In this episode of our FREE THE WORK podcast miniseries, "The Future, Through Our Eyes," watch as our FTW Community Lead, Chloe Coover, sits down with legendary filmmaker, Sydney Freeland. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, which was based on her experience growing up on the Navajo reservation, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Her second feature, the Netflix Original film Deidra and Laney Rob A Train, premiered at Sundance in 2017. Sydney is also the director of Emmy-nominated digital series Her Story, and has directed on TV shows including Grey's Anatomy, Fear The Walking Dead, Nancy Drew, and most recently, P-Valley among others. Listen as the two speak about about the different lessons learned from working in film, television, and advertising, and balancing personal vision against creative constraints.
You can watch our close-captioned video below or listen to this episode through Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Soundcloud. Keep scrolling for the full transcript! In addition, be sure to watch Sydney's films, including Drunktown's Finest, now on VOD.
Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film and TV director. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and went on to receive the Jury Prize at LA Outfest. She also directed the digital series Her Story, which received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for Short Form Series. Her second feature, the Netflix original film Deidra and Laney Rob A Train, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is currently streaming in 190 countries. Additionally, Sydney has directed episodes for Grey’s Anatomy, Heathers, P-Valley, and more.
Chloe is FREE THE WORK's Community Lead. She's an artist, quadruple Leo (Sun, Moon, Rising + Mercury), ANTM scholar, meme enthusiast, and is proud to be a woman of trans experience.
Chloe Coover: Hi, I'm Chloe Coover FREE THE WORK Community Lead, and today I'm here with Emmy nominated film director and television director Sydney Freeland.
Sydney Freeland: Hi, thanks for having me here.
CC: Her debut feature Drunktown's Finest, which was based on her experience growing up on the Navajo reservation , premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film festival. Her second feature, the Netflix original: Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, premiered at Sundance in 2017. Sydney is also the director of Emmy nominated digital series: Her story, and has directed on TV shows, including Grey's Anatomy, Fear The walking dead, Nancy Drew, and most recently P-Valley among others. So, great to have you here. I'm so glad we get to talk and connect. It's been a while since we've seen each other, but I know a lots been going on.
SF: It was a simpler time back then.
CC: Very much so, very much so. I wanted to start off actually kind of just talking about what 2020 has been like for you, because I know that since I think we saw each other in 20..
SF: It was 2018.
SF: Yeah, I was prepping on the 18th Tee commercial.
SF: And you guys were so helpful back then.
SF: 'Cause I hadn't done a commercial, you know, and it was like this whole other world with all this other stuff going on.
CC: It is crazy the degree to which commercials and commercial directing is such a different world to break into for directors. Even if they are experienced film and television directors, just format wise, it is so specific. But I'm glad that we were able to help in any way to, you know, make that possible.
SF: Yeah. I remember the commercial took place in a bedroom and so we had, our script was like a page and a half. And I remember the time, you know, the , I don't know if a day is gonna be enough to shoot a scene in a bedroom, you know, and for me it's like, you know, coming from TV and features is like, Oh yeah, I'm used to shooting that in like ninety minutes, you know? So it was like this luxury to have like all day to like find the angles and like find the like, oh, how can we get the reflection in the mirror just right. And it was, it was very refreshing.
CC: Yeah. So have you done much commercial work since then?
SF: Just that one.
CC: Have you wanted to, is that something that,
SF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah . Not for lack of opportunity, it's just been the TV, the TV work has been fortunately very steady.
CC: Yeah. And so that's been, from my perspective, that's what I've been seeing. You know, when I see your name come up in the news, it's been mostly related to film, sorry, to TV opportunities and we've seen some really cool stuff from you. So what is 2019 and then 2020 been like professionally, personally?
