ESPN/Disney+'s "The Mandalorian" (branded tie-in promo)

Emily Elizabeth Thomas

Sibling/Rivalry

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed work was a music video with Atlantic Records in 2019.

My first advertising work was with TBWA\Chiat\Day, also in 2019. We made a branded film titled The Gathering for the Brooklyn Film Festival which tied in a lot of emotional nuance and true stories from the #MeToo movement. It stars a 1940s spy, a nun, and an Elf Queen. It was an incredible experience, with fabulous costumes.

How did you get into directing?
I got into directing through screenwriting. I studied screenwriting in undergrad and graduate school. Imaginative writing is in my bones, so very early on I had a lot of stories that I wanted to tell. They didn’t come visually at first, they came through dialogue, character, visceral feelings.

I started working on bringing my characters to life through color, costume, movement, tone. I understood it more as world building, rather than directing. At the time, I was deep into an obscure camp of Eastern European films from the 60’s called the Czech New Wave. These stories are very punk, brash, wild and VERY feminist. They helped me find my visual world. I knew I wanted to tell stories like that, and that I wanted to start, like, yesterday. There was no going back. Now I know that I was always a writer/director, not just a screenwriter.

What is your most recent project?
A short experimental Western on 16mm film titled Cowboy Truths. I make a Western-leaning film about every year. I’m from Texas so the Southern influence is very strong in my work. Not just in the way of cowboys and sunsets, but in a very holistic sense. I like underdogs, the ragtag spirit, colors that look like they’ve been left out in the sun, grit. Cowboy Truths was this years nod to the Wild West.

I am always working on the ongoing project of my feature film script. It’s a very important story to me that’s been many years in the making. I’m looking forward to finding the right producing team to support it.

What is the best part of being a director?
Telling stories for a living. Working with actors. Seeing your visions come to life on the monitor. Collaborating with incredible crew, talent and artists. Dreaming. Playing. Being on set. Watching movies all the time. Writing all the time. Going back to the drawing board when things aren’t working and figuring out an even better way forward. Those magic moments where you know you got it. I could go on… there’s so much I love about what I do.

What is the worst part of being a director?
The isolation that sometimes comes. It really is just you and your ideas in the beginning. It’s very hard to get things made, hard to get big wins, and there’s a lot of rejection. But it makes you get very clear about your voice, and what you want to say with your work. And it makes you believe in yourself.

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.?
You can always find me focused on movies. I started self-producing short films very early on so I have a strong identity as a narrative writer/director. I consider myself a genre filmmaker: drama, fantasy and surrealism.

Commercials are a big focus right now as well. I’ve really enjoyed starting to discover my identity as a commercial director. I’ve found that there’s a lot of crossover. My instincts as a filmmaker can really be applied to commercial storytelling. I’m excited to continue to expand in the commercial world, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

I’d also really love to do both TV and theatre. I truly feel like an old school entertainer. I want to do it all.

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?
My mentors are my friends. I have learned so much and will continue to learn from my community. I have a large network of women that help each other grow and succeed. There’s a lot of love and trust between all of us, which is so important to have in your corner. The most important lessons my friends and I have taught each other is to stay true to who you are as an artist, the rest will come in time. And to have fun. Always have fun.

Who is your favorite director and why?
There’s a few that really inspire me for different reasons. Sofia Coppola: for being a very bold female director at an impressionable time for me. Virgin Suicides forever. Paul Thomas Anderson: for his connection to actors. What he is able to capture on camera through his performances is unreal. Andrea Arnold: for being unconcerned with polish and perfection, and preferring grit and truth instead. Quentin Tarantino: for being so punk rock. For loving drama, camp and gore, and not caring what anybody thinks about it. Bob Fosse: for his razzle dazzle.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite movie is Daisies by a Czech filmmaker named Věra Chytilová. It’s from 1966, and it’s about two best friends both named Marie that run around Prague causing chaos, making scenes and eating lavish meals. It was made at a time when women were really not allowed to have that kind of behavior, so it was very revolutionary. My best friend and I have matching Daisies tattoos. And we, too, run around various cities causing chaos, making scenes and eating lavish meals.

My favorite TV show is Succession. Hands down the most brilliantly written dialogue and character development I’ve ever seen on TV.

My favorite branded content is anything that Glen Luchford does for Gucci.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I’m from Austin, Texas. I was raised by a very Southern lot, a bunch of cowboys. I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment, so I learned young how to make my own way.

I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for undergrad where I studied cinema history, screenwriting and film. I moved to New York for graduate school at NYU where I got my masters in screenwriting, while being a script reader for an indie film production company. I was reading and writing scripts day and night. It was so rad.

My favorite job I’ve ever had outside of the industry was at an art museum. I organized historic paintings and drawings. I would get out Egon Schiele drawings and stare at them all day. That, and my job as a beer cart girl at a golf course. That was fun.

How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
There are obvious impacts that I think we’ve all gone through. A lot of opportunities lost or delayed, and a lot of time to myself to think about what’s important. I’ve re-evaluated my priorities a lot, as a director and as a person. I’ve re-committed myself to the project of my career in ways that I didn’t expect. And I’ve watched SO MANY movies. Which has really reminded me why I started all this in the first place. I think in time I will see that as an important part of my path. It’s been good to slow down in some ways, but I’m very ready to rock n’ roll again.

Contact

Sibling/Rivalry: Contact Darren Foldes, Managing Director/EP, via email
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