LUCY COLEMAN Hot Mess at Rev Fest

Hot Mess
is the debut feature for Australian writer and director Lucy Coleman, and it’s hilariously brilliant. It will be debuting on Western Australian screens as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, with both Coleman and her lead actress Sarah Gaul in residence as guests. NATALIE GILES had a chat with Coleman about women on film, her film, and being guilty feminists. 

I was trying to explain Hot Mess to my friends and I was saying that it’s like seeing some of the worst, most awkward moments of your life being played out on screen before you, and forcing you to watch yourself. I was watching it, and cringing, as I recognised myself…

That was exactly what I wanted to achieve, too! I didn’t want to do a strong female character who is unrelatable. I didn’t want to put someone on screen who made women feel lesser than, because we weren’t some legal partner in a firm, kicking goals and looking gorgeous. I kind of wanted to chuck someone on screen who was just really screwing up. And doing those things where we’re trying hard to be proud feminists, but then just flipping over, and being accidentally submissive to a guy, in a really vulnerable period in your life.

I think we’re all guilty of being bad feminists sometimes, and that’s obviously influencing your work, isn’t it?

Totally! I think we’re in the middle of this interesting, inter-generational change at the moment. Those things where… like, I was raised in a very traditional house where my dad was the breadwinner, mum took care of the kids, and a lot of stuff gets really ingrained and you have to rally against it. So we all have moments where we have to fight our programming. I didn’t know if other women had experienced those same moments when I was writing Hot Mess, but so far the response has been amazing. So many women going “yup, I’ve been there. Thank you.”

I recently had a personal example of this in my own relationship, where I thought I needed to be small until I realised that I was just projecting my own shit, and there’s no way this guy was feeling that I was being too much. And this is what I try to explore in my work – that deeply ingrained bullshit.

It’s such a fantastic depiction of what it means to be a young Australian woman, with all its awkwardness. Is Hot Mess autobiographical?

Oh, completely! It was very much what I went through in my years of doing postgrad for screenwriting. I was very frustrated, working away on my final screenplay, and I was getting so much flack from the head lecturer. I was about to be let out in the world, and my safety nets had come to their endpoint, and I was like, “how the fuck do I step out into the world?”  I just went into this massive tailspin. I was 24 at the time, so I thought “I know the best way to deal with this – get really drunk, find a guy and project all my shit onto him.” Really healthy. But then when I got to afters, I thought, well shit, I’ve got a film to write now. It became an important story for me to tell because there was something in that moment, where I was feeling a need to be rescued. And that was so massively conflicting with my morals as being a feminist, that I felt like I needed to tap into that, and write about it.

Sarah Gaul is so incredibly relatable as Loz (in the film). Is Loz really just Lucy Coleman?

Oh absolutely. I saw Sarah’s one-woman show at Sydney Fringe, and she walked onstage and was just so grounded, so dry, it was no bullshit, and I related to her. The second she opened her mouth I could just completely relate to her. So when I started writing Hot Mess, I just started writing with her in mind. I just really wanted that dry tone, in an Australian female who sounds like me and my friends. I don’t think I’ve really responded to many female portrayals of women onscreen in Aussie cinema. Maybe in some newer stuff, and there’s been some really awesome stuff from English cinema and certain stuff from the states like Broad City. That show is fucking sick. But I really wanted that dry, deadpan Australian female sensibility.

To quote your own website, what are some more of “the guttural truths of the female experience” you want to explore further in your work?

To me, I think there’s been so much sick shit onscreen in recent years, but we need more women onscreen as we live each day, not as superheroes. I mean, when I was doing auditions, in what I call my last year of acting, I was so sick of being told that my size 10 body didn’t conform to societal standards and that I needed to lose weight. They’d say stuff when they were knocking me back like, “oh look, we met with another girl for the role who is a size eight and she’s really attractive, so…”

Ok, well that’s just gross…

I know! It was really disgusting. I was sick of being cast as a dumb ass girlfriend, by these 50 year old men who had no clue about who my character was, or who I was, or what either of us were going through. So, now I’m kind of on this mission, to cast women who look, and talk, like me and my friends. I want realistic portrayals of women in film. Quintessential casting to me will always be charisma and personality. Do you fit the sensibility of the character? That’s all I care about.

So what do you have coming up with your next feature? What do we have to look forward to?

So when I finished Hot Mess, I made On the Fringe (web series) during post-production, because I found out that there’s a long period of just waiting for festival spots and a bunch of other stuff. But what happened was that I thought I’d found my space, and that is as a nuanced comedy writer for young women. I started to hit walls and get frustrated because I was so influenced by a bunch of different things, until I realised that the only person who is pigeonholing myself right now, is me. I don’t have to be nuanced comedy girl. So my next film is a magical realism, psychological thriller dark comedy.

That’s a hell of a mouthful, but sounds dope…

The closest genre comparison I have is Fight Club, with a touch of Birdman, and a little bit of Trainspotting. But all three of those are written by and about men. Mine is going to be all about women, written, and directed by a woman. So that’s in development at the moment. And the TV series I have in development is a thriller with a comedic twist, also about women. It’s going to be a lot of fun.