I have followed Ella Fields' work for years now and have never been disappointed. When I was younger, her surreal, colorful films always seemed to ring true to my teenage experience-- perhaps because Ella herself is a teenage girl. It's a rare joy to see teenage characters fleshed out so beautifully and portrayed with such tenderness. In a world full of Netflix originals that offered only an incomplete and distorted reflection of teenage life, that made me feel as though I was looking at my adolescence through a funhouse mirror, Ella's short films were (are) a breath of fresh air. Whether her characters are trapped in a soft focus dreamscape where they're forced to eat eyeballs (like in her 2018 short Wonderland), navigating society's oppressive gender roles (like in Stereo), or coming to terms with their queerness and unrequited love (Bubble Gum), they never fall into the "uncanny valley" of teen movies that feel a little too much like they were written by 40 year old (male) screenwriters.
Ella's ability to articulate on her experiences in an accessible way has doubtlessly helped many young people, besides me, feel like their voices matter. I mean, she's amassed over 80K subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she also posts behind-the-scenes videos, video diaries, and Q&As. But I wouldn't be doing justice to her work if I didn't mention that her skills as a storyteller extend beyond teenage life-- her adaptation of "The Green Ribbon" masterfully brings out the melancholic tones of the original story without sacrificing the element of macabre, fun mystery. Ella understands that the best stories draw from personal experience, and her films, although varied in terms of subject matter, all seem to come from a place of authenticity. I can't wait to see what she does next.
Who are your biggest inspirations and what lessons have they taught you?
I have so many inspirations in the world of film: Agnès Varda, Célinne Sciamma, Anna Biller, Lulu Wang, Greta Gerwig, Michel Gondry... just to name a few. Each has such a different artistic style and way that they approach topics, whether it be Célinne's intimate tellings of LGBTQ+ stories, Anna's magical fairytale approach to narcissistic feminism, Michel's wacky surrealist elements... I could go on for ages! I draw a lot of inspiration from my best friends as well. Their outlooks on life and way of existing are just totally superhero-esque. One thing my dad has always said to me is that "If you don't have scrapes on your knees, then you're not doing anything." I always come back to that as a source of comfort and encouragement. My parents are awesome, and their love and support for my passion has always made me feel like I'm capable. I am forever grateful for that.
What has been the most transformative experience of your life?
To be completely honest, I'm not sure how to answer this question! I can't pin any part of myself on a singular moment, and I definitely find that transformative experiences can be something as significant as my parents' divorce, or as seemingly meaningless as laying in my bed, staring at the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling, and thinking. Everything I have been through in my life has watered a different plant in the garden, and each flower is in a forever state of blooming!
What was it like to have your work go viral at such a young age?
It was definitely wild to experience a bunch of eyeballs on a film that I had only posted online for my friends and family to see. When I made my film Stereo at 13 years old, it was the first time I had ever spoken on a strong opinion that I had, as well as making something that could have potentially been seen as controversial. Being so young proved the power that my voice & anyone elses' voices could have through the internet, and having that sort of exposure definitely raised the pressure in what I felt was my duty to use my filmmaking as a tool for activism. That notion in my 13 year old brain had its ups and downs, but through it all, I truly see Stereo as the beginning of the search for my place in the colorful world of storytelling. It is comforting to remind myself that I will always be on that journey!
What is your attitude towards your earlier work now?
I made a lot of films in middle school + early high school, some which I still adore, some which I cringe at, and some which I completely disagree with. One element I've noticed that has been with me almost my entire life is a love for color, nostalgia, and storybook worlds. I was adapting some of my favorite children's stories and fairytales back when I was 11 years old, and even today at 17, I am constantly searching for meaning within the content I consumed as a kid. I love to see the way in which I experimented in my early work: making bubbles burst out of a girl's mouth in my music video "Soap," creating an imaginary friend using After Effects in my film "Growing Up Imaginary"... these movies exist as milestones in my life, and I will always love them for that. There are some films however that feel performative and poorly researched to me now. For example, I made a film in 2018 called True Colors which was an experimental depiction of a transgender experience. I am not transgender and have never experienced the struggle that transgender people go through, and that definitely showed in the film. I am working to better educate myself on all stories, and to only tell ones that I am truly equipped to tell.
How did you develop your style as a filmmaker?
The process of finding and developing my voice as a filmmaker has truly been one of trial and error. I started off making a lot of music videos, and I think those are a wonderful way to explore the visual aspects of film without worrying too much about story structure or dialogue. Experimentation of other art forms helped a lot as well! Taking pictures allowed me to practice directing models and think about space and framing, painting allowed me to experiment more with color, digital design and creating a zine helped me prove to myself that I can work hard and figure something out that I have no idea how to do. My style is still everchanging, but the best way to hone in on what you're good at is to just create! Create create create as much as you possibly can.
In what ways is your style of filmmaking similar to your personal style? In what ways do they differ?
I think that these two styles are more intertwined than I had ever really noticed. My films don't really have budgets, so I'll wind up using little kick knacks and props from my bedroom or pastel nightgowns from my own closet. On the flip side, my room has wound up being a museum of film elements as well, whether that be the "Party Time" sign from my experimental film "Wonderland" that now hangs above my nightstand, or a green rug I ordered for my film "The Green Ribbon" that is now the signature rug of my floor. This is only when it comes to the visuals; I have always used filmmaking as a tool to process events in my life and to help myself make decisions. The stories I tell are often very close to my heart and mind, so I guess that could count as an intertwinement with my brain's style. :-)
If you weren't pursuing a film career, what would you be doing?
