East Side Sushi is an indie film that was put on the Top Bay Area Films of the Decade List! It is a beautifully crafted, well-acted...not one sour note film, and it has a warm feeling of authenticity to it. There’s the sense of watching a slice of life, instead of a movie.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Julie Rubio, the film’s producer, to chat about the film and what she’s up to next.
Sylvia: Julie, I loved East Side Sushi, the story and the way the lead character was portrayed. What attracted you to the project?
Julie: In East Side Sushi, definitely the gender inequality was on the forefront, because of the fact that in Japanese culture it’s just not ok for a woman to be sushi chefs.
Sylvia: Is it still that way today?
Julie: It’s definitely changing, and I do think the movie brought a lot of light to that. We have had several chefs contact us and let us know that it inspired them to hire women. One of the women who initially was the hands in our trailer...
Sylvia: So, the actress didn’t do the close-up cutting?
Julie: Oh no, no, no, the actress cut everything, and she went to Sushi school. She learned how to do that. That was her the whole time. Before we got funding we made a sizzle trailer and we ended up using this one sushi chef...her hands. She kind of was a Sous chef, but she really was a Sushi chef...and she eventually became the head sushi chef after that movie came out.
Sylvia: Wow! That’s exciting.
Julie: There’s a restaurant in Los Angeles that is one of the top Sushi Restaurants in Los Angeles and the chef there is a woman. There's also a female Sushi Chef here locally in Oakland, at Delage, who took over for a male chef.
Sylvia: Oh, nice.
Julie: I mean, I think times are changing. East Side Sushi was made before the Me Too Movement and I know our director did not want it to be a feminist film. He was adamant about that. I wanted to be part of that film because I wanted to help little girls have better role models in films and I felt that whether or not we're gonna call it a feminist film, that the film for me totally embodies equal rights and would be a good role model for little girls. For me...it was being raised by feminists and going to Pixar listening to Geena Davis talk about the gender inequality that was going on in film...understanding in ways, my part in it. Even as producer making sure I pay women the same pay, and as an independent filmmaker, that’s difficult sometimes. The women tend to want to get the job done, there’s a mothering type of taking care of the project...and not necessarily talking care of the wallet. On one film I was on, we were running out of funds, a man in a higher position said we needed to cut some pay...the women were willing to cut their pay.
Sylvia: Well, likely it’s because they are the ones being asked to take the cut. I remember hearing about the one film where Michelle Williams was given only $80 a day for a partial film re-shoot and Mark Wahlberg was given $2 million for the same re-shoot, both in the leading roles! My understanding was that she originally had no idea about the huge discrepancy between their two deals. Everyone was more than outraged when that came to light.
Julie: That’s right. She was at the Golden Globes that year and so eloquent. I feel like I need to not be part of the problem. Women can be part of the problem too. So, as a producer I am the one that’s going to figure out who gets paid what...and if I’m sitting there and I’m part of the problem because I now am accepting the fact that this woman is accepting working for less a day but all of the men are being paid a lot more, then I’m part of the problem....and if I’m putting a little girl in the rated-G film dressed like a woman in a rated-R film, then I’m part of the problem.
So, I’m trying to, and especially in East Side Sushi, I was trying to be an advocate for us making sure that, during the different versions of the script...the rewrites...to make sure the female character was strong and still likeable...less of a gender bias. From revising the script, to making sure the cast and crew were paid equally...and there were problems with that. I suddenly became part of the problem, because we didn’t have money to pay people, and there were women who said, “Hey, we want to see the film keep going, so I will make less. “
Sylvia: So, they volunteered to take less?
Julie: Yes. They were strong, amazing women...and I had hired a lot of women. So, there were days we didn’t pay equally. In hindsight, there was so much I learned from that film, because I don’t want to be part of that problem.
Sylvia: Well, It’s kind of like when you want to do the right thing and go green with your productions, but when in the thick of it, in the middle of a shoot, when you are under the gun...making a film on a shoe-string and running short of time...still being able to maintain that becomes a big challenge. It’s hard to stick to what you would love to do. So, it’s important to realize that, to create positive change, it will require much forethought, clarity, dedication and organization.
Julie: Yes, with green production too, we are used to doing things one way. You have to step outside the box and say, we are not going to use plastic water bottles and ask every single person here to bring their own bottle, and we are going to make sure we are going to have a machine here that can give everyone water. Now, how do we take that machine every place we go when we are under the gun and how do we make sure every actor’s water bottle is filled up? You know on a set how many plastic water bottles are used, oh my gosh. Even if they put their names on them or not.
