Ella talks to us about her recent work on mental health based projects, and breaking into the industry.
How many 19-year-olds do you know who can introduce themselves with this title: actor, filmmaker, mental health advocate and director of Broken Flames Productions? I can name one.
Ella Greenwood has taken the film industry by storm. Despite still being a teen, she has had her work nominated for BAFTA official film festivals, produced, directed and acted in her own short film ‘Faulty Roots’ and sits at the forefront in creating awareness for mental illnesses.
Struggling with her own mental health from a young age, Ella is using film and media, combined with her own raw experience with depression, to show what it is really like to struggle with your mental health. Above all, she’s proving that it’s okay.
We sat down – virtually – with Ella to discuss everything from her latest projects, to the impact that the media has had on her own life, to how she is now using her passion for film to make the topic of mental health more accepted in the media.
The Femme: How did you start off in the industry? What inspired you to become a film maker
Ella: I wanted to start acting from a very early age. My parents signed me up to lessons but we never had any connections to the industry so I did loads of research and just wanted to get involved. I remember I recorded a monologue in the shed which I sent off to basically every agent in London and one signed me and I started to get a lot of auditions.
Then, when I turned 18, I wanted to have a bit more control over how I spent my time, rather than waiting around for auditions and getting constantly rejected. So, I decided to start writing and creating my own work.
The Femme: Through the auditioning process, did you find you had to wait a long time for auditions to come through?
Ella: A lot of the time with auditions you wouldn’t hear back at all. Some people think that’s better than being rejected but I think it’s worse!
There was this one show where I loved the role and would be moving to Paris. I got quite far in the auditioning process until I looked online and saw someone else had been cast.
Because I was home schooled and taught myself a lot through books, I like to have a sense of control over what I’m doing and like to be working.
The Femme: Growing up, how did you think mental health was portrayed in the media?
Ella: Nothing I watched showcased the reality of it. The things I did see were focused on mental health but in a very dramatic light. The whole plot would be about suicide or very graphic. It seemed very insensitive and made it seem unrelatable.
It’s just nice to have gone from that position where I denied my mental health to now be spending most of my time working on it.
The Femme: How did it make you feel?
Ella: I have done a lot of research for a project I am working on and discovered the huge amount of times where people are called things like ‘crazy’ – or something over-emphasized to describe their mental illness. There’s already such a stigma that when you see the media portray it like that and emphasize the negative aspects, it really doesn’t help.
The Femme: Why do you think the representation around mental health needs to be shifted?
Ella: It’s so important for everyone to take care of their mental health, whether or not they have a mental illness. For mental health to be something that has had a lot more importance placed on it, the media needs to normalize it and to say that it’s okay if you’re struggling. To say that it’s common and that a lot of people go through it, rather than having this stigma on it where it’s only a few people and it’s very rare.
Even that’s something that I’ve experienced. I wouldn’t say that I was struggling with my mental health. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the word depression. So by normalizing it, it will definitely make people more likely to get help and speak up when they’re struggling.
The Femme: What difference would it have made to you if you had grown up in a world where metal health was represented accurately? Do you think you would have spoken up earlier?
Ella: I definitely think so. For so long I didn’t know what I was going through. It [a correct representation in the media] would have made me realize more quickly what I was going through before I got to a really low point. And for it to also say ‘it’s okay’ with what I am going through.
The Femme: What was it that made you want to create films, like Faulty Roots, that showed the true reality of mental health?
Ella: I just wanted to give a normal representation of mental health and to show a character that fits into a story without over emphasising anything.
With Faulty Roots, it was the relationship she had with her mum and those around her that I wanted to capture. With a film I’m shooting this month, Smudged Smile, it focuses on how someone who’s normally upbeat can still have depression. So just various different aspects but trying to create these characters that are still very much normal and it’s not just about their mental health.
The Femme: How have your own experiences with struggling with your mental health affected your work?
Ella: It’s influenced so much. It’s sort of crazy to think that a few years ago when I was a young teen, that I absolutely didn’t want to speak about it at all. Now every single day I work on an aspect of mental health and it’s so great and so nice to see what position I am in now.
Working with a fantastic organization like stem4, it’s incredible to see people dedicate their time to improving mental health and just trying to open up the conversation and provide support.
I really enjoy talking about my mental health now and to try bring that into my work and share experiences. It’s just nice to have gone from that position where I denied my mental health to now be spending most of my time working on it.
The Femme: How do you feel seeing and hearing people’s reactions to your work?
Ella: Especially with a project like Faulty Roots, it was so much based on my experience. Not the actual story and not what happens but the character’s experiences. Because it was my own experience no one could say it was wrong, so having people say they could relate to and bring them comfort is so nice. I think that’s what’s so amazing about film and that’s why the media is so important.
If you want to create films, create them. Create work that you’re passionate about and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.
The Femme: What can we expect from you this year?
Ella: I’m working on the feature version of Faulty Roots which I’ve loved spending the time doing the research and seeing how we want to best put the message about mental health. I’m also shooting Smudged Smile this month. My other film that we shot in December, Self-Charm, is in post-production and I can’t wait to get that out there.
Then I’m shooting a new short which will focus on male mental health which is something that I’ve never covered before. With 75% of suicides committed by males, male mental health is something that I really want to do a film about.
Everyone has such different experiences with mental health, so I just want to work on many different characters and different ways to promote awareness.
The Femme: What would you say to other people wanting to get into the industry, especially through this time?
Ella: With film shoots going back ahead in a safe way there are more opportunities coming. Getting involved as a trainee, a runner, or having a mentor. If you want to write, what a good time to write scripts.
With phones, you can create a film easily if you want to. You can do it just yourself, sort of how I did with Faulty Roots. Set up a tripod, be the director, be the producer and then go and act. If you want to create films, create them. Create work that you’re passionate about and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.