Oh boy, I really don't think I could tell you! I guess that I could be doing anything: dancing, studying botany, inventing some totally awesome piece of technology or something... I often wonder if the things we all love to do are in our lives by circumstance, or if somehow we all are truly put here with a "purpose." Like if I was born somewhere in Iowa and my parents were farmers and I was expected to grow up to care for the farm too, would I still have a calling to make movies? Or what if I had decided to keep playing soccer when I was 14 instead of quitting to make my film Bubble Gum? I could drive myself crazy thinking about it. All I know is that wherever I am now in all of the endless possibilities, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else.
Why did you decide to make vlogs? How has your YouTube career influenced your filmmaking?
I feel like everyone is a vlogger in elementary school - I guess with me, it "half-heartedly" stuck. I've always been a bit unsure about what sort of content I wanted to post on Youtube. I like to vlog, but talking (in front of the camera, and also just in general) makes me really nervous. I've had phases of making advice videos, some thrift hauls, makeup videos, etc... none of it really stuck or seemed to be too meaningful. However, I feel like all of those videos have just been moments in between. The only thing that's been constant on my channel since I began it in 2013 has been my short films. I would say that Youtube is the reason why I have been able to have any sort of "career" in film so far, and I think that it is the greatest home for the kinds of films I like to make, for they have been able to reach the audience of people who could potentially benefit from seeing them.
Who are your favorite up-and-coming female directors?
Oh my goodness there is sooo much talent that the industry has yet to experience. They better watch out! We are coming in strong! Maggie Ellenburg, my bestie, is an absolutely badass director & cinematographer & basically just a Jill of all trades when it comes to filmmaking. Some of her work has focused on sexual assault, anxiety, as well as just awesome surrealistic and experimental stuff; she is so powerful and creative and resilient and it totally shows in her films! Bella Masrouga is one of the most insanely talented cinematographers!! Her use of color is so thoughtful and she is so passionate about what she does. She's actually shooting my next film, "Caterpillar Kisses!" At the beginning of this year, I was involved a week long event called YoungArts, and the group of filmmakers was almost entirely ladies. Shaman Aponte, Mariah Barrera, Audrey Yin, Alisha Heng, Chloe Hoffman.. remember these names! They are all going to do such incredible things. They already have!
In what ways does your identity as a woman inform your art?
I think that if anything, it makes my work more sensitive, vulnerable, and poetic: not that those are traits of being a woman, but more so that they are traits I see within myself. My life has always impacted my work, whether that be regarding my shyness or queerness or even my experiences of trauma, but I never really see those experiences to be intertwined with my existence as a woman. I haven't experienced too much of "the industry" at this point in my life, but from the looks of it there are more and more ladies demanding their way into Hollywood: which is awesome! I am so honored to be a part of this era of badass female filmmakers, but at the same time, the stories that are lacking most in mainstream media are those of people of color. There is no way that my female and queer identity could not affect my work, just as the existence and experiences of a black woman would affect hers. Everybody has a story to tell, it's just about getting these stories onto the big screen and more diverse voices in the writer's room.
How do you hope people feel when watching your films?
I think that this could definitely differ depending on the film, but in the grand scheme, my goal is to allow people to feel understood, inspired, and to leave them with a sense of question. I used to believe that I could answer questions with my work, but I have since learned that it is my duty to lead people to ask them themselves. Films don't singlehandedly change the world, but they can serve as catalysts for change and conversation, only if they're able to stick like superglue after the credits have rolled. I hope after someone spends a couple of minutes with my film, once they've clicked on the next Youtube thrift haul or have opened Google classroom to work on their chemistry homework or have finally gone outside to take their little fluffy dog for a walk, that they feel a sense of calmness, yet a fire urging them to look further. I hope they look at "Bubble Gum" and feel encouraged to come out to to a friend, or they watch "Where the Wild Things Are" and spend a few hours analyzing their old children's books, or they see "Tree Hugger" and proceed to walk outside with their cute polkadot mask on to go hug a tree. I've said the word "or" so many times, but truly any reaction at all is worth it to me. Even negative reactions can be more influential than we will ever be able to realize.
Using a metaphor, how would you describe your creative process?
I have been thinking about this one for eons. All I wish in life is to compare myself to Curious George.
You've spoken before about how your tastes differ from that of a typical film student. How did you find the confidence to break that mold, so to speak, and build the worlds you wanted to create regardless of whether they're "in fashion"?
I think that I've just never really been drawn to watch the sort of movies I thought I was supposed to like, so naturally I never had much interest in making them either. Sometimes I will look at a screenplay I've written and think "this just doesn't seem like something I would write," even though I've written it. On the other hand, once in a blue moon, I will create something that feels like a direct reflection of myself and my mind. I must say that is one of the most exhilarating feelings, and it is now something I try to keep in touch with before I move my films into production. I think that fashion is totally relative! I could see someone wearing a crazy wacky fit that I know I would never wear myself, but if they're owning it, it's automatically cool. If somebody doesn't like my style, that's okay! I could make any genre of film on the planet, and there would always be people who love it and people who hate it. I guess I might as well stick to something that I love myself.
How do you hope your work will change in the future?
I really really hope to hone in on making more queer content! High school has been interesting. I feel like I've "found myself and lost myself and found myself" time and time again. Truly, I have just been trying to figure out where my voice is the loudest, and what role my work plays in the vast sea of super-awesome art and media. I hope to continue to keep in touch with child-Ella who loves magic and fairy tales, while incorporating my personal life experiences, whatever those may be in the future. I want to bring my specific style into bringing more LGBTQ+ exposure, because truly the media needs more of that which is not created by straight cis dudes. That is definitely a goal of mine, but I think I am pretty good at identifying which project needs to be nurtured in every moment. I have no idea how that will change as I venture into the land of adulthood. I guess there is only one way to find out!