Sylvia: Exactly, there is so much waste, they keep grabbing a new one.
Julie: And that’s the simplest of it. The topic of climate change is so important to me...I feel like California...in the Bay Area, there is a consciousness. I’ve lived in Manhattan for years. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I’ve lived in London for years. I’ve lived in Hawaii for years. Even in Hawaii there’s a lack of recycling going on. There’s a lack of green and a lack of understanding of climate change. I feel we have some of that understanding here, but we are so far behind the rest of the world! Europe, China...Germany is like, beyond us in so many ways. I’m wanting to be part of that, and I’m learning every day to do better, with the simplest things such as recycling, composting and also what kind of car do I need to drive, and what do I put in my body? On a set, I always make sure that we are eating sustainable and that we are eating healthy food. The hardest part with East Side Sushi was that people were donating food. Because we didn’t have anymore money and so restaurants were donating. We tried to get health restaurants, because otherwise your entire crew risks getting high as a kite from the sugar and sodas and then they fall. You are on a set for 20 to 30 days and that’s not sustainable. Your body can’t handle that. You get much less done. It affects your mood. So, I always make sure I feed everyone healthy and I get a lot of push-back from that. They want craft services that serve crap. I just know we are all getting more bang for our buck if we are all eating healthy...and less sickness on set. Once one person gets sick, everybody is out.
Sylvia: Just send out a short email ahead of time, letting them know...this is what we are doing, and these are the benefits.
Julie: There’s a YouTube video that’s out, The 3rd Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy. It’s all solution based for climate change. There’s this guy that gives us solutions! It’s about changing infrastructure. Europe and China are on board to do it and we are kind of falling behind. But this video is just all hard facts on what we need to do, and everyone needs to hear it. There aren’t a lot of visuals. It’s more of a talk, so it’s something you can even listen to while driving.
Sylvia: That’s so wonderful. I’ll put the word out about The 3rd Industrial Revolution, to be found on YouTube.
Julie: So that’s what I’m all about...I try to hire lots of women, but that’s not to say I don’t hire men. I do. That’s never ever been a problem for them. It’s still not. We just had the Academy Award call out and we have all male directors right now...again. They did give a nod to Greta Gerwig by nominating Little Women for best film, but no women in the director’s category again.
I just watched The Loudest Voice in the Room and Bombshell...and you know, the sexual harassment that goes on, particularly in the film industry...and you know that’s all to the forefront now with Harvey Weinstein. But my generation, we just rolled our eyes and moved on. I realized there’s no way I’d be a female director unless I wrote my projects, produced my projects, directed my projects, I sold my projects, and I had to dance and look the other direction, and come up with funny, creative comebacks.
Sylvia: Right, to get out of bad situations.
Julie: To let them know, I’m not here for that. I’m here to get the job done. I’ve had grab ass going on most of my sets, throughout nearly every single job I’ve ever had.
Sylvia: Yes, especially if you were good-looking during the time we were out there acting and starting out in the business. It blocks careers. It’s heartbreaking really, that for me doors were closed, and opportunities were simply lost, because I wouldn’t participate in that. It reminds me of what your main character said in your film, “I just want to be given an opportunity like everyone else!”
Julie: Yes, and I do think it’s wonderful that there’s a consciousness about it now. Even if a woman hasn’t been harassed, raped, molested, or have something tragically happen, she understands because she’s a woman. She understands what it feels like to just not be completely equal on the field.
Also, woman can be part of the problem there too. Women can tear each other down. I see that. Women need to help each other over the wall.
Sylvia: Speaking of those types of things, without giving too much away, tell me a little about the new film you are working on, One. What are the issues you are dealing with in that film? I’ll put the link to its trailer at the end of this blog.
Julie: I was looking for my next project and I was up watching Charlie Rose and he was on with the dean of Harvard...and this was ironic because this was before he was accused of everything he’s been accused of, when I still worshiped the ground he walked on. So, now its like being told Mr. Rogers is a rapist, you know. It’s so awful. But this was before then. They were talking about gender inequality and how Harvard was having this really crazy problem with women not graduating with the same honors as men. These women came in with the same GPAs and it just didn’t make any sense. So, Harvard Business School decided to conduct this study. Well, first of all, you can see the wave coming that people are going to get sued, if there is this gender inequality going on. So, they were like, “wait a minute, what’s going on?” So, they put monitors in the classrooms, that would monitor how many times a woman raised her hand and how many times was she being called on...and if she spoke, what was the retention of what she said? What they found was that women are not called on as much as men. At Harvard 50% of your grade is participation. If it looks as though you are not participating, because you raised your hand, but no one is seeing you, that’s bad. Then, when you actually speak and the male and female professors in the room aren’t remembering what you say. That’s bad when they can’t tell you what you said. There is this bias that is causing us to not hear 50% of the answers. I mean this could be the answers for cancer or climate change. It wasn’t just the male professors doing it, it was the female professors too. We’ve been conditioned.
