Derek Lam's "Silent St." (branded content)

Celia Rowlson-Hall

m ss ng p eces

1) How did you get into directing? 
I moved to New York to be a choreographer and worked in concert theater until I was asked to choreograph a music video for MGMT. The moment I walked onto set I had a strong feeling that I was home, and fell in love with the process of filmmaking immediately. Once I realized that this was the medium I wanted to work in, I began to explore how to bring my understanding of dance and movement to this new form. I also quickly realized that dance shouldn’t just be a supplemental means of expression in film—which is the way it is most often used— but one can make it the sole expression. So I aimed to create films where the movement is full and clear, where words aren’t necessary.

2) What is your most recent project? 
I am currently working on my second feature film, as well as fleshing out an idea for my third.
I most recently directed three TV spots for Harry’s Razors, as well as choreographed a music video and Esprit commercial.

3) What is the best part of being a director? 
Being able to watch my vision come to life by collaborating with an incredible team of artists.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
So the pressure isn’t just to have a unique vision and clarity in creating said vision, I must also be strong at all costs for my team and be able to enact that vision clearly.  The director sets the entire tone, energy, work ethic of the shoot- so if I am off, the production is off.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
My current career focus is to specialize in feature films while intermittently doing commercials that challenge and expand our culture, as well as creative branded content, something story driven and full of experimental expression.  At my core I’m drawn to long form, so I feel that features are where I can most execute my strength and vision.  My genre is experimental and dance driven, and so really any form that allows me to play and explore new ideas in that area is most welcome in any form, whether it be branded content, music videos, or fashion videos.

6) 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 have been searching for a mentor for a long time really. I always felt like that was a role missing from my artistic life.
I recently met Barbara Hammer at a film festival and I want her to be my mentor.  She gave a speech at the festival and said, “for now I am a feminist filmmaker, and once we have equality, I will be a humanist and a filmmaker.” I loved that. She accurately expressed what I have been thinking these past few years.

7) Who is your favorite director and why? 
No such thing as a favorite for me.  But first person who comes to mind right now is Yorgos Lanthimos (“Alps,” “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster”). He brings out such incredible performances, creates such peculiar worlds with specific rules, and has the darkest sense of humor. I simply love his work.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?  What is your favorite movie?
I just watched Roy Andersson’s “a pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence” - it was brilliant. I love his work so very much.
Your favorite television/online program? Right now it’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” !!!
Your favorite commercial or branded content? I love anything about gay families “acting normal,” dads doing laundry, people of non-conforming gender celebrated for their beauty, mixed race lovers- I am all for it. Anything that depicts our world as colorful and diverse, and steers away from, and plays against the white, cis-gendered, heteronormative culture that is still pervasive in our media.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Urbanna, Virginia which is a small coastal town on the Chesapeake Bay.  I pursued dance as a child and into my teens, and then graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts with a BFA in modern dance and choreography. Throughout high school and college I had thrilling jobs such as cashier at Krispy Kreme, retail worker at Abercrombie and Fitch, and yacht cleaner at a Marina.

I moved to New York on a fellowship from the Lincoln Center Institute for choreography and began my career as a professional dancer.  I moved into choreographing for film and television, working with directors such as Gaspar Noe and Lena Dunham. I also choreographed VMA award winning music videos for bands such as MGMT, Chromeo, and Sleigh Bells and for fashion publications Vogue, Vanity Fair and Glamour.

I had the honor of being named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine, 2015.