SF: Yeah, it's been a, I mean, obviously it's been, everybody's sort of been going through this huge, you know, unprecedented experience. I think just for myself, just to sort of walk through chronologically, I was, I ended 2019 and started 2020 working on a new show for Amazon called The Wilds. And essentially it's a new show coming up in Amazon kind of Lord of the Flies, but with teenage girls. And we shot that in New Zealand and that was a very, it was an awesome experience. And I, you know, and now in hindsight it was, I mean also kind of crazy. You know, because of the nature of the show, like it's about a group of girls that crashed land on an Island somewhere out, you know, in the South Pacific. And we had to shoot, you know, in very remote locations. So we're shooting on, we were shooting the Tasman Sea, we're shooting on like remote beaches, we're shooting in the jungle. And sort of like, you know, like when you're shooting, you kind of put on blinders to the world, and, but in the background of all this stuff that was happening, you know, I started reading and hearing something about this new virus that had showed up in China. And just sort of like you were hearing buzz about it in the background and, you know, it became louder and louder. And I think our, our last week of shooting, I didn't, I did, so I directed the ninth of ten episodes and the tenth episode was getting ready to shoot in a, I think in an army base that they were using for quarantine, for incoming, incoming new Zealanders were coming in, they had to be quarantined in this place, that I guess people who had tested positive and the crew was like, well, we don't want to shoot there, you know, like it's gonna be all these people like incoming with Corona Virus and we don't want to mess with it. And my partner came down with me to New Zealand. And I remember saying to her at the time, like saying we have to get back to America where it's safe, you know? And so the whole, Yeah. So the whole time was just, it was just being, it was there in New Zealand, It's like, we've gotta get home, we gotta get home, we gotta get home. And now like fast forward nine months later, and it's like, oh man, it would have been, so like, I mean, New Zealand, so has their together and they have actual leadership and it would've been a great place to just try to stay. But that was, so that sort of like, you know, that was kind of the, around the new year when things started happening. And then I came back to the States and started working on an episode of Grey's anatomy. And I think where everything sort of became real for me was we were shooting a, we were directing, I was directing my episode and we had about a day and a half left to go, and I'm about halfway through the day, our executive reserve came on set and just said, you know, we were shooting in Los Angeles and she says, you know, America said it just banned all gatherings of fifty or more people. So, you know, unfortunately to send everyone home and at the time it was like two hundred and fifty people on set and, or on, you know, on the lot. And I went from this like, it, that's when it became real for me, you know, I went from this, like, I went from this mindset of like, okay, we have to get this scene before lunch, We have to shoot the scene and get it done to like five minutes later being in my car and calling my partner and being like, buy all the beans and rice and pasta, you can, you know, it was just.
SF: It was just very, and then, but that's where it became real.
SF: And then went home and sort of, you know, we were very, I felt like we were very disciplined about it. Definitely took it serious. Didn't leave our place for like ninety days aside from like walking my dogs or exercising. And it's been a very, it's been a very surreal experience. I think the saving grace of that is that I was able to work during it. So writing on a number of projects, developing a project that kind of gave me some discipline and some, it forced me to sort of have, to create a foundation and to create a schedule for myself, you know.
CC: 'Cause it was like, you know, like we were just talking before this about like how it's like, or, you know, just like everything going on in the world, it can be a little overwhelming.
SF: For sure.
CC: But working in writing and developing forced me to come up with a schedule for myself, moving forward.
SF: Yeah. I mean, I do think it's so important. It's been so important what I've heard from so many people and what I know from my own experience to have those ways of finding some sort of structure in amidst the chaos is the only way that we can really all sort of power through and move forward and even like be creative too, because I think a lot of people when this whole lockdown, quarantine began, there was this sort of like, well, maybe I'll get a lot of these creative projects done that I hadn't had time to do previously. But then a lot of people were feeling a lot of inertia toward actually getting their real work done because it's like, this is a traumatic event. We're also at this same moment experiencing something really unprecedented, so a lot of people I found that I've talked to were really, have been really hard on themselves about like, you know, being unproductive or just not getting what done as much as they expected to. And then the way through for most people has been trying to set like reasonable schedules for themselves and like reasonable expectations.
