Artistic struggle is in Zoe Lister-Jones’s DNA.
“Both my parents are artists. I’d seen how hard it is to make a living and how emotionally painful that life was,” says Lister-Jones, daughter of video artist Ardele Lister and photographer and media artist Bill Jones.
The roller coaster ride of the artist’s life is one of the themes Lister-Jones tackles in “Band Aid,” the comedy she wrote and directed, and stars in with Adam Pally, about a battling couple who form a rock band as marriage therapy. Although Lister-Jones has experience as a singer, she learned bass to play Anna, an unsuccessful writer who works as an Uber driver. She also wrote the lyrics to the “fight” songs that she and Pally perform.
“I knew I wanted to find a story with music at its center and also explore the ways couples fight. I think it’s an insight into the way a couple loves,” said Lister-Jones while in Boston recently, when “Band Aid” played the Boston Independent Film Festival. The film opens here on Friday.
Her acting resume includes being a regular on the CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces” and having a featured role as then-Senator Joe Biden’s assistant in HBO’s 2016 drama “Confirmation,” about the Clarence Thomas hearings.
Diversifying is another lesson she learned about how to survive as an artist.
“When I first started acting in high school [in her native Brooklyn], I was apprehensive of putting all my eggs in one basket,” she said. “From the beginning, I knew I’d be a hybrid, a hyphenate. It was just a question of when and in what form.
“I’ve been lucky to work in television but the film world is a different ball game. The lists of viable actresses to choose from gets smaller [because it’s] based on who is financeable overseas and to be that, basically, means you have to be in a franchise. So there are a lot of limiting factors that stop actresses like myself from getting roles.”
It’s been by creating her own roles in indie films that Lister-Jones, 34, has thrived. She costarred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and performed on the soundtrack of the 2009 micro-budgeted “Breaking Upwards” and co-wrote and starred in “Lola Versus” (2012), again collaborating with Daryl Wein, who’s now her husband.
Those films, she said, “were boot camp for me” in preparation for “Band Aid,” which marks her debut as a director. “This project was in many ways a test for me to see if the creative process could be fun. The best way to conduct that experiment was if I was in control.”
Another experiment in the same spirit of risk and reward was to hire an all-female crew for “Band Aid,” starting with producer Natalia Anderson, a Maine native and Emerson College graduate who was an associate producer on “Life in Pieces.”
“I saw she was such a hustler and such a gangster,” Lister-Jones said of Anderson. “It’s a really specific skill set to be able to produce an indie film and to produce it well.”
Anderson recalled that one of her many tasks was to reassure each hire that “we were all taking a risk and we all wanted our best work represented,” she said. She credited line producer Kristen Murtha, also an Emerson alum, with helping to pull in talent on the tight “Band Aid” shooting schedule during a “Life in Pieces” hiatus. “We all did a deep dive into finding women crew members across the board,” said Anderson.
“No matter how much attention gender inequity gets, it’s still the big question mark of how to actually effect change. I could say, ‘I’ll hire as many women as I can’ but I knew I was going to fall into the same trap everyone else does, which is: ‘but that guy has more experience and he’s going to help everybody feel more comfortable’ and all the traps that immediately limit the hiring pool,” said Lister-Jones. “I wanted to create an environment where women could feel their most confident, where they called every shot, and had no one else to answer to or be interrupted by or condescended to; a place where we could feel ownership over the art we were making.”Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.