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  • Writer's pictureJulia Crytser

Personal and Universal: The Value of Diversity Behind the Camera

By Julia Crytser, Director of Photography

Edited by Colleen Munro

My journey as a camerawoman is a meandering one. I graduated three years ago from an acting conservatory and, BFA in hand, I moved to Brooklyn and began to pursue “survival jobs.” Luck led to me to the camera department, and even luckier still I fell in love with my new career.

Julia Crytser, Director of Photography, holding a camera

It’s no secret that the camera department and cinematography have been a boys’ club for most of the history of American filmmaking. The ASC, originally founded before women even gained the right to vote, did not admit its first female member until 60 years into its existence, and did not admit a second female member until 15 years after that. There is a general feeling that women have to be twice as qualified to get the same opportunities as a less qualified man. I was fortunate to enter the industry at a time when a conscious effort was being made to reverse this trend: in the last few years alone I’ve witnessed a growing population of female Directors of Photography in New York. I consider this a great step forward, albeit only the first step.

The proceeding several steps will take time (lots and lots of time) and women (lots and lots of women). When we think of exceptional filmmaking we think of The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Dark Knight, The Shining, No Country for Old Men, and on and on and on. All fantastic films, and every one of them shot by a man (and almost all shot by a white man). This is the reality of filmmaking as it stands now: the images we aspire to make, the careers we aim to emulate, the stories we grow up on and the frames we hold in our minds' eye were all shaped through the literal lens of men. They have decided what we see and how we see it for the last century; they have made beautiful things, but there has been little contribution from the other half of humanity. How would a woman have shot Silence of the Lambs, I wonder? It is my hope that in another hundred years, it will be easy to rattle off just as many canonized films shot by women, a plethora of films that female-identifying cinematographers can point to and say, “yes, that, that is what I want to make, what I want to be, the story I need to tell.”

Colleen and I in rehearsal, Chicago, 2018

I’ve known Colleen, the writer and creator of the Anna Banana web series, for seven years now. I’ve always admired her perspective and unique set of comedic and absurdist talents, and have had the privilege of watching her put them to use as an actor and writer for the stage and screen. When I first read Anna Banana, I was struck by its balance of jocosity and pathos. The story is not one the industry told Colleen to make, nor one she thinks others expect her to make, but is a pure and brave exhibition of her own creative soul.

“I battled self-doubt and anxiety as a teenager,” Colleen reflects, “but my battles were secret. No one would have known from looking at me that I struggled with insomnia, migraines, a recurring sense of dread about the future. Much of the problems started after the death of one of my best friends, Ellen. We were 15. This abrupt confrontation with mortality came much too soon, and my feelings exploded out of me in painful and destructive ways. I fought with my siblings. I lashed out at friends. I drank. But outwardly, I was such a high achiever: National Merit Scholar, Drama Club President, winner of nationwide essay contests and voted ‘Most Likely to Be on Broadway.’ Like Anna, I was remarkably high-functioning, even impressive, but my heart was broken.”

Anna Banana is the story of a grown-up girl-genius whose career and relationships fall apart when a humiliating video about her goes viral. In the fallout, Anna begins to hallucinate a talking banana, the manifestation of her crippling anxiety. You know that mean little voice in your head that tells you you’re ugly, you’ll never be good enough, no one loves you, you’re a failure… all that stuff? That’s the Banana.

Anna desperately searches for an “off button” on this yellow monster. But she may not be as alone as she thought — in the park one day, Anna meets a man named Rex who is being stalked by an imaginary dinosaur. For some strange reason, ("it's a metaphor," Colleen chimes in) Anna and Rex are the only people who can see each other’s hallucinations, so they decide to team up — and things only get weirder from there.

Anna Banana is an amazing, funny, heartfelt, and extremely (oddly enough) relatable story. Inspired by docu-comedies like “The Office” and “Parks and Rec,” it will split your sides and tug at your heartstrings. Especially in the aftermath of the events of last year, we all need a space to discuss mental health struggles like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The unique and charming humor of Anna Banana gently opens the door for those reflections.

Our series is a universal tale of friendship under unlikely and downright strange circumstances. The show explores themes of family and love, grief and vulnerability, kindness and courage. Or, as Colleen eloquently states, “I wanted to write about a young woman who was struggling with issues we all face: anxiety, self-doubt, perfectionism, loneliness… but I wanted to do it in a way that was highly original. It is universally relatable because it is a hyper specific metaphor. Anna’s affliction - hallucinating a talking banana - is so far removed from the audience’s daily life that they can feel safe relating to her and benefiting from her ultimate catharsis.”

I feel grateful to be the Director of Photography on this unusual and fascinating project. And I feel even more fortunate that we live in a time when a woman can write, direct, and act in a story of her own creation. I know this project will serve as one such example of art made by women for everyone. This is how we support female-identifying artists: by giving them the floor, making the space for them to create unencumbered and honest, and doing so with the knowledge that they will not disappoint.

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