By Mary Skinner
Welcome, Genevieve Skehan!
It was a love of the outdoors that propelled Genevieve Skehan into filmmaking. After earning her BA in drama in the UK at the University of Exeter, she went on to work for years as a performer and even won awards as a director. But she grew tired of sitting in dark rehearsal spaces. So, she embarked on a career in film and television. Several years later she was working regularly in Boston and New York as a producer, writer, and director for commercials and films. Lately she has begun to write and direct more passion projects.
Here she shares how her background in theater informs her directing and how producing gave her the practical experience she needed to realize her own work. Plus, a bit about why she adores filming outside in natural light.
What motivated you to join NYWIFT? How are you finding it so far?
I wanted a space to connect with more independent filmmakers! While my experience in commercial producing and directing feels more concrete I still have a lot to learn about long-format filmmaking. I’m interested in writer workshops and learning more about funding and pitching opportunities. Let’s make our dreams a reality!
Also, I did have the total displeasure of working in this industry before the #MeToo movement, and boy was it a different time. I didn’t know about NYWIFT then, and I felt very isolated and alone. It’s great to connect with other female filmmakers.
You originally trained as an actor and did your first directing in the theater. What appealed to you most about working in the theater?
I think what I loved most about theater and particularly musical theater was how explorative it was and how much you could push abstract storytelling to the forefront through music, alternative dance and acting. With films we have the option to film in locations that are more realistic, and we can show a passage of time more clearly through the cut. With theater, everything is happening real time on stage, so pushing the performance and choreography to a more abstract representation of the conflict is more accepted, I feel, by audiences.
What inspired you and how did you make the transition from working in the theater to working in film?
I switched my focus to working in film for two reasons: First, I simply wanted to spend more time outside and to create stories that could happen in the great outdoors. I was tired of dark rehearsal spaces.
The second reason is a bit more practical: I switched to working in the film industry because I found that there were more career options that would offer a more reliable source of income.
You frequently work as a producer, line producer and coordinator on commercial projects. Can you say more about your production credits and what you enjoy most about producing?
Producing is great because you learn what it takes to make a vision a reality. I’ve been working in production for almost a decade now. I’ve had the opportunity to manage the production of Super Bowl commercials and to produce smaller campaigns for international companies and in-house marketing teams. You get the opportunity to hire and manage workers.
I aim to be a good team leader and always make sure that our workers are well taken care of and getting the compensation they deserve. Producing also means that you get to control how the budget is distributed. For each shoot you decide which departments need the most attention and why.
What were some of your favorite producing projects and why?
I’ve produced a few short films and recently an independent feature film Merry Good Enough starring the wonderful Raye Lavine Spielberg.
Although producing independent films certainly has its challenges from a budgetary standpoint, the comradery between the crew is undeniable. Everyone is there because they believe in the story, and they want to support their fellow filmmakers. Having the opportunity to weigh in on the creative script, filming and postproduction decisions is incredibly rewarding.
You seem to be drawn to nature and the outdoors. Can you say more about your passion for filming in natural outdoor settings?
I absolutely LOVE filming outside. For starters, I prefer the workflow. When you’re outside, unless you’re splurging on massive chunky lights, your scheduling has to be flexible. When the light is right you must shoot it all and shoot it quickly. To accomplish this, we’ll schedule rehearsal time ahead of sunsets because when the camera starts rolling, the time between set ups is short.
When the light is right, it’s beautiful, far more beautiful I think then what you can accomplish in a studio, and you’re getting that elevated look for a fraction of the price. I also just love the outdoors and want to encourage more viewers to get out there.
What appeals to you most about directing and writing?
I’m fascinated by the diversity of people on our planet. I love meeting and exploring people from different backgrounds and learning their view of the world. I aim to create pieces that are character-driven and I strive to work with people in the communities that the piece is about to make sure my work is honest. My story narrative is driven by character research, and when I write dialogue, I most certainly am at home acting out all the roles.
What directions would you most like to take in the future?
Up until this point in my career, I’ve been producing for money and directing for passion. I really wanted the opportunity to create work as a director and writer that would represent a creative direction I wanted to pursue professionally. Over the past few years, I’ve started directing for commercial clients and have been able to get funding for passion projects. I hope to continue to build up my directing reel with more paid projects.
I’m very comfortable directing and producing and I think every directing job just makes me a better producer and vice versa. I also have been enjoying nonunion 1st Assistant Director roles for commercial shoots because I just love being on set!
What was the best piece of advice you got for working in our industry?
“One for the meal and one for the reel.” This one is so important, especially in the commercial world.
When you have a client who’s spending thousands of dollars and giving your team the wheel to create a creative piece that will grow their consumer base, it’s important to consider their needs as well as your creative desires. Sometimes what the client needs might not be in line with what you want to create, but at the end of the day, if that’s what’s going to service them best, that’s what you make.
What was the worst advice you got for working in our business?
The worst advice I ever got was to quit my work in producing and become a starving artist.
A producer once told me I should do this. While I appreciated his belief that I could eventually become a successful director if I did this, I really think this is unhealthy advice. Unless you have hefty savings to fall back on, you need to think about your own financial stability first.
Making it as a director is INCREDIBLY competitive. A ton of people want this career, and I know plenty of directors who are very talented and look successful on paper but have confessed that their income is unstable and unpredictable. It’s always good to have a backup plan.
Plus, producing has gotten me a ton of contacts and taught me so much about filmmaking. That being said, I am now putting more of an emphasis on producing lower budget commercials and 1st Assistant Directing so that I have more time when directing opportunities do pop up!
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