Lauren Anders Brown is an award-winning independent filmmaker and photographer focusing on global health and humanitarian issues in conflict zones and covering cultural and gender sensitive topics.
Lauren has worked on over a dozen television shows (Ugly Betty, Royal Pains, Nurse Jackie, The Blacklist, House of Cards) and feature films (Argo, We Need To Talk About Kevin).
She has over 10 years of experience, filmed in 40 countries, including a documentary film based on Atul Gawande’s best-selling book, The Checklist Effect, and recently screened her latest documentary on the Rohingya crisis ‘Shanti Khana’ narrated by Ashley Judd at the Cannes Film Festival. It is now available on Amazon Prime.
Lauren Anders Brown Where were you born
I was born in New Jersey in the United States in a normal suburb but I feel I didn’t really grow up until I left and moved to New York City. I always felt claustrophobic in the suburbs, not aided by the long and traumatic divorce my parents began when I was 9 and continued for several years. I found more comfort in the chaos and creativity of New York than of my childhood home.
How did you get started in media?
For nearly my entire life and as long as I can remember, my father has been the general manager of Silvercup Studios in Queens. Whenever I could I would go into work with him, I would make childhood forts out of sandbags, c-stands, whatever I could find and ‘build my own set’ and sometimes get a thrill from hiding inside big cases for lights and rolled out onto stages where I would jump out and everyone would act surprised. When I became a teenager, I began actually observing how sets worked, joining in the filmmaking process however I could- whether it was polishing coffee beans or babysitting Gisele Bunchen’s little yorkie terrier I was always watching, learning, and absorbing. Every school break in high school and college I was at the studio, and early on I fell in love with being behind the camera.
What has been the most defining moment for you?
I’ve had several defining moments in my career over the years- my first day in the International Cinematographer’s Guild, attending and winning an award during Cannes Film Festival.
What has been your greatest challenge going independent?
In this industry, nearly everyone I met who is at the top of their career has had to push and support themselves to get there. A common story I’ve heard from these people is losing up to a year of consistent work to make the leap up the ladder and nearly all of the stories included burning through savings to make that happen. One of my mentors, Harris Savides, once told me while he was backpacking through Europe shooting when he was stating out he ran out of money on his trip. The only thing he had of value to get him home was his camera, so he sold it. Hearing stories like that made me less fearful when my time naturally came for me to stop working in camera departments on sets and begin directing and shooting on my own when I moved from NYC to London. The first year I did that though, I went nearly 9 months with only a couple of paying of jobs. I had burned through my savings like those who came before me, but I wasn’t ready to sell my camera. I did do the next most responsible thing I could and move back to New York for a little, with no plan but positivity and while I did do one day in the camera department on a set it was worth it as other work found me to direct and shoot and I made up my losses to continue. Making that decision at the time felt like somewhat of a step back, but it ended up giving me what I needed to propel me forward for what would be the beginning of my career taking off.
How has media changed for women since you first started out?
I am proud to say I still came from the era of film. I had my own dark room for black and white photography, and learned how to load film into magazines. I used to keep the waste film sometimes I would find in dark rooms on sets and practice whenever I could borrow an empty mag. Film was heavy, along with most of the other camera equipment- the lightest thing was the coffees I would make for the department. It was a natural deterrent for women breaking into the camera department I think because it was assumed they couldn’t carry the weight. With the changeover to a more digital film world, I’ve seen more and more women in the camera departments. I don’t attribute this just to a change in equipment but a change in opportunity.
What challenges do women in media and film experience?
TIMES UP has become a great example started by women in the film industry highlighting issues that have been plaguing the industry for decades. Thanks to breaking that silence, without shame I can now say I raise my hand at having a #MeToo experience in the past. Having less women in the industry I believe has created a culture of this vulnerability, thankfully we are in a position to change that now and we all have a part to play in making the film industry a safe and respectful place to work. Nearly every show has required sexual harassment courses to take now, which is a start but will not be the change maker. What will be is reducing the vulnerability that existed before by having a reasonable balance in genders on set. We need more women playing diverse roles in front of the camera and we need more women behind the camera- grips, electrics, props, camera people. We need it all, and in the past women have not had the opportunities to enter these professions. We need to change that, to hire more women in these positions. Sometimes that might mean taking a chance on woman without the same qualifications as a man who is up for the job. I’ve done this in the past myself hiring people for projects, sometimes I’ve succeeded and sometimes it has not been successful but I’ve never regretted it because without taking those chances and offering those opportunities we’ll never create the change needed.
What advice would you give young women interested in film making?
Film making is not for everyone. Even if you remove any external factors like discrimination, it is a difficult industry to be in. It requires you to deal with long hours (a normal day is based on 10 hours and almost always goes over that including travel time), unsteady work and pay, and the anxiety of not knowing when and where your next job will come. You will have to start at the bottom, which may require learning how to carry 8 coffees at once (yes it is possible, and sometimes I’ve managed 9). If you can accept all of that, then you’re on your way at the beginning of a fulfilling career- how many people are responsible for having their work created and be shared and admired by others? Never stop learning from your supervisors, never be afraid to ask too many questions (no matter how disempowered some may make you feel), and support women filmmakers from the beginning so we have more in our crews and in front of our cameras.
How can we use media to change the narrative for women?
From a storytelling perspective, as filmmakers we are responsible for what the world may understand or believe about a certain topic, person, etc. It is a lot of responsibility, and a powerful tool to resonate with audiences in ways sometimes no other medium can. We must use this power to change the narrative for women, both scripted and non-scripted formats. I am no less responsible for how the world will view a woman’s narrative I may be filming with, just because it is a documentary and their story is their story. Part of my job as a director is to protect my female contributors from their future audience and ensure that what I cut together is not only accurate but leaves the audience with feelings of empathy and empowerment towards women.
My composers tease me at times that they know they’re working on one of my films when no matter the ending they press the ‘add hopeful/uplifting music here’ button.
What are the 3 things you must take with you everywhere you go?
- My bodum travel coffee press– it’s a travel coffee thermos and a French press in one. I take my coffee seriously.
- An oversized scarf that acts as a scarf, a shawl when I need to dress up my limited clothing for a last minute cocktail invite in South Sudan, a wraparound dress when I’m going to a pool (which happens rarely but happens especially when the water isn’t running in the shower) and a blanket on the more ‘economic’ airlines.
- A small, pocket size stuffed dog Snowy from Tin Tin. When either me or my partner are away from our dog (and also each other), that one takes it on the trip and we send each other photos of Snowy’s adventures around the world. I’m considering publishing a book of them.
I know you love everything you work on but what is your favourite work?
It’s always hard to pick just one, but one stands out as an overall incredible experience I never get tired of watching- my short film shot in Al Za’atari refugee camp ‘Six Year Old Fears.’ I’ll never get tired of hearing Sara sing her song.
What’s next for you?
On the opening night of the BBC Arabic Film Festival this year, my co-director Ali Alibrahim and I shared our current documentary, ‘Anonymous SYRIA’ looking at the undocumented lives of Syrians both inside Syria and the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. We’re focusing specifically on milestones that happen in everyone’s lives that are affected by the lack of identity- birth, education, marriage, and death.
How can readers support your work?
I am currently seeking funding and/or co-production funding for ‘Anonymous SYRIA,’ so far Ali and I have been funding this project ourselves. It’s an extremely important and timely piece, and we’d love to speak with anyone interested in financing it and working with us.