Verge Interviews: Elizabeth Blake-Thomas

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 26: (L-R) Elizabeth Blake-Thomas, Daniel Kaluuya, Isabella Blake-Thomas, and BAFTA LA Deputy Chair Kathryn Busby attend the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards presented by Jaguar Land Rover and American Airlines at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 26, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Thanks to the lovely people at VIP PR London, I was granted an interview with Elizabeth Blake-Thomas and her daughter Isabella Blake-Thomas. This interview will be Elizabeth’s and Isabella’s will follow shortly in another article.

Elizabeth is an amazing female director and filmmaker. Somehow, Elizabeth managed to work on 7 feature films in the space of 2 years which is incredibly impressive. Let’s see what she has to say about her experiences. 

1. I always like to start from the beginning. So I would like to know how you initially got into directing. What was it that inspired you to pursue this career?

I ran theatre companies when I was younger. I set this up from a very young age. I was 15 years old at College and ran the Youth Theatre. I love acting and then showing people and teaching them how to be better. I never wanted to be an actress though. I wanted to be in charge. That’s why directing was a natural instinct for me. I had no idea I was going to direct films though. That only came about due to my daughters love and success in the industry. I was asked to help and direct fellow actors on set. I picked up the terminology and what was expected. I then produced a short film for my daughter to be in and it was that moment watching someone else direct that I realized I could do it. An ex-boyfriend at the time said I should be a film director. I asked him how. He told me, just say you’re a film director. So I did and mentally my mind shifted and I set about making it happen. How wonderful to be able to make films for my daughter and work with her. So we started to write together and that was the beginning

2. How did you set about achieving your dream?

My dream is to be happy, healthy, and live where I want to live and be able to support myself. I want to be able to wake up each day and know that I’m putting something good out into the world. I want to be able to talk to my family, I want to share my life. I want to know I have projects I’m directing and I want to surround myself with incredible people. I can honestly say I’m doing this. I’m achieving this on a very small level and so my dream is to just make this bigger and better and do it more. To achieve this I have worked non-stop. On a very simple level, it was about dedication and not letting anything stop me. It takes time and so it’s about putting as much time into your dream as possible. I make myself very clear end goals to strive towards. It’s as much about the journey as it is about the end goal. In all honesty, once I get to that end goal I move onto the next end goal anyway. My dreams are ongoing. Which means I’m working every day towards my dream. Even a small fairy step forward is important. I work on all elements and there is constant work behind the scenes. Getting to know people and making friends. There is no point living your dream if you don’t have anyone to share it with.

3. What was it like to move to LA as well, that must have been a huge step in the right direction?

It was a huge step. I hadn’t even considered it. In all honesty, it was for my daughter Isabella. She was the actress. She was the one that Hollywood was calling. I was her support and help. I needed to be there for her. I am definitely someone that thrives in a sunny climate and so it worked for both of us from just a standard of living situation. The reality of Hollywood didn’t start to present itself to me until a few years in of supporting Isabella.

From a practical point of view, it was hard. I’m actually terrible at goodbyes and so I didn’t tell any of my friends I was moving, also because I actually didn’t know how long it was for. Initially, it was for pilot season and then my daughter got a job and so we extended it and then she kept working and so we stayed. Initially, we were coming back and forewords which became exhausting and expensive. Then we realized that we should relocate. We were all going to move to LA. My husband, daughter and myself. But as can often happen in marriages, my ex-husband realized he wanted something different and met someone in the UK. He stayed and Isabella and I still moved. That was an incredibly hard decision to make. Especially from the point of view as a mother. This was all about my daughter and what was best for her. Of course, there were huge conflicting responses and it was one of the hardest periods of my life.

After a few years of this change and stress, I was still working towards our dream and it has only now begun to feel like reality. We have clarity on what we are doing and how we can achieve it.