CC: Yeah. Yeah. And that's sort of been the, yeah, yeah. It's just being intentional. And I think the saving grace for me was like, you know, like I'm, I feel very helpless, you know, and the whole thing about the lockdown is like the best thing to do is nothing, you know. And so for me, it was like, I wanna do something, I wanna help, I wanna, you know, I wanna be productive. I think at one point I was talking to my partner, let's go like trying to like volunteer somewhere. She's said, No, no, no, no. We have to stay put. We have to stay put.
SF: And so for me it was like sort of like, the work was where, I tried to throw myself into the work and you know, and then see if there was, you know, wherever there was a place to, you know, spin a message or have a character dealing with something that maybe I was dealing with in that moment or, you know, just try to put a positive spin on things, you know.
CC: Totally, totally. And actually, I mean, that kind of leads into one of the directions I was interested in talking with you about in terms of the work that you've done in the past. Specifically last night, I watched Druntown's Finest for the first time, which I loved. I thought it was so great. And I know that I was reading interviews that you've done previously, where you've talked about the ways in which that is a bit of a reflection of your own, you know, history in life, in certain parts of it. And I wonder too, just how much your personal experience has played into the work that you've done thus far and, you know, does it change things to have more or less of your story in any given project I guess?
SF: Oh yeah. That's a good question. You know, I think with, with Drunktown, you know, Drunktown was really, I mean, that was my first feature film and I kind of, sort of describe it as my write what you know story, and it really came about from this desire to tell a story about the people and places I knew growing up, right. And so I'm Native American, I'm transgender, I grew up on the reservation and I remember at the time, you know, thinking that, you know, like I wanted, one of the things that, one of the main things I wanted to do was just show that, you know, there's all sorts of people back home where I grew up. And actually wrote the story with one character. And so this one character, I tried to get them to go to all these different places. And they weren't necessarily like male, female, trans or anything like that. It was just a sort of this amorphous character. And then, and around that time I saw, I just finished watching Amores Perros for the first time, by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. And what I loved about that was he at had three characters and they all sort of represent like three different extremes in the community of Mexico city. And through them, you go to see all these different sort of pieces of Mexico city. And I sort of basically shoplifted that template and applied it to mine. And that's where you kind of, you know, these three characters kind of came out of, you have, you know, you've gotten adopted, an adopted native woman raised by, you know, religious christian parents, adoptive parents. And you've got this sort of like this kind of like macho dude existing in one area. And then you have the trans woman, Felixia played by Carmen Moore. And it was sort of through them. And then each one I sort of got to like, kind of explore a different facet of the community. And, you know, just sort of start writing it. And then started sort of trying to weave three storylines together and hopefully in a way that this sort of felt organic. And it's funny 'cause I remember when I was writing the Felixia storyline, Carmen, I mean, Carmen and I are very different from each other, you know. And so it's funny. So I was writing the Felixia character's storyline, and then I was on, this is, I mean, this is like to give you an idea of how long ago I was writing the script. Felixia originally had a MySpace account. So,
CC: That really takes you back there.
SF: Yeah. That's how long I was working on it. And when I was writing it at the time I went on a, I was on YouTube and you know, like, and this is like, obviously ancient now, but like YouTube, I mean, they still kind of do this. They recommend videos that are similar to what you just watched.
