Actress, comedian, writer, and film director Anna Fishbeyn is best-known for her comedy web series Happy Hour Feminism. Her boundary-breaking new feature film, Galaxy 360: A Woman’s Playground, which Fishbeyn directs and stars in, is out soon. The pre-release of Galaxy 360 screened to packed houses at the Cannes Film Festival and The Big Apple Film Festival. Winner for Leading Actress for Happy Hour Feminism as well as Best Director and Best Drama awards for her short film Invisible Alice, Anna is the founder of XOFeminist Productions and Anteriya Films. We asked her about how she came up with the idea for her satirical new film.
Jason: Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Anna Fishbeyn: So I was doing a PhD in philosophy of education at Columbia University, and I was going to be an intellectual. And then I stopped being an intellectual. I’m just kidding. I was going to be a professor But I also wanted to always write, and was working on a couple of novels, and short stories. Then I got pregnant, and I had a baby while earning an MFA at the writing school at New School University. They encouraged us to perform, read our stories in little clubs in New York. And that was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever done in my entire life, I had a story called I Met Mr. Philander about this woman who meets a doctor while she’s engaged to another man and, everybody was laughing about how the doctor picked her up while her fiancé was next to her. I went ‘Oh, my God, I love this, I got to keep doing this.’ I have like a couple of stories, and one is called Conversations with My Breasts and another one is called Sex and Mommyville, and the other one is called Parent’s Guide to Insanity.
Jason: Was there a tipping point in your career when you started to see success and when you realize, oh, this is happening for me, and if you start doing anything different?
Anna Fishbeyn: One night a woman comes up to me and says, ‘you’re an actress, right?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just a writer.’ In the meantime, I take those stories and I send them to a bunch of theaters in New York, and I performed at the Fleet theater which is owned by Sigourney Weaver. So I meet actors, I take classes, I find out that people are filming stuff and after meeting enough actors I ended up doing Sex and MommyVille for a good two years, and we got amazing reviews from Bloomberg News. And CBS Radio, and it just it ended up having like a life of its own. I did a little project, which I called Happy Hour Feminism, which was a web series and that’s how I got into film because once you go to film festivals, you meet cinematographers, you meet people who are working on sets, you really understand how to put together your next project. It’s a funny question. I always feel the same way all the time, it’s happening for me, and it’s not happening for me. Because of my Russian background and an intense motor of self-criticism. I got excited when the first interviews Sex and Mommyville came out and people are calling me funny. CBS Radio called me a comic genius, and that felt amazing. I love the audience. Whether it’s a film or it’s on stage, I love the interconnection between me and the audience. I never get mad about a cell phone as a performer.
Jason: So, how did you come up with the idea for Galaxy 360?
Anna Fishbeyn: That idea has been in me since I had babies, like ‘why can’t you all have babies?’ I’m going through having a child and wanting men to empathize with that. I remember the pressure being placed on a mom, everyone was telling me, ‘you need to look good, and you need to lose weight. And you need to make sure you’re thin, and you need to make sure you’re attractive.’ But you also need to make sure that the diapers are safe, and you need to make sure that you’re making your own food for your children and that the spinach is not fake and not store bought. One thing that drove me nuts about being a mom is that everyone implied that because we were mothers, we’ve lost all of our sexiness, and a lot of women I was speaking to were feeling the same way. One of the first seeds of Galaxy 360 was going to the playground, and defining myself as a stay at home mom, and not meeting any single dads defining himself as a stay at home dad. The guys would be like, ‘I’m a lawyer.’ Interviewing the guys for Galaxy 360. I’d say, ‘do you feel comfortable talking about your bodies?’ and the minute some guy would be, ‘I have a little flab over here, and I’m working on this,’ we were all cracking up, I thought, this is great comedy but with a message.
Jason: Did you do any research into the societal aspects between men and women?
Anna Fishbeyn: I was a religious watcher of beauty pageants and I would watch the way women are rated and evaluated, and how long they spent in their bathing suits and how they’re rated. Then came the talent, which sometimes they were extraordinary, some of those women were serious opera singers or dancers. So I thought, ‘let’s see what that looks like for men and not in a way that’s out there.’ because there are actual pageants for men to compete, but let’s do it like if they were women.
Jason: Have you seen a Fellini movie called City of Women? A lot of the same themes are in that movie, and he conceived this world run by women—you did the same thing with this film, correct?
