how will and Grace like it sounds. So but like it literally changed how Americans viewed homosexuality because they had a character in their living room where they fell in love with who was gay. You know Ellen did some of the same work as well. And obviously, obviously, there have been amazing, amazing people working for, you know, decades fighting for LGBTQ rights. But I think a lot about that because I think it's very important, obviously, to make the serious substantive work that very clearly sets out to change culture. But I also think just having characters who have different backgrounds and different lifestyles like that ultimately is what changes people's hearts. I think. And so it thinks again when we talk about approaching things with humor. And I'm not saying that humor is the only way to approach it at all, but I think like as opposed to preaching to people or giving messages that feel medicinal, I think the more that you can give a message that feels emotional, personal, or whether it's humorous or it's dramatic, I think that's the way we make lasting cultural change.
32:51 Lara Everly
Yeah, I think that actually credit Trump for my fire under my ass because after the 2016 election, I felt just castrated and helpless and I just didn't know what to do. And being a filmmaker, it felt like, okay, well, this is a medium. This is these are resources that I have. How can I use my resources or how can I combine my career into trying to make some impact or speak up about things? And so that was really the beginning of me combining my passion for filmmaking with advocacy. And it also coincided with me becoming a mother, coincidentally. I mean, I had my first kid in 2016, and so it was that combination of being like, I am raising humans to live in this world and I want it to be a better world for them. And this is the resource I have. I have creativity, I have people, talented people I know surrounding me. This is my community. What can we do together to help make change? And I do agree with Elise a lot. I always joke that Lucille Ball was my babysitter because I was one of those latchkey kids that would come home and just watch reruns of I Love Lucy. And this was in the eighties, watching something in the fifties But she was one of the first women to really, you know, have her own show. Be funny. She was one of the first women to be pregnant and to have a child on TV. I mean, it now seems so dated. But at the time,
34:30 Asha Dahya
She was a pioneer.
34:31 Lara Everly
I mean, it's also it's that marketability of the mass audience. You know, at the time, even with I Love Lucy, TV was kind of like, Oh, whatever is just TV film is where it's at. But she got into everyone's living room and that's what the Internet is now. And so the frontier keeps changing. But the quickest way at this current juncture isn't even actually TV. It's digital, it's the Internet. This is the biggest way. We would have never reached 27 million people if we played every film festival all year long. Internet is the high speed train into people's homes and so you can, if you can catch it, then it is the quickest way to reach the most minds.
35:16 Elease Lui Stemp
Yeah, just yeah, taking it on to the media is just sort of how you can get in from the most eyeballs and to make the most change. And as Jess said, with like introduction of characters, like, you know, from Will and Grace and Ellen, you just bring into people's homes, just breaking down stereotypes of what they thought those people were. You know, it's like, oh, he reminds me of my Uncle Rick, Huh? That's strange. You know, like maybe Uncle Rick was gay or like, you know, it's like it does just help humanize the issue and create more similarities and differences, hopefully. And ultimately, even if there are differences and people take it to the extreme, they're still talking about it like, you know, in like this whole Barbie movie thing. I don't know if you saw that like the Bible bat or whatever. I'm like, well, at least they're talking about it, even though it's absolutely ridiculous. And like, they'll take anything and weaponize it these days. But yes, making media is slightly faster than knocking on everyone's door in the country and talking to them personally, just slightly.
36:28 Asha Dahya
Just like, yeah, I love the way that it's like what you said. It's humanizing and normalizing it and bringing these concepts and new ideas into our lives that we previously thought were perhaps a little scary or intimidating because of political messaging or whatever. Now it's like, Oh, this is I know these people. I can relate to this story. So yeah, I think that's really, really fascinating. But the thing about Hollywood now, right now is we are seeing these huge strikes with this, a writers strike as an act, a strike. It's been going on for a while now, a couple of months. It's a historic strike. The last time I think both of these unions struck together was in the sixties. And of course, the previous writers strike was in 2008, 2009. But this is big. I mean, this is coinciding with a number of all the different industries and unions striking and demanding better pay and equitable conditions. Can you each talk about how this is impacting you as filmmakers and actors and creators and why the strikes are important for the industry right now and for everyone?
37:37 Elease Lui Stemp
The Orchestra of Crickets outside I guess are louder. I know Lara, Jess, and I can't speak for other artists. I work largely in documentaries when I'm not working with Lara and Jess. So there is a part of that industry that is mainly nonunion. So I can't say we're not affected by the strike because a lot of distributors, funders and production companies are very gun shy to do anything right now. So it is slow across the board. But it also is interesting because a lot of networks or streamers say, oh, well, SAG's on strike, we don't need them. Writers are on strike. We all need them. Let's make documentaries. I'm like, Dude, docs are not here to be a weapon against, you know, union work because we don't have any union representation as documentarians.