CC: Yeah. I was watching something and this video pops up in my feed. It's like Navajo Transgender, Carmen Moore. It was like, well, that's, I mean, I don't know. So I clicked on the link and I watched it and it was somebody just talking to Carmen Moore outside of, you know, they were talking in Las Vegas or something. And I was like, Oh, that's Felixia. That is Felixia could be that I had just been writing in my head and she was sort of a, she was sort of an amalgamation of other people I knew growing up on the reservation, but when I saw Carmen, I was like, that's her. And then essentially I stalked her on Facebook, and then sent her an email and literally, like, I think in hindsight it was, it was actually like super, like a sketchy, 'cause I sent her an email, said, "Hi, I'm a filmmaker." "I've never made a feature film before," "but I'm writing the script," "there's as a trans character and I'm trans" "and I think you'd be perfect for it," "would you check it out." And to her credit, she's like, yeah, I'll tell you, send it over, I'll check it out. I sent her the script, she responded well. And then we, it started these really great conversations. And so she helped, she helped in forming the character and sort of together we kind of built Felixia into this sort of like, this newer version of herself. And then that ironically sort of spun off into the other storylines. And then from there we're able to kinda move forward and eventually shoot. But that was kind of thrust of it was, came from this idea of wanting to tell a story about Native Americans that showed how diverse and how dynamic the people and the place is. You know, even for myself, you know, like am Native American and trans and like, I wanna just tell people like, Hey, we're out there too, you know.
SF: Totally. And that way that Felixia's character was fleshed out, also sort of illustrates the fact that like, even specifically like Navajo transgender women are, like there's not a single archetype whatsoever. It's you are the director and writer of the story and you connected with a Carmen who played Felixia and then the character became, a very distinct other identity, you know, it wasn't just like you sort of just like telling your own story just from, you know, straight from your head to paper. It was like very much informed and shaped by Carmen's own, you know, persona and experiences and et cetera.
CC: Yeah. And the interesting thing about that too, is it was like, this is, you know, this is pre 2014. And I mean, for me, 2014 is like, it was like a milestone year in terms of, you know, representing, trans representation and everything. And 'cause before then it was just like, you know, I felt like, I felt very much like isolated or in an Island. And now, I mean, now just the representation has exploded and you see how diverse and dynamic the trans community is, you know.
SF: And so at the time, like a lot of the conversations we were having was just saying like, okay, let's get the, let's just get the representation out there. You know? And fortunately it was in a way that, you know, I was really happy with the outcome that she was having. She was great to work with.
CC: I mean, she was amazing. Totally. And I did really think it was fascinating to watch Drunktown's Finest and Felixia, and then having had previously seen her story, which is, which includes very different trans characters. And I think, again, it's sort of another, like just reminder of how the trans community is, what can't be summed up in this monolithic way. It's, there's so many different facets of trans identity, even though there are lots of things that maybe are, you know, carry over into our shared related experiences that we can connect with one another on. There's still so much that is unique and it's great to see so much being captured in such different nuance ways on film, in the work that you've done.
SF: Oh, Thank you. Thank you.
CC: But yeah, I mean, I wanted to talk about sort of how the journey of making Drunktown's Finest as your first feature and getting that, you know, bringing it to life and then also sort of what the difference was in getting to make your second feature, which is a Netflix original:Deidra and Laney Rob a Train. And so it's like a very different, and it's also just in terms of what I was mentioning before about, you know, putting oneself into it. I see, you know, there's different levels of that equation at work in both pieces. So yeah. Do you wanna talk about the production of one or both.
SF: Like, I'm curious, like the what's the equation?
CC: Well, I mean, in terms of just on paper, Drunktown's Finest being closer to lived experience of your own, and then you're doing Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, being a little bit more, I guess, separate from that or.
SF: Oh Yeah.
CC: Yeah. I mean, yeah. That's, interesting. 'Cause I feel like it's so funny. 'Cause like when you're doing it, I'm like, I'm trying to tell myself, I'm removed from this, you know, like I'm, I'm separating myself from the equation or, you know, like, you know, the story is this story. And then if I go back or revisit, it's like, I'm all over this thing.
