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An Interview with Director Elizabeth Blake-Thomas

Elizabeth Blake-Thomas is a very busy writer and director with three projects set for release over the next year including the short film ‘Unseen’, a story inspired by real events in a small town in Utah about the dangers of social media and human trafficking. ‘Unseen’ features an almost entire female cast as does most of the director’s projects. Blake-Thomas is a supporter and proponent of workplace equality in the film industry and ensures that every one of her crew is 50/50 female. Along with writing and directing, her passion also resides in the production company she founded with her daughter, actress Isabella Blake-Thomas (of the ABC series ‘Once Upon a Time’). Their company, ‘Mother and Daughter Entertainment’, is a true family one. Elizabeth was kind enough to take time out of her very busy life to talk to us at 25YL.

Jason Sheppard: While certain shows and films may feature female leads in the cast, the crew, writers and directors would most often be mostly male. As a woman in entertainment who ensures that every one of your sets has 50/50 female crew, what has been the response from others in the industry?

Elizabeth Blake-Thomas: Everyone is so aware of this equality and diversity now that it is becoming more of the expected norm. I always try to find someone from my female groups first for roles in my crew. I feel I have to lead by example. Everyone understands that it’s important to give everyone a chance and not just go for the first easy options. I also enjoy building a family around me, and so I like to try and bring in new people. I want whoever is best for the job but if I don’t make a point of seeing everyone then who knows could swim through the net!

JS: What are some challenges facing you as a female storyteller in a predominantly male industry, or have you not been affected by that?

EBT: I’m sure there are a million challenges, but I just don’t let them affect me. They come at me every day with certain situations, but I take that challenge as a good thing. I enjoy proving that I can do it not only to other people but also myself. I’m not afraid to give anything a go. If someone says “no” I actually take that as just a sign to keep on going even more! I have several incredibly supportive men in my life as mentors and friends who are in the industry. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them and their support.

JS: Is this easier to maintain on an Indie film than on a bigger budget film. What would you like to see the bigger budget products to do more of in this area?

EBT: I feel like this is a difficult one. I have shot seven indie feature films and learned more and more on each one. I feel that the bigger budget projects are just same shit but with more 0’s. I never let a budget determine how I would direct or produce a project. The difficulty comes from being given that chance with studios who don’t know you and don’t know how you work. My word of the year is “elevate” and so instead of waiting around for someone else to give me a chance I’m proving it by doing it myself. I’ve just funded my latest film—my first short which I’m submitting into The Academy 2020. I had some incredible support around me that made this possible and people that believed in me. Mal Young (BBC and The Young and the Restless) Larry Schapiro (Nine Yards Entertainment and Luber Roklin) and Francis O’Toole (Mercury Pictures) My cast were also second to none. Rhyon Brown (Empire) Isabella Blake-Thomas (Once Upon a Time and Secret Society of Second Born Royals) Yolanda Wood (High School Musical 3) and Rebecca Da Costa (Freerunner) So once I get given the opportunity by the bigger production companies and studios I can send the elevator back down and ensure I give as many women the opportunities that I can.

 JS: What kind of stories most appeal to you?

EBT: I love RomComs because I enjoy laughing at work. I also love true stories. I have a current slate of 5 projects that fit into these categories. One of them is called The Girl with The Crooked Smile based on Sarah Tubert; her family has given me the rights to her incredible story of courage and strength as well as Millie and Me based on my daughter and her best friend who was 100 years old. I will be shooting that later this year. And also Arabella based on my book of the same name that was published last year. This is both a true story and a dark romantic comedy.

 JS: I love the idea behind your organization, Mother and Daughter Entertainment. How did that come to fruition?

EBT: My daughter, Isabella, has always worked with me, and we have written together since the beginning. She also naturally ended up acting in the films and then we decided to produce together, and in the next film, we are even co-directing. I’m very lucky that I get to work with my best friend. It also became apparent that lots of mums and their children want to work together or were working together so I wanted to start that as soon as I could. We are a team!

Director Elizabeth Blake-Thomas and her daughter Isabella
Elizabeth Blake-Thomas and Isabella Blake-Thomas attend The BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 5, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/BAFTA LA/Getty Images)

JS: Please tell us all about the project you were working on recently Unseen?

EBT: This literally makes me smile to talk about. It was such an amazing film to create and work on. It originally began life about child trafficking. I didn’t want to show this in the usual way though, showing what happens after the children are taken. I wanted to show what happens before they are taken and how easily it can happen. As I started writing it, it became clear that social media was to blame for a lot of the mistakes that the kids make nowadays in believing false advertising. I researched and found something called Fame Lure. This is when social media is used to trap unsuspecting kids and teenagers with the promise of being famous or winning money. So I decided to use social media to tell the story of how easily a girl can be taken in by it.

My actresses were incredible to work with, and we actually shot the majority of the movie on day one. Then two further days for everything else.

I wanted to get a very strong message out for people of all ages who watch this. By the end of the film, I want my audience just to take a moment to consider what they’re putting on social media or if its parents, then for them to check with their kids. We have to take this social media issue seriously.

It has original music in it, and everyone involved has put their heart and soul into it. I’m truly blessed to have been able to create, direct and finish this project in just eight weeks.

JS: What would you like to imprint on your younger co-stars?

EBT: How that anything is possible. Dream big and go for it but do it safely and with a support team around you. Live your passion and make sure you do it with a smile; life is too short to do it any other way.

Actress Isabella Blake-Thomas
Actress Isabella Blake-Thomas as Young Zelena in Once Upon a Time.

JS: What’s it like working with your daughter, Isabella in business on on-screen? Did you ever have any apprehension about her following your footsteps in the entertainment world?

EBT: She was the one that encouraged me to follow her footsteps. I was a theater director my whole life, and it was due to her talent that I turned to film. I never wanted to be a stage mom and so sitting for hours on set meant I had time to realize that when she hit 18, I needed to have started building my own career. It then became apparent that we could work in this industry together and be mentoring other people. Every film I direct has got at least five young people who this is their first job on set or women that want to shadow me — living my dream, being in LA and spending every day with my dog and daughter. Seeing my thoughts from my head become a reality on the screen. Realizing that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Seeing the Hollywood sign every day when I drive into work — having a life that is truly what I want to live. I live a pretty frugal and simple life on my boat, allowing me to put all my energy into film. Then finally seeing the effect my films have on people, either from the production moments to the end result and affecting my audience. I don’t take this responsibility lightly.

Elizabeth Blake-Thomas on the set of ‘Unseen’ Photo by: Jena Willard

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Written by Jason Sheppard

Entertainment reporter living at the end of very cold Canada. Proud owner of a diploma in journalism and just about every CD by John Williams ever released. Favorite directors are Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino, Fellini, Lynch and Fincher. Twin Peaks, Sopranos and Six Feet Under are the greatest TV dramas ever crafted and I love 90s sitcoms such as Spin City, Sports Night, Newsradio, Seinfeld and even that one with Deadpool working in the pizza place. Click linkies below to follow me.

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