There's a lot of political correctness and general acknowledgement that people have differences, of acceptance, of race, gender... of culture. All wafting in the air. It is not for me to say whether these things are good or bad, but I do have to comment, from my very own unique perspective, on the media’s failure to evolve on the issue of size.
A year ago, I officially embarked on developing my first feature film. This is something I have dreamed of doing my entire life: directing a movie of my very own. Some people dream of weddings, of shoes, of houses they want to design or people they want to cure. I dreamt of the director's chair and standing on set and making decisions and wearing all black with a beret and yelling 'ACTION!'
I guess if you are reading this, you will understand those fantasies. I wrote a film about a girl like me. A girl who was a late bloomer, a girl who felt like the parade had passed her by. Also, by coincidence, a film about a girl that Hollywood would also call fat, as she would be the same size as Romola Garai: an 8 or a 10.
In casting my lead I was hoping to find... a woman like me. I must admit this because I don't want to pretend this aspect of my search does not exist. I wanted her to have physical qualities that I felt were similar to my own, as I very rarely see my body type reflected on the big screen. I wanted a muse who was to be representative of the characters I wanted to write. So I set out to find her.
The point of my film, Bread and Butter, is to de-glamorize the romantic comedy. I wrote the script based on personal experiences. I wanted to cast actors and actresses who didn’t mind looking like “real people” for 90 minutes. Part of that is size, part is makeup, part wardrobe, and all of that is casting.
I reached out to major casting websites, casting directors that I knew, my peers from USC Film School, agents and managers. A lot of the names that were referred to me were actresses in New York or Europe. Excellent actresses, but on a very, very limited budget we cannot afford to bring them to Los Angeles. We have a few options in Los Angeles, but then those choices would diminish when considering other variables. Are they right for the role? Are they free during our shoot dates? Are they willing to do low budget?
Still, there is some hope. There's Lena Dunham! Mindy Kaling! These are curvier women, but they are both writers who have achieved a certain level of fame and have decided to take on the responsibility of performing in their own projects. But, who would they cast if they did not act?
We look at Romola Garai and we say, why does Hollywood think she is too fat? Why do we see so many beautiful but bony arms not any with a little bit of meat on them?
Here is what I have encountered in specifically seeking out a curvier woman for a low budget indie film.
1) In making an independent film, one must have name actors attached. This is a horrible fact, but we are inundated with media these days. The likelihood of getting a movie made and seen increases exponentially with the amount of name talent you have attached.
2) Low budget films have a lot of trouble attaching talent because of their lack of money. Low budget films do not have the funds to sway more natural/possibly curvier actresses from places outside of Los Angeles.
3) Los Angeles is a haven for tiny tiny women. And ESPECIALLY tiny tiny actresses who diet in an effort to fit what society deems the acceptable 'look' for an actress.
Which leads us to the fact that my movie --which is fully funded --is having trouble finding a lead because the pool seems to be so very narrow.
I like to think that, with the growth of popularity of Dunham’s show Girls, there is an increasing awareness of demand within the movie/TV watching audiences to see more natural looking people in films and on TV. We've been talking about it for years.
I'd love to see a revolution of women showing real women on the big screen. With each of us at the helm of the ship, talking to our peers, collaborating and inspiring our audiences to accept their bodies. Filmmaking is cathartic to the filmmaker as well as the audience. Let's show more realistic looking bodies on screen and reflect our actual society instead of projecting an ideal one onto the big screen. Let's learn from ourselves instead of pretending flaws do not exist.
Of course when it comes down to it, size is not everything. There may be someone perfect for this role who is extraordinarily skinny. It’s more about the inability to have an option that is the most frustrating part of this process.
In the meanwhile, we’re still casting. It’s been a long haul, but the very fact that this is so difficult, is what pushes me forward. If anyone has any suggestions of people to reach out to, clients you feel might be perfect for this opportunity do please drop me a line. Our lead role of Amelia in “Bread and Butter,” is a substantial one. This is an opportunity for a strong actress to play an incredibly lovable, eccentric and intense character and to (it’s a twofer!) push for more realistic looking bodies to exist in film today.
Liz Manashil earned her B.A. in Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she founded and lead a film production and appreciation society, SPLICE, for two and a half years. She has worked under John Morrison of the California Film Institute, Michael Shamberg of Double Feature Films and Adam Goodman at Paramount Film Group all before obtaining her MFA in Film and TV Production from USC's School of Cinematic Arts in 2010. Her USC thesis, "Round and Round," completed a festival run and was purchased by The Documentary Channel and is currently shown by Snag Films. Since graduation, Liz has directed shorts and music videos including one for artist Beth Thornley whose music appears in Degrassi High, America’s Funniest Videos, Royal Pains, Ringer and Jersey Shore among others. Currently she is directing and on camera talent for National PBS movie/tv review show "Just Seen It," while in preproduction for her first feature film "Bread and Butter"