Rebekah Fieschi Talks Film School, Filmmaking, and Personal Identity (Interview Part 1 of 2)
I had the pleasure of meeting Rebekah Fieschi at the 2nd annual Ax Wound Film Festival last November, where we had the honor of screening the New England premiere of her short film, Mauvaises Têtes (Bad Heads). I still remember the day her film submission came through, the cover art stood out as both gorgeous and intriguing. Unlike countless genre movies with badass covers but shitty films inside – Mauvaises Têtes is not only on-point in its visual ode to Universal Monster movies, but the theme of her film (and I would come to find out, all of her films) are both deeply personal and totally universal; love, loneliness, and personal identity.
The sign of a great artist is the ability to create both of those things; deeply personal and deeply universal. Her films artfully weave these critical elements with a dark and visual beauty.
I’m grateful Rebekah took the time to chat, as she is in the midst of a successful crowdfunding campaign for her upcoming women-lead dark fantasy genre film, Sylphvania Grove in which she explains, “five of our six characters are female, including the ten-year-old lead. We want to help empower young girls and contribute to fair gender representation on screen, especially in the fantasy genre.”
Just like her work, Rebekah Fieschi has a beautiful career ahead.
Hannah Neurotica: As a filmmaker who attended film school, did you find it was a positive/useful experience in the path of your growing career? Along with that; What were some of the most beneficial aspects of film school for you? What was a lesson learned post-school that you wish had been provided?
Rebekah Fieschi: I did find film school to be a positive and useful experience but I definitely wouldn’t say that it is a necessary path for everyone. I first went to study film right after graduating from high school, those are very formative years and I think I learned more by having a place to go to everyday rather than if I had jumped right into being an independent filmmaker and having to figure out everything from scratch. Honestly at 17 I had no idea what it would involve to be an independent filmmaker.
Films studies and hands-on workshops teach you a lot about what you need to know, but they are really just the tip of the iceberg. During my first week on set I learned more than I had in four years of school, but without school I might have been overwhelmed. Nobody teaches you how a set really works, or just in theory. I feel like a lot of the filmmaking needs to be self taught: classes teach you the basics and the rules, then you go do it and figure out your own way of writing a script, of communicating with actors, etc.
I really wish film school taught us more about “getting your film out there.” Everybody says “send it to festivals” but nobody explains the festival system, the fact that some festivals won’t even consider watching your film but will take the submission fee anyways, the fact you need to research festivals A LOT before submitting, or even why are you submitting to festivals other than to have your film screened. Learning that you want to build professional relationships by going to festivals, to make new friends, to market your film, to find and interact with your true audience. These things may seem obvious now but they really aren’t to most people.
Hannah: Were women represented in your film school or were you in the minority? Did you run into any roadblocks, negative assumptions, or unwelcome experiences/opinions from fellow students and/or professors because of your gender?
Rebekah: You know for a second I was thinking “yeah, women were totally represented, they were probably as many women as guys” but actually no that’s not true, there were definitely less women than men, but the amount would vary depending on the class. I have a lot of trouble taking notice of when there’s more men around me than women, I guess because I’m used to it and haven’t started questioning it until recently. I have been very fortunate in my filmmaking career and so far have not received any kind of work related bad treatment because of my gender. I could also be totally oblivious and not have noticed. At film festivals I’m often assumed to be an actress or make-up artist instead of a filmmaker, but that’s about it.
Hannah: When you are assumed to be a makeup artist or actress what feelings come up for you? When you correct the person – telling them you’re a filmmaker, what are the responses like?
Rebekah: It made me feel annoyed, but it also made me feel kind of special as in “oh I’m doing something that’s so rare go me,” but now I have a totally different view on it. I absolutely don’t want it to be special and I have since realized that the fact that it is rare is a problem. Now, such assumptions might make me angry or frustrated. I absolutely don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an actress or a makeup artist, those are fantastic jobs and I know wonderful men and women in these jobs, I just hate assumptions.
And to answer your second question, about the person’s response, it really depends on the person, some said “oh, cool” and talked to me a little about my work, some said “oh, cool” and that was the end of the conversation. But I’d say 99% were surprised.
Hannah: A common theme in your work seems to be loneliness and the internal battle to love ourselves and be loved by others. Do you relate to these characters you write?
Rebekah: I do relate a lot with the characters I write, my films are very personal. Usually the whole writing process is like exorcism to me. I’m very emotional and take in every little thing I hear or see, it then it becomes it’s own thing in my mind and I find I have a story to tell. I really love writing complex and nuanced, often misunderstood, female characters, probably because I don’t see much of them on screen. When I was a kid and probably for a while after that I felt like there was something shameful about being a girl, even if I couldn’t have put that into words or expressed it. Being called a girl was an insult, liking pink or female singers was lame, and in my favorite movies most of the heroes were boys. I never felt like I could really ever fit in anywhere by being 100% true to myself, and I believe that is true of most people. I hope that by writing these imperfect but pretty damn cool anyways women and girls, the oddballs out there will find their on screen representative, and get that it’s OK to be themselves.
Hannah: Sharp Candy unfolds with a terrifying gracefulness that simply took my breath away. Like a brilliant poem – there are layers of metaphor in your imagery that captivate and raise questions.The room the character inhabits is light and airy, like a marshmallow and she feels sharp emotions– like a razor inside it; Feeling uncomfortable inside her world. Trying to get control. This made me think about what you wrote in terms of the negative feelings you had toward being a girl growing up. Was this film an expression of that for you? And- I don’t know if this makes sense but I feel like there is a connection between this and your experience at festivals; assumptions you are a makeup artist, etc. The world has an idea of what and who you are supposed to be because of your gender/appearance. And it’s so claustrophobic and limiting.
Rebekah: Thank you so much, I’m so glad Sharp Candy made you feel all these things. Sharp Candy is the most exorcising film I’ve ever done and probably the most personal. Like you said, it is very much about needing to have control. It’s very interesting because women seem to really love Sharp Candy and connect to it powerfully, while men are often horrified and confused by the mixture of beauty and horror. I was in a pretty bad place when I made this film so I’m not sure of all the reasoning behind it, but the belief that women need to look a certain way to be valued has had and still has a huge impact on my life. The film deals with anorexia, being anorexic means constantly needing to be in control of everything but always believing you are failing and violently hating yourself for it. So I elaborated on the idea that if you can’t truly be in control of your own life, the only thing you can truly have control of is your death and even in your death you must look good to be valued, and to do so you need to sugarcoat it.
Hannah: Do genre films lend themselves to the themes and stories you want to tell more then others?
Rebekah: I do believe that genre films lend themselves to the themes and stories I want to tell. Like Vincent Price said better than I ever could, genre films speak to the dark unconscious and repressed human minds. I wouldn’t know how to begin to tell an entertaining story that isn’t fantastic. I think stories, books, movies, art in general is most powerful when it affects you on a level you are not aware of, also when the true meaning of the story isn’t evident and forces you to dig deeper and let your emotions tell you what you feel it means to you.