Best before? Short film addresses work-life pressures of women

Let's face it: despite changing perceptions and modernized family structures, society continues to impose a metaphorical clock on women. Tick-tock, there's pressure to get the job promotion, become engaged, move out of your parents' place and start a family - all by a certain age. A large portion of women now choose to pursue career advancements before settling down with a family, but there is still a stigma surrounding women without a burning desire for a family.

Expiry Date is a comedic short film that addresses some of these societal stressors imposed on women. It also addresses timely issues in the film industry, including misogyny and the objectification of female actors. Expiry Date is headed to Mammoth Film Festival in California this week where it will have its American premiere.

We had the chance to speak with Brittany Johnson, who co-wrote and starred in Expiry Date, about the inspiration behind the film. Brittany is a Canadian actor and film industry creative based in Toronto. Her acting credits include guest appearances on popular TV series like Murdoch Mysteries and Reign. You can keep a look out for Brittany alongside Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen in the movie Little Italy, which is set to come out later this year.

Above: Brittany Johnson, Photo by Jeff Smith

Winslow: Tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement with Expiry Date. 

Brittany Johnson: Expiry date really came alive as my brain child, honestly, from my neuroses and the immense pressures I felt as a young woman. Let alone a career oriented woman, or a woman approaching "child-bearing" age. My friend and talented producer, Mariah Owen, could not stop laughing at the stories I would tell her about my life and my thoughts on the pressures I felt, and told me I should write it down. It wasn't long after this conversation that I bolted up in the middle of the night and wrote (like wild fire) the scene between Parker and Chloe talking about careers and having children. After that, my sister Juli and I built a story around it. I have a 'creative perfection' bug, where unless it's absolutely perfect, I can't let it get away from me. My sister and Mariah really helped me with this and reminded me to constantly "kill my darlings" - which I totally needed to hear in the writing process.

Winslow: What was the inspiration behind the story for Expiry Date? 

Brittany: The stories of women I know, and myself. We wanted an honest story that really reflected the stage of life I was at. Half my friends are focused on building their careers and the other half is focused on building families and becoming mothers and house wives. But the reality is, there are also so many shades in between those two ends of the spectrum. We really were interested in looking at the age old adage of "can women have it all?" We wanted to know where that fits in with today's society. In truth, we didn't necessarily want an answer, but I wanted to explore it in a humorous way to show the stories and perspectives of women like me.

Winslow: Topics of misogyny and the objectification of female actors are addressed in this short film. These topics are timely in light of recent allegations against multiple male figures in Hollywood. Have you found these issues to be relevant your career? Have you or your female colleagues ever felt like you weren't considered for a role or taken seriously purely because of your appearance and gender? 

Brittany: The short answer is: yes to all of the above. Script breakdowns often drip misogyny. Often specifying thin, white, and something completely contradictory like, "sexy but not too sexy, we want her to be likeable, but not too likeable." Or, my favourite: "Hot, but not too hot. Not model hot". That's one of the ones I've gotten a number of times. I just #facepalm at that one. 

I've genuinely been shocked by the pervasiveness of this in the industry. This includes issues with agents, which I wrote about, and problems behind the scenes. I had one experience at a wardrobe fitting where I was told they had nothing that would fit me. There's this culture of extraordinarily high expectation and immense pressure. If I was younger when the wardrobe person had said that, and had been more impressionable, that situation could have really impacted my self esteem and body image. Not that it didn't impact me, but now I have thicker skin and ground footing in who I am, so I don't take those types of comments too personally. But it does ware on you. It's amazing that all of these big issues have come to light in Hollywood, but the little things also need to shift. It's not just a handful of people, it's affected the whole system. At least, many days that's what it feels like. 

Winslow: Pregnancy is obviously a physically-altering process, which can impact careers like acting, where appearance can affect one's ability to get the gig. At the end of Expiry Date, the main character experiences a conflict between two elements of her life: career advancement and motherhood. Can you speak to the stress and frustration experienced by female actors who may want to start a family, but in turn must accept that pregnancy may affect their ability to be cast for certain roles?

Brittany: I think this is an issue many women face. Any woman has to figure out what's best for them in terms of motherhood and if they want to be a mother. Because yes, there will be sacrifice, and yes, that can get in the way of career goals, even just for that time period. It does impact your priorities and it's something that men don't have to deal with to the same extent. Yes, men can stay home. Absolutely. But if women are choosing to stay home, they're looked at the way that Parker was afraid of being looked at in her high-powered career. There really is all kinds of stigma and prejudice against women in careers from both sides. Career women and other women who may have chosen the latter. There's so much mom shaming, either way you go. And then there's shaming for people who decide that they're not going to have kids. People say "oh you'll change your mind" or "oh you're making a mistake" but who's to say what's right for you. It just felt so timely and so true to me, and where I was. Also, where most women I knew on a very deep level were. The internal struggles they were facing asking these monumental questions. And the cool thing was, women of all different ages said that it resonated with them when they read the script. I thought that was so incredible. I guess I just felt like I needed to put it out there.

Winslow: What overall message does Expiry Date hope to send to viewers?

Brittany: Art is subjective and I hope everyone takes something different from it, but I think, very vaguely, that our biggest hope is to have people take away a different perspective that they maybe hadn't considered before. Perhaps they will see things in a different light and ultimately, we want women to feel seen and heard. We also hope men will be able to see things from a woman's perspective, where they previously may have not fully realized how we think or the magnitude and weight of all these pressures. 

Winslow: What advice do you have for aspiring female actors or for female film industry professionals beginning their career?

Brittany: Make stuff. Get out there because we need your voice and vision and stories and your magic. Whatever it is you can bring, only you can bring it. There's room for all of us. Just don't friggin' stop. And don't let anyone tell you can't. 

Photo by Jeff Smith

Winslow: What do you hope for in the future of women in film? 

Brittany: More female voices. More opportunities for women, especially women of colour. More female perspectives. More female directors. More female crews and crew members. More female stories written by, produced by and created by females. More women in media. More money for women to be able to get the stories out that we so desperately need. More women in front of and behind the camera, and more recognition for what women do.

Watch Expiry Date below:

Expiry date was directed by Jackie English and produced by Mariah Owen and GTE Productions.

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