Anna Fishbeyn: I conceived an entire world. I didn’t just write a story that was a gender reversal, I saw the whole futuristic world in this movie. 2195 is my dystopian, very humorist reality where women rule the world, but hilariously. And there are unfamiliar words for sex, there are new greetings, and there are new arm motions. It was out of my imagination. I was not an experienced director when I took the helm. I’m going to do more with this concept because I have 20 to 30 pages of the actual world written out. I had just directed a short film called Visible Alice, and I felt on shaky ground there because I wasn’t as bossy as I should have been. I only learned that during the directing of Galaxy 360. Part of being a leader is to be confident and women have more difficulty with that than men do, just because we’re taught to be nurturers and to always please other people. It’s difficult to say, ‘this is what I want.’ I had 19 actors, and it was a large group of people that I needed to work with. I had a clear vision for what this needed to be, so I felt I must direct this. I had to become the director who decides in seconds. Decide between that scene and that scene. Are you going to do this again or not? I could do it and understood that I have the ability and confidence to do it, and was a quick decision.
Jason: Were the costumes designed by you as well?
Anna Fishbeyn: Yeah, the costumes are all mine. And all the backdrops. I’ve been in post-production for the last year of the pandemic and I redesigned almost everything and created this very artistic environment. The new screening that I had gone well. And the special effects, which I’m proud to say I did amazed people.
Jason: What do you want audiences to take away with them after they’ve seen this?
Anna Fishbeyn: I would love for audiences to laugh. To laugh at our own selves, it’s a mirror for our society, it’s a mirror for men and for women. The guys are obsessed with Lux, and it obsessed the women running the show with the guy’s looks. I want everybody to laugh, but I also want everybody to empathize and for men to experience what it means to be women. During the making of the film we, we were harassing the guys, touching and grabbing them and the male actors would say to us, ‘is this what you guys go through all the time?’ And we would all say, ‘Yeah, this is our life’. One of my favorite moments during the making of the movie was when one actor was a scientist and one of the male contestants, and he says, ‘I’ve come up with this amazing theory,’ and I play the hostess and say to him, ‘did you come up with that or did your sister come up with that idea,’ and he gets offended like, where’s that coming from?’ because anytime women come up with a genius idea, we’re always asked, Who came up with that? How women’s minds are viewed out in the world, It’s ingrained in us, it’s not just ingrained in this generation, or the previous generation, it’s centuries of archaic stereotypes that have been passed on from generation to generation. And I want to change that I want to help bring us to equality, so that we never think this way upon seeing a different gender from us. That is just normal.
Jason: Are there any other exciting projects you’re currently working on?
Anna Fishbeyn: I have three different projects that I’m working on and a couple of screenplays that I’ve started, but I’ll say the screenplay that I’m in pre-production for called How to Seduce Your Dinner Guest and it’s my next feature film. It’s a comedy of errors — kind of Shakespearean where there’s a mistaken identity and it takes place over a Manhattan dinner party and people mistake each other and pretend to be somebody they’re not to impress one another, which happens a lot in Manhattan. I’m hoping to film that next. I also have two fun pilots I’ve been working on, one called The Infidelity Club, and it is a cheating club for women. The second one is called Healthy Nuts, and it’s about the obsessions with healthy supplements, and it’s about a little, a little shop where people go nuts, and they drink spinach, 24/7, and they do all kinds of things to be healthy, but they’re not that healthy themselves.
Jason: Finally, what is your hope for the movement you’d like to launch in conjunction with the release of Galaxy 360?
Anna Fishbeyn: With my film, I want to launch a movement called Movement 360, which is a movement that is about men and women connecting on a sympathetic, empathetic level, and it’s about men experiencing what it means to be women today. It’s about including men in the feminist conversation, and getting men to take part in our struggle to attain equality and to be heard and to create a more fair society, but not by alienating men. By including them in the conversation and having projects where men get to stand in high heels for five hours. And then they write on interactive website and they will talk about what that felt like that. Those kinds of projects where I would send men out on tasks, and they would do these tests, and then they would come back and they would write and would describe what that felt like and have videotapes of men experiencing that. And having men embrace us as beings.
Jason: Thank you so much for all that and for speaking to us.
Anna Fishbeyn: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Galaxy 360: A Woman’s Playground premiered at the American Film Market in November.