A celebratory anthem which has lost none of its potency since strutting into the collective consciousness when covered by Cyndi Lauper back in 1983, the unabashed call for female self-actualisation gets an original reworking by Hanna Ashbrook for New York based Filmmaker and Editor Stephania Dulowski’s Girls Just Wanna. Watch the electrifying film below, after which Stephania tells DN how the undenyable confidence of NYC’s diverse female populous, along with the support of female-driven production company SLMBR PRTY brought this ode to the young women of New York into being.

Girls Just Wanna was conceptualized when I first moved to NYC almost 3 years ago. I was so struck by all the different women I saw through the streets of New York, whose own styles were so confidently apparent. I was inspired to capture as many New York women as I could with their own vibrancy, style, energy, character, passions and uniqueness. I wanted to present this diverse female energy into a film – and show how women can be both sensual and empowered. And that femininity is complex – it has both warmth and darkness.

I also thought a reimagined balled of Cyndi Lauper’s famous pop song, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, would be a beautiful unison of this imagery. It was important for this cover to be a ballad so that viewers could linger and reflect on each character in the film. I searched around for a female musician to create an original cover, and of course, I didn’t seek a music license until afterwards which we were lucky to get!

Another important aspect of this piece was casting. We filmed over 40 women for this piece (not everyone made the final cut). I cast friends, friends of friends and intensely cast over Instagram because I knew I needed women outside of my network to make this piece as genuine as possible. The support among strangers was surprising and I’m so grateful for this.

I wanted to present this diverse female energy into a film – and show how women can be both sensual and empowered.

I teamed up with SLMBR PRTY, a female-driven production company and film collective because we all aligned with the mission of Girls Just Wanna. At the time, I was editing a short film they produced and I had worked with them several times on the editorial and post-production side, so when I brought this project up, it made sense for us to collaborate on it together. They really believed in my project of representing real women of New York, and how I wanted to capture this.

They were very helpful on both the logistical and creative sides in pre-production and on-set. They came to set and helped in many different roles, whether it was helping with equipment, managing talent and location or giving creative input on the vignettes. Additionally, we were able to tap into their network for our first shoot day when we needed about 30 women for our dance scene. Then they helped negotiate our music license and strategize an effective release plan for the film because making a film is one thing but then getting people to actually watch it is an entirely different job, and it really took a network of people spreading the word about Girls Just Wanna to get it seen. SLMBR PRTY has a mission of helping lift and connect women in film and I’m really grateful that Girls Just Wanna was a collaboration with their community.

This was a 5-day shoot over 6 months. It was really important to film over multiple seasons for variety, so we started with one day in July 2018, two days in October 2018 and wrapped up with two more days at the end of January 2019.

Lorenzo Pace, the DP and Gaffer, used the Arriflex SR3 and Arri 416 16mm cameras with a combination of zooms and Zeiss super speed prime lenses. He also shot almost every vignette with a Canon 814 Super 8mm too, which is sprinkled throughout the film. For lighting, he mainly used the Astera AX1 Pixel Tubes as well as the Litemats. Most of the film was shot on expired 16mm film that Lorenzo has had for years – that’s how we were able to really experiment with interesting textures and grain in the piece as well as push the colors in the film that Kath Raisch, our colorist, could really pull out.

Lorenzo and I had a loose shotlist for each vignette where we knew to get certain angles and moments of each talent but a lot of the time, we were experimenting with the style of shooting. We had to actively think on the spot since we were working with so many elements out of our control, but Lorenzo was able to capture these subtleties, and from this, we got some of the most special moments in the film.

This was a fun break for me to craft a narrative from a pool of footage without having to abide to a script.

Since I’m primarily an editor, I went into the shoot with a pre-visualized, although loose, structure for the film. I was able to visualize shots for key moments in the song and how different vignettes would cut with each other but there was also a lot of discovering that happened in the edit. I edit a lot of boarded scripts so this was a fun break for me to craft a narrative from a pool of footage without having to abide to a script. What really guided me in the edit was how I wanted to reveal certain characters with subtle motions, and how they harmonized and played with certain parts of the song. There are certain chords that emote a more emotional feeling from listeners, which is the natural beauty of music and pairing these parts of the song with more gentle gestures from the characters helped convey a more special meaning in the film.

For upcoming projects, I’m currently working on an extension of Girls Just Wanna, where the focus is on featuring men by opening up and challenging the perceptions of masculinity. I focused on gender studies back in college, which comes up a lot in my work — how people are represented in society and how I can, as a filmmaker, question those constructs and challenge viewers to see the fluidity of identity.

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