We had the good fortune of connecting with Lena Rudnick and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lena, what principle do you value most?
The value that matters most to me is authenticity – it all comes down to being honest and making sure I’m connected to my own voice. (Sounds easier than it sometimes is) For writing and directing my own work, I ask ‘Is this just a cool idea or was I put on Earth to make this?’ It might sound lofty but ‘cool ideas’ don’t pass the test. It’s a great way to check my ego and keep focused, plus, the cool ideas rarely have staying power in the writing process! When I’m hired onto to a project, it matters that I can find a way in that feels authentic. My story consulting sessions often feel like therapy because I’m asking a lot of very personal questions trying to connect people to their material in a new way.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I literally LOLed when you asked if getting where I am today was easy. NO WAY! It was tough and relentless and completely trail-less and I’m still like ‘wait, I’m here? Is this it?’
When I was a kid, there were so few women-driven films – I lived off Julia Roberts movies and The Sound of Music…I just about died when ‘Real Women Have Curves’ came out. So, in the back of my head, I’m always writing films for that lonely and confused twelve year-old that needed nuanced portrayals of women leading unusual lives. And I don’t know why I’m talking in the past, I STILL need more nuanced women characters! Most of my work is about battling to fit colossal-sized inner self into narrow social constraints. I’m obsessed with history’s erasure of women’s stories and the wisdom lost. Basically, it’s like, I’m forever fighting a war against the patriarchy and my weapon of choice is the witty understated comedy. (We can’t always get what we want…)
Music has been another central element to my work since I was commissioned by National Sawdust right out Columbia to create a video art series for their venue that spanned years. I’ve also always had these really dramatic dreams, stories within stories, and lately I’ve been channeling those ideas into surrealist music videos with a lyrical dream logic. I’ve had the opportunity to direct videos this year for Death By Piano, Stevie Weinstein-Foner, and Late Sea.
In regards to overcoming challenges, well, that’s like a daily thing. It’s incredibly gratifying that there’s a ‘market’ for female-driven narratives but it can be disheartening getting these films funded! Diversity programs are creating a new level of gate-keeping. I think at the end of the day, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to embrace the zig-zag nature of this profession. Last year I was pitching a TV show, this year I’ve made a bunch of tripping music videos, now I’m writing for two docuseries – who knows what’s next? I try not to get distracted by the noise but instead to focus on what I can do to clear my own obstacles (self-doubt, insecurity, imposter syndrome…). I saw a retrospective of Lynn Hershman Leeson recently, who, as a young conceptual artist, created a pseudonym to write art reviews – since no one was going to review her work, she would! That’s the kind of ‘imposter syndrome’ I want to bring to my own life.
Something that’s integral to my creative process is my story consulting business. What was first a financial idea (friends needed screenwriting feedback, I needed money – win-win) now offers me an opportunity to support under-represented storytellers so that we create a more spacious cultural landscape for everyone. I collaborate with amazing screenwriting labs like Cine Qua Non Lab – they fosters exceptional indie projects and I get the privilege of nurturing talented screenwriters.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ok, well one of my favorite places to take friends visiting to Los Angeles is the L.A. River around Frog town. I like to go to Spoke Bicycle Cafe and then down to the water. I just love the smushed together combination of concrete and reforested wild life river. How does the water work? I have no idea! How do so many birds live here? I have no idea! It’s endless mysteries. Spoke Cafe also rents bikes to take the Arroyo Path and it feels so nice to be biking without fear of getting hit by a car. (Hint hint, more bike lanes please, LA!) Afterwards, hit up Salazar for a mezcal cocktail and outdoor dinner.
I always check for events going on in the courtyard of Stories LA bookstore. ‘Nervous’ and ‘Good Heroin Comedy Show’ are two favorites. It’s a free low-key neighborhood events with great talent.
The Los Feliz 3 Theatre was just absorbed by American Cinematheque last month and is about to become one of my favorite haunts – combine an Elaine May retrospective screening with a stroll down Franklin Blvd, a visit to Skylight Books and a tasty Los Feliz restaurant. Fun fact: I saw ‘Before Sunset’ at LF3 when I was twenty-one and afterwards struck up a conversation with a handsome stranger who I was certain would be the Ethan Hawke to my Julie Delpy – despite that not being how the story unfolded, I still believe that theatre has really good ju-ju for romantic encounters.
L.A.’s art scene is drastically underestimated! I love taking a book and blanket to the Ghetty and basking in the sun after gorging myself on exhibits BUT, one of my favorite parts of living in the city are the radical poetry nights, unmarked Chinatown Gallery shows, etc. Don’t be afraid to go to a show you see on a flyer or Instagram post – it’s usually where you find the most fascinating people and alive art. Hard to tell you where to start but if you’re in town for a ‘Gallery After Hours’ show or an event at Dynasty Typewriter – you won’t want to miss it.
We’ve done a lot of art at this point, so next I’ll take my friends into the great outdoors with a visit to the beach (any beach, frankly, but I like Santa Monica way north of the pier.) I also love hiking in Malibu at Point Mugu or all over the Angeles National Forest. I don’t make it West very often but if I do, I love to go to Little Ethiopia and dine al fresca with a big plate of share food. Whoa, when I was first asked this question, I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to say and now decidedly, you’re going to have to come visit for at least a month!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
When I was just out of college, I got an internship with Miranda July as she was in pre-production on ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ and I had the distinct pleasure of helping that film – which was such a singular vision – come to life. It was a formative experience. As I’m working towards directing my first feature, I think about it all the time. It was so inspiring to witness her discover herself as a film director. After most shoot days, I’d get to hear what felt good, what was terrifying, etc. That the film was such a huge success, gave me confidence that there is an audience for authentic, offbeat comedies.
Linkedin: Lena Rudnick
Julia Brokaw Christina Dobre