A recent TEDx talk by filmmaker Cassie Jaye fascinated me from a  leadership perspective:

How do you respond when new experiences challenge your old beliefs?

What if you're in public?

Globally?

What if they conflict with your deepest beliefs?

And of your family, friends, funding sources, and community?

Jaye's research unexpectedly took her in the opposite direction she expected. Remaining true to her deepest values risked her personal and professional relationships, amid global controversy.

Leaders face conflict and controversy. Seeing her dedication to her art and integrity to her deepest values under stress, in the public, as a learning opportunity, I asked her about her work and experience creating and distributing it.

Joshua Spodek: Few documentaries make money. Your latest ended up controversial, yet made money and garnered global attention. How did it begin and develop?

Cassie Jaye: It began with a simple idea for a documentary that ended up becoming a far more complicated story and nothing like I had planned.

The original idea was to make a documentary about the Men's Rights Movement as I knew it, or as I had been told, which was that it consisted of men who hated women and were against women's rights or women's equality.

I decided to make a film about that movement because the majority of my previous films connected to women's rights or gender issues. I made documentary films about reproductive rights, single motherhood, toys that encouraged girls to get into STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and LGBTQ issues.

You could say that my filmmaking wheelhouse was gender politics. When I stumbled across the Men's Rights Movement in March 2013, I was fascinated by this seemingly underground and secretive (at the time) movement.

It seemed like the next frontier that no other filmmaker had documented. That was the impetus, but The Red Pill movie is nothing like what I expected.

It ended up becoming a life-changing philosophical journey that I just happened to film. It chronicles my personal journey and asks the audience to challenge its views, but it does not tell the audience what to think. It's more like a thought experiment for the audience to experience.

JS: You've described making a movie, in part, as a business--an entrepreneurial family business for you. Do you think of it that way?

CJ: My work is certainly both a business and a creative outlet, but I prioritize the art of it over profit.

If I prioritized making money over my creative vision, then I wouldn't be a documentary filmmaker. Documentaries are notorious for being money pits that take a long time to complete and you're lucky to see any profit at all. As unglamorous as that sounds, its still very fulfilling, and that's what keeps me going.

As for it being a family business, it is. I started making documentaries in 2008 with my mother, Nena Jaye, and she still works with me today. She produced The Red Pill, as well as all of my other films. My sister, Christina Clack, also works with us, and my fiancé, Evan Davies, was the Director of Photography on The Red Pill.

I also have my go-to hires for sound design, animation, music, etc. I keep my team small with people I trust, and the trust grows and our talents grow with every new project we work on together.

JS: Speaking of it as art, do you consider documentaries as creative as other film genres? If so, how would you describe your growth in making yours?

CJ: I think documentaries, in many ways, require more creativity than other film projects.

I think of it like the difference between making a collage versus painting on a blank canvas. Scripted filmmakers get to paint on a blank canvas, while documentary filmmakers have various materials to work with. As a collage artist may have leaves, twigs, newspaper clippings, photographs, paint, clay and whatever else, a documentary filmmaker has archival home video footage, news footage, present-day pop culture references, interview footage, b-roll, motion graphics, narration, and whatever else that may be needed to tell the story.

You have to get creative when your options are both limited and endless. However limited by a smaller budget, the options are also endless because audiences are often more forgiving to the documentary genre, and there aren't really rules like scripted films have rules.

For instance, it's expected, even mandatory, that a scripted film have the same video format throughout, whereas a documentary may switch between a 16:9 aspect ratio and 4:3, and you can mix standard definition shots with HD. Having made over a dozen documentaries, 3 of which are feature films that I edited myself, I have a better idea of what works and what doesn't when you're getting creative. In collage terms, I now know that twigs won't stay put with Elmer's glue.

JS: You took on a project that unexpectedly ended up opposing your core audience's interests. Continuing sounds gut-wrenchingly difficult. How was the decision-making process?

CJ: The Red Pill did veer away from the connections and fan-base from my previous films about women's and LGBTQ issues.

