Discovering that the body is very much like a playground, a place where sex can be playful, Oh Yeah is an open letter from a young woman who explores the joy of giving pleasure to herself and eventually invites others to join her in doing so too.

Interviewer: Emily Gurland, film director
Interviewee: Lilena Marinou, filmmaker & photographer, director of Oh Yeah

Lilena, you and I have worked closely together in the past but had not met during the development and production of Oh Yeah. I’d love to hear more about how it came about – when did you first know you had to make this film?

Oh Yeah came together so quickly. I still have the notebook where I hastily wrote down the idea: “body = playground”. I knew I wanted to make a film about sex but I didn’t settle on a concept until I was more aware of why I wanted to make a film about it. I had had a number of private conversations with young women about sexuality, trying to navigate our frustration with cultural norms, expectations and so on… and I was staggered by how many of my friends confided in me about not learning how to give pleasure to themselves or how their own partners never managed to do so either. Many felt too embarrassed to try, others felt too embarrassed by their struggle to achieve it…

I started becoming more aware of how sex was portrayed in our lives. I realized that film & TV depicts sex in very polar ways – it’s either hot and stylized or pertains to trauma and pain. Not to mention the fact that it is incredibly male-centered, oftentimes giving more gravity to the male orgasm than to the female one.

So I kept thinking to myself how alienating this is! Sex is lighthearted, it’s fun, it’s supposed to make you feel good and carefree. That’s how the parallel between the body and a playground came about. I wanted to tap into that playfulness that awakes inside of us every time we are intimate with ourselves or with a partner.

Can you tell me a little about your collaborative process?

The most important thing is to have good, pleasant personalities around you who care about the vision of the project. I brought on people who I felt I could trust, particularly with such a delicate concept, and who were open to the idea of playfulness. I remember telling Martin Blanco, the DoP, that I wanted to put the camera on a merry-go-round and swings and seesaws and whatnot. He allowed himself a split second of hesitation and proceeded with whole-heartedly diving into the project. At the time it was a little crazy, but we were all so excited to be making this film.

I am particular about things and I like to get involved in every department. But I try to be as “laissez-faire” as possible because just as I feel very emotionally attached to my work, so do others who take part in the film. It’s their baby too. So I usually share some ideas or thoughts or sometimes even feelings, and see what the outcome is.

What was the process of directing such an intimate subject matter like?

Sex is delicate and you never really know how people have been exposed to it. When I started working with Maiya, Qimani and Andrea, instead of asking them directly about their own experiences, which can be a little tough to talk about, we treated it like a game. We got together a couple of times and hung out. We talked about the characters and created a universe where they exist. They each built their own personal world, which we then took and wove together. We speculated about what each character’s presence meant to the others, how they would react, or feel to certain things, what sexuality meant to them etc.

On set, of course it was important to come prepared. I rehearsed alone with the actors and during the actual shooting, only the DoP and camera assistant were present in the room. What really helped was to have a crew mostly made up of women. That was a very conscious decision and it totally paid off. The atmosphere was pleasant and despite the long hours, a cohesive workflow was maintained.

In fact, I remember that during one of the bedroom scenes, we had a technical hiccup that threw me off my rhythm, but Maiya, Qimani and Andrea’s collaboration helped me get back on track. It was a tremendously moving moment for me.

The composition is so dynamic, what was your experience like working with the composer?

I love Theo Shier, I love working with him. I received samples from many composers but only he understood how important lightheartedness and playfulness was, while also maintaining a sexy but not oversexualized kind of sound. We locked ourselves up for a couple of days in his studio and worked out the kinks, figured out how to make the composition a driving force of the film. We assigned an instrument to each character, which can be heard whenever they appear in the story. It was beautiful seeing each instrument slowly come together in symphony.

My favorite part of the score was that its rhythm mimics a female orgasm – it gradually becomes faster and faster until it climaxes, then slows down and picks up its pace again. Playing with the BPM was a very important element to the film.

It really felt like Theo and I were operating on the same wavelength.

This film is all about play! What was the most fun you had throughout the creation process?

You know, location scouting turned out to be one of the greatest challenges, but it led to a hilarious solution. The playgrounds from my childhood served as inspiration for the film, but it turns out they are basically non-existent today. Seesaws are deemed unsafe and have been banned from playgrounds in many states. In NYC, I think there’s only one, maybe two, playgrounds that have seesaws and they both didn’t work as locations. Even merry-go-rounds were difficult to find. In the end, our amazing producer Kara Bartek, her father Al, and I ended up building a seesaw of our own in Al’s woodshop. We had such a good time building it and it fit perfectly with a playground we found in a small town in Long Island. And let me tell you – the crew had a blast with our seesaw.

Do you have any words of advice for anyone who is looking to further explore their relationship to their sexuality?

If there’s anything to take away from the film, it’s that sex should be fun. Sexuality starts from you, so you have to love yourself before you allow others to love you. There is no space for shame or embarrassment in sexuality/intimacy. If something feels good, you’re probably on the right track.