Hello and thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’d firstly like to congratulate you on making such a moving work. When did you first become aware of the condition dealt with in the film?
Thank you so much. Well, I first knew something was wrong when I started my period when I was 14 years old. I didn’t come across the word vaginismus until I was in college. I had been going to lots of doctors who could tell me what it was or how to fix it, but I saw the word in a textbook and I just knew that’s what I had.
What was the writing process for the film like?
I first wrote the essay the film was based on and then adapted it into a screenplay.
The great thing about animation is that the only limitation is your imagination. A bird can turn into a boat which can turn into a rabbit. Sebastian Bisbal (animator/producer of Tightly Wound) had a huge role in writing the script. We would go to a coffee shop and just spitball our ideas to each other… “what if we use a metaphor of a train crashing into a tunnel?” “…and then the coil from the scene before becomes train tracks…” “then the coil wraps around her leg like this…” “and then her leg turns into a MOUNTAIN!” No idea was too crazy or too weird. And I have to give him credit for the scene where the doctors are on the factory line… that was his pure genius.
How would you say this film compares to other films you’ve directed?
This is by far the most personal film I’ve directed. I’ve never made a personal film or animated film before. However, I think it falls in line thematically with my other work. All my friends explore issues of gender and identity.
Why do you think that vaginismus isn’t talked about as much in film or the media as it should be?
I think most people just aren’t aware of it. We’ve been fed these myths that sex is “supposed to hurt” or that women don’t like sex, and then when we do go to the doctors, they tell us that our pain is all in our heads. There are some portrayals in the media – a character in Masters of Sex has it, but they treat it as a purely emotional condition. Code Black also has an episode, but the woman’s vagina clamps down on the man’s penis… which is NOT what happens with vaginismus. With vaginismus, a penis usually doesn’t make it into the vagina, and if it does, it’s painful for the woman, not the man.
What was the process of getting animators on board like – did you have a particular style of animation in mind for the film or did it evolve out of discussions with the animators?
There was only one animator on the film – Sebastian Bisbal. We were in the same cohort in University of Texas at Austin’s MFA in Film & Media program. I didn’t want to work with anyone else. At the point where I first spoke to him about the idea, I hadn’t really told many people about my vaginismus, so I wanted to work with someone who I already trusted.
We spent about a year watching movies, reading graphic novels, and pulling references. Sebastian drew my character over and over until we found a style we liked. We wanted the film to feel youthful, feminine, and inviting.
Did you always intend to tell this story in an animated format or had you considered telling it through other mediums?
I’d been wanting to make a film about vaginismus for a few years but couldn’t figure out how to make a traditional documentary about it. There are some videos out there with women talking about their experiences in interviews, but I wanted to tell a more visceral and visual story. However, these experiences physically and emotionally are very…internal. 2D animation allows for a more figurative representation of these experiences as well as provides a safe distance for audiences who are uncomfortable with the subject matter.
What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
I hope it teaches people about pelvic floor dysfunction and start conversations about women’s health, women’s pain, and our expectations around sex and dating.
What has reactions to the film been like?
For the most part, the film has had an overwhelming positive response, especially by people who are familiar with pelvic pain. I think there are so many people who need this film, since most of the narratives crafted around sex portray it as easy, fast, and fun, which is not everyone’s experience.
However, in a screening, I heard a a few women said it was disgusting, and a father definitely took his teenage daughter out of the theatre. Some people have also told me that they were very uncomfortable at the beginning, but settled into it by the end.
What future projects have you got planned?
Sebastian and I would really love to make two more animated shorts based on essays I wrote about my experiences related to vaginismus. One of them was recently published in Thought Catalogue: https://thoughtcatalog.com/shelby-hadden/2018/04/why-waiting-until-25-to-lose-my-virginity-was-the-best-decision-i-couldve-made/
With thanks to Shelby Hadden. You can read my review of Tightly Wound here.