Now rewind, you are in kindergarten, you raise your hand, if you are less often picked...then it keeps going, and girls are taught to compete with each other, to value each other a little less. I mean, go to a prom...all the boys are all dressed alike, and the girls are all bling, bling, highest heels, lowest shirt...competing. It’s just a very biased culture and society we live in.
Then I’m, wait a minute, they say within 2 years they eradicated this problem at Harvard? First, I’m sure they were afraid of getting sued. Then they did set out to fix the problem. They sat everyone down and let them know what they were doing. As soon as they understood what they were doing and were being held accountable, things changed. Outside of school, look at it from a capitalistic point of view...do you want to make more money? You are going to make more money if everybody in the room is heard and you get all of the top best answers in the room.
Geena Davis has taken that accountability to filmmaking. For little girls, what they see is important.
Sylvia: Geena Davis has already made a tremendous difference in what films look like today. When I was acting, most films had an abundance of male actors and a single, token female character. In a pie chart I saw, women got about 15%-20% of the acting pie...kids got another small slice. Men had the rest of the roles. Geena has changed that. She said that women make up half of the population, yet we take-up so little space on the screen/in stories. It was mostly male characters doing the living, problem solving, having the exciting adventures. That’s horrible for girls to absorb. Geena then said, “if they can see it, they can be it”. The ratio of female to male characters in film has improved greatly over the years, as well as the quality of the roles, and Geena Davis has a lot to do with that.
Julie: It was so powerful hearing her speak at Pixar about 10 years ago. I asked her, what we needed to do? Did we need to take it to the streets...march again? She said then, “no, no, no, no, no that’s not going to work. We need to get our fathers, our brothers, and our bosses to understand that this is their mothers, their sisters, their daughters that they are helping.”
Sylvia: She’s smart to get these men involved in creating the solution...it can help change their perspective, even if at the beginning some will be faking that they even agree with what she’s doing. Just by taking those actions and seeing the positive results can feel good and bring about an epiphany.
Julie: But I have worked with some men that claim they are doing things for women and they are not. They are riding that wave and all of a sudden, they are claiming they are feminists, and it’s disgusting. That bothers me the most.
Sylvia: Oh, I know someone like that. His actual actions are the polar opposite of how he talks and who he purports to be, and he believes no one realizes it. In Hollywood, even more of that goes on. They want to ride that wave for their image, but not walk the walk. I do however see the starting of a positive shift, as awareness is raised. There are guys who are genuinely appalled and in our corner. Part of it is, we have been conditioned for so long.
Julie: What Geena said was that you need to simply hire more women...qualify...but then hire more women...even as extras in the background. I thought, “Well, I do that.” Then I look during one of my films, and all of a sudden, I go, “Oh...move 4 of those guys to the side and put 4 girls in there.” That’s it. We’ve been conditioned and it takes time to fix that.
Sylvia: What do you want to be remembered for, what do you want to leave behind?
Julie: I’m so grateful I have a son, Elijah, who gives...and cares, who is kind, and very much in touch in his masculine and feminine side. Really balanced...and that he’s contributing back with his company, with music. I feel music is such a bridge to different cultures. He makes this music and it is so healing. Sound is healing. I’m excited he is contributing like that. He's dynamic and confident completely secure with who he is. He loves to give back to others. I'm so proud to be his mother.
Also I feel that my legacy is a healthy loving marriage. If you ask anyone in our community that knows Blake Wellen, they will tell you that he is the most honest, nicest, kindhearted giving human you'll ever meet. He is the most authentic person I've ever met. Our marriage and working together on film together is part of my legacy. Not all second marriages work. Not only is Blake the love of my life but Blake is one of the most extraordinary stepfathers that a boy could ever have.
I’d also say there are more films in me that need to get made, and books. It’s also like what you said, each film I make takes me to a higher level of consciousness as to what I want to give back and to show the world. Showing love and kindness, equality and balance...what that would look like, and that balance is not just male and female, its social economics, its race and religion. Its about making people care about each other and the planet.
Trailer to the new film Julie is working on: One