Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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It only takes one person. Support Elena Rossini and The Illusionists.

I first met Elena Rossini a little shy of four years ago, when I first moved to London. An Italian feminist filmmaker living in Paris, I had read about her work (on Feministing, I think), and thought she seemed like exactly the kind of person I would like to meet.

And she was. Like me, Elena was then two years into the creation of her first magnum opus. In my case, my book The Sex Myth, “a consciousness-raising exploration of how sex has come to define who we are and how we fit in”; in her case, her documentary The Illusionists,a damning critique of the marketing of unattainable beauty standards around the world.

In the years that have followed, Elena has been an inspiration to me. I have a huge admiration for her tenacity, for her sense of what is possible, her big picture thinking, her ability to draw people into her projects and make them feel involved – and, of course, her skill as a filmmaker and storyteller.

Elena and I are now both six years into our respective projects. Mine is currently sitting with my publisher, with only a couple more rounds of edits and polishing to go. And The Illusionists is hitting the festival circuit, looking for a home that befits its message and Elena’s formidable filmmaking skills. But this has proved to be as much a challenge as creating the film itself. In order to get her film seen and maximise its impact, Elena needs support from someone who is already a big name in the industry. Which is where you come in.

This week, Elena is launching a campaign based around the idea that it only takes one person. She is reaching out to five people whom she believes could turn The Illusionists around, whether as an executive producer, an ambassador, a voiceover narrator, or a mentor - Lena Dunham, Stephen Fry, Geena Davis, Michael Moore and Alex Gibney – directing them to a sneak preview of the first four minutes of the film on her website, and encouraging her legion of Twitter followers and supporters to get involved.

It would be great if you could get involved, too. I think you will really like the film. And if you know of anyone else who might be able to help The Illusionists make the impact it deserves, please reach out them – or Elena – over Twitter. 

You can watch a short of The Illusionists above, and read more about Elena’s journey here.

“Tweet it and push it and hope someone pays attention to your brilliance and if they don’t, well, try again.”

I didn’t watch last week’s Girls until a few days after it aired. But the above fragment of a sentence, lifted from a review of the episode published on Canadian gossip blog Lainey Gossip which I read a few days before, stuck with me more than anything that transpired on screen.

 “So she quits her job, in a scene that was kind of cringe-inducing but also a long time coming, and she revels in her “artistry”…until she watches Marnie (and that awesome rapper girl) do it effortlessly: Perform something that people respond to without your having to tweet it and push it and hope someone pays attention to  your brilliance and if they don’t, well, try again, hoping your own opinions and alleged brilliance don’t curdle in the face of people with actual talent and (gasp!) passion.” 

Or as I read it: If you were actually good, you wouldn’t have to hustle.

It’s bullshit, of course, born of the same fictions that are used to sell us on the power of “It” (but then, even ‘It’ girls have to hustle if they want to turn their charisma into a job). And, I would argue, it is a fiction that makes us less likely to achieve our dreams: you may not necessarily get the things you want in life if you don’t put your all into them, but you almost sure as hell won’t if you don’t try

Not to mention, as my friend Luke pointed out via email, it is a fiction that it utterly flouted by the Lena Dunham story: “Isn’t the whole meta-message of ‘Girls’ that if you hustle long enough and hard enough, you reach Lena Dunham levels of success, because Hannah basically is Lena or some version of her? I.e. the proof is in the pudding - the fact that the show exists and is successful - rather than dependant on any analysis of Hannah’s character.”

And it is true. Pre-show hustling aside, I don’t think I have ever had any cultural product as keenly or persistently marketed to me as Girls. That show did not become a success by accident. It was 80% design.

So, perhaps the lesson is just the opposite of what Lainey Gossip’s Duana words might suggest. Rather than making it our goal for someone to spot our brilliance without our trying, we should instead “tweet it and push it and hope someone pays attention to your brilliance and if they don’t, well, try again.”

Related: She who tries, wins. 
Gossip Girl’s Serena and effortless perfection.

Elsewhere: Don’t hate the It girl, hate the game. (Daily Life)
How is this girl unsigned? (Lainey Gossip)

waxlions said: How important is ‘party charm’ to getting assignments? I do neither… :(

It has had next to no importance in my career to date: I’ve gotten all my assignments based on pitches, clips, and prior reputation. I did find my agent though through a woman I met at a dinner a couple of years ago, who had looked at my portfolio website before we met, and thought we’d be a good match for each other. She was right.

To sum: I think that to some degree, people like to work with people they like, but you can be likeable by doing things like using a personable tone in your emails, meeting up for coffee when you’re in the same city, and turning in your work on time. Or just generally not being an asshole. Doing good work is the most important thing, though, and any editor who hires based on who they met at the bar the other night is not a good editor.

Personally I like taking a prima facie “lame” or “done that” assignment and researching it, sometimes for three days straight, until suddenly the light catches on another angle.

Me too, SNP.

Yes also to getting assignments based on previous work, rather than on ability to charm at parties (I do enjoy charming at parties, but trying to charm people who have the ability to hire me makes me nervous unless they’ve hired me already). And yes too to the awful tendency to want to write “smart” things densely rather than simply because it makes them seem more profound and philosophical. Or something like that.

"The manuscript was delivered ahead of deadline and the editorial turnaround was quick."

Surely the most remarkable sentence in this highly interesting and informative essay for anyone interested in books/writing/the publishing industry.

“I read an essay on n+1 this morning, and it featured a writer who turned in their manuscript before deadline,” I told Mr Musings when I arrived home this evening. He was equally incredulous. “That can’t have been a real writer!” he declared, with more than a smidge of irony. “It must have been a book-shaped product.”

Not because “real writers” produce all their work in Hannah Horvath, last minute, “I’m going to write a book in a day” style (although yes, sometimes that too), but because we don’t like to let go. Even when the manuscript is essentially complete, we can still find improvements to make. And as long as there is time left on the clock to make them, we’re going to use that time to make them. Because as Megan McArdle put it in The Atlantic last week: “As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good.”

A few years ago, I bought a painting by an artist friend of mine, who now runs an incredible gallery in NYC. When I went to pick it up from her house a few days later, she asked if she could keep it a little longer. There was so much wrong with it, she said, so much that could still be improved. “No,” I told her defiantly. I had purchased the painting because I liked it, and I wanted to own it as is.

I let her go over a few of the lines with black paint before I took it, and the painting is still hanging on my lounge room wall; I am looking across from it as I write this post. I still love it, and I can’t imagine what my friend would have changed about it.But let’s just say I have a whole lot more empathy for her now in that moment, than I did four years ago.