Largely, we are. We're just always hustling. And all of us on this podcast have side hustles. That's how we can possibly get through the day. Paying for, you know, our rent or mortgage or, you know, food. It's insane and it's sometimes faster film fest, feast or famine. And we overwork ourselves and, you know, just stretch ourselves too thin and we fall into like, you know, ill health or, you know, mentally, physically. But unions should be fighting for our, you know, living wage, fair wage access to health care across the board so that we can take a break. So I feel like documentarians that I know and producers are on the picket lines as well, because if the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild gets what they're asking for, we're hoping that we're not far behind to unionize and have representation this way as well. So. So we'll strike as honest.
39:33 Lara Everly
Solidarity. I love that it's complicated because it deals with, you know, profit and eye and copyright issues. So sometimes I feel like I'm not the most equipped person to to talk about it, but I am a member of the DGA and a member of SAG-AFTRA. And I mean, the heart of it is that streaming is this aggressive vertical integration where it's just this real top down model where there's basically like a few CEOs that are earning all the profits from streaming and then all the people that are actually creating the content, you know, can barely pay their mortgages, can at least qualify for health insurance. And, you know, we're just there's so it's not just the writers and the actors. There's so many workers in the entertainment industry from, you know, wardrobe to set design to grip gaffer, teamsters, everyone.
This is a huge community of workers that have been fighting tooth and nail in this industry that is honestly quite broken. So it's a really big mess. And it's not just about the industry, which is why I really do urge people to pay attention and get involved because this is just an example of the ultra rich monopolizing an industry. And if it's not Hollywood, it's going to be another industry next. And I is going is it's coming or as all so to act like, Oh, this isn't really my bag frustrates me. I mean, frankly, if you watch TV, if you watch films, if you watch any kind of content, this affects you. And that's literally everybody in the world. So, you know, this is a bigger issue than just actors and writers right now. So I urge people to pay attention. You know, solidarity already and beyond.
41:29 Jessica Stamen
Yeah. And I'll just add, I mean, as activists, I think we have been inspired and informed by unions for, you know, decades and decades. I think, as Lara said, like this is one specific industry, but I think it really speaks to a national struggle, which is like valuing humans versus valuing corporations and machines. And so I think we're all, you know, part of that struggle.
41:54 Asha Dahya
All this social media content that people are sharing about and sharing important data about the SAG-AFTRA and the writers strike, it's also enlightening people and myself included, about how this is a universal struggle and solidarity is not just a nice idea, but these issues affect us all. Equal pay and being valued the same and being value for the work that we're doing. So it doesn't just all go to the CEO and also so many well-known actors who are talking about the fact that there have been years where they haven't qualified for the $26,000 threshold to get an industry health insurance because they live on residuals. And it's, you know, buzzing this idea that literally everyone who works in Hollywood is a millionaire and the majority of people are just working people who are working hard, busting their asses to make a living and provide for their families. And that's what everyone in every industry wants. So I think it's a really, really, really important time for everyone to be paying attention, like you all said. So thank you for sharing those perspectives, but talking about always and forever. What do you hope repro film subscribers and the podcast listeners will take away after watching Always and Forever this month and thinking about the sticky comedy that stays in their mind.
43:06 Elease Lui Stemp
Your registration to vote. It's coming at a pretty good time, this podcast too, to kind of, you know, reinvigorate the conversation with the joke, you know, the primaries coming up and elections next year. So so I do hope that it starts to get, you know, shared largely again, the conversation starts to wrap up and that that we can see some some real substantial change. For more reproductive rights instead of what's happening now and just to get people fired up in the streets and, you know, protesting, making noise and, you know, checking some boxes on their ballots.
43:51 Jessica Stamen
I mean, I would add to that. Now, this is not in the video, but since we have people listening, if you are inspired by the video and what we're talking about here, also just a reminder that, you know, right now the way the world is set up, right, it's statehouses that are making the decisions about the bodies of women in those states. So, yes, we always talk about the national election, but it's, you know, voting for assembly for state Senate, that those are the votes that actually matter. And, you know, we're seeing again, we just saw another like another six week ban, I think, upheld in South Carolina. Like six week bans are passing in many, many states because they have a majority in the state House because, frankly, Democrats weren't paying attention for those local races. So that's always my desperate plea is get involved, make sure you're voting at the state level, make sure supporting candidates, canvasing you know, as Ali said, what's great about social media is it reaches much more people than going door to door. But in those local races, going door to door is really powerful and important. And so doing that for local representatives.
