JESSICA Ellerby’s short film The Hungry Games gives a humorous spin on the confusing landscape of ridiculous fad diets and intensifying body image pressures.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Jessica to learn more about her fun and provoking short film.
Q: Was ‘The Hungry Games’ born out of a particular experience or just a general frustration at societal pressures?
A: I think I’m frustrated and saddened in general by our obsession in the Western world with our physical appearance – and the societal/media driven pressures of that. And that is something that has probably built up over time.
But then I found I was getting more and more flummoxed over a whole host of people telling me about their ‘healthy new diets’. ‘Healthiness’ that sounded a lot like either starving or eating themselves into an early grave (“you can eat as much bacon as you want just no carbs” is a particular favourite). They also unanimously justified their behaviour by preaching, in great detail, the ‘medical/scientific health benefits’ of them.
But the real catalyst was a good friend of mine telling me about someone she knew in the acting industry that was on the ‘Two chews and out” diet. I said I’d never heard of that, and she told me “it’s where you can eat whatever you like, but you just chew it two times and then spit it out.”
I was speechless! I could not believe the ludicrousy but also the horror of it. It sounded made up. Surely it was made up? It wasn’t.
And I just thought – this has to stop. So I decided to expose the whole charade the only way I know how – using comedy of course!
Q: The film mentions magazine culture and Kim Kardashian. How confusing and conflicting is the media landscape of body image and diet, particularly for women and young people?
A: I think it’s a bloody minefield out there! I used to think it was symptomatic of the acting industry but it’s everywhere.
I’m most shocked when I hear smart, educated, well -read successful adults talking about it. You think people should know better, but it is drip fed to us through every avenue going that people become brain washed – so you can’t blame people really! It’s misinformation. Which is arguably far more dangerous than ignorance.
There’s a lot of dishonesty out there too; in magazines, on social media. We’re a society obsessed with celebrities and people (particularly young people) can hang off their every word; “Oh I don’t exercise” or “I eat cake for breakfast”, or “I just drink juice”. I think it’s really damaging for people to hear. Couple that with unrealistic (and heavily edited/carefully orchestrated) pictures and what your telling people is ‘healthy’ is a complete sham.
Our lives are so fast paced nowadays, and I think everyone wants a quick, easy fix. But the truth is; there’s no secret. And there are no short cuts. And we all know what the basic rules are, we just want it to be easier!
You’ve got to sleep 8 hours a night, drink 3 litres of water a day, exercise every day, eat from the earth (no junk food), and eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. (My brother is a doctor and this is something we talk about at length on a regular basis!)
Q: One of the body image debates going on at the moment is between Piers Morgan and Cosmopolitan model Tess Holiday. Where do you land in this debate and do you think these types of discussions are productive?
A: I think it’s an interesting and important debate, yes. But it’s really not black and white and has so many complicated layers so I probably don’t ‘land’ anywhere definitive.
Certainly, body shaming (and I say that about either end of the spectrum) is unacceptable. We are all different shapes and sizes and that should be celebrated. (FYI I also think we are so much richer and multi-faceted than the mere shells we live in.) But I would say there’s a big difference between embracing ourselves and others and encouraging unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles.
It doesn’t matter if you’re starving or stuffing yourself. Neither are ok. And more importantly neither should be projected as ‘normal’ or exploited by the media.
Q: What do you see as the best way to navigate and move forward in this landscape?
A: I think talking about things certainly helps.
But really, I think there should be more education around nutrition. And at a school level. Nutrition but also mindful living, sleeping (I’m in the middle of reading ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker and it is blowing my mind) exercise and meditation.
I think we try to disconnect and compartmentalise each facet of ourselves – but you can’t. It’s all linked, it’s all related and it all impacts your health.
But if people don’t have the information (and the internet isn’t a reliable enough source) then how can we expect anyone to make informed choices and break the cycle?
Q: Why did you want to use satire to explore these issues?
A: I think when you use comedy, you immediately disarm people. It’s easier to poke at something if you’re able to laugh about it. I also think it packs more of a punch if it resonates – “Should we be laughing at this? Shit, it’s actually quite dark.”
Q: The humour of your film is given another by the editing style and camerawork. Can you talk about the style you wanted to capture?
A: I am very visual so I think in pictures, so when I write I already see most of how I’d film it in my head.
So, I’m not sure that it was a conscious stylistic choice as such, rather just how I thought it best to tell the story. Essentially, I wanted it to look high end, have the parody of The Hunger Games element and a clear feeling of competition.
In the edit it was mostly about keeping the pace of the comedy up – making sure the punchlines landed in a neat concise way. There were loads of jokes, lines and bits of dialogue Sam and I cut because it didn’t add anything. I think you can’t be precious about your writing (or your performance!). If it’s not serving – get rid!
Q: Eating chunks of butter aside, this looks like a really fun shoot for you and Elen Rhys. Can you tell us about it and possibly share any fun stories you have?
A: It was a real passion project so I had lots of help from friends and family. It was shot in my sister in laws garden, my husband was a runner, my best friend was on clapper board etc. so there were lots of friendly faces all rooting for my baby which is the dream really.
Elen is a fantastic, generous actor and was a real trooper on set. I hadn’t actually realised until we started filming that it is her character Michelle that had the most hideous things to eat (although saying that, smoking 3 cigarettes at a time made me actually want to be sick)
We used Spiralina for the green powder ‘superfood magic!’. If you haven’t heard of Spiralina, it’s a highly nutritious but disgusting fishy tasting algae in powder form. Elen had never eaten it before but wanted to just give it a go on the take. So we started rolling and I remember just watching her take the most enormous mouthful I have ever seen.
She started saying the lines and like Puff the magic dragon this cloud of green powder exploded out of her mouth which sent everyone falling about laughing. But she’d crammed so much in that it just kept coming. And coming, and coming. It was in between her teeth, all around her mouth. She looked like an extra in a Dickensian gutter scene.
We only got one take of that – I couldn’t ask her to do it again.
Title image by Joseph Sinclair