Although, I have to thankfully acknowledge the people who supported my previous films and stayed with me for The Red Pill. When they saw the film, they were challenged, as was I, in seeing a different side to the men's rights story, and they saw the value in hearing new perspectives.

Nevertheless, it was stressful releasing a film that I knew most of my previous fans and industry connections would not immediately support. My fortitude came from knowing that this story needed to be told and that it ultimately needed to be out in the world, whether or not it had mainstream support.

Fascinatingly, though, it did have a lot of support from many demographics around the globe, which says to me that these issues are far more prevalent than I thought. Grandmothers contacted me, saying how this film spoke to them because they couldn't see their grandchild after their son's divorce. Teenage boys emailed me telling me how they attempted suicide and why.

I heard from battered men who couldn't find shelters that supported male victims. Wives of military men were telling me stories that you wouldn't believe and I can't repeat.

The Red Pill made many people feel like their stories were finally valid and that someone cared. For the friends, family, fans, and industry connections I lost because of this film, I still hope that one day they'll watch it and realize its worth.

JS: You describe directing as a leadership role. You also seem to have ended up a leader in the movement you covered. Do you accept that role? If so, how do you like it? Did your film leadership experience help?

CJ: Directing a documentary film requires unique leadership skills since for the most part you're dealing with people who've never been a part of a film shoot before.

I interviewed 44 people for The Red Pill movie and over the years I've developed my way of getting my interview subjects to relax and try to forget the cameras are rolling. I also don't physically look like a movie director, not just because I'm a young woman, or was (I was 27 years old while filming The Red Pill), but also because of my demeanor.

I've found that my calm and relaxed energy helps when filming people in their homes. Also, interview subjects often give you what you give them, so if you're closed off to them, they will be closed off to you, but if you're open to sharing personal, intimate details about yourself, then they will reciprocate.

As for leading my film crew, I'm transparent with them as well, and since I work with my family, that's the only way I see it working. Our life goals and our work goals are all a part of the same conversation. I imagine that's not the case in most corporate environments, but it works for us.

As for leading a movement, I don't think I'm a leader of any movement, nor would I want to be. I'm not a men's rights activist for many reasons, but mainly because I wouldn't want them to speak for me and I don't want to speak for them.

I don't consider myself an activist for any cause, I'm simply a filmmaker, but if my work represents any values or principles it would be listening to one another, respecting intellectual diversity by protecting freedom of speech, and valuing the process of challenging your beliefs.

JS: If you could go back in time, knowing the controversy and opposition you'd face, would you do it again?

CJ: After a lot of thought, I think I would do it again.

A major part I struggle with is that I don't feel like my public image matches who I am. My public image seems to be one of a woman who's politically polarizing and offensive. I've seen some comments about me saying I'm a propagandist or a hired spokesperson for some political agenda, and it's so far from reality that I just have to roll my eyes and sigh when I read stuff like that.

I would never be bought as a mouthpiece for any agenda, nor would anyone want to hire me as that because I'm not that type of personality. I'm fairly soft-spoken, I'm an introvert, and I'm quite circumspect about anyone or any idea.

I've had some people and organizations try to control what I say or do, and I nipped those in the bud without apology. Actually, one of the things I'm most proud of about The Red Pill is that I didn't have to compromise on anything. The entire film reflects the decisions I made, which is every filmmaker's dream to not have to answer to a studio, producers, investors, etc.

Every filmmaker wants 100% creative control over their project and I got that. I can defend every second in the film and why it's there, and that makes it easier to sleep at night. If I had to compromise on my vision, then maybe I'd have more regrets, but my only frustration with The Red Pill is how the media falsely portrayed me and the film.

If I could do it all over again, I don't know how I could have prevented the media from treating me that way since it was out of my control.

JS: How and where can people see your work?

CJ: They can visit http://www.CassieJaye.com to see all of my filmmaking work and www.theredpillmovie.com to learn more about The Red Pill. I also did a TEDx Talk recently about what I learned making The Red Pill.

Published on: Nov 30, 2017