44:55 Lara Everly
My comment is...It’s less productive than Jessica and Elease. I mean, I'm just like I'm still, you know, have all this I'm a little bit more raging about it, but I just really, truly hope that like, you know, some of that blond fragility, to quote, can the video is like just enough is enough. Like if you care about your freedom, then allow other people to have the freedom to make choices about their own body, whatever that might be, trans rights, abortion rights, all of it. I'm done. I'm sick of it. Enough is enough.
45:32 Asha Dahya
You heard you had the woman. Enough is enough. And I just to just add to what Jess was saying, there's something that I've been paying attention to more is district attorney races as attorney general races, because those are the people doing the prosecuting of these heinous laws that are being implemented in these states. So, yeah, local races are very, very, very important. Well, what's next for you all? I know you talked about the industry being a little bit slower now because of the strikes, but can you share what you're working on, how we can follow you, how it can keep up with all the amazing work that each of you are doing?
46:06 Lara Everly
Yeah, I mean, it is slow af here in Hollywood. If anyone has some pockets of change, you want to make some advocacy work, reach out. We've got a plethora of ideas, I will say at least. And I have a film together that is playing at film festivals now, and there's two screenings coming up in October that are local to Los Angeles. But you can follow us on social media to get those updates. The film is called Heritage Day. It has its own Instagram handle, Heritage Day film. This is the one that I mentioned that brings humor to the topic of the Holocaust. Before you cringe deep down in your seat, it's through a generational perspective and based off of my own experience as a third generation Holocaust survivor. And again, it's, you know, disrupting the status quo and moving the needle about how society reckons with the dark parts of history, which is a topic that extends well beyond the Jewish community, because there is this is a country built on slavery and racism and all kinds of really traumatic messed up things. And so there are a lot of people that share a heritage that has been swept under the rug or culturally erased. I mean, we're here in the land of Native Americans. That's exactly what this was built upon. So it is tackling this huge topic of connecting to that heritage and teaching the next generation and to be a little bit more informed and conscious about it. But again, through the lens of of dark humor. So that is something that is happening now. And what else? I've got some things that I'm hoping to go through, get the SAG waiver, a pilot, a mom comm feature. So yeah, we'll see if they get if they get the waiver and I can actually pay my bills because it's getting real stark over here.
48:06 Jessica Stamen
you know, we are always there. There will be more videos coming from the three of us. I'm sure we're not sure what our next one is, but we remain very passionate about making videos, particularly about reproductive rights, also LGBTQ rights and voting rights. So if anyone's funding such content, please let us know when I am not writing and producing. I actually am co-founder and program director of a nonprofit called Democracy, which everyone might be interested in hearing about because it speaks to a lot of things we've been talking about in this room. But democracy basically empowers diverse high school female identifying high schoolers to become future elected leaders. So we work with the mass. You wouldn't even believe how brilliant and informed and passionate the young women we work with are if they took over Congress. Right now, our country would be set on what they're building. The America that, you know, doesn't yet exist but absolutely should exist. So that anyway, that's the work that is feeding my soul is working with the young women of democracy.
49:12 Elease Lui Stemp
I'm also dealing with one child that just started school. So that's fun. But when I am not working with Lara and Jess, I also work at UCLA Center for Climate Science, so I am supporting a research team there that is, you know, working towards sustainability and just, you know, stakeholder level. So that fills my bucket a little bit to, you know, move the needle. And I am also working on a project about electric vehicles documentary that is slow going, raising some money, trying to every day one foot in front, the other, just making sure that, you know, I'm still sane and taking care of myself. I'm trying some self-care that so that I'm ready for the next fight when it comes.
50:07 Asha Dahya
Well, I hope all of you are able to take time for self-care because each of you are working very hard. Thank you for all the work that you're doing and the impact that you're creating in your communities and on social media and in the world. So it's been a real pleasure speaking to you all. Elease, Jessica and Lara, thank you so much for joining me today.
50:26 Jessica Stamen
50:26 Lara Everly
50:28 Elease Lui Stemp
Thank you. It's been so fun.
50:30 Asha Dahya
Always and Forever is available to watch on the Repro Periodical during September, to be sure to subscribe at reprofilm.org. By doing this, each month you will get all our content straight to your inbox, featuring informative, empowering and bite size pieces of action you can take in the world today. In the lead up to 2024 where we are going to see a tonne of misinformation about abortion, remember that abortion rights are a winning issue across the country, and films like Always and Forever are pushing the needle in the direction for positive change.
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The Repro Film podcast is executive produced by mama.film
Hosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya,
Edited by Kylie Brown,
With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.
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Alex Sgambati is our Social Media Manager
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Bye for now!