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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Body Parts.

How did you two come to work on this project together?

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: I made a short film called What Happened to Her a few years ago which was about dead women on screen and our cultural obsession in the media with those images. I interviewed an actress who played the part of a dead body, and I thought there was something interesting about that combination of not only these images, but what goes into the making of them. At that time, Helen approached me and wanted to work together with me on my next project. We started working on what we thought would be a triptych, looking at sex, birth, and death on screen from a women’s perspective. We started the one about sex and it was an avalanche of ideas and people and different actors that we wanted to speak with, and that’s really where it began.

Helen Hood Scheer: By that time Kristy and I were both living in Los Angeles, teaching at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, where we both run the respective documentary programs. Before we taught in southern California, we taught at a community college together, Northern California, and that’s where we met. We were already professional colleagues and friends when we started making the film

It’s a slow, thoughtful, reflective process

There’s a precision to this film that only academics can bring. How did you cast your net for interview subjects?

KGF: We were not only interested in big celebrities, but also people who worked behind the scenes, people who weren’t your well-known identified celebrities, the working-class actor. This range of perspectives was always going to be an important part of the film. I consider it an ensemble piece.

HHS: From the get-go, having a diverse range of perspectives was really important to us; diverse ages, diverse stages in their careers, diverse types. When we started out, building on Kristy’s initial short, we thought we would record all the interviews with audio only and mix them with images and animation. When Jane Fonda agreed to do the film, we had already done a few audio interviews. And very quickly we said, we can’t record Jane Fonda with audio only. We brought out the cameras and it was at that point that the film began expanding from being a short film focusing on body doubles to being a feature focusing on intimacy and nudity in a much larger perspective. And we thought initially that once we got Jane Fonda, we would have an easy time and the doors would just open for access. That turned out not to be the case. It’s continually really challenging to get through the gatekeepers—the agents, publicists, managers. There were a couple of reasons for that. One was that many celebrities were still very hesitant to have people reconsider early work they did when they might have been less clothed than they are now in their careers. There was a lot of fear and also some fear of retribution. Despite the fact that people were being more open after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, we actually started production months before that scandal broke. So we were sort of poised to take advantage of the new energy people had towards sharing their ideas. But the fact of the matter is, many celebrities were still very hesitant to speak. Jane was very courageous, as were many others, but a lot of celebrities turned us down. A lot of lesser-known actors were willing to participate and we found that to be ultimately really fascinating because those are the people that don’t have access to the machinations of power and publicity and the ability to get their voices heard. The celebrities can tell their stories other ways and they do, so we again created an ensemble piece from people from different fields, directors, actors, writers, and all from different stages in their careers. It became an asset to the film, but it was something that evolved from our initial plans once filming began.

Can you talk about your interview process? I was really wowed by Rose McGowan.

KGF: As scholars, we really love research so we did as much research as we could. We read the trades. People like Rose McGowan and Jane Fonda have memoirs, I read all that I could and tried to watch all their work. This film was also made over a number of years, so people were at different stages in terms of going public with things that had happened in the industry. We did have the fortune of interviewing Rose after she had gone public about Harvey Weinstein and people had finally listened to her. She was so brave and it was such a wonderful interview. We always tell our subjects, this is what we want to talk about. We give them the scope of what we’re interested in discussing to make sure that they’re aware we’re going to be asking hard and difficult questions. We’re also aware of what’s already been said publicly. That offers some information about what they might feel comfortable talking about. It’s a slow, thoughtful, reflective process. I do the interviews and give them a lot of space. We have a small set and crew so there’s intimacy. There’s always a pre-interview process where we talk about what we’ll explore. I’m looking for what is emotional and what is going to relate to an audience to help them understand all that goes through an actor’s head, all that they have been put through behind the scenes. Revealing that and unearthing it in a way audiences can understand is key in order to make them sympathetic to the people we’re interviewing.

HHS: As Kristy mentioned, she does pre-interviews, and also her interviews are not short. Each of those interviews was about 90 minutes. There are a lot of questions, a lot of follow-up questions, and she also opens up the questions to me. I’m doing sound on the interviews in order to keep the crew small. Rose was really spectacular because, frankly, we had heard people could be hesitant to interview her. They had said she comes across a certain way that makes her very hard to edit. We went through with the interview and thought she was a dream to work with. Honestly, it seemed like she was responding to our emails directly. She didn’t seem to have assistants around her. She didn’t want makeup, she didn’t want anyone to drive her; she did those things herself. And she was phenomenal. There was so much we weren’t able to include in the film. She was a brilliant speaker and everything we had heard about her felt like it was part of the machine, the abuse she had been through. It felt like she had been typecast in a certain way that was so different than what our experience with her was. She was so smart and articulate and she had been through a lot of public speaking as a result of her book. We might have benefited from that. By the time she did our interview, she had a really strong clear distanced way of explaining some of her ideas in a more intellectual way, and not only in a personal way. She was able to navigate both lenses at the same time.

What is it like to spend so much time listening to women re-experience their trauma?

KGF: It can be emotionally exhausting for many reasons. Documentaries take a really long time to make, so that’s just our own labor outside of the content itself. Then these interviews are intellectually draining because they’re long and detailed and you’re trying to bear witness to people’s experiences. This idea of bearing witness is a guiding one in terms of my approach to documentary filmmaking and what gives it a bigger responsibility that I am beholden to. My gold standard is that I’m bearing witness to people that have opened up and are vulnerable and are willing to share their stories. I feel obligated to make the best of that in the film that we make. That ultimately guides everything. But there’s also a benefit to that. With Times Up and MeToo, because two women came forward, more women came forward. When we bring this to audiences, they will consider what goes into the making of the films they watch and consume—who directed it, whether there was an intimacy coordinator, what the experience was like for the actors involved. The hope is that within the industry we can hold them to a certain accountability.

HHS: There’s an intimacy involved. We didn’t do more than two interviews per day, most days. We also had a look we were going for, and that took time and care. The thing about working with small crews is that it’s not always fast, so we had choices to make. We did the interviews with a modified Interrotron, which means there was a monitor on Kristy’s face and a monitor on the crew, which made it feel like an intimate conversation even though they were sitting twenty feet apart. Even though Kristy’s face wasn’t being recorded, she was on camera and it was a really emotionally engaging activity. Sometimes it wasn’t even the interviews that were draining; those are rewarding because you get to connect with people. But the prep time can be draining—watching a series of abusive behaviors or women being represented in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Kristy had many working nights where she would need to hide her screen from her young daughter because she didn’t want her to see what she was watching.

KGF: We were also really careful about how we presented this to audiences, so we were also really thinking about the impact of that as well. We didn’t want to re-traumatize people unduly. In terms of the images we shared, particularly with the ones where actresses were talking about unsettling or bad or violent experiences they had had on set, we didn’t want to re-exploit their likenesses for our audience and for them. We tried to be as careful as we could in that curation of clips. To show enough where people were able to understand what we were talking about while not contributing to a further exploitative process.