Interview with LeeAnne Lowry, Writer, Director, and Producer of The Treadmill Switcher
I really enjoyed the humor and storytelling economy of The Treadmill Switcher. You packed a lot into the almost seven-minute runtime. How did the idea come to you, and what’s your elevator pitch for the film?
Thank you so much! I love that word—humor. I’ve been thinking it subtly describes the tone of the film better than “comedy.”
The Treadmill Switcher is about a woman who walks on the same treadmill every day and becomes fascinated by a person with a unique workout routine. When that person switches treadmills and runs directly next to the woman, she begins questioning their destiny in her life. There’s only one problem: she can’t tell if they’re a child or a lesbian.
Crafting an elevator pitch for this one was tough because we made the film in red-state Missouri, where LGBTQ rights have been increasingly under attack, and had to constantly assess if we needed to tone down the queer aspects to get what we needed. Since it’s a practically no-budget film, we were mostly pitching elements like locations or food donations. We had to face the fact that many people hear LGBTQ and assume their location will be associated with some sort of sexually deviant movie, which is not at all what we were making.
Treadmill was initially a short story. I am a huge fan of Miranda July so I reread one of her stories, then I free-wrote based on the day I’d just had while I could still feel the rhythm and flow of her writing. Since her work resonates deeply with me, it felt like a jumpstart into my voice. I wrote speculatively and imaginatively about a person I’d encountered that week at the gym. They got on a treadmill, turned the dial decisively to 6.7 miles per hour, ran for half an hour, and got off. No warm-up or cooldown. Another thing—I had a hard time categorizing them. They looked like they could be lesbian… or a male child. When they switched to working out right next to me the next day, same exact routine, I became even more curious about them. I’d seen in an interview that July will write in one sitting and barely edit. I followed suit, and then later I adapted it for the screen.
Treadmill addresses a serious topic—women who don’t present themselves in an overly feminine manner being assumed to be lesbians or infantilized as young boys. You deftly engage the idea through comedy, as your nameless protagonist (played by Dakota Hommes) talks to the camera throughout the film, telling us about her obsession with a fellow gym-goer, who to her mind is either a lesbian she’d like to spend her life with or a child she’d like to adopt. Tell us about your choice to rely on humor for this story.
Early in life I developed a need to disarm a room with humor. My neurodivergence has often left me feeling at a disadvantage, but humor has a way of engaging people of all kinds who you might not naturally connect with. Over time, I’ve honed a social ability to say the things others are afraid to but deliver it in a way that is palatable and often a relief. I can’t handle elephants in the room so I poke a hole and they deflate, making the space more comfortable for everyone.
Humor became and remains the lens through which I navigate life, and the topic of the film is personal to me. When I was young I insisted to everyone who would listen that I was a boy, but I had no clue trans people existed and I thought I was the only one in the world who felt that way. It was awful. I overcorrected in various ways—becoming extremely conservative and religious and going to a women’s college—eventually finding myself again in the label “nonbinary.”
When I started dating my wife, who is also nonbinary, people called me a lesbian, even though I’m not generally attracted to women. When I cut my hair like a boy, people assumed I was godless even though I still believed. When I grew a mustache, people assumed I was transitioning even though my female body can do this without hormone therapy.
We all make wrong assumptions about other people. We’re all using visual or social clues to give ourselves context. And we’re wrong a heck of a lot of the time. I hope that using humor to address this tendency (especially regarding gender and sexuality) will allow us to recognize it in ourselves. Then, maybe, we can mind our own business or even better—realize that our boxes are insufficient for human life.
You set the film in a gym, which is a place that tends to breed a kind of intimacy with strangers, as you sweat and grunt side by side, often without knowing each other’s names. Can you tell us more about the film’s setting and how it helps you get at the themes you’re exploring?
That’s an excellent way of putting it. The gym is also a traditionally masculine space, and my cinematographer, Gabby Galarza, very intentionally took on the male gaze. To be a woman at the gym often means placing oneself directly in that gaze. It’s a place of being looked at and judged as young and “lover” material or older and “mother” material—but if you’re in a certain age range, you could be either. Our nameless protagonist grapples with how she is seen through these lenses, and it only becomes more complicated when she doesn’t know how to contextualize herself next to a person who she thinks might be a child or a lesbian.
