As a part of our Women In Film series, I interviewed the incredibly busy Elizabeth Schuch! Endlessly talented, Elizabeth wears many hats in the Film and Television world as a Producer, Co-writer, Production Designer, Storyboard Artist, and soon will be directing her own film. It’s been such a pleasure knowing Elizabeth and I’m excited to not only share her with all of you, but also excited about her upcoming films.
Can you tell with me how you got started in film and what inspired you to do so?
I’ve been in theatre since age 5 and fell in love with film at a young age as well , devouring the (then unrated) classics section at the local Blockbuster. Performing onstage and painting the sets lead me to study scenic design in Chicago in college, and it was then I first began to travel a bit – opening up the world of art and architecture in Europe for me. Which led to my moving to the UK to expand into design for film – starting by mastering 3D animation and then storyboarding. I’ve been working in a mix of theatre, TV and film ever since, based in London.
You have worked internationally as a theater and film production designer and storyboard artist. Will you share with us more about what a production designer does and what a storyboard artist does? What do you love about each role? Do you have some favorite projects you’ve worked on?
The production designer is responsible for defining and managing every visual aspect of a film or play. The props, the background/location, everything that’s not a person on screen gets taken into consideration for color palette, texture, period, usage. They work with the director and producer on budget and schedule, and guide the team (props folks, carpenters, etc) who are putting together the visual elements.
Especially because of my background in theatre, I do enjoy the aspect of creating a world from nothing. And often, it means getting very creative on a tight budget. I love using texture to make the scene feel layered and gritty and real, as well as utilizing creative recycling when I can. Aside from the inspiring speakers – working with the ingenious TED Talks crew on the TED Global production in Edinburgh was a blast. Combining science ideas with set design, working with brilliant collaborators, and mixing live with filmed production was great. Also, working with AirCraft Circus here in London to combine recycled sets with aerial acts has been thrilling. My favorite production to design was for David Cromer, Journey’s End, a WWI piece back in Chicago – it was such intelligent direction, a great team, and bang-on cast that I needed to make the trenches as real as possible to live up to the quality of the performances.
A storyboard is an organizational tool used by film, TV, commercials and other industries to plan a sequence of events using drawings, collage or other images. It’s like a visual map of what a scene will be, describing the content and camera angle. They can range from very simple stick figures to beautifully complex drawings that are art in themselves. Storyboards are flexible working documents that help the director communicate to the whole
crew (or the channel, or investors, too) what their vision is, so everyone can help make it happen, or make changes.
Because I often work with factual (science, historical) storyboards, every job you’re learning something completely different, getting a quick overview of the basics of the topic, in addition to making the actual document people need to work from or price the visual effects from. The topic can be anything, go anywhere: from massive planetary scale to macro biology scale, and then jumping to any point in history – it’s all so interesting.
The barrage of images and inspiration you can bring together to create a unique idea is the key to all of my jobs – from storyboards to set design, to illustration or even creating new productions. And then sorting out the best bits to use and being able to draw and communicate the ideas clearly, so everyone on the team understands what we’re working towards. To me, it’s all creative problem solving, communication and creating art, no matter what the scale or the subject matter is.
The Winter was your first feature length film as a creative producer/writer. We interviewed back earlier in the year, however it was more from Kostas’s perspective as the director. Share with me a little about the experience from your point of view. What was it like?
The Winter was inspired by the location – when Kostas and I first visited the abandoned house in the mountains of Greece, and heard the family stories, we knew it had to be a movie. We had no idea how hard it would be, but that’s probably a good thing! Starting with the story – thinking what would happen if we had to be alone in this derilict haunted house, and then crafting a character out of that – and his family stories and nosy neighbors… it was a lot of fun and surprises dreaming up the script.
The filming was physically tough, on a tight budget and it was often hard to arrange basic things – suddenly you’re not just responsible for the props – it’s the transport and toilet paper, too! But we’ve learned as we went – what to do at every single stage of the process on into final color, and festivals, and the distribution process. Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but also, it’s addictive. We can’t seem to stop creating new scripts and ideas.
Let’s talk about your short/fantasy Twist Tie, which you have written, and it’s also your first time directing correct? Tell me a little about it and about your first time directing experience.
At the moment, we’re just wrapping up the post production on Twist Tie, which is my first live action short. (I’d directed a bit for stage and 3D animation before, back while I was in training.) The wonderful Nadine Hanwell is my one woman cast. Working an experienced actress and my trusted team made it super easy: director/vfx wiz Konstantinos Koutsoliotas handled the cinematography and post production, and Anami Tara Shucart whipped up everything on the wardrobe side of things, and we all collaborated on the production very closely. Bringing back more of the gang who worked on our last film – Sen Na is designing sound and Dave Kemp has created a perfect samba soundtrack to keep everything upbeat. In the film, a former dancer’s cheerful morning routine is interrupted by a pest from an unexpected source. It’s a quirky comedy short with a fantasy twist, short and sweet.
I’m super excited for The Book of Birdie, which is currently in pre-production, I believe you start filming in January correct? This will be your first full feature film you have written and directed. Tell me about the experience so far in pre-production, casting, locations, ect. Also, please share a little about the film too! I think it’s something a lot of us can get excited about.
We’re prepping for shoot in Wisconsin in January, in my hometown of Kenosha, about an hour outside of Chicago. It’s a very tight window to get everything together so it needs to be a very simple shoot: small cast, minimal crew, single location, intimate psychological story with lots of colorful visual trickery we can handle with a mix of low-budget props magic and our specialty CGI flare. The casting is currently underway, and I’m thrilled by the talent I’m finding – I wish it was a bigger cast to fit them all! We’ll be pulling from the local resources and talent (we’ve some great music and theatre programs in town), and using the atmosphere of a wonderful historic building on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The film takes place in a struggling convent on the verge of closure, when a young girl with a mysterious illness and past is placed in their care. In some ways, it’s a kind of sister project to our first feature film The Winter, written for a location that heavily influences the plot, dreamlike hallucination and magical realism, following the journey into imagination and possibly madness for a sensitive individual. This time, however, it’s from a distinctly feminine perspective with an all female cast. Crucially, too, we’re working in the English language this time.
For any woman coming into the business new, what would be some of the advice you would give here…regardless if she’s working towards directing, writing, acting, producing?
Besides work your butt off? I once heard an address Neil Gaiman gave on advice to artists, and I think of it a lot. “You get freelance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on deadline. Actually you don’t need all three. Just two.” To me, you have to aim at all three as much as possible: that’s my advice for women (or for
anyone in the arts). Gaiman also said “Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.” Which is perfect.
I suppose this is a tie in from the previous questions, but you will have an all female cast for The Book of Birdie. Can you share some of the ways the story may be more relatable to women? And, what was your inspiration behind the story? I feel women like you who are creating in this capacity are the very ones who will make a huge difference on those up and coming, likely even just naturally inspiring more women to get involved in these leadership roles.
I’m excited to be creating a fantasy genre film with an all female cast, and being respectful to the characters and subject matter. There’s a strong surrealist aspect, but we’re focused carefully on keeping realistic emotion and meaning as very strange events unfold. For inspiration, I’ve been looking at medieval mysticism and symbolism and cases of visions to create the very special character of Birdie, our protagonist. It’s a great time to be working in the industry and seeing the call for change and equality on all fronts that’s gaining momentum now. Even if this project is just a tiny drop in the bucket, I hope to see things become easier and more open for the next generation coming up.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth!
Learn more about Elizabeth HERE
Our Interview earlier this year with Elizabeth and Kostas about ‘The Winter’ HERE