Lina Plioplyte is a storyteller - a director and a camera person with an Emmy, a Silver Lion and a Clio in tow. She started her journey studying journalism in her native Lithuania then in Colorado. She then began working as a fashion video journalist for NYLON magazine in New York. For the last decade she has been shooting and directing commercials, short films, investigative journalism pieces and digital series content for The New Yorker, Viceland, A+E as well as brands and non profits, like Garnier and the ACLU. Her first feature length documentary, Advanced Style, played in theaters worldwide and was reviewed in the New York Times and The Guardian. She loves telling stories that inspire others to live better lives while uplifting women in the process.
Describe a moment in your career you felt most brave.
Lina Plioplyte: Right now! At 35, I’m finally embracing that I’m not only a camera person, but also a director. Although my debut feature documentary came out five years ago, I found myself focusing on being a cinematographer. Lately I’ve recognized that I have all these other story ideas that I need to make. However, schmoozing with a bunch of men in suits, asking them for two million dollars to get some story about periods made, that’s not exactly my forte. But I’m willing to learn and acquire a whole new set of skills.
How do you prep yourself for pitches?
LP: You have to have passion to get the message across. I just spent the last couple months in Los Angeles, which is such an industry city, and you need to be there to pitch in person. Noone else will ever speak about things you want to make as passionately as you will, and a lot of dealmaking is done over coffee, drinks, dinner. I find myself having to deal with a lot of my own insecurities, grappling with ego. You’re a vessel –– you just carry your message to everyone who will listen. Another rule that I’m learning quickly is that resilience is a necessary quality of a filmmaker. Don’t ever give up.
In one’s artistic life, there are some very long seconds or moments, that make us stop. There may be an epiphany or a shift. Can you tell us about a recent one?
LP: People say that there are major changes every seven years in our lives. I am definitely experiencing a shift from being a hired camera person to ideamaker. That also invites a different type of collaborator and dynamic in my life. Now, I’m praying to the shrine of focus, trying to learn the discipline to just sit down, write, research, and follow up. While an old part of me would like to just stay in the mode of traveling and shooting, something new in me says hey, you’ve been on these golden eggs that are ideas, and it’s time to lay them. So work, bitch!
Tell us about one of these golden eggs.
LP: I’ve been pitching this idea about periods for a year and a half now, and it drives me mad. This story is going to help every single bleeding individual who’s going to see it. So why is it so hard to get made? Well, because it takes you three months to get a meeting with Netflix and then two more months to get another meeting, and so on. Now I have the incredible filmmaker Ondi Timoner as my EP, and we keep pushing. Did you know that women are the only creatures on earth that bleed every 28.5 days on average, which happens to be exactly the same as the cycle of the moon? Science has been very masculine in it’s approach and study, and until 1985, women were not chosen as study subjects because they were considered “too unpredictable.” Basically, I want to explore the world of periods through science, and then the mystical, social and political aspects of it. I’m going to make it or I’m going to die trying.
In hindsight, what was the film that made you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker?
LP: More than any single film, I wanted to be a journalist. My grandma was a reporter in wartime Lithuania and I learned from her. When I was in school, I always said I would be a journalist, and I think of filmmaking as the poetic truth of documentaries. I believe that the documentary medium is like journalism, but it’s softer and sweeter, more subtle and effective. I naturally veered into that, and then decided that that was my form. I love human stories, and the ability to inspire more people.
Was there a recent film or video or TV series that you watched that you had a really visceral response to?
LP: I just watched Kurt and Courtney, which is a film made in the late 90s by the incredible documentarian Nick Broomfield. It was mind blowing. As filmmakers, I don’t think we ever watch films just for entertainment –– we watch to learn, how did they do it? How did they get those shots? So watching Nick’s film, I understood how influential it was to other filmmakers like Michael Moore, where he created a style of inserting himself into the story and being possessed by looking for the truth. It’s infectious. The film starts as a music documentary, investigating the death of Kurt Cobain, but turns into a commentary about freedom of speech in the United States. It ends with a scene where Courtney Love gives a speech at the ACLU. Now Nick, who hasn’t met Courtney, as she blocked every effort of him making a movie about this, ends up going on stage and challenges the ACLU on selecting Courtney to speak on civil liberties as she’s prevented every journalistic effort of the film so far. And then Nick gets booed and pulled off of the stage, which is basically the climax of the film. But just think about it - what filmmaker decides to get up on the stage of their own story? That’s an investment.
On the future. What is next for you?
LP: Yes –– aren’t all of us storytellers constantly tossing a bunch of balls in the air, trying to see what sticks? I have a short film in the works and I also have a feature film, which is about the future of God and spirituality, where we ask who or what we will be praying to. (I know, I know. I need to choose easier subjects) I treat that specific film as an extremely personal quest, so I’m not even putting a timeline to it.
What keeps you going?
LP: Existential anxiety? I feel like right now in my life I have these two projects that are bigger than me. So I can’t just be like, oh, this isn’t going to work out, I should switch to something easier. I can’t really stop until I make them one way or another. So I think that is my everyday motivation, to understand that there’s a really strong power in these stories, and that I have to work to my best ability and curb any ego, insecurities, and complexes, and get them made. The right people and the right stories will find each other.
What does the world need now?
LP: (singing) *What the world needs now, is love sweet love, it’s the only thing* I think it’s pretty damn true. I think what this world needs is to empower the younger generation, because I believe that the younger generation does have answers that the old people and us in the middle don’t. The systems in place right now are not working, and it’s up to the kids to figure it out. So as much as we can push them, give them freedom to act and think in new ways, the faster we will get ourselves out of this current mess.
8 favorite filmmaker quotes or movie lines:
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite - it’s a twist on the good girl turns wicked narrative. The men are not even supporting roles - they’re accessories.
100 Vaginas by Jenny Ash. Allow your mind being blown away by the gentle beauty and the stories of women.
My mentor and bad ass documentary maker extraordinaire Ondi Timoner took 10 years to write and make her first feature, Mapplethorpe. Just saying. Don’t give up.
Maya Derek’s Meshes in the Afternoon. It’s a surrealist and dreamy short film.
How To Catch a Big Fish by David Lynch. It’s a treat, especially if you listen to it with David’s narration. And it’s and audiobook every filmmaker should enjoy.
I love that Werner Herzog puts on classical music and reads medieval poetry to get into the writing space.
“Nothing is original. steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to”. - Jim Jarmusch
“Use everything you’ve got. Use the female card. Use the minority card. Just get your film made.” - Gurinder Chadha, on trying to secure financing for Bend It Like Beckham, speaking at a Sundance Panel in January this year.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Interview by Casey Kohlberg
Photography by Rachel Kessler
Edited by Shruti Ganguly