As a writer and filmmaker, I aim to tell the stories of unconventional, multi-layered women and also give a voice to the under-represented. Female roles in the film industry have a history of being one-dimensional, perpetuating stereotypes that have absolutely no base in reality and “cage” women into labels and pigeonholes. My goal is to help put an end to that through my work and give a voice to women regardless of age, body type, marital status or sexual orientation.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure to interview Michaela Zannou.
Michaela Zannou is a New York-based filmmaker, writer and actor originally from Greece. Since her “big move” to New York, Michaela has worked on several commercials, TV shows, web series and theatrical productions. Meanwhile, a passionate storyteller, Michaela has written several screenplays, short films and pilots. Her most recent project, “Couples Therapy” a pilot episode she wrote, produced and starred in, has been receiving recognition from esteemed festivals all over the country and is a 2020 Official Selection at the highly-prestigious SeriesFest.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s actually very funny, I discovered my passion for acting while studying Business. I joined my University’s drama club and after my very first performance, after that very first applause, I just knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. But in reality, I think it started much, much sooner. I grew up obsessively reading books and watching movies. We had two huge bookcases at home; one was filled with books and the other was filled with videotapes with movies. I would watch multiple movies a day with my sisters and then at night I would ask my mom to read me stories again and again. Looking back at it now I think I was “bitten by the bug” while still in the crib. That moment on my first performance though was what “sealed the deal” for me.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
As a writer and filmmaker, I aim to tell the stories of unconventional, multi-layered women and also give a voice to the under-represented. Female roles in the film industry have a history of being one-dimensional, perpetuating stereotypes that have absolutely no base in reality and “cage” women into labels and pigeonholes. My goal is to help put an end to that through my work and give a voice to women regardless of age, body type, marital status or sexual orientation. My most recent project “Couples Therapy”, a dramedy pilot episode, is a great example of that. My main character, Natalia, is a couples therapist who treats neurotic New York couples while her own marriage is falling apart and she can’t seem to be able to follow her own advice. Natalia is a complex, intense woman who keeps it perfectly together with her clients one minute and then completely loses it when dealing with her absent husband. Natalia is smart and accomplished but can also make a lot of (sometimes self-destructive) mistakes, none of which should rob her of her value or define her. At the same time, through the different couples/patients, we see so many different forms of love and relationships that are yet to have a voice in film and TV.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
That’s very true — it really takes a village. So many people have helped me and inspired me through the years.
Sonja O’Hara, an unstoppable powerhouse of an actor, writer and filmmaker, has been inspiring me for years with her passion, talent and unwavering dedication to her craft.
Jason Greiff, my screenwriting teacher and mentor, has been incredibly supportive, caring and generous with his time and advice. I wouldn’t be the writer that I am today without him.
Rob Alicea, who executive produced “Couples Therapy” with me, has been a valuable friend, mentor and collaborator. He’s always there to answer all my filmmaking questions, offer advice, celebrate my victories and cheer me up when I’m feeling down.
The rest of my “Couples Therapy” family, Randy Ramos Jr (director), Angela Petruzziello (producer) and Ryan Metcalf (editor and leading man) were my lifeline through the nerve-wracking process of being a first-time filmmaker.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. “Be yourself.” One of the most amazing things that happened to me when I moved to NYC was running into Craig Thomas, the co-creator of “How I Met Your Mother.” I am a huge fan of the show so I chatted him up for a bit, geeking out about the show. When I told him I moved to NY to pursue acting he told me “Be yourself. No matter what, be yourself.” It’s so simple but also so hard to do. For me, it’s about staying true to yourself and your voice. It’s about taking the time to know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself and turn what you once thought were your shortcomings into your greatest strengths.
2. “Shake it off and climb back up again.” My amazing friend Georgia Nomikos is an amazing woman who built a successful business all by herself. She always tells me “Michaela, you will stumble across a lot of heartbreaks and disappointments in life. Drop on the floor, curl into a ball and cry your eyes out if you have to. But when you’re done, you will stand up, shake the dust off your shoulders and climb back up again. Up to the top.” I always think of that in my hard moments.
3. “Be a deeply disciplined half-ass.” Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Big Magic” talks about the “lazy perfectionist” and the “disciplined half-ass.” She explains how some artists wear perfectionism as a badge of honor and they end up never finishing their work because it’s never good enough. I’ve seen this happen to so many artists around me, being immobilized by the “it’s not good enough” mindset. It’s only natural to feel scared or insecure about your work at times but you can’t let those feelings consume you. I will occasionally have moments when I doubt my work but then I think “Whatever… Just get it done.”
How are you going to shake things up next?
My focus at the moment is on taking the next step with “Couples Therapy.” Get eyes on it, pitch it to networks and production companies so that I get to tell the story of Natalia along with the stories of so many hilarious, modern couples. I believe it’s a show that will definitely shake things up for the better. I am also developing a couple of new projects on the side; One is a horror anthology and the other is a love-triangle drama, both centered around a strong and unconventional female protagonist.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” is without a doubt the book that had the biggest impact on me. What resonated with me was the way Gilbert describes the fear that is always there when venturing on a new (artistic or not) adventure and how not to let it paralyze you and stop you from creating. She also believes in taking off the pressure of getting results from the creative process. Especially in this day and age when everyone seems to be so focused on getting results and have something to show for, it’s really liberating to take that pressure off your creative process and just create because you love it, because you find pleasure in it. Don’t get me wrong, I think results are amazing and having end goals keeps you focused and motivated. But if you don’t enjoy the journey you’ll end up spending precious time living in misery.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could describe my movement with one phrase it would be “Live And Let Live.” I am a big believer of a person’s fundamental right to live the life they choose to live and pursue happiness the way that they see fit. Humans are not “one size fits all”. We have different needs, thoughts, feelings, desires, and preferences. But for whatever reason society has bestowed upon us unwritten rules and opinions about every aspect of our lives; our marital status, our sexual orientation, whether we should have kids or not, how we should behave based on our gender and the list goes on and on. I see the pressure of these unspoken rules crashing people around me and it’s really devastating. The way I see it, the pure love and freedom under “Live And Let Live” could solve most of modern society’s problems and bring people together, more than ever before.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you really want to do something you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse.” Six years ago I decided I wanted to move to the US and build a life there. I had no idea how to do it, all I knew was that I wanted it more than anything. The odds were definitely stacked against me. I was moving 5,000 miles away from home, to a country with very strict immigration laws that change constantly, to a city where I didn’t know anybody and with no financial support available. But somehow I did it. And I’ve seen that quote being confirmed time and time again in others and in me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me!