Writing, directing, and producing a film is quite a complex creative dance. Can you share with us some of the strategies you used as you filled these three major roles?
I was fortunate to have a co-producer on the project, Josh Boyer. He and I have worked on creative projects together for around a decade now, and that history makes for a smooth working relationship. I love control. I was happy to take on some of the producing, but Josh was there to really anchor the project and make it happen.
Writing/directing feels so natural to me. Since I wrote the story several years ago, much of the work on that end was over and I just had to adapt it for the screen. While on other scripts I’m open to handing it off to another director, this one is so particular in tone that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that. It had been several years since I last directed, but with this film the flow of it all came back instantly, and I think that’s, in part, because it was my own writing and the vision for it was clear in my head.
I thought you got some truly genuine and fun performances out of your two leads, Dakota Hommes and Kay Beesley. What was your casting process like and what approaches did you take to directing them?
For the woman, I knew two things: I wanted someone who has a natural comedic sense, and someone who is comfortable delivering lines straight to the camera. Dakota has a fairly popular TikTok channel where she demonstrates exactly the two things I needed. I spend a lot of time thinking about funny, but Dakota just is funny. I didn’t audition anyone else for that role. I didn’t need to.
Casting the child/lesbian was far harder. This had to be someone who truly looked like they could be an adult or a child. You see people like this all the time when you’re not looking for them, but it’s a different story when you are. I put out open calls and received several auditions but everyone either looked too old or too feminine. I knew Kay was the one as soon as I saw their headshot.
As for directing style—I refuse to pretend an auteur mindset will deliver the best project. Certainly a director needs to maintain control of tone and unite vision, but on my set everyone gets to experiment and bring their own touch. Playfulness is everything and the schedule should build in some wiggle room for it. I especially encourage making the “wrong” choice, at least for one take. For instance, Dakota walks on the treadmill’s slowest speed setting. It’s not a very realistic speed for most people at the gym, but her character makes absolutely as little progress as possible. It’s one of my favorite little details.
Meanwhile, Kay took ownership over experimenting with their run style. There were wackier runs they tried out, but the one they ended up with is funny in a more subtle way. It’s so focused and serious, and it brings up questions about their character in a way that adds depth.
What were some of your favorite moments working on this film?
My favorite moments were the ones that came out of collaboration and creative problem solving. A main one that comes to mind is when we realized we wanted smoke in the dark void but we lost access to our fog machine. The solution? A few crew members sat in a circle below the actors and vaped into the shot.
Another favorite collaborative moment: In our library scene there’s a giant bunch of bananas for whimsical set dressing. One of our PAs, Jameson, was concerned that by having a giant bunch of bananas in the shot the audience may become confused and think the bananas are regular sized and the actors are tiny. The solution? Also having regular sized bananas in the shot. Even nonsense problems deserve solutions!
Besides filmmaking, you also work as a marketer for Ragtag Cinema and True/False Film Fes. How does what you’ve learned as a marketer influence your work behind the camera?
Don’t be boring. Really, though, that’s what comes to mind first! I watch a lot of arthouse films for my job and have little tolerance for ones that aren’t doing anything interesting. If it isn’t interesting, I’m not wasting my time on it. Making a movie takes so much time and energy and resources, and to use all that to make a film that doesn’t say or do anything bold and exciting is such a waste.
What is next for Treadmill and are you working on any other projects at the moment?
Treadmill is just starting its festival journey. As we wait to hear from festivals, Josh and I are solidifying our company Papa Squat Productions and working on plans to fund our next big project. I exclusively write queer, often neurodiverse content and have several scripts ready to produce. One solid candidate for this is my TV Pilot Hard Work, about a lesbian in Nashville who becomes a house mom to gay male porn stars. I also have an animated children’s pilot called My Friend Pegasus Murphy (co-written with Jamie Warren), that I’m working toward producing. .
We haven’t heard back yet from most of the festivals we have submitted Treadmill to, but we do know we will be screening at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase on July 22 at 6:30 pm. You can keep up with us on Instagram.
To connect with the interviewer, Alexandra, visit her profile.