ArtCenter alumni have adapted to change during the COVID-19 pandemic in a wide variety of ways. Some turned inward, while others turned outward. They slowed down or sped up. This story is part of a series that focuses on three alumni who have showcased vulnerability and strength—and have embraced their creativity—during a time of chaos.
On the first day of filming her short film Lola in July 2020, at a “secret” hiking trail in Los Angeles, Ana Lydia Monaco (BFA 18 Film) was nervous. There were no COVID-19 vaccines then, the virus was surging, and productions had screeched to a halt a few months earlier.
“I felt the weight of the world on me,” says the boisterous writer, director and producer on a spring day in 2021, via Zoom, from the West L.A. apartment she shares with her husband and their Boston terrier Princess Maya Candice Monaco. “I wanted to film safely, because of COVID-19,” she says. “I was also aware that I better make something that’s worth people’s money,” adds Monaco, who raised almost $20,000 through crowdsourcing. “It was stressful.”
Making a film about self-love and self-advocacy, I was very aware of telling people to take care of themselves.Ana Lydia MonacoWriter, director, producer
In that hiking scene, protagonist Lola (played by Marlene Luna) jogs slowly on a leafy trail behind her best friend Rosalinda (played by Sonia Diaz), then doubles over in pain. Both women wear face masks. Rosalinda dismisses Lola’s concern, tells her to “be healthy,” and they keep hiking. The movie, which Monaco wrote as a student in a 2018 course taught by Graduate Film Associate Professor Joy Kecken, chronicles the journey of Lola, who is plus size, from being blamed by others for her ailing health to advocating for herself after a medical emergency. The short film had its world premiere at the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival, which was held virtually this past June.
“Lola was inspired by my own story, but it was never my story,” says Monaco, who has dealt with having medical issues misdiagnosed because of weight bias. She interviewed 20 women as research for the film. “I make a point to honor each of my characters as a unique individual,” she says. The multiracial Mexican American filmmaker also purposefully cast a plus-size Mexican American woman as Lola. “It was important to me to attract a diverse cast and crew: Latino, Black, Asian, white, gay,” she says.
In true pandemic fashion, everyone on set wore face masks and face shields. Actors did their own makeup and wore their own clothes. Monaco hired a COVID-19 officer, who wiped down equipment, handed out hand sanitizer between takes, and made sure everybody on set tested negative for COVID-19 two days prior to filming. Several locations in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley—where Monaco is from and shot the film—fell through because they went out of business.
Monaco had originally intended to finance Lola herself, as she had her other films, including 2018’s Meeting Brown. But when stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, Monaco’s development job at a production company went from full-time to part-time to nonexistent.
“I ended up going into a depression,” she says. “I was like, ‘Fuck! Where am I going to get the money for the movie? I don’t have a job.’” She started baking bread, bingeing TV shows, taking walks with her dog, and posting activity to-do lists on social media, including to her followers on Twitter. “Because other people got motivated by the lists, I became more motivated,” she says. She was also prescribed antidepressants, which helped.
A former publicist, Monaco began posting on social media about her pre-pandemic crowdsourcing campaign for Lola, and she soon raised enough money to start filming. While working on the movie, during an emotional time that also included demonstrations for racial justice, the presidential election and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, she did mental health check-ins with her cast and crew. “Making a film about self-love and self-advocacy, I was very aware of telling people to take care of themselves,” she says.
In 2021, Monaco became a member of Array Crew, director Ava DuVernay’s new database for underrepresented below-the-line crew in Hollywood. She also began producing a TV show for Vice Media and creating branded films for U.S. Bank, while finalizing a TV show pilot script and working on other projects.
“At the beginning of the pandemic I needed a routine, and I also needed to just chill,” says Monaco. “Having time to think and mull over ideas is so important. The No. 1 thing is to be kind to yourself.”