Women in Film: In conversation with Ella Greenwood

Women in Film | In conversation with Ella Greenwood.candid orange

The film industry is astonishingly male-dominated. Male crew, directors, executives – all crafting male-centric stories. Not only has this had dire consequences for diversity and representation, but in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the subsequent #MeToo movement, this harbours more dangerous implications.

This is not a uniquely American problem; a report entitled Calling the Shots from Southampton University revealed that, in 2015, only 20% of all British films had women in key roles, and women made up 13% of directors that year. Another report by Directors UK  found that films released in the UK were six times more likely to be directed by a man. These startling statistics reveal that real sea-change needs to happen in the film industry to redress this balance. We can take some inspiration from our European neighbours, with the Swedish Film Institute pledging in 2013 to have a 50:50 gender split in all their films by 2020. Since 2015, Directors UK has directed funds to achieve the same goal.

Whilst we’re some way off achieving this, 19-year-old filmmaker Ella Greenwood is part of this sea-change. With her production company, Broken Flames, she released her first short film earlier this year. Faulty Roots, tackling teenage adolescence and mental health problems, is now being turned into a feature, starring Gavin and Stacey’s Melanie Walters and rising star Kayleigh-Paige Rees. Working as an ambassador for mental health organization stem4u, alongside working on her new short Self-Charm and a Burton-inspired animation, Ella has had a busy period in lockdown.

Last week I spoke to Ella from her family house in London via Zoom about filmmaking, the importance of mental health, and what she’s been watching over the lockdown period.

Your short film Faulty Roots deals with a lot of important issues. Mental health, simply just being a teenager – a lot of it that I personally connected with. How do you feel about putting this into a film? There’s been a lot of controversy about the representation of mental health in films. How did you feel you wanted to represent mental health in the film?

Ella: It’s hard when you’re doing a short. I just wanted to show simple things. I didn’t want to show her (Lola), in this film anyway, in therapy. I wanted to show the small things. I wanted to demonstrate the importance of speaking, of friendship. But also, the little things that can be really difficult, her future, or even just getting out of bed. That’s what I wanted to represent. The small things, nothing majorly dramatic.

I enjoyed the sense of perspective that you put into the film. The character of Zack (who has a genetic disease), allows your character to see the difference between a mental health condition and a physical condition. I really liked that dynamic.

Ella: I wanted to show the difference between someone who doesn’t really have a reason not to smile. Like my character (Lola), there was no reason for her to be sad, but she is, that’s depression. It’s not caused by anything; you can have it when everything seems great. With Zack, I wanted to show the contrast between someone who should be sad but isn’t and someone who is sad and shouldn’t.

You’ve also started your own production company Broken Flames. What came first? Did you start the production company and then did the film? Or was it the other way round?

Ella: It was definitely the film first. Honestly, I just started the company because no one was going to take me seriously. A random 18-year-old making a film saying ‘’I’m the producer/writer/director, please get on board’’. I did it in a way almost to professionalize it. So, we could say, “no this is actually long-term, we want to do a lot of great projects”. And it’s not just a hobby. I thought it would help out, and I definitely think it did.

So, after you did A-Levels you weren’t tempted to go to University? Or were you always interested in pursuing film?

Ella: I’ve always considered university because I think I’d love it. Just the social aspect. But because I was homeschooled, I’ve always been the kind of person to learn how to do something by doing it. Even if I’m trying to do something on my laptop, I’d be much more likely to just actually do it, rather than watching a tutorial. And I’ve always worked better that way. So, I thought I’d rather make films that way, and maybe make bad films and maybe make good films, rather than being taught how to do it.

Were there any reference points that you used for Faulty Roots? Any inspiration that you took from other films?

Ella: I don’t think so. I’ve seen some good stuff recently. But especially before doing Faulty Roots anything I had seen in regards to mental health was just not great. There’s such a need for more representation but again the representation I had seen just wasn’t good. Something that I saw a month ago on Netflix was really heavily criticized for romanticizing suicide and you just can not do that. That’s so dangerous.

The film Faulty Roots is being made into a feature, with Gwen from Gavin & Stacey – that’s pretty incredible, how did that come about?

Ella: With the short, I was lucky enough to have quite a few people review it and I got some good feedback. And some of the feedback was that this was an important topic and it was important to expand that. They wanted to see more and I wanted to say more. There’s so much more to say about mental health. So, of course, I wanted to expand it and try a feature-length version, and focus so much more on her experiences. We’ve got an amazing producer on board and various people have helped out.

I’ve seen you’re also working on animation? Is that related to mental health in any way, or is it about something else entirely?

Ella: Yeah! My first animation, Dreary Days, I did during lockdown. It was stop-motion, then computer-animated. I feel like that was quite a good use of my time. I planned to do it anyway, and it happened that I did it during lockdown. It’s not in particular about mental health. It’s about a young character who’s quite different from the rest of her family. It just follows that. I love Coraline, Corpse Bride so I just wanted to do a first animation like that.

You’re a young female in a very male-dominated industry. What would your advice be for young female filmmakers who want to get into the industry, but feel like it’s male-dominated, and may find it difficult to get their own ideas across or their own narratives?

Ella: I’d say definitely create your own work. It is hard, whether you’re male or female. There are so many people in the industry, wanting to work in the industry. You can’t just apply for a director’s job if you’ve never directed. You have to get that experience. With iPhones, they shoot such good quality or even any phone. There are film festivals specifically for films shot on an iPhone. So just make your own work. Find other people who are interested and want to collaborate. You’ll make connections that you’ll use. You never know where they’ll be in five years. If you’re a female and want to work with a female team, find a female team. It is hard because it’s so oversaturated with males. But there are definitely amazing filmmakers out there, it’s just putting that bit of extra effort in to find them.

I’ve just watched the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Is there anything you’ve watched recently that you really liked?

Ella: I definitely loved the Queen’s Gambit! On Amazon Prime, I’ve always loved This is Us. There’s a new season of it. They’re releasing each episode weekly. This new series is set during the pandemic. It’s about the characters with their masks on. It’s weird to see TV reflect this time and incorporate the current climate. And I think the show is really beautiful. I really love This is Us.

Do you feel like Netflix and Amazon Prime are oversaturating the market? With all the original content they’re making, I almost feel like it’s too much. Do you think it’s a good thing that so many shows and films are being made?

Ella: I don’t think it’s too much. There’s so much content that needs to be made. There are so many stories that need to be told. If they can get told, then great. I do think it’s a shame for films that were supposed to have cinematic releases to then go on streaming. That’s something I don’t want. I don’t want cinemas to not exist because of streaming. I love the content that streamers put out but I hope that cinemas survive.

The feature-length version of Greenwood’s film, Faulty Roots, is scheduled for a 2021 release, alongside her new short film Self-Charm.