CIMMFest Interview: Aisha Tyler on AXIS

Photo courtesy AXIS film/Aisha Tyler.

As you may have seen, we took a trip out to CIMMfest to catch AXIS, a feature film directed by Aisha Tyler and written by Emmett Hughes that touches on celebrity, addiction and the human condition. The project was Aisha’s first foray into feature length directing, and her hard work has paid off. AXIS was a huge accomplishment for many reasons, not the least of which that it started off on Kickstarter, was shot in 7 days, and takes place in exactly one location – a moving car.  

Tyler herself is used to perpetual motion, though. A self-professed workaholic, you can find her on television without much of a search, from her current role on Criminal Minds and job as host of Whose Line Is It Anyway? to Archer and until recently, in the morning on The Talk. There’s also her recent book, Self-Inflicted Wounds, and her podcast, Girl on Guy, which was an epic run of great interviews with celebrities, authors and other interesting folks. 

We somehow caught up with Aisha Tyler for a quick interview about AXIS. Check it out below! 

3CR: AXIS was like a bottle episode- really different and daring for a first feature length film – why do this first? 

Aisha: There’s so much creative material out there…as a filmmaker, how do you make something like [AXIS] this compelling and dynamic – as a first film it was challenging and that’s why I chose it. 

3CR: What was it that drew you to this specific story? 

Aisha: Well, the person who wrote the film (Emmett Hughes) and I did a short film together in 2014. He had been developing AXIS for a while and I’d been looking for my first feature for a while, thinking what would be a good jump to make, and it was just a great script…he had this great film and it was also genuine…I thought it would be really unusual for a first film because it was a movie set in a car so it would stand out. 

3CR: You definitely did that. And you made me care about the character in a way I wouldn’t have expected to in the beginning of the film.  

Aisha: Thank you. Yeah, he didn’t really care about himself in the movie. It really is harder to love somebody who doesn’t love themselves. There’s some points in the film where I really feel for him. He’s really trying to be a better person.  

3CR: It’s often said that artists and creative people insert themselves into their work somehow. What part of AXIS was really reflective of you and your life or what you’re going through.  

Aisha: Hm. That’s a good question. I mean, I really did relate to the parts of Tristan that…about him trying to feel better, be better, be a better person. It’s part of our nature. I think that’s a thing that every adult goes through. You’re really desperate to feel better, struggling against these patterns of turning to all these bad things- drugs, alcohol. ‘This is my life and I have to deal with it’ – and that’s the sign of being an adult. Find a way to deal with yourself without relying on something or someone to be your savior. I think it’s what we’re all striving for, to find for ourselves. I really appreciated that.  

3CR: You talk a lot about self-inflicted wounds, and wrote a book about them. What’s your AXIS related self-inflicted wound? 

Aisha: AXIS was all filmed over a week- and it actually went pretty well, but the second day of filming we got a really late start. With this film, a part of that was that we were using this car and we had to drive AND get everything perfect. We were trying to get the change of the light. And it just took the team a really long time to get the car ready, and we started a couple of hours late. This was a movie that depends on light. We’re outdoors and time of day and change between day and night is almost a character in this film- we started so late we couldn’t get any of that footage. So we had to throw out a whole day’s worth of work – it can be pretty fatal for a film, but because of the way we shot the movie, we still had another five days to shoot that same shot and that same material – but yeah, getting a late start was a part of that.  

3CR: What were some of the biggest changes as far as being a director instead of being in front of the camera- the biggest things you learned or the biggest surprise? 

Aisha: Well, I’d already directed a short film, so I worked up to it, but I have to say, not that it was a surprise, but you wonder for a feature- are you gonna enjoy it- are you gonna like it…but I was surprised how much I loved it and how much this is who I am. That was probably the most surprising thing about the experience- and then that we pulled it off. I’m so very happy that we pulled this off in a week.  

3CR: What would you like people to get out of this film after the credits roll? 

Aisha: I wanted it to generate conversation. There’s a lot of movies that in the end everything is tied up for you with a pretty bow. The guy gets the girl and everybody rides off into the sunset- and it was really important to create something different and leave it up to you to decide. [Tying everything up] there’s no reason to go somewhere after a movie and sit and talk about it, and I wanted to respect the audience and let them figure out what it’s about and draw their own conclusions. 

AXIS is Aisha Tyler’s feature-length directorial debut. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the film was fully funded and it is currently running the festival circuit, and available to backers to stream. Check out our review of the film here and follow AXIS or Aisha Tyler on Twitter for more on the movie and its makers.

Marielle Bokor
Marielle Bokor