Women to Watch Wednesday: Filmmaker Laura Holliday

Eileen first met Laura Holliday in improv class when they were teenagers growing up in West Virginia. Now a filmmaker in Los Angeles, Laura interviewed with Boshemia for this week’s Women to Watch Wednesday. Among several recognitions, Laura’s recent film, Persephone Goes Home, received awards at The Palm Springs International Short Fest Film Marketplace, The Online Film Festival, WV Filmmakers Festival, the Lewisburg Literary Festival, and NFFTY 2016. 

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E: Laura Holliday, describe yourself for our readers.

L: I am 5’4″, red hair, blue eyes, wearing a purple tank top, no pants and drinking wine from a plastic cup. Oh, you mean like in general? I’m a filmmaker and comedy person originally from Lewisburg, WV. I’ve been in California for the past 6 years. I like to make things and make fun of things. I like coffee! And dogs! And interviews.

E: Can you talk about your hometown?

L: Lewisburg WV is awesome. I have so much love for it. It is so impressive to me how much culture and art and kindness exists in that town. They just wrapped their annual literary festival and I wish I could have been there! Lewisburg seems to consistently be much more forward thinking and progressive than a lot of the areas that surround it in WV. I was able to get a lot of artistic education there that I think was of a really high caliber especially for such a rural part of the world. The town has been so supportive in keeping up with my work and encouraging it. It’s been extremely important to me. However, everything closes at like 5:00 pm so I mean…bye (for now.)

E: What do you like about living Los Angeles now? What surprised you about it?

L: I like LA more and more the longer I am here! I like the stimulus of how much is always going on at once, and everything is centered around entertainment which is most of what I care about anyway. I was surprised at how many different, distinctive neighborhoods there are here and how each has its own flavor and feel. There is a seemingly endless amount of them. And I’ve found there is a sense of community not so much in LA as a whole city but in the different sections, like Highland Park where I live. I also definitely thought I knew how to drive (I learned in WV) but I definitely had to re-learn how to drive out here. I didn’t drive anywhere for like 2 weeks when I first moved here and when I finally went to the grocery store I called my parents and bragged about it. It was less than 2 miles away.

E: What inspired you to move to California at 16 years old?

L: I really wanted to make movies and I didn’t know how do that where I was. My parents were also worried I would start doing dumb things if I got bored enough during high school. Actually, I think I even told them I would start doing dumb things if I didn’t have something I cared about to focus on. I had a lot of energy and not enough to do with it. I didn’t like academics (except English) and I was awful at sports. When there was nothing going on in theatre I was depressed. The boarding high school I ended up going to (Idyllwild Arts) was the only one that seemed like a good fit for me and a real possibility.

E: Tell us about your recent projects.

L: Persephone Goes Home was a project I wrote/directed/acted in at my college, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I wanted to shoot it in West Virginia which didn’t pan out but I tried to fake South Pasadena, CA for WV. Luckily people seem to buy it for the most part (spent a lot of time framing out Palm Trees.) That film taught me a lot. I feel like it’s a good expression of my tone and my voice if nothing else. I’m excited that it will also be screening at the West Virginia Filmmakers Festival in October and it was really well received at NFFTY 2016 (National Film Festival for Talented Youth). I’m guessing because the audience there were so many 20-somethings who could relate to the subject matter.

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Persephone Goes Home

As for other projects, I am in post-production for a new short, a satirized version of some experiences at my boarding school called The First Month, which I wrote, acted in and co-directed with another bad-ass lady director friend Devin John.

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Also finishing the edit on a parody trailer for Funny or Die called A Movie for Women (By Men).

I am in pre-production (oh my god I start shooting next week) for my first feature which is a rom-com called “Daddy Issues” which I re-wrote and am directing for a British production company called KleanSlate. I am really excited because it’s mostly women at the helm. Should be a swell time. Shooting the bulk of it in LA and aiming to finish it in London at the end of the year!

E: Who’s work do you admire?

L: I love Miranda July a ton. Her filmmaking style, as well as her novel/short stories, have definitely influenced me. Her focus on really banal, nuanced, situations and how she finds the art in them is something I aspire to do. I recently read and fell in love with the book Man v. Nature by Dianne Cook. I am inspired by the chicks behind Broad City and by Lena Dunham. And Amy Schumer’s work has definitely influenced my sketch writing. I re-watch the 90’s show Strangers with Candy when I need new comedy inspiration. It’s so weird and genius. I love the photography of Aaron Ruell.

E: Any ~LIFE~ goals?

L: Oh I dunno man, I just wanna sustainably make comedy things. Actually, I do know, I hope to one day be the creator and head writer of a show I act in and direct episodes of and then go on to help launch/develop other content that is being created by funny women.

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from the upcoming webseries, Elves in a Tree Stump

And also direct funny features. I would love to be like an Apatow, or a Poehler or a McKay. I will be happy as long as I am getting to make comedy. I love directing. I love writing too. And acting. I’ll just do all/any of it and hopefully be paid for it? And also I kinda wanna marry someone with a cool accent, preferably while on a boat?

