Interview by Brenna Kischuk
Writer, actress, and director Jenna Laurenzo is a creative powerhouse full of talent, wit, and endless passions. Her short film Girl Night Stand echoes those qualities and is a prequel to the feature length Lez Bomb, which is currently in preproduction.
Initially released on After Ellen, Girl Night Stand has since been featured in international press as well as Bustle, Huffington Post, and even a segment on HuffPost Live. “With Girl Night Stand I wanted to create a short that could serve as a proof of concept for my feature,” Laurenzo says, “but also live on its own to demonstrate my tone and comedic sensibility as a director.” Laurenzo easily accomplishes both these tasks and more, and we can expect only the best of things to come.
Here, Jenna talks with The Angle about mining personal experience for art, the universality of human experience, and uniting audiences through laughter.
Girl Night Stand introduces Sarah and Katie – and captures Katie’s first experience with a woman. How does the short prepare audiences for the feature length film?
In Girl Night Stand we’re introduced to the characters, and in Lez Bomb, we follow the journey of these two characters and the progression of their relationship. It’s an ensemble family comedy about a still-closeted Katie bringing Sarah home for Thanksgiving to meet the family, but Katie’s coming out efforts are continually (and often humorously) thwarted.
Comedy can be an effective device to deal with a lot of social issues – it can break down barriers and put people at ease in ways other genres might struggle with. With a laugh out loud funny script that still packs an emotional punch, it’s obvious you have a strong grasp of comedy. I’m curious as to how comedy has played a role in your work, your writing, and your life?
Comedy has played such an important role in my life. It’s invaluable being able to look at life’s dramatic moments and find comedy. We’re all the stars of our own drama, but from the outside looking in – our most painful moments can be mined for a lot of humor. It’s important to be able to laugh through the struggle. At the core, we’re all humans trying our best to make decisions, find meaning, figure out our purpose, and take action towards happiness. Things often go wrong! But united in our struggle, we can laugh. Comedy is such a powerful tool in its ability to unite an audience in laughter. In Lez Bomb, everyone is struggling with a secret, each character carrying the emotional burden of a secret. Sexuality aside, carrying that burden is universal. I hope by exploring this through comedy, it highlights the universality and makes it more accessible to those who still consider it different.
To that point, our collective definitions of gender and sexuality continue to expand and become more fluid. How do you see the role of film (and other mediums) expanding upon or reflecting those changes?
Lets face it, art mirror’s life. Until LGBT storylines are being told at the studio level, it’s still not considered “mainstream.” It’s important these stories continue being told to keep them within the forefront of the general public’s mind. People only consider things different because of lack of exposure. But as LGBT stories continue trickling into film & television, they become more accessible to those who might not have an LGBT son or daughter bringing their significant other home to meet the family. And that’s one of the great things about being a filmmaker – we have the opportunity to bring these stories home to the living room TV.
You’ve talked before about wanting to exist in a world without labels, and the idea that often times we create categories to make other people more comfortable, rather than ourselves. Can you elaborate on this idea and, if relevant, speak to how the idea works its way into your creative work?
It’s important to stay open. When we’re rigid with ourselves and others we limit our ability to expand and grow. Too often we’re bent on labeling ourselves and others. I’m such a different person than I was five years ago. And five years from now I’ll be a different person. If we put a fence up to define ourselves we lose the ability to change and shift and expand our sense of self. Sexuality is fluid, and I truly believe that fluidity we strive for in life should include our idea of sexuality. Having a connection with another human shouldn’t be limited to gender. I’m talking deep, profound, soul connection here – I’m not talking about waiting in line at the coffee shop and finding someone attractive. We don’t need to act on our every impulse; I think that’s just another way of distracting ourselves from growing as well. The idea of being fluid while constantly growing is where my passion lies, and it’s very much reflected in my writing. There’s a fine balance, and the comedy I’m interested in has a lot to do with finding that balance and walking the tight rope.
I’ve often found that the more personal experience I bring to my own writing, the more universal and relatable specific experiences become. How much did your own experiences influence this project, and how did you navigate experiences that served the larger scope of the project versus those that didn’t?
There’s so much of my own experience within Girl Night Stand it makes me blush when I watch it! All those awkward emotions I experienced along with my most uncomfortable moments squeezed into a short – I both cringe and laugh. There were so many moments that didn’t serve the scope of the project. It’s definitely important to look at all the moments and find those which read to everyone and those which read only to yourself – your own inside joke. If it’s an inside joke, I cut it. Again, it’s all a balance. In the editing room though, it becomes very clear what’s working and what isn’t.
Like the best narratives – film, literary, otherwise – at the heart of Girl Night Stand and Lez Bomb is human connection. It’s something universal, yet can also be incredibly divisive. What are some of your biggest creative influences?
Oh God, I don’t even know where to start. I love to laugh so I’m a huge fan of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig. Their work has both humor and heart. They manage to highlight the comedy within human connection. Rose Troche has been a mentor of mine who’s pushed me to ask myself how I want to move the tradition of lesbian narrative film and update it, pushing the conversation forward.
How do you hope to be a part of that conversation?
As I mentioned above, there’s a long tradition of lesbian narratives. There aren’t many comedies within that tradition and I want to change that. I’m hoping to push the tradition forward with a laugh out loud family ensemble comedy where the plot twists and turns and feels very 2016. There’s a self-indulgence in this age of the internet – from social media to selfies – that I think is hilarious. Everyone’s looking to have their moment. I really hit upon this in Lez Bomb. Katie’s trying to come out – she’s trying to have her big moment. But so is everyone else in the story. Everyone’s so distracted with their own moment they miss Katie trying to come out!
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
In both Girl Night Stand and my upcoming Lez Bomb, I’m hoping the audience take away is the fact that coming out is universal. It shouldn’t just be about sexuality. It’s about the courage it takes to step into our truth and be honest with those closest to us. I’ve said this before, but at the core we’re just humans trying our best and I hope to unite an audience in laughter with moments that are funny, poignant, and relatable.