CC: You know. I can't escape it, I'm all over this. And so I guess just to go back to Drunktown for a second, you know, like in shooting that it was, I think in hindsight it was like, I wanted to kind of like remove myself from the story. Like I didn't want myself to be the story, you know, and then, but I think now in hindsight, it was like looking back at those three characters, it's like, Oh, well, like there's aspects of me in each one of them, you know, and that's sort of where they came from and, you know, granted, they're not based on any one particular person, they're sort of amalgamations of different people. And like the sick boy character was based off of, you know, probably four or five people I knew. And actually, I actually knew two sick boys growing up, two separate sick boys, and sort of like kind of built that character and then he kind of became his own thing. And then, you know, so it's like as much as I try to stay, to remove myself from the process, you're sort of inextricably linked with it. And then going on to Her Story, like, what I loved about that is I was actually in, we were shopping around Deidra and Laney at the time. And Her Story sort of, you know, fell out of the sky in the best possible sense, Jen Richards and Laura Zak had written it. And I remember reading it at the time. It really resonated with me because it was a story about trans women, that wasn't about transitioning, you know, at the time that's sort of what everyone kind of knew and I was like, I really, really sort of like connected with it. And I was like, Holy, I want to be a part of this. Like, please let me direct it, please like, like I do anything, like let me put my fingerprints on this thing and it ended up being, I mean, obviously great experience, you know, Jen and Angelica and, you know, Christian and Laura, I mean, everybody's just sort of, they've all kind of gone off and done their own things.
CC: And, but like that was something that, you know, as much as I said, like, Oh, I'm not, I'm removing myself from, I'm leaving the material be its own thing. It was also like, I was, at the time I had transitioned, it had been like twelve years post-transition I think. And I was like, I just wanted to see something that wasn't necessarily about transitioning and that's really what I sort of connected to with the material. And it was just about, it was about focusing on the humanity of the characters and just like these are people looking for, you know, they're just trying to find their person in the world, you know. Really sort of latching onto that and then taking that idea and running with it. And yeah, but again, like so many great, so many great people I met on that. And, and then so, and then moving forward to Deidra and Laney, that was interesting to like, okay, this is kind of, this might be a little embarrassing, but I'll tell it anyway. So Drunktown's Finest, right. It was so hard to get made, specifically because it was Native American. And you know, when we were trying to get it off the ground, one of the most consistent notes we got from investors and producers was like, well, make it white, you know.
SF: Make it white.
CC: Make it white, make it white.
SF: How could that story have been made white? I don't even understand it.
CC: Well, it was like, it was like, well, I remember one of the notes was what if you cast like Taylor Lautner as somebody who is, discovers he has Native American DNA, and then he has to learn about himself. And I was like, well, that's not what the story is at all, you know. And then, you know, and also people, you know, saying like, well, you have a Native American transgender character, it was interesting, but we don't, we just don't know where those, you know, like how are you gonna find that person, you know, this is pretty, you know, like, Oh, just cast, like this transgender male and have them wear drag. And then you know, granted, we stuck to our but we were able to make it, you know, ultimately, you know, we shot it in fifteen days and it was, that was a tough one, but we got the film made.
CC: And so from that, and then going into Deidra and Laney, now in hindsight, it's like looking back. 'Cause like that experience definitely affected me because when I got Deidra and Laney and I met with the writer, you know, the writers, you know, she's a Caucasian and transgender woman. And I was sort of like, okay, I'm gonna pitch this thing, I'm gonna create this thing because I want to get it made. And so I pitched the two leads as blonde hair, blue-eyed girls, white girls. And we went out and we pitched it. We pitched to everybody and then we ultimately went to Netflix and I did this, you know, usually when you're pitching a project, you do like a look book, which is sort of like a visual presentation of how people. And so we presented it to Netflix and they did this whole song and dance, and I got done with it, and I was like, what do you guys think? And there was like, there was like a little silence. And then they said, Oh, you know, we like your take. And we like your idea, but we're a little disappointed that there isn't more minority representation of the film. And it was this weird moment where it's like, wait, what? What do you mean?
SF: Conversations I was having before.
CC: Yeah, yeah. Specifically, 'cause everything else was so hurried to get made beforehand. And then like, it was sort of like, it was kind like pop me between the eyes, I remember from that.
