by Cailey Rizzo
The Bechdel Test is simple. It was developed in the ‘80s to examine gender equality in film. The three-part test is as follows: Is there more than one featured, named woman in the film? Do these women interact? Do they talk about something other than a man?
For the average viewer, the Bechdel Test may be our only solid test of gauging feminine roles in cinema. But for the actresses portraying these women, the test does not go far enough.
I met Hannah Roze and Shannon Spangler in a corner of Cafe Reggio. They were folded over a small corner table when I arrived dripping with a day’s worth of summer city sweat. In front of them was a laptop, a pair of finished iced coffees and plans to change the film world.
Aren’t we, in friendship, attracted to our opposite? The first thing I noticed about the girls was their hair. Roze has the type of curls that seem molded by magic; Spangler has straight red hair that hangs long. But that’s irrelevant. Their looks are completely irrelevant. In fact, the emphasis on female appearance is exactly what they are trying to change.
While applying for roles, the 24-year-old actresses noticed a trend: Casting calls often describe characters by their looks, less by their personalities. Or they found that female characters were described solely by their relationships with men. “These aren’t roles, they’re bodies,” Roze told me over another round of rapidly-melting iced coffees.
As two young actresses intensely interested in exploring the breadth of human emotion, they found these potential roles sorely lacking. So they decided to make their own.
In April of 2014, Roze began writing a short screenplay for a class at NYU’s Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute (where the duo met). Roze’s script, loosely inspired by a night in Prague with her sister, quickly became a full-fledged project.
After laboring over the script, Roze tapped Spangler for advice and edits. With Spangler’s help, the project grew from a class assignment into a partnership.
“Somewhere in that process, she [Spangler] became a person I could bring things to, who wouldn’t judge but would also be completely honest and truthful and merciless,” Roze said.
What was supposed to be a two-week editing process quickly became a months-long endeavor, complete with murder boards and Frankenstein-looking scripts. After 18 months of back-and-forths, Spangler and Roze finally settled on a finished script. And then they began plotting how to bring it to life.
Seemingly, theirs is a perfect partnership: Spangler is the hyper-organized half, armed with a color-coded system; Roze is the idea and the passion.
“Shannon is the air element. That intellectual, higher place and poise. And I think I come from the fire element and feeeeeeelings,” Roze joked.
I could say that these fundamental differences gave birth to the characters in their short film, The Disenchantment, but that would be to do a disservice to both the actresses and their work. The characters are (much like their creators) neither the opposite of each other, nor the other’s complement. They are houses of conflicting ideas.
“We’ve written this as a showcase for ourselves,” Spangler said. “So having these characters that do have all these different sides, that makes a good part.”
In The Disenchantment, Roze and Spangler will play (respectively) sisters Hazel and Rachel.
Hazel is a complete deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) type. She is a photographer, living in New York off her parents’ money.
Typically in film, the MPDG is seen through the eyes of the man. She is able to show him the magic of the world while being equal parts cute and sexy and unflappable, Roze said. “In our version, she’s a brat,” Spangler deadpanned.
“It’s the selfishness of art. Is justifying your perspective, which is something you have to do as an artist, is that selfish? And for Hazel, it is.” Spangler said. “Even though she’s got this wonderful, childish effervescence to her, a lot of what she’s doing hurts people,” Roze added.
And then Rachel: She is a lawyer, but unlike any female lawyer we’ve seen portrayed before.
“Usually when you’ve got lawyers on television, if they’re women, they’re bitchy and they’re cold. Because in order to be in a man’s job…” Roze trailed off.
Rachel is compassionate. She is giving. She looks out for her family, friends and partner. But at the same time, she’s incredibly materialistic. “What’s interesting about her is having that compassion and that materialism exist in the same person. And having those two things grate against each other.” Roze said.
The story begins on a high note. The girls are giddy after a night on the streets of Prague. They come back to their hotel room and start talking. About everything.
“When we start out in the beginning, they’re laughing and it’s fun,” Roze said. “But by the end, they tear each other apart in the most vicious of ways. And we really hope people are devastated by that.”
And they want audiences to feel it all within 14 minutes.
The project is currently seeking funding on Seed & Spark to help cover expenses—get it out of the coffee shop and onto a set. Their $30,000 budget will cover cameras, lights, music, sound equipment, location rental and the salaries of the women who help show up to make the film.
The Disenchantment will start shooting in early November. If all goes well, you can expect to see it competing in 2018 film festivals.