meet Ella Greenwood, a 20-year-old filmmaker reforming the representation of mental health in media

Saige: Thank you so much for being here today, the first question I have is how did you get involved in filmmaking?

Ella: I’ve always been involved in the industry, I absolutely loved films and tv shows--anything like that. I thought I wanted to do acting for a while and spent a lot of time auditioning and getting rejected. A lot of times doing auditions and not hearing back, I just decided I wanted to start doing my own projects and share stories that were important to me that could help others. That's sort of why I decided to go behind the camera in that sense.

Saige: Great to hear, who inspired you? Maybe a role model or parent?

Ella: I don’t know if I have anyone, my parents aren’t in the creative industry or anything, they literally have no clue about any of the things I do but they are really supportive which is what matters. I guess I just loved the experience of films and going to the cinema that I never so much as found that one person that I've really admired and wanted to follow. It was more so [that] I loved films and let me try making them in that sense.

Saige: Being so young in the film industry, have there been any advantages or challenges working in the film industry?

Ella: I feel like it’s sort of in the middle. I obviously love what I'm doing and I'm focusing on stories about young characters so I think I'm a good person to be doing that and get that representation a bit better [for mental health in teens] and be more accurate I hope. I guess because for the most part the way I started was by doing my own projects, it was more trying to put that all together rather than someone hiring me. it didn't matter what age I would be because I'm sort of hiring myself. I like being young, I love telling these stories about young people and things that are important to them.

Saige: Your films center on mental health, does your own mental health drain you especially when people doubt you or don’t believe in what you are doing?

Ella: Yeah, I mean it's so hard, a lot of rejection. I've dealt with that quite a lot. I signed with an agent about the age of 13 and so I've been getting rejected as an actor. I didn't think it would be so much as a filmmaker, you know, I thought it was mainly a thing that actors had to deal with, but I feel it's even more [in filmmaking] and it's from a range of different things. It is hard, sometimes you just think this is so right, and then you don't get it or someone says no or turns down a project saying its a project they don't believe in. It is hard, but you just have to get on with it really, it's the only way it's never not gonna be hard but it's never gonna not happen.

Saige: For your most famous film ‘Faulty Roots’, did you or anyone else have any doubts about that?

Ella: There is constant doubt in the sense of [like] when I first wrote the script, for a month I just didn't open it again and it sat as a file on my computer. I didn’t want to read it and when trying to piece it together again, there were times where I was like I can't do this. I didn't have any experience, I didn't know what I was doing, and so I just felt so overwhelmed. I think for the most part it's often me, like i'm my biggest doubter, and i think you're the person who has that control to carry on and keep going. If you don't, it's whether you sort of keep going or give up. I think with faulty roots, I guess because I didn't have any experience in film I was just going to go out and do it as I didn't have much to lose. There were a lot of times it was super overwhelming but I managed to do it.

Saige: Right, that’s really good. Just a general question, what do you want your viewers to feel/take away from your films?

Ella: Because I focus on mental health with all of my work, I suppose if people have those experiences where they struggle with their mental health to feel comfort, feel seen, and heard. Knowing there are those out there who have gone through similar things and that there is support available. For people who haven't experienced a mental illness, to just feel like they understand it a bit better too. For both parties, that they enjoy the film and that it has an influence, even if it's the tiniest bit.

Saige: When you work on your films, do you ever feel burnt out or tired of them, feeling like you just don’t want to do it anymore?

Ella: Yeah, I mean, I absolutely love my projects and I don't think there has ever been a point where I don't want to do it anymore, but there's definitely been times where it felt like too much. [Like] There’s too many people relying on me in this instant and that if something goes wrong it can seem so stressful. It's really, you know, how am i going to handle this? How am I going to work this out? But I know I want to tell these stories and that's sort of the driving force no matter how stressful it is. I love it and it keeps me going.

Saige: Adding onto that, when you feel stressed and overwhelmed how do you deal with it? Any hobbies outside of film?

Ella: I really love watching films and tv shows so it's kind of interesting because I go from working on them to then watching them. I suppose my favorite thing to do is see family and friends and just hang out and get a pizza. Of course, something like that was hard during Covid, but things are opening up a bit more here where I live. Spending evenings with friends, we literally will be doing nothing but it really lets me take my mind off of things.

Saige: Being so young in the film industry, why choose mental health out of all the other topics you could have focused on?

Ella: I do love watching coming-of-age films, and a lot of the times they are so cheesy and I kind of enjoy that, but for the main part, the representation of what it is to be young is quite wrong. I don’t think it's ever intentional, but when you get writers that are quite a bit older and writing about things they don't understand can be portrayed differently. I think that mental health is one of those situations, even in real life. For example, when I was struggling with my mental health I was told it's just part of being a teenager, or is it exam worries? or have you fallen out with a friend. I was like, no I have a mental illness. I just wanted to make the portrayal a bit better and for it to be taken more seriously to change the representation in the media.

Saige: Your films focus on mental health, has your own mental health impacted the inspiration behind your films?

Ella: Yeah definitely, for my first film I decided to do it about a teenage girl with depression because I did struggle with my mental health as a young teen. One of my recent films was about a teenage guy, and you know, I'm not a teenage guy but I think with mental health there are similarities shared between everyone no matter their background or who they are. There are things people go through and ways people treat them that I sort of think can always use my experiences with and then build the character to understand them a bit better. But yeah, there are always my own experiences incorporated.

Saige: Producing films about mental health, has that made you more open about what you struggle with on a daily basis?

Ella: Definitely, my mental health has been really great for a while now. When I first wrote ‘Faulty Roots’, a lot of the things I felt like I hadn't processed. I went from struggling to getting better and that was that. When I started writing it, things I hadn't really thought about rose up for me. It was a really nice experience writing it, as a young teen I was in a position where I didn't really want to talk about it and now I literally speak about mental health every single day. It's really nice and I feel like it's quite a nice journey to have gone on.

Saige: Do you have any advice for people going into film?

Ella: I think many people feel like there is this sort of wall around the industry, like it's some kind of secret society and you've got to somehow break into it. I think that if you're making films and writing scripts, you're already a part of the industry. Just focus on that and not the oh i need to this and be like this person. Just make films you're passionate about, build your experience, and hopefully it will all fall into place.

Saige: About your upcoming projects, can you give us any details about them?

Ella: Yeah, I’ve got a few. ‘Self Charm’ is about a teenager struggling with self-harm and it stars the amazing BAFTA winner Bucky Bakray. ‘Smudge Smile’ is about a really happy and positive teenage girl who is getting ready to celebrate her 16th birthday and then she starts to really struggle with her mental health, and that stars Mia Mckenna-Bruce. ‘Why Wouldn’t I Be?’ is made with the wonderful partnership with HUMEN that follows a teenage guy who isn't able to reach out for support. Next month, I'm about to shoot my next film called ‘Better Get Better’ which focuses on the different ways that people treat someone struggling with their physical health compared with their mental health. Those are some of the films I’m working on the most these days.

Saige: Being so young, how does it feel to make all these strides?

Ella: I absolutely love what I'm doing and I'm working with some amazing people. Getting to work with these actors, crews, different organizations, is just so wonderful. I feel like I'm really lucky to be in this position to work with so many people.

Saige: What do you see with your films in the future?

Ella: I really hope that with my work I can bring comfort to people and change representation. I'd love the films to be seen by as many people as possible.

Saige: Looks like I’ve asked all my questions, thank you for being here today.

Check out Ella on instagram here!