Poppy Gordon: “Just the ones that didn’t give up”

I would like the industry to be less risk-averse, when it comes to letting new voices in. Often times the process they have for allowing new creators to be seen and heard, is so stringent, or incestual that only a few individuals get the opportunities to unfold creatively. And it becomes this pile on because […]

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I would like the industry to be less risk-averse, when it comes to letting new voices in. Often times the process they have for allowing new creators to be seen and heard, is so stringent, or incestual that only a few individuals get the opportunities to unfold creatively. And it becomes this pile on because this one new voice has been sanctioned as safe and they then represent a category of unique new voices, but I find that still far too narrow a funnel.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Director Poppy Gordon.

Poppy is NYC based and excels at visually driven narratives that combine bold cinematic style with pop influenced VFX. Poppy has directed work for brands such as NIKE, WAV, PayPal, Pond’s, TRESemmé, and many more. She is commercially represented by Hey Baby and also leads her own creative studio Feral. For Your Consideration was co-written by Poppy’s longtime collaborator Aldo Arias who is a New York City writer by way of Texas.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me!

I grew up in a family of artists mostly and split my time between Germany, America and Israel, more on the fragmented and eccentric side of things but I now reside in Brooklyn.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to be involved in acting and directing in some way, if it be theater or film. At first, I wanted to be a fireman, and when that phase ended, this was the next best thing. I guess, having a vivid imagination and a love of playing led me down this path. Directing with all its responsibility and methodical nature is also a form of play. I also spent lots of time with my grandfather taking photos and then developing them in his darkroom, and I think that had a profound effect on me.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It’s hard to tell when my career really began. I guess one could say, starting my own creative studio was an exciting endeavor. It afforded me a great deal of freedom I hadn’t experienced prior, that I’m very grateful for.

It’s been very encouraging to see the industry push for more inclusion since I started. Personally, I felt very marginalized for a long time when attempting to break-in. I felt pigeonholed based on certain aged, cultural tropes of what a director was supposed to look and act like, that weren’t in my control. Luckily, I was very fortunate though, as I had some key male figures in my life who put themselves out there on my behalf and were able to open up some critical doors. Getting those opportunities to prove yourself is the hardest part.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t recall making any mistakes. Just kidding. 😉

Getting detained at the Canadian border and having to pay off customs to get in was a fun one… or being in the middle of the Arabian desert in a dune buggy on a location scout with my colleague.

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?

I’m grateful to my screenwriting partner Aldo Arias who I worked with on my short For Your Consideration and who I’m currently collaborating with on a feature script.

We’ve been friends for a while as well as co-workers, but we found that we share many similar creative sensibilities and there is a trust there, even when we have differing opinions. Our debates tend to feel enriching as we work through script sections.

Working creatively closely with someone takes a lot of faith and trust because one is giving of one’s time and energy, and it’s a delicate process. I am lucky because I have similarly close relationships with my editor, my DP, my production designer, and producers etc. All my work wouldn’t be possible without them at all. So, I owe a lot of people actually.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I’m not sure that I’m truly yet in a position to give advice but if I had to try, I would say persistence truly is key and don’t be afraid to fail. If there isn’t any risk to what you want to do, there’s probably also nothing new on the other side to be gained.

Some people find success very early and others later. As my mod mother always told me, follow your heart and you’ll get there.

And back to persistence, it’s not always the brightest bulbs that make it to the finish line, — just the ones that didn’t give up.

What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

I haven’t worked in TV yet sadly, but I would truly love to!

I love the challenge of having to crystallize an expression out of my thoughts and feelings and then bringing it to life as a part of a collective. It’s just a wonderful medium. The politics of it can be problematic in terms of just getting there, but regardless I love all aspects of the process.

I would like the industry to be less risk-averse, when it comes to letting new voices in. Often times the process they have for allowing new creators to be seen and heard, is so stringent, or incestual that only a few individuals get the opportunities to unfold creatively. And it becomes this pile on because this one new voice has been sanctioned as safe and they then represent a category of unique new voices, but I find that still far too narrow a funnel.

In order to get bold new voices into the mix, the industry needs to actively create space for that.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

Thank you for saying so. I’m working on a feature script right now with my writing partner Aldo Arias.

I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s an ensemble piece in the vain of Robert Altman or early Woody Allen, except it involves some interstitial dance numbers.

We are very interested in looking at 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 and our youth growing up today?

