Writer’s Corner is a place to get to know outstanding writers, talk about the craft of writing, career advice, share horror stories and find out more about compelling films, television shows, plays, etc. There’s so much great content out there being made by female creators, we should all be keeping an eye on these women.
Today we are featuring Alexis Krasilovsky
Alexis, I understand you’re a screenwriter, author, director and professor. Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Alaska, as my father was drawn by the romantic notion of becoming a pioneer. My parents moved back to New York, however, to a rambling old house in Chappaqua that was previously lived in by the editor of novelists Richard Wright and Thomas Wolfe. I spent years looking for ghosts.
After studying at Smith College and the University of Florence in Italy, I graduated from Yale and made a series of short films, which had their first retrospective at the Whitney Museum when I was 23. One of those films, Guerrilla Commercial, called the museum to task for running a women’s film festival for one month, and then showing almost nothing but films by men for the other eleven months of the year. The men who ran that film festival had programmed Guerrilla Commercial without previewing it first: It was the film the Whitney wanted to burn.
After writing and directing Blood, a short narrative film about premenstrual rage that was narrated by a talking vagina, I moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1975 to pursue my passion for filmmaking, writing and directing films through my company, Rafael Film, LLC.
What inspired you to write your book: Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling? What have you learned from the process of writing the book?
I grew up to excel in adaptation because reading was my religion, and yet – once I held a camera in my hands — my real passion became filmmaking. In addition to earlier courses in film production at California State University Northridge and Otis Art Institute, I’ve taught “Screenplay Adaptation” and “Film As Literature” at CSUN for over two decades. I’ve also had the benefit of learning how filmmaking works in many other cultures while participating in film festivals in Canada, France, India, Mexico, Turkey and many other countries. So it was natural to want to write a book to share my findings with others. By the time I was granted a research fellowship from CSUN, I had discovered that it wasn’t enough to explore a handful of token adaptations by Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and other non-Western filmmakers, or to limit my focus on the filmmaking industries of India, Nigeria and the US. Many other countries, especially Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Senegal and the UK, also make films and television programs of international renown. By striving to be truly diverse in terms of filmmaking cultures around the world, and by including a far greater percentage of books and films by women and minorities, I hope that Great Adaptations will contribute to deeper mutual understandings around the world.
Can you also talk about Sex and the Cyborg Goddess? I love the title by the way, what’s the book about and what inspired you to write it?
Sex and the Cyborg Goddess is a portrait of a filmmaker as a young woman who won’t let sexual harassment stop her. Set against a backdrop of the sexual liberation era, anti-Vietnam protests and Black Panther demonstrations, I was inspired to write this “#MeToo” novel as a way of reaching out to other women in hopes of sharing our stories and healing together in the process. I specialize in women’s stories, writing from the inside out, where even the story structure reflects a female sensibility. Knowing that 75% of the readership of novels is female, I was excited at the possibility of connecting to this audience via paperback, eBooks and audiobook. At the same time, as a woman who has had many male lovers, worked in male-dominated fields, and raised a son, I understand what makes men tick and the dynamics between men and women. Gender issues as well as personal experience fueled a lot of my writing.
What’s the most common mistake you see in your student’s work? What are some of the positive elements that stand out to you in their work?
Some of my students suffer from Good Student Syndrome: They feel that if they slavishly follow the Hero’s Journey as has been taught to them by their writing instructors, they’ll be successful. Although that may garner an “A” or a “B”, formulaic writing can get boring and predictable. Why should a producer favor an unknown writer’s paint-by-numbers approach over someone who arrived on the A-list by taking great risks? Furthermore, as I explain in Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling, one size does not fit all. Native American cultures often approach storytelling from a non-hierarchical perspective; gender issues, including the Heroine’s Journey, demand different ways of looking at personal quests, journeys and relationships.
I’m excited when students show courage in their choice of material. Some of my students write dialogue that springs from communities which we haven’t seen enough of on the screen: their words jump off the page. When they approach their characters with compassion, these screenplays often become universal – changing our lives as we follow what happens to them.
Tell us about Let Them Eat Cake and Women Behind the Camera, the two documentaries you wrote and directed. How did you start making documentaries? What has the experience been like for you?
