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Lauren Greenfield on How to Direct #LikeAGirl

Directing film #LikeAGirl.

Noted gender documentarian Lauren Greenfield is the calm voice of question and artistic force behind the lens of “#LikeAGirl,” our Cannes Lions-winning film for Procter & Gamble Always. On the eve of Cannes Lions Film show, we took a moment with Lauren to discuss the craft and what it really means to be #LikeAGirl.


What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you were first approached with the #LikeAGirl idea?
I was really intrigued when Always proposed I conduct a social experiment to investigate the cultural meaning of “like a girl.” First off, I was flattered because the concept came with a cover page that had a picture of me and the words “direct like a girl,” so the project really felt like it had my name on it. Plus, it was deeply connected to my long-term body of work on gender (my photography monograph “Girl Culture” and my HBO film “Thin”).

But while I was intrigued, I really didn’t know how it would turn out. Without realizing it, I had been raised “like a boy” by my parents and had never felt the deep sting of the derogatory and deprecating meaning of “like a girl.” However, by the time I surveyed the first 10 people, including my two boys (out of an eventual two hundred), I realized that a) the stereotype of doing things “like a girl” was pervasive among boys and girls of a certain age, b) that the words “like a girl” had painful associations for many, and that c) young girls seemed unaware and unaffected by this meaning. These three things made me realize that the “like a girl” concept was deeper and more powerful than I had ever imagined.

The #LikeAGirl shoot was a social experiment vs. a traditional production, which we can imagine puts a lot of pressure on the director. How did you prepare differently for this project versus a more traditional assignment?
I treated this both as a social experiment and a documentary film. I felt strongly that the whole process had to have integrity and honesty for the results to ring true and produce a meaningful result. The creative team was extremely supportive and respectful of the documentary process and equally committed to its authenticity. Instead of “casting,” I did a videotaped survey with a wide cross section of people that involved role-playing, but did not reveal the focus of our study. However, the survey allowed me to gauge the cultural spectrum of the “like a girl” meanings and choose a representative sample for the shoot day. On the shoot day, I created an environment that was comfortable and disarming for the subjects so we could have an intimate conversation. I focused on being present and in-the-moment in my communication with each person so I could listen for what was behind their answers, and probe further into the relevant and emotional directions.

At what moment during the production did you know #LikeAGirl was going to be something special?
We knew this was going to be special on set when we heard the subjects responding so candidly to the questions, and showing us such a clear demarcation between pre-puberty innocence to cultural expectations, and post-puberty awareness of disempowering stereotypes. But the real lightning in the bottle happened when our subjects had transformational realizations about their own notions and behavior while we were filming. Those moments of sometimes-painful clarity brought us to tears and made us realize that the audience could have a similar revelation while watching the video.

If you had to sum up your experience with #LikeAGirl in one word, what would it be?
This has been the most moving and gratifying experience because of the reaction of the audience and the way it has resonated internationally to numbers beyond our wildest dreams. While we had emotional and insightful moments on set, we never could have imagined the way this piece would connect and become a rallying cry for female empowerment. The video has become a call to action, and has effectively changed the meaning of deep-seated stereotypes. For myself, it has been inspiring and affirming in the ability to make a difference through film. I am proud to direct “like a girl."