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I didn't expect to find myself teary-eyed after watching a 60-second commercial for Kaiser Permanente, but under Hollywood hotshot Lisa Gunning's skillful direction, I confess I was moved. Full disclosure: When I'm not writing, I'm a psychotherapist, so feelings are my shtick. Nonetheless, I'm not prone to crying over TV commercials about healthcare. But Gunning is one of a growing number of female director-editors who are making their mark in film, commercials, and music videos.

Gunning, who is British, moved into her pad in Venice, Calif., just a few months ago, inspired as much by the weather and the "anything's possible" West Coast vibe as by her desire to reduce the 10-hour commute from her native East London. The commercial is the latest of several she's directed for global brands. Her next gig, for Hewlett Packard, is particularly exciting because of its message of diversity. "We've been casting for every possible calibration of LGBTQ family: old, young, kids, no kids, boys, girls, everything--and it's been super-moving to work with such a beautiful range of unconventional families. Hewlett Packard wants to say they support any kind of family, so that's a really beautiful message and I'm glad to be part of that."

Gunning became a director after a successful career as a film editor, which began in her mid 20s through a chance meeting with the legendary director Anthony Minghella. "He just took a bit of a punt on me because he needed someone urgently [for the British fundraising charity Comic Relief] and we instantly hit it off. Then he flew me out to San Francisco to edit some musical scenes in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and just like that he kicked off my movie career. He had extreme faith in people, once he decided they knew what they were doing. I didn't think I knew what I was doing, but for some reason he did," she says, via Skype. "And that gave me enormous confidence."

Minghella's approach to a story, "thinking over, under, and around it," and his guiding voice stay with her today as she works, nine years after his death. "[Working with him] was like going to the most incredible film school. He threw me in at the deep end when he asked me to edit his movie Breaking and Entering. I didn't know anything about cutting movies and he trusted me." Minghella asked her back for his film adaptation of Samuel Beckett's Play, as well as the 2008 hit TV series The No.l Ladies Detective Agency. It was through Minghella that Gunning first collaborated with Sam Taylor-Johnson on her BAFTA Award-winning short film, Love You More, her first feature film, Nowhere Boy, and most recently 50 Shades of Grey. "Sam is very loyal, we're close friends, and she always wants me on hand. I guess I'm a habit now," she laughs.

Gunning's first shot at directing came when she worked with her partner, Alison Goldfrapp, on the video for the single "Believer," and the lo-fi documentary Yellow Halo, made on her iPhone during the band's 2013 tour in Brazil, paved the way for her big break into direction--Goldfrapp's cinematic album Tales of Us. Gunning was then signed to the prestigious London production company Black Label as a director. Rewatching Tales before we speak, I spot the signature dreamy, sensual aesthetic in the atmospheric black-and-white short films that, miraculously, migrate to Gunning's latest creative habitat, the 60-second commercial.

"I do love a sort of dreamy sensuality, and I'm really interested in that daydream thing when your mind goes off and things become magically revealed in your head. I'm also really interested in storytelling, so that you can anchor yourself in a character that you care about and you relate to, and ultimately [the story] tells you something that you didn't know before. That's my aim as a filmmaker."

She's been trying to import some of the ideas that emerged in Tales into her work on commercials. Which brings us back to the Kaiser Permanente ad, in which she tells an emotional story about a father who has cancer. "I'm really interested in just moving people either to laughter or tears, just creating some kind of reaction, because I think that's magical, if you can do that."

Gunning is that rare breed of Brit who, like the kindred spirits she's found in L.A., oozes optimism. Even as Trump reigns with his particular iterations of misogyny, she finds hope. Alma Har'el (Bombay Beach, LoveTrue), founder of the initiative Free the Bid, has revolutionized the advertising world in an effort to combat gender bias. In one short year, Har'el's game-changing campaign has helped hundreds of female directors become creative leaders. "It's become quite fashionable to have female directors for films, videos, and commercials," says Gunning, "and I have benefited from that greatly. Even though the last four jobs I've been pitching were against big male directors who are much more experienced than me, I've been chosen. I'm being given a chance. Alma has done a lot of work here in Hollywood and globally in advertising, and Hollywood-wise there are movements run by women supporting other women, with quite a few men championing women. It's still not perfect, and there's a long way to go, but there are giant leaps being made and I'm excited."

Which lesbians are rocking her world? "There's a great lesbian media presence in Hollywood, in charge of big things here. There's Jill Soloway, Christine Vachon, Jodie Foster, and Megan Ellison of Annapurna pictures, among others. I've been introduced to so many women who are pushing things forward, like Sarah Gubbins and the people behind Amazon Prime's / Love Dick ... We been working with Tammy Reiker, who shot Lisa Cholodenko's High Art. It's been inspiring meeting these people. They are changing the form of what TV is."

In addition to a grueling work schedule that takes her across the globe almost every week, Gunning is writing a screenplay. "I'm really excited about it," she tells me. "It's my own story, about a road trip I took with my dad in the 1980s. He was a mad alcoholic and I was 13, so it's a coming-of-age cross between Lost in Translation, Little Miss Sunshine, and Leaving Las Vegas. Gunning, who also counts Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy as a friend, is bound to come up with a humdinger of a movie. No wonder Minghella saw so much in his friend and protegee. Expect to see more of Gunning's work on a screen near you.
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Title Annotation:Culture Club: MEET THE MAKERS
Author:Czyzselska, Jane
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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