Don’t try to be what you think anyone else wants (casting directors/ directors/ production companies/ financiers) be sure of what you are and do that. Because fundamentally all those people want to know that they can trust you to carry your share of the project and that takes confidence, so own it. And in the same vein remember that people project their insecurities and troubles in order to cope, that’s okay but it’s not about you.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Emily Seale-Jones.
London-based Emily Seale-Jones a female filmmaker who does it all. She began her career as an actress, who spent her free time analyzing two or three movies a day, so, unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before her affinity to film drew her behind the camera, where she seamlessly added writing and directing to her skill set.
Whilst acting developed her storytelling technique and enabled Emily a fluid transition into writing, she has found her truest voice as a director. From growing up between London and LA and then moving to NYC at 20, Emily has never felt an affinity to any particular place, but she has found her sense of ‘home’ in filmmaking and her need for freedom within its lifestyle. As inspired by her family’s resilience, she hopes to bring light to the female human experience and the stories of POC.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I’m half South African (father) and quarter French (mother) and I was born at UCH in the middle of London. I grew up between London and LA. At 20 I moved to New York for three years to study Method Acting and then moved to LA to attend film school, before moving back to London. My parents and my older siblings are all in Film, I’ve always known this is what I would be doing.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
The first thing that comes to mind; in high school at 15 I got the lead role in a play 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, which in retrospect was an incredibly disturbing, abstract and intense play to be allowed at school, but thankfully it was — because it was within this role, that for the first time in acting, I felt challenged and inspired to investigate my emotional inner life and find ways of harnessing and then expressing it on cue. At a moment toward the end of the play my character realises that no matter what relationships she is able to build in her life the unshakable knowledge of utter isolation will never go away and she reigns to killing herself. The director (a fellow student) felt it would be powerful to mark this moment, with a single tear dropping from my eye. I agreed. And so I worked out what I had to do at what point, back stage, in order to truly feel what I needed in order to experience the emotion that would evoke that tear. I have always been interested in authentic storytelling whether that be acting, directing or writing — in comedy, horror or drama.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Whilst acting in a feature To Tokyo (Amazon | iTunes) that was filmed in Japan this specific incident was on location in Lake Biwa — after a particularly long and difficult shooting week, the cast and crew decided to take a night swim in the lake which wasn’t officially allowed, so when the police showed up flashing their torches across the dark lake that we were submerged in — everyone (without discussing) began ducking under the water every time the light passed over them. Suffice to say, we were asked very politely to return to land.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The people who I collaborate with, especially those who I continue to work with and come back to. Knowing someone through the filmmaking journey creates a unique bond. Everyone is interesting, it’s about being in a situation that exposes someone in their entirety and over years of life — that’s when you get to see how interesting people are.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Glynis Rigsby — was my head of acting at Film School in New York. When I came to her with a play (Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley) that I had decided I wanted to put on, Off Broadway, outside of school, she supported me unwaveringly. She took on the role of Director and she gave me her personal time in order to elevate the piece with her talent and expertise, as Director.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad used to say “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” — I’ve heard that around, throughout my life. It comes to mind because I guess it’s the most relevant to my journey to date, without my unwavering (for the most part) will to create I would have given up this career a decade ago, it has taken a long time to achieve any kind of ‘recognizable’ success and that is hard. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I believe that the inadequate representation of ‘diversity’ in Film and Television has an insidious and unmistakable affect on our culture. Every time we engage in a narrative on screen, we subconsciously assume a role within it, as a way of engaging with the story. We usually liken ourselves to a specific character on screen, based on similarity of appearance and other significant attributes that impact the way people treat us (sexual orientation, gender identity etc.)
Reni Eddo-Lodge said “ Those who are coded as a threat in our collective representation of humanity are not white. These messages were so powerful that four-year-old me had recognized them, watching television, noticing that all the characters that looked like me were criminals at worst and sassy sidekicks at best.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working on my first feature film, a Coming of Age/ Horror depicting the final days — a ‘swan song’ if you will of a female friendship that has spanned the course of two decades. Additionally I am writing an original Comedy series with BBC3, alongside a hugely inspiring passion project with Ellis B. House, if you haven’t heard of the collective, you should — http://ellisbhouse.com/
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Collaborative creation. I’ve never had trouble creating in isolation, but the evolution, unpredictability and exponential results that come from a collective of multifaceted, talented and inspired human beings is second to none.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- If you don’t enjoy the ride, then don’t get on the rollercoaster.
- Create what inspires you the most, not what other people are interested in.
- Don’t try to be what you think anyone else wants (casting directors/ directors/ production companies/ financiers) be sure of what you are and do that. Because fundamentally all those people want to know that they can trust you to carry your share of the project and that takes confidence, so own it. And in the same vein remember that people project their insecurities and troubles in order to cope, that’s okay but it’s not about you.
- Know your limitations, or get to know them (as soon as possible :))
- Expressing some of the hardest and/ or moving — personal moments in your life, through your art, is one of the most profound experiences life has to offer.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I want to say my personal artistic vision as a writer, director and actor. But it can’t always be entirely that. The work has to be funded and therefore in varying degrees (depending on the artistic license I am given on a project) I am beholden to the financiers input, which is often informed by their past experience of what viewers ‘want to see’. Critics don’t affect the artistic and cinematic choices I make.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Gender equality and a way to prevent and support women (especially women of colour) from violence and sexual assault.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Daniel Katz or David Fenkel (ideally both) I’d love to make a feature with A24.
Or Zazie Beetz — so I could wrangle her into acting in my feature 🙂
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!