CC: Yeah. And we left the meeting and I was talking to my producers and I was just like, "What did they mean they want more minority representation" in the film?" And then I was like, I gave them what they wanted. Anyway so, then once I had some separation for that experience and I thought about, I was like, Oh, I can go there. You know, I can go there. And so reformatted the whole middle pitch. And then we had, you know, two mixed race daughters, you know, with, you know, and mixed race parents and then went back, pitched to them and then we sold it. And it was, but then the more I sort of thought about, I was like, Oh, that's my experience, you know. I have a Native American father and a white mother. And I grew up, actually grew up and the part where I really connected with it is that I grew up living next to train tracks.
SF: Oh, wow. Yeah.
CC: And so that was one of the things that initially attracted me to the project was, you know, reading the story and having grown up, like literally having grown up with trains, going by my house every day and never once having this idea to like rob them. And I was like, holy . I need to meet this writer who is so much smarter than myself because I need to know what goes on her head.
CC: Yeah exactly. I could have been a millionaire right now. So, and then, so we reformatted the pitch and then took it out, Netflix bought it, and then we were able to shoot it in 2016 and yeah. And then a lot of that is just sort of came from my own personal experiences and, you know.
CC: And trying to, you know, sort of just trying to, you know, you try to share that with, you know, with Ashley and Rachel oh sorry, our two leads. And they both kind of took those ideas and ran with them.
SF: Amazing. Yeah. I mean, it's interesting too. 'Cause I mean, on some level I was sort of setting up a false dichotomy of like any project being, not personal or very personal, because in a way it's like any project that you, as a creator, bring yourself into, you are drawing from your own experience, whatever that may be and whatever, you know, aspect of yourself, you might be putting into it. And also you're using your skills as an imaginative creative person to sort of, make creative decisions that are outside of oneself. So there's always that push and pull in basically everything that, you know, a creative person ends up working on. And I just, I'm fascinated with how that sort of played into your career. I wonder thinking about that kind of idea in terms of television, how do you feel that that's played into, to sort of TV projects that you've come on board with?
CC: Yeah. Yeah. It's, TV is interesting. It's so funny 'cause like, you know, like I was sort of saying, it's like as much as I tried to not, as much as I try to sort of like, let the project be its own thing, like you can't help. Like every time I go back, I'm not gonna put myself into this thing. Like, I mean, like I'm not gonna like inject my personality or anything and you can't help it. It's just the way it is. And I think with TV, it's the same, but different, right? Like it requires a slightly different mindset, you know. Like with Deidra and Laney or Drunktown or Her Story, like we're literally building this world from the ground up, you know. So I'm extremely involved in everything from the casting to the locations. So you're sort of involved in everything from like picking like the salt and pepper shakers on the table where these two characters are having the conversation. And to TV where you're coming into, you're coming into something, where everything has been established, you're kind of parachuting in, and the sandbox has been defined for you. And for me, I actually kind of enjoy that because what happens when you come in there is that, you know, if a show has a specific visual style, I have to adhere to that. But there's, the great thing about that is that when I do that, it forces me to do things I wouldn't normally do.
CC: Like I get these cool, like sort of directing tools for my tool belt. So like I did a show, I did a show a couple of years ago where they don't move the camera, you know. And you know, so everything had to be very composed sort of, the idea being it's modeled after like old westerns, before you had dollies and before you had cranes and you know, steady cams and so on and so forth. And so everything had to be very deliberate in terms of your composition and blocking and so on and so forth. And that whole experience really was an education. And I, I'm able to take things that were from that to, to other projects, you know. And, so I think. I think, but within that's where you find, you find like the little corner of the sandbox that you can make yours, you know.
SF: That's the fun part. That's the challenge.
SF: I did an episode of Grey's Anatomy a couple of years ago and it was basically, it was the weed episode and basically all the doctors eat weed cookies, and then they start freaking out. And when I read the script, I was like, it was, I had just come off Deidra and Laney actually. And I read the script and I was like, Oh. I wanna, like, I knew I wanted to do something special with the, when the doctors sort of like are, when anyone's sort of partook the week cookies and got high. And I look at all these other sort of examples in TV and film, you know, you got like Broad City, they did like a mushroom episode where they sort of, they sort of superimpose like 2-D animation on top of Alana and Abbi. And that was funny. It was interesting, but it also wasn't within the sandbox of Grey's anatomy that if that makes sense.
