1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My film Hatched was my first professionally directed work, and we shot at Milo McIver State Park near Portland, Oregon in October of 2018.
The film tells the story of Kay, who has recently suffered a loss in her life. When her grief manifests itself as an obsession with why 41 children have gone missing in a National Park, Kay desperately searches for answers to uncover the cause.
Starring Melissa Ponzio (Series Regular: Teen Wolf, Recurring: Chicago Fire, The Walking Dead,) Hatched is a meditation on grief, hope and making sense of tragedy.
2) How did you get into directing?
I have worked as a theatre actor for most of my life–specifically, since age six when I was cast as a bird in “Cinderella!” But, after I graduated from NYU Tisch, I started working more in front of a camera rather than on stage.
On-set, I found myself sitting near video village as often as I could watching how the director was taking the story from script to screen, and the more I watched, the more I wanted to learn.
I picked up Robert Rodriguez’s book “Rebel Without a Crew,” and started to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking by doing what I could with the tools that I had. I tested out sequences on my DSLR and taught myself how to edit. After five years of experimentation and study, I felt confident that I had the tools to begin directing, and I loved every minute.
3) What is your most recent project?
Most recently, I directed a mockumentary short for the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge in New York City. It was a 72 hour challenge where teams write, shoot and edit a short in one weekend based on a randomly selected genre. Every single member of the cast and crew was female so there were over 200 talented ladies that came together to make 7 shorts, and the films debuted at the Museum of the Moving Image in April 2019!
Our mockumentary short was called Millennial Success Stories: Fe-Male CEO. It is about a female Silicon Valley CEO who studies famous male entrepreneurs, emulates their looks, speech patterns and behavior – and teaches these techniques to other businesswomen. Inspired by no one in particular, of course.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
The best part of being a director is seeing a moment or scene that you have pictured vividly in your mind come to life on screen. When all of the elements: the performances, the set, the lighting, the angle etc. fall into place at the right time and the scene works exactly as you had imagined, the creative rush is indescribable. It’s pure joy.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
The worst part of being a director for me is the frustration of dealing with unforeseen issues on set that can ruin your meticulously planned shots. But, as Melissa Ponzio said to me on Hatched when it rained on one of our exterior days, “If you can’t fix it, feature it,” and while these issues can be frustrating, sometimes they force you to think in a new and creative ways that make your shoot even better than you had imagined.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
While I have directed a few commercials and would welcome the opportunity to do more, my passion is film and television.
I am drawn to personal, character-driven dramas that often feature complex female protagonists over thirty. I enjoy exploring the internal battle for darkness and light in people, and I tend to favor stories about characters that live on the fringes of society.
My dream list of directing projects include at least one period drama and movie musical.
7) 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 don’t really have a directing mentor, but I would certainly welcome one! I am always looking to learn, and I would value any career guidance that a mentor might provide.
I do, however, have people in my life who give me creative feedback – most specifically, my husband Josh. He is a very talented and smart multi-hyphenate, and we own a small production company together called JORA Creative where we produce ads and branded content. He always challenges me to be specific and intentional with every moment of a story, and if a moment in the script isn’t necessary to drive the story forward, either make it necessary or cut it.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
Hands down, Steven Soderbergh. Whether it’s telling a story from multiple perspectives as in Mosaic or shooting a feature on a phone, he is always experimenting with form and new ways to tell stories.
I had the pleasure of guest starring on an episode of The Knick so I had the opportunity to see him work up close. He moved precisely and efficiently, but the process didn’t feel rushed. The focus was on the story, and although the aesthetic elements were clearly important, performance and character were the primary focus. Somehow, we whipped through four pages in two and half hours, and yet, the environment was relaxed. He truly knew how to get the best work out of everyone on his team.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
I LOVE television so I can’t choose a favorite, but here a few of my top picks: Mad Men, Billions, Better Call Saul, The Deuce, Godless, The Knick, Rome, Ms. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The West Wing, Sherlock and pretty much anything Ryan Murphy or Dick Wolf do.
My favorite movie is a tie between Almost Famous and Singin’ in the Rain, and my favorite commercial is the Barbie “Imagine the Possibilities” spot.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up as a theatre nerd in Louisville, Kentucky.
At 15, I learned that four of my aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to do something to help so I produced a live performance of “The Rocky Horror Show” to benefit a nonprofit that funded breast cancer research. I produced “Rocky” in Louisville for two years, and during my freshman year at NYU, I produced the show at the American Airlines Broadway Theatre. A talented cast of Broadway actors joined us in NYC along with Neil Patrick Harris as the narrator. The three productions raised almost $100,000.
The NYC benefit was covered by the New York Times, and shortly after, I was invited to join the producing teams of two Broadway shows. At twenty, I was nominated for a Tony Award for my work as a producer on Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty.”
Contact Rachel Annette Helson via email
Rachel Annette Helson