The Innocence Project’s “Happiest Moments” (PSA)

Ariel Ellis

Woodward Original

 

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
In 2019, I was hired to write and direct a short narrative ad for Uprep Schools in Detroit. I had the privilege of casting and directing nearly 100 real students from the Uprep school district. This project introduced my style and knack for drawing out authentic verité moments from non-actors--a technique I still employ in most of my work.

How did you get into directing? 
I got my start in the film industry as an art director. I worked alongside several directors, developing concepts, designing treatments, and helping them bring the their worlds to life as a set designer. But I knew from day one of my career that I wanted to direct. When the time was right, I took that leap.

What is your most recent project? 
I just wrapped production for a Pure Michigan tourism campaign. Over the course of a month, I traveled to seven wildly diverse cities in Michigan and highlighted the ravishing attractions that exist in each.

What is the best part of being a director? 
The best part of being a director is traveling, telling the stories of individuals who change the way you see the world, and crafting meaningful work with incredibly talented people.

What is the worst part of being a director? 
As a director who loves to highlight the lives and experiences of other people, I find that the worst part of directing is when that spotlight is on me. Public speaking can be unnerving.

What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I currently specialize in commercials, short-form documentaries, social impact, and branded content. I aim to transition into long-form documentary and genre-bending scripted narrative work.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 
I come from a long line of women who never let their circumstances stop them from achieving anything. My mother has always been the blueprint. I wouldn’t be in this position had I not watched her defy the odds with grace. Through my mom, I’ve learned that gentle warmth and strong will are not mutually exclusive.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I constantly find inspiration in the work of many directors. But I’m most inspired by Barry Jenkins’ ability to entrance audiences with colorful and dreamlike visuals while not compromising the raw authenticity of the story.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite content changes frequently. Right now, my favorite film is The Worst Person in the World, my favorite show is Euphoria, and I was especially moved by the PSA “Back to School Essentials” by Sandy Hook Promise.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in Inkster, a small town in Southeast Michigan. I graduated from Michigan State. And I began my storytelling career as a journalist in Lansing. But I fell in love with directing while living in Detroit. The people, the art, and the culture are what inspires so much of my work.

Contact

Woodward Original, www.woodwardoriginal.com