Please keep in mind, I think it’s important that diversity is represented in film and television, in a genuine way, because it makes sense for the work and that it’s not some forced marketing construct forced in. The difference becomes apparent otherwise. So keeping that in mind, here are my three reasons.

1. The world itself is diverse, so it absolutely just doesn’t make sense for the entertainment industry to try to speak to, dialogue with and only reflect back the realities and dreams of a small segment of its audience that it profits off of.

2. There is so much that unheard voices have to contribute to popular culture and, hopefully, Hollywood’s recent empowerment efforts are the start of real change. But why does it feel like we are only being “allowed” a voice? Why does representation feel like “representation?” I think it’s important to go beyond tokenism in art and culture for changes to be genuine instead of trite.

3. The entertainment industry is in the business of generating and trafficking empathy, so it’s even more important that its power be used as a constructive and meaningful force in the manufacturing of the culture we end up having to live in and contend with; and that goes for the process of creation, the gate-keepers involved as well as its final manifestation.

Of course, I think that a greater degree of diversity in backgrounds in our storytelling community will just result in more brilliant work for our youth to enjoy and see themselves reflected in.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I feel like I’ve just gotten my start really, so I’m still very much in the business of listening to others but I’ll give it a go.

Okay, actually here are 5 things people did tell me, whether I listened or heard it soon enough is a different story, but I found these bits of advice to be so useful and hard-won lessons for me:

1. There is no one path to becoming a director, there are many ways. Just start making stuff as soon as you feel up for it.

2. Find your people. The ones you really click with creatively. Those who you trust will care as much as you do. As in the end, that is what matters most.

3. Catherine Breillat who I love and adore as a mentor and filmmaker, once graciously told me — film is like painting, and the actors are the color palette and she likes to determine her own look. Catherine prefers to make her own mark, so she loves discovering new talent. That isn’t always possible, but I took her words to heart and I always hear her voice telling me to paint with my own palette.

4. Location, location, location — not just in real estate but also film making. The fewer locations and more accessible ones a film has, the cheaper it will be to make, so think about that as you write and find clever ways to minimize the need for new locations. Simple and basic advice, but so true.

5. And last but not least, find your subject matter, which I’m still doing and don’t feel pressured to have to fit into a prescribed mold of what is expected of you or would be deemed acceptable.

Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

As of late, I’ve been trying to not take on too much at a time.

I usually pride myself on being able to multi-task and actually also succeed at it, but it’s not the healthiest in terms of self-care.

My concentration spam becomes shot after multi-tasking too much and can’t focus on more methodical work that takes a different kind of focus.

I’ve found slowing down a bit to be much better for wellness and health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If a place has good coffee, order the coffee. If the coffee is nasty, rather ask for black tea.” — Another one by Catherine Breillat while we were traveling. I was completely in awe and found it so French, so particular and wise. I thought to myself, to know yourself and pay astute attention to your likes and dislikes, to have such firm boundaries is helpful in life as it is in art.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I don’t know that I am a person of huge influence though that would be certainly very interesting if I was.

Problems are so complex and multifaceted and who am I to decide what would generate the most good in the world. I know I’m passionate about showing ways in which the human experience is a shared one, and that we have more qualities that bond than separate, and I would consider myself lucky to be able to continue to attempt to make a dent in that regard.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I guess I would love to have lunch with James Franco. There’s a funny back story there. I would love to make this film about quite an unknown female songwriter who is deceased, but in order to make it, I have to have access to some diaries that are in an attic at her husband’s home. Her husband who is elderly, a once significant actor turned painter is holding on to the life rights. I’ve been trying to convince him for years to just give me access to this woman’s diaries that no one has yet seen, and that I’m good for it, but all he told me was that if I can get him a letter from James Franco, he’ll show me the diaries and entertain giving me the life rights. I thought that was actually pretty funny in a way. I guess he thinks I’m a person of great influence if I can get him a letter from James, so thus, the desired lunch date.

And if James won’t write me the letter, please Christine Vachon, Ted Hope… 😉

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Sure, my insta is @poppyyael — it’s not very curated and more on the personal side but I like it that way. The creative studio I founded is @feralnyc_studio. And my short For Your Consideration is currently doing the festival circuit and I’m posting updates on it to @fycfilm. I just joined twitter so I’m still learning the ropes, my twitter handle is @mspoppygordon.

Thank you so much for having me.

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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