In France Michelle is a Man’s Name

Em Weinstein

Valiant Pictures, ICM, GRL BND

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

My first professionally directed work was Candace, a short film which premiered in 2018 while I was still in graduate school at Yale School of Drama. Candace played at festivals worldwide including the Mill Valley Film Festival, Outfest, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Portland International Film Festival and the American Pavilion Emerging LGBTQ Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won Best Film.

2) How did you get into directing? 

I was raised in New York and L.A. by a playwright single mother. Because babysitters were expensive, I grew up in rehearsal rooms and the backs of theaters. I watched the process like a detective: analyzing the nervous jitters of the first table read and piecing together the dramatic puzzle of technical rehearsals. I counted the seats or the number of curse words in the play. I made up my own stories on the sets and in the green rooms. In fifth grade I was diagnosed with cancer and wrote and directed my first play. "A Fly in My Soup," written from my wheelchair in the backyard, was about a cross-dressing chef-comedian. I canceled the first (and only) performance midway through and demanded that the entire audience leave immediately. I’ve been directing ever since.

3) What is your most recent project? 

My most recent film In France Michelle is a Man's Name is a 12 minute short that examines fatherhood, rituals of male bonding, and what it means to identify as a trans man in contemporary America. In the film, Michael, a young trans man, returns home to the rural American West after years of estrangement from his parents. The film looks at trans identity, masculinity, and the prices we’re willing to pay for acceptance. In France Michelle is a Man’s Name premiered at Outfest in August, 2020 and won the Grand Jury Award - an Academy Award qualifying prize. This fall it will also play at AFI Fest, Newfest and the New Orleans Film Festival.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

I love leading big projects and big teams towards one vision and one goal. I love planning for any and all scenarios and problem-solving on the fly. More than anything, I love collaboration: be that with the producers, the actors, the cinematographer, the art department.

6) 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’m a multi-hyphenate who enjoys working across disciplines. In the last year I’ve written and directed an award-winning short film, developed an hour long pilot with a major TV studio, written an original musical, created a series pitch for reality TV star, and directed a Shakespeare play at a large regional theater. My work in theater informs my work in film, just as my commercial work informs my narrative work. The only major through-line for all of it is that I make work that is richly visual, character driven, and rigorously structured.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 

I went to Yale School of Drama for my M.F.A. in Directing and started making movies. Though the program’s focus was almost entirely on theater, it was there that I fell madly in love with the art of filmmaking. I realized that behind the camera I could achieve more clarity in the acting, more precision in the storytelling, and greater access to more diverse audiences. I wrote and directed my first short film, Candace, about the moment of fissure in an intimate childhood friendship. I found that with a camera in my hand, I could address issues of race and identity with directness and subtlety. I was surprised at how much of my experience making theater directly translated into my work on set and in the editing room. Working with actors, structuring story, paying careful attention to what the audience sees and doesn’t see are all skills I’ve spent years honing.


Commercial Rep: Valiant Pictures,
                             Contact Matthew Damato, executive producer, via email
Lit Rep: Melissa Orton, ICM and Tara Beppel, GRL BND