E: Is there a feminist leaning in your work?

L: Yes.

E: What influences have shaped you as an artist, as a woman?

L: Being from Appalachia is increasingly important to me. Feeling a little more like an outsider in my public high school where sports (which I was awful at) were held in high esteem and arts weren’t as much, and then being in the literal opposite environment at two different art schools was very eye opening. It made me realize the stories I’m most interested in telling are about back home. I am inspired by the details of small town life and the nights I spent doing nothing except walking around Walmart with my friends because it was the only thing open. My family has influenced me too. I don’t know if they know it, but humor is one of the things that we always had in common. I remember when Mean Girls came out and I wanted to watch it for our like, family movie night or whatever, and my brother and my dad assumed it was a chick flick and didn’t want to. Then when they saw that it was Tina Fey who wrote it, and SNL people behind it, they really wanted to see it, they knew it would actually be funny. That moment had a big impact on me. I remember being like omg, truly funny people can transcend genre- “I need to be in the club of legitimately, undeniably funny people that can make men watch “chick flicks.”

E: How does your identity figure into your work?

L: When I first got interested in film, my instinct was to ignore “personal stuff” because I thought it would seem like I was trying to get attention, or like it was not what you were “supposed to do” for some reason… yet shows like 30 Rock, and GIRLS where the leads play a version of themselves have really influenced a change of thinking on that. Leaning into truths about myself, whether they are prominent and direct, or buried in subtext, I think, has helped me stay motivated. Our personal stories and POV’s are really all we have that separates us from everyone else trying to do the same thing. I think its brave when you’re not afraid to examine your own story and use it. Being from a small town and being Southern (ish) also really affects my work. I am dying to tell stories about people from back home because so many of my ideas come from there and I don’t feel like that area of the world is reflected honestly in TV and film very often. Long-term plans?

Never.

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The First Month

E: I love what you say about “leaning into truths.” I think that some of the greatest art arrives from personal stories. What has been your proudest moment to date as a filmmaker and artist?

L: Probably when I backed a Uhaul into a tree and then remembered I HAD gotten insurance on it.

JK. Probably at NFFTY 2016 after Persephone Goes Home screened at their opening night. A bunch of middle school age filmmakers came up super excited to talk to me about comedy and my movie, and their film goes and that was really rewarding! I was like that’s it. I have the approval of middle schoolers like I’ve been seeking since middle school. I made it.

E: Ha! You really have reached the zenith. That’s it dude. What kind of message would you like to portray in your art?

L: I guess there is no overall one message, it depends on the project. But generally the messages I think about/care about most are about being independent, especially for women. Stories, like Daddy Issues, the feature I’m doing, where a character is seeking the approval of others, but instead of winning approval, they realize they never needed it to begin with. I also like to leave people on a hopeful note, like, yo there is good in the world, or at least stuff we can laugh at in our everyday lives! Maybe that’s it, some of the things that annoy you could provide laughter and inspiration instead if you view them in the right way.

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Daddy Issues

E: Now that you’re making the kind of work you’re interested in, tell me about your past jobs / day jobs, before you made films?  What’s been the worst job you’ve ever had?

L: I worked as a cashier at a Vegan Clothing store in Lewisburg and that concept (vegan clothing) still only kind of makes sense to me? The clothes were awesome, but expensive and no one ever really came in the store! I interned for a director where I had to enter names of synagogues into a spreadsheet all day for several weeks and that wasn’t super fun. I can’t remember what the point of that was. I worked as a set dresser on a reality show and moved potted plants across a soundstage all day. I have been lucky though, because in the film-job world I try to say “yes! me! I’ll do that!” as often as possible and haven’t walked into anything too painful.

E: If you could work with anyone in Hollywood today, who would they be?

L: I have always really wished I could direct Paul Rudd. And Kristen Wiig (watch Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me if you haven’t seen it, she is amazing.) I also want to work with any editor from the show Portlandia because I think it is cut so brilliantly. Oh my god, a dream would also be working on anything by Mitch Hurwitz who created Arrested Development.

E: What film have you seen the most? How has it influenced you?

L: I have seen They Came Together directed by David Wain like 5 times since it came out two years ago. I went to see it in theaters the day it came out, by myself in the middle of the day because I was so excited about it. Everything about it makes me laugh and every time I watch it I want to share it with other people. I think it’s because I grew up on rom-coms and it’s both a parody and an homage to them. And I love Amy Poehler. It made me look harder at tropes (in cinema, in music, in everything,) and look at things we accept as cultural norms without questioning them, and try to turn them on their head and make fun of them. I have also seen Mean Girls a hundred times because I kind of think it’s kind of the perfect comedy. Others I’ve watched over and over, Little Miss Sunshine and Best in Show.

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You can check out Laura Holliday’s work here, at lauraholliday.com.

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