I started making documentaries while I was one of the first female undergraduates at Yale University. In retrospect, the frustrations that I experienced in that mostly male environment propelled me into an independent study program at the Whitney Museum, where I proceeded to make a film about the inflated egos of the New York art world starring Andy Warhol, Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. But I was sexually assaulted at gunpoint while hitchhiking to the lab from New Haven with some of the 16mm footage in my backpack – an experience which I fictionalized in my novel, Sex and the Cyborg Goddess. Nevertheless, I persisted, and End of the Art World is still in distribution today.
I’ve made around 25 films, videos and holograms in all, but my first global documentary feature as writer/director was Women Behind the Camera (2007) which explored the lives on camerawomen working in features, TV news and documentaries and the challenges that they face in Hollywood, Bollywood, Afghanistan, Canada, China, India, France, Iran, Japan, Mexico, the US and other countries in a way that had never been done before. Along with the shorter version, Shooting Women, the film went on to win five “Best Documentary” awards. It was exhilarating to witness the tenacity and courage of these camerawomen as we shot and edited their stories; my own struggles were paltry in comparison to some of these great pioneers’, like Brianne Murphy, the first women to gain entry into the American Society of Cinematographers, Jessie Maple Patton, the first African American woman to become a union Director of Photography, who had to sue the major networks to gain employment, and Shu Shi Jun, who traveled with Chairman Mao as his cinematographer through the new People’s Republic of China in the early 1950s. The full credits that list dozens of women who worked behind the camera on this documentary are on our website, www.womenbehindthecamera.com, including our Executive Producer, Vanessa Smith, our Associate Producer, Reseda Mickey, and our editor, Katey Bright.
My second global documentary feature, Let Them Eat Cake (2014), which explores the perils and pleasures of pastries, was made by a transnational team of filmmakers many of whom I met at film festivals where Women Behind the Camera screened. Listening to my co-producers – Sanjoy Ghosh in Kolkata, and Hamidou Soumah from Guinea – helped me make a film that could address the world hunger crisis and wage inequities on a global level. We wanted to explore both the finest pastries in the world, as well as those workers on sugar and cocoa plantations who could never afford to eat one of the pastries made with the ingredients they harvested.
Women in the biz were well represented on Let Them Eat Cake. Among the pastry-makers and women whose work involved its ingredients were Susana Palomino, a corn farmer in Cuzco whose fields were flooded by global warming; Lydia Pesata, a Jicarilla Apache elder who makes fry bread; Maria Carmen Lara, who makes “Day of the Day” pastries in Santiago Tupataro, Mexico; Lucha Tobar, who runs a pastry school in Lima; Audry Bahaier, owner and pastry chef of l’Atelier des gateaux in Paris; Sufia, a pitha-maker who works in the streets of Dhaka; and Mieko Nankawa, owner of the Nankawa Tea House in Tokyo. Women behind the camera besides myself included Unit Directors Shabnam Ferdousi in Bangladesh; Anouchka Waleyk in Paris; Rosa Carrillo in Mexico; Unit Producers included Emel Celebi in Turkey; Unit Cinematographers included Hilda Mercado in Mexico; Jendra Jarnagin in Washington, DC; Alicia Robbins in LA, who shot our pie-throwing sequence and others.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the screenplay to my novel, Sex and the Cyborg Goddess. I’m hoping that my membership in the Writers Guild of America West and the time I took to write Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling pay off in this endeavor. I’m also giving a five-day screenwriting adaptation workshop at the International Academy of Film and Media in Dhaka, Bangladesh in January 2019, expanding on the book event on adaptations that was held at CBS Studios earlier this year. I look forward to offering similar workshops to some of the studios and mini-majors in Hollywood in the future, as well as offering my services as a consultant, co-writer, writer or polisher for other adaptations.
Where can we buy your books and see your films?
- Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling (Routledge: NY/London, Fall 2017
- Sex and the Cyborg Goddess (under pseudonym Alexis Rafael — Rafael Film: Los Angeles, Fall 2017: paperback, eBooks and audiobook)
- Women Behind the Camera, Let Them Eat Cake and End of the Art World (starring Andy Warhol) are available on Amazon Video Prime
- A shorter version of Women Behind the Camera entitled Shooting Women is available through Women Make Movies
- The poetry DVD “Some Women Writers Kill Themselves”
What’s your website and social media handles?
- Visit Alexis Krasilovsky’s website at www.alexiskrasilovsky.com.