The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Lola Blanc’s short film Pruning, which I caught at Fantasia, was a bleak and visceral foray into the right-wing phenomenon that left me speechless after the credits rolled. The film starred Madeline Brewer as a right-wing talking head who unintentionally inspires a mass shooting. The woman is then forced to choose either to abandon her conscience and push the rhetoric to become a star, or to call for a stop and turn against her party. Her choice and how Blanc visualized that as a director was nothing short of ghastly and unforgettable.
Afterwards I got the chance to chat with Blanc, who is not only a director, but a renaissance woman of sorts; she is also an accomplished singer, actor and podcaster.
Fun fact: Blanc was once in a cult and that is the topic of the podcast she co-hosts, Trust Me.
Read on for my chat with Lola Blanc, who gave some great insight into not only her directorial process, but her political beliefs that help to form Pruning:
Lola, I read that you’re also an accomplished musician and actor. What made you want to go behind the camera?
Lola Blanc: I kind of discovered over time as I was shooting music videos for my projects, I would just have really specific ideas for what I wanted, and sometimes directors could interpret that and sometimes they could not. It just took me a long time to really acknowledge that I could be a director, because I’ve always had really clear ideas about what I wanted to see both visually and narratively. Finally I just took the leap and I haven’t looked back. It’s my absolute favorite thing that I do at this point.
So what was sort of the genesis of Pruning and what drove you to tell the story of a far right spokeswoman who inspires a shooting and her struggle with that?
Lola Blanc: Originally, my co-writer Jeremy Radin and I had talked about doing something political together. We actually bonded on Twitter and started talking about how he (Jeremy) could have seen himself becoming an incel. And I thought that was really, really interesting because I’m really interested in incel culture and sort of far right extremism, and then that sort of fell apart.
One day I was just watching some news and hearing about some people who are quite incendiary, in my opinion, and rather dangerous. I thought it would be super interesting to explore what it would be like if you were the person who actually had inspired a mass shooting with your rhetoric. And Jeremy seemed like the perfect person to write it with because we’d had all of these conversations already.
So given your background as somebody who was actually in a cult, I think you’re sort of the perfect person to highlight the cultishness of some of these pockets of right-wing ideology. What do you think attracts folks to this and sort of locks them into these echo chambers?
Lola Blanc: I think what attracts people to it is that the answers to everything are really clear. In a culture of fear-mongering, everything is really black and white and therefore the world is really easy to understand. You don’t have to face the chaos and face the gray areas and the terrifying realities that are the world. I think every human craves that. It’s just a matter of what we are exposed to in times of uncertainty? What are we being exposed to in times of cultural tumultuousness?
I mean it’s so different for everyone. We have had a former Q Anon believer and a former conspiracy theorist on my podcast. (https://www.trustmepod.com) It’s so random how it works for everyone. But what we typically see is that, you kind of look to these things for meaning in times when you don’t have any, or when something is just making your life feel uncertain.
So given the subject matter, I have to say, it feels like whenever a filmmaker tries to tackle mass shootings or incorporate that into their narrative, audiences and distributors get nervous. But it’s something we’re very familiar with as Americans. Why do you think we’re so averse to having this in our media and facing it as a people?
Lola Blanc: I mean, it’s just such a touchy subject. It’s instantly gonna create an argument.
Half of the country believes it’s guns and half of the country believes it’s definitely not guns, no matter what the other cause is, it’s not guns. The truth is probably a much more complicated answer than any of those things. But no matter what, it’s going to be controversial, it’s gonna be painful, it’s gonna be a scary thing to deal with and it’s a really hard thing to tackle.
That’s why in the film, I didn’t want to focus on the shooting itself, because I don’t feel like I would even do justice to a story that is focusing on the actual experience of the shooting. That’s a pain I cannot understand. But what I feel I can add to the conversation is some of the rhetoric that can contribute to ideas that then lead to shootings.
Do you think sooner or later I think we’re gonna have to face it in our media, so we can actually start to have these conversations?
Lola Blanc: Yeah. It’s just, it has to be done sensitively and everyone is afraid of going there. We absolutely should be talking about it. We should not be desensitized when we see shootings on the news. We should have media that is forcing us to face it and contend with it and feel the strong feelings that it should be making us feel because it’s horrific.
So, I love the cost that you sort of associate with this and the circumstances that you give to these people that sort of perpetuate this rhetoric and you try to dig into the psychological effects as well on this person who’s responsible for this. Do you feel like these people are ever gonna get their comeuppance?
Lola Blanc: Well, as we’re seeing, Tucker Carlson was exposed for not believing some of what he was saying on TV that he knew was whipping people up into a frenzy. We know that Alex Jones is finally seeing consequences. It seems like it’s slowly starting to happen.
I hope it continues to happen. I think if you are knowingly, purposely willingly or willfully riling people up for money with no regard to the consequences and in no regard to how it will be received at all, you absolutely should face some consequence for that and hopefully it will continue to happen.
What’s next for you?
Lola Blanc: I really wanna do a feature. I have another short coming up that’s actually part music video, for my next release as an artist. That will be my fourth short film, and I would really, really like to move on to features at this point. I definitely wanna stay in the psychological thriller space. I feel like that is where my heart is and I hope to dive into more dark character studies because it’s what I really what I wanna do at this time.