4. Do you remember how it felt when you had completed your first film?

That’s an interesting question because, on one hand, I was ecstatic and elated and in shock. But on the other hand, I didn’t have time to take this in. I was also going through my divorce at the time and the unbelievable stress I was under was something I would never put anyone through. I will never forget this time in my life because I thought to myself if I can get through this I can do anything. I also hadn’t realized how much hard work goes into post-production. I learned so much from this process. Who I like to work with and why and what I expect from myself and the crew and the producers. I am still so proud of that first film.

5. How often do you look back at your career and consider where you started?

Every single day. I’m not joking. Every day I say thank you for the journey and what it has taught me. I will just acknowledge it to myself or my daughter or write a blog about it. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to live this life. I had no idea I would end up here. I never take it for granted and feel blessed for where I currently am.

6. I was informed you did 7 feature films in 2 years. How did you manage that? What kind of experiences did that bring?

In all honesty, I’m not sure how I managed it. I didn’t plan on this happening. It just kind of took over. I knew I had to learn and the best way of learning is by doing, by whatever means possible. I also had momentum after the first film so I went with it. If I was being given these opportunities then I needed to take them. I learned everything. I would make sure I understood every role behind the camera. I would help with everything. I allowed my films to grow with me so the crew grew, the number of casts grew and the type of film developed. It is a constant learning process. I realized what worked for me as a director and what didn’t. For example, having my daughter on set. In the beginning, it was hard when I was the director because she needed her mum. So I quickly realized I needed to have a full-time chaperone for her. Mainly for those two weeks so I could focus. Now she is older and doesn’t need that, she actually helps off camera as well. I learned to not have to think about every element on set. Once you have department heads you can totally leave them to it. Allowing me to do my job, direct. It has made me much clearer on the types of films I want to direct and also the types of people I want to work with.

7. What has been your greatest achievement in your career so far? 

Wow, that quite a difficult one to answer. I am proud of everything. Each time I shoot a film I’m in awe of myself and the team. It’s an unbelievable achievement to get a film made and finished. I am so proud of all fellow filmmakers who manage it. I am proud of every award, every cast member, and every film. So I suppose it’s the fact that I’ve not given up. I’ve not stopped and I will keep on going. 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 05: Elizabeth Blake-Thomas attends the BBCA BAFTA Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 5, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for BBC America)

8. How do you feel about being a female director in this current industry setting? As there have been major attempts to have more representation for female workers in the industry.

I am surrounded by incredibly supportive men in this industry. There are a lot of female groups that I’m also part of. I believe it’s hard for us all. There are only a certain amount of jobs available and it’s down to who you know. I suppose that’s why I create my own opportunities. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and now I will use my contacts to help get me into the next level of directing. It’s a great time for myself and women at the moment.

9. In relation to the last question, what advice would you offer to those trying to make their way into the industry?

Make friends, network, attend every event possible, don’t give up, write and shoot your own stuff. My initial advice all relates to you making it happen yourself and not relying on other people. If you really want it then start. Start today right now. Also don’t be a perfectionist. Nothing will ever be perfect so you might as well just go for it.

10. How has it been for you and your daughter as well? It must have been an interesting time for both of you. How do you find it directing her as well? (It is okay, you can say whatever you like.) 

My daughter and I have a very unique relationship, she is my best friend, daughter, colleague, a voice of reason. It is incredibly special working with her and knowing we have the same passion in life. Of course, there are artistic differences and I have knowledge in some areas because of my age but she equally knows her stuff. I would be stupid not to listen to her. We live and work together. That’s why we created Mother & Daughter Entertainment, our production company. She is a natural born writer and director, actress and singer so we work perfectly together. People sometimes don’t get our relationship and think I’m incredibly strict, but she has learned from the bottom and worked her way up. We have huge respect for each other and I’m sure that’s why we can work together. I also LOVE directing her. She is such an easy person to work with. She also knows when I’m the director and she needs to just listen due to a time constraint or something else. She is also one of the kindest, funniest hard-working people I know. If she wasn’t my daughter then she would be my best friend.

What an incredibly inspiring and open interview this was. Thanks again to VIP PR London and Elizabeth-Blake Thomas for this opportunity. I hope it gives a huge insight into the world of filmmaking and I can’t wait to see what else she achieves in her future. 

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