• Maia Joy

Ella Greenwood on Mental Health Advocacy in Film and New Projects

At only 19, London native Ella Greenwood is making huge strides in the film industry. Her recent short film, Faulty Roots, was nominated for Best Script by Film The House, run by Parliament and sponsored by Disney, Warner Bros, Lionsgate and more. As the founder and producer at the heart of Broken Flames Productions, her work focuses on mental health advocacy, creating films for and about young people in their most human and honest form. Greenwood’s mental health advocacy extends to the teen mental health charity Stem4. She was awarded Positive Female Role Model of the Year at the Darkus Magazine Awards. Her work can be found on her website, ellagreenwood.com, as well as on her social media (@popsella on Instagram and @ella_greenwood on Twitter).

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you first get into the film industry, both behind the camera and acting?

I always wanted to be an actor. I remember watching High School Musical when I didn’t really know what acting was and thinking, “I want to do that! It looks fun.” My parents signed me up for lessons, and I just fell in love with it . . . I loved the experience of being on a set, seeing how the project was made; each role intrigued me . . . When I turned 18 and finished studying, I had a lot more time and wanted to take control of my life rather than waiting around for auditions. I also wanted to tell stories, which is how I got started behind the scenes--I just wanted to give it a go and create more of my own work.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Essentially, just in the things that I think need to be told--stories that need to be shared, things that need to be represented. I’ll read something and think, “that’s something that needs so much more attention; I’d love to follow a character in that situation and create a story related to that.” [At the minute, I’m focusing on mental health because it’s] something that I’m so passionate about. There’s so much to tell about different experiences with mental health, so I look at those different experiences and build characters from that.

You’re a fantastic filmmaker, working at such a high caliber at such a young age. How does it feel to be so successful so young? Does it impact your work or creative process at all?

I don’t know if I’d call myself successful! [But] I’m so lucky to be doing this as my full-time job . . . to be in [this] position. It’s weird--being at home for the year, everything seemed different because everything is by my laptop-- by Zoom, by emails--it [all blurred] into one, and I don’t feel like I’ve really taken everything in regarding the fantastic projects I’ve been working on. [But] I’m so grateful. It’s so amazing getting to work with different people in the industry . . . I’m getting to tell stories that hopefully are reaching people; I’ve gotten some lovely emails recently about the fact that I’m focusing on mental health, which is incredible. I’m so lucky.

Do you have a favorite project, or anything you’ve worked on that you feel especially passionate about?

I love all the projects I’m working on, I really do. I’m working with different people on all of them, and they’re all so talented and amazing, and we get to focus on a different part of mental health [for each]. [Right now], I’m working on one film focusing on a teenage girl and one focusing on a male, so I’m working with different people on each and telling different perspectives and points of view.

[However], Faulty Roots was my first film (which I’m in development for), so it’ll always be my baby. It seemed so crazy at the time--I didn’t know what I was doing, and I thought I was going to fail, so it will always be important to me for that reason. But I love them all.

Do you have a set creative process for your films? Does it vary between them, or has COVID upended the process altogether?

I love to come up with a rough idea. For example, for the film on male mental health, someone I was speaking with recently told me that 75% of suicides in the UK are committed by males. I thought, “why haven’t I focused on a male character yet?” and with those figures I found that I really need and want to create one. The way I worked with that was looking at all the research, seeing why males don’t speak up, making sure that I knew what I wanted to tell from the research, and seeing how I can best promote awareness to hopefully make a difference.

[Also], I love to come up with titles and theming first, even if it’s just a main picture. Titles are so hard to come up with, but I love to work with that because it helps to establish a theme, and I can branch out from there to the key points I want to tell. Then I can fit the dialogue and the characters in, get an idea of when to shoot and who I want to work with. It sort of follows a standard set, but also not really--each project is so different, and it really depends who I’m working with. But theming is so important to me: keeping in mind what I want from the project as a whole and what I want it to look like.

What do you want your viewers to take away from your work? Does it vary for each project, or do you have an overarching message as a creator that you want your viewers to walk away with?

It’s definitely different for each project, but for the most part I want viewers to know that there are other people who have experienced something similar to [them], that [they’ll] never be alone in that sense, and how important it is to speak about these things and to listen and be there for others. That’s the most important thing you can really do for someone to support their mental health, so I want . . . to get that message across with all of my films.

What advice would you give young creators who are just getting started in the acting or film industry?

Get experience everywhere you can. I was first signed to agencies through dance school, and when I got my first individual agent I thought I’d get TV shows and big-budget Hollywood films right away. When she first sent me materials for commercials and short films I was such a snob about it-- I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do them! But you have to get experience anywhere you can, and experience is amazing. I worked on a TV show once as a double, and I learned the most then because the pressure isn’t really on you-- you just stand there and absorb. You’re working with the director in a very relaxed environment because he literally just says, “go stand there, go stand there,” and that’s it. Any experience you can get--as an extra, even working as a runner on a short film---get involved, start making connections, and see how you might want to work or not want to work.

Also, watch films! We’re so consumed with wanting to make our own films that we forget to watch other peoples’. Before making short films, I can’t say that I ever really watched films, but you learn so much from watching [them]--I’ve probably learned more from short films than feature films.

[In short]: watch as much as you can, and get as much experience as you can.

Are there any films that have impacted how you create, or any films/filmmakers that inspire you?

There are so many films that I love! I like to pick certain things from films that I like rather than looking at certain films and wanting to emulate them. Something that I’ve always struggled with, even still, is the representation of young people; I think a film that showcases young people really well is Eighth Grade. So many [other films have gone] so wrong with how teens would react and how young people would say things. The other ones I’ve seen that have been so great are biopics and films about real-life events, but I feel like it’s rare to see films that represent young people well. Hopefully, that’s something that I can work on . . . I find it so weird because the content is aimed at young people, so why are [they] using people that are so much older? When I was little and watched High School Musical, I thought that when I got to high school, everyone would be that old, [and when I was high school-aged] watching it, [I thought], “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I look like them?” It’s created for young people, but not really created for young people.

What can we expect next from you? Where can we see your work?

I shot a film, Self-Charm, in December, and I’m hoping to get that finished really soon. Faulty Roots is in development, and I hope to do the feature this year as well. I’m also shooting a film, Smudged Smile, this month, and I’m shooting Why Wouldn’t I Be, the film about mens’ mental health, in April. My animation is also playing at a few festivals--MONSTRA Festival is one place you can see it. They’re all in random places and separate, but I post about them all on my Instagram and on my website, so they’re all together there.