AN INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER MICHELLE EHLEN

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CNCPT/LSBN caught up with filmmaker Michelle Ehlen to discuss inspiration, experience, and lesbian tropes in film and TV. With four feature films behind her (including the critically acclaimed Butch Jamie and Heterosexual Jill), Ehlen had some words of advice for aspiring directors. 

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WHAT FIRST DREW YOU TO FILMMAKING?

I've always loved creating and telling stores.  I started acting when I was a kid as a way to express myself because I was shy.  Then as I gained more life experience, I had a greater desire and passion for writing and directing my own ideas.

WHAT SUBJECTS INSPIRE YOU?

People fascinate me the most.  I studied sociology in college, and still read a lot about psychology and why people act and think the way they do.  People who know me well say I would make a good therapist, but I like to think that also makes me a good writer.  More specifically, my films tend to explore themes around gender, sexuality, stereotypes, and identity.  

WHAT ARE YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS?

I'm writing a script now that I hope to shoot next year tentatively titled "Maybe Someday." I've done a lot comedy, so I want to try to do a more serious project exploring themes of love, loss, and letting go. 

Ehlen and Jen McPherson in S&M Sally (2015)

Ehlen and Jen McPherson in S&M Sally (2015)

IS THERE A FILMMAKER WHO INSPIRED YOU?

Christopher Guest was the one who inspired me to do comedy.  I used to be afraid of comedy and felt like I didn't know how to make things funny.  But after watching Best in Show, I saw how you can ground humor in a very real way and make it funny by playing it serious.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE LESBIAN TROPE IN FILM OR TV?

It's not really a trope, but one thing that bothers me about some lesbian films or TV/web series, is the way they create a certain lesbian world or experience that feels more like a cardboard cutout of "lesbian life" rather than individual people dealing with their own issues in their own ways.  There are often a lot of inside jokes and cliches that we're all supposed to somehow relate to, but really it feels to me like some kind of alternate lesbian universe having a party I was never invited to.    

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MOVIE FEATURING LESBIAN CHARACTERS?

Yes, my new favorite movie with lesbian characters is Women Who Kill--it's so smart and funny, and I love how the humor just reaches out and grabs you in the moments you least expect it to. Deadpan and subtle humor like that is my favorite.  It's on the festival circuit now and will hopefully be out soon.

WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN JUST STARTING OUT AS FILMMAKERS?

Two things - first is I would make a project that is important to you - not something you think other people will like.  If it's important to you, it will resonate with other people, and your own unique point of view and passion for it will make it work.  Secondly, people are very eager to hop on a moving train although very reluctant to help you get it moving.  If you say "Can someone help me make this project happen?" it could take years for someone to say yes.  But as soon as you say "This project is happening, do you want to be a part of it?" people will come out of the woodwork to help.  

In my opinion, it's all in your own mind; if you believe it's going to happen, it will.  If you get diverted, you will find another way.  Learn as much as you can to empower yourself, and don't rely on other people to validate whether what you want to do is good enough; if it's important to you, it's good enough.

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Michelle's film S&M Sally is now available exclusively on Vimeo, and will be out on DVD and other digital platforms in the coming months.