A quick look into the film industry and it’s clear to see that the discourse on mental illness is shifting to a more representative and diverse approach. However, there is still a long way to go before we see an industry where mental illness is not romanticised or demonised and stories that actually represent those struggling with mental illness.
19-year-old filmmaker Ella Greenwood seeks to change this. Her work addresses the gaps in mental health representation within mainstream media and seeks to make visible the effects of mental health on the everyday life. Balancing working as the director of Broken Flames Productions, having her work selected for BAFTA accredited festivals and working as an ambassador for Stem4 she is a powerhouse revolutionising the film industry.
We caught up with Ella to learn more about her career as a filmmaker and the representations of mental health in the film industry.
Hey Ella, what prompted you to begin your career as a filmmaker? Why pick filmmaking and not another route?
I’ve always loved everything to do with films and so knew that I wanted to work in the industry from a young age. I fell in love with acting and still love it lots so started to get involved with it as an actor and then when I turned 18, I decided that I wanted to start making my own films and to tell stories that were important to me. I’ve pretty much just always wanted to work in film and never considered anything else.
Representation of mental health issues are only just beginning to become more commonplace, is there more the film industry can be doing to better represent these stories?
There’s so much more that can be done. There is an extreme lack of representation; less than 2% out of 5,000 characters were shown to have a mental illness in film and TV as found by a recent study, and then characters who have mental illnesses are often shown to be perpetrators of violence, with terms such as crazy, weird and freak being used a lot. I also think there’s a big issue with mental illness being used to add dramatic effect to a storyline, in particular with romanticising suicide, which is so careless. It’s important to have filmmakers who have experienced mental illness on board projects that focus on this, and to ask for advice from therapists, clinicians, etc before putting work out there that can reach millions of viewers. It requires the same work that you would have as bringing historians on board a project that is set in the past, for example.
Why do you think that there is such a stigma around depicting teen mental health in mainstream media?
A lot of teen content can focus on over-exaggerated things, either being really dramatic or too perfect, and so people can think that more realistic content that focuses on an important issue wouldn’t be as popular. It’s the balance between making something entertaining, but also making it important and a good representation of mental health.
When you are creating your films what kind of impact do you want them to have on your audience?
I want them to impact the audience in a way that they perhaps don’t even realise. People know that mental illnesses exist, but they may not know how it can affect a person each day. How it changes the way they view things, and the effect that insensitive phrases other people say to them can have. I want people to enjoy my work but to also learn something too.
What kind of reaction did you receive for Faulty Roots?
I was so happy with the reaction received for Faulty Roots. It was interesting seeing how people who had experience with mental illness reacted compared with those who didn’t have any experience. I had people with experience saying that they felt it had accurately portrayed what it was like and that meant so much to me, and then I had people who had less knowledge saying that it had changed the way they viewed mental illness, and that was what I wanted from the film. I’m so grateful to be able to work on a feature version, and to hopefully achieve these reactions from a larger amount of people!
What kind of impact has your own experiences with mental health had on your work?
My experiences have had a huge impact! I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have experience with mental health, and it has been a really nice process getting to open up about those experiences more and to share them with others.
What would your advice be to any young budding filmmakers out there looking to get into the industry?
Don’t be intimidated and know that everyone starts somewhere. Watch as many films as possible, including shorts, and find out what you like and what you don’t like with them. Search for opportunities, collaborate with friends, and just start making something!
You can keep up to date with Ella's upcoming projects by following her Instagram.