SF: And then you look at like something like, I think it was like 22 Jump Street, has had a scene where the characters have like, they did a split screen. They literally did a split screen and they had hi, hi, what are you doing? Wanna say hi?
SF: Say hi.
CC: Nice to meet you.
SF: Yes. Okay. I'll do it, let me finish this. And then, they had a split screen, where it's like, you know, one character was having a bad trip, one character is having a good trip. And again, totally it wasn't in the Grey's anatomy sandbox and long story short, we sort of, I landed on this idea of reusing the Spike Lee dolly, which is where, you know, people aren't familiar, essentially what happens is you put, you put the, like if this is a camera and this is your actor, you put the camera and the actor on dolly together and you move them across like so, you know. So it has this really great effect of like, a character looks like they're floating through space, you know, like they're not walking or anything. And so use that repurposed it, and then, you know, pitched it to the producer, director and the show runner. And said hey like, here's a cool way that's still in the Grey's anatomy sandbox, that we could kind of have our kicking into too. And they were down for it. We shot, a couple, you know, scenes. We picked up the scenes we wanted to shoot using this device. And I was really happy with the result. But like that's an example of like what TV, like that's where you find a little corner of the sandbox, you can kind of make your own, you know.
CC: Yeah. It's interesting. Yeah. 'Cause it's like constraints make you really push the limits of your creativity to be able to like problem solve in a way that feels like authentic to your vision, but also within all of the constraints that have already been laid out for TV. And I'd imagine also commercial work has similar kinds of, for filmmakers where it's like, well, within the boundaries of what I'm doing here and, you know, in this kind of environment, I can do these things. I can make these kinds of choices to solve these problems. This podcast is focused mostly on the future and what's next and sort of ways that we can imagine a version of the film industry that is more genuinely equitable and inclusive of all creative voices and specifically for trans non-binary intersex folks under the trans umbrella. What do you think in your experience has changed over your career? And what do you think you'd still like to see change to make the industry more expansively inclusive, basically.
SF: Oh wow. Yeah. I think, I think in hindsight, you know, I've sort of, you know, granted, I'm still sort of like, you know very much sort of like trying to make my way with my career.
SF: But I think the thing I'd say like, I mean, for anyone out there is, is essentially no matter your background, you know, like don't let your, don't let your background inhibit your hopes or your dreams, you know. What I mean by that is, is just, you know like, I think one of, in hindsight, one of the things I've felt is as someone growing up on the reservation, as someone who was a, you know, a minority, as someone who's transgender, when I first wanted to go into filmmaking, there was this idea of like, well, there's, I had no frame of reference, you know. And it's like, and then on top of that, it's like, well, I'm not, I don't know anyone in the film industry. I don't come from, you know, I've never been on a set before. I don't know how to become a director, you know, I don't even know if it's even possible. And a lot of times, like the voice in my head was far more negative than any sort of external sort of thought or idea. And I think what I've sort of found over time is that, all of those things that I thought were sort of like a deficit, was like something of having something out of a deficit or a negative are actually incredible positives, you know. Like my background has informed the way I work, you know. So like, what do I mean by that? Like, you know, like I grew up hearing stories, you know, I grew up with like traditional stories and ceremony. I grew up with, surrounded by artists, you know, and they weren't granted, they weren't working in film, but they were painting, they were painters and drawers and you know, silversmiths and potters and weavers and sort of what I would refer to as like classical mediums. And I think, the further I sort of gone, the more I've kind of realized and the more this stuff has informed me that no, no, actually my background is very unique and that uniqueness, is what allows me to tell unique stories, you know. And so, you know, I'd say like, whatever your background is, like, the more, it's almost like the more diverse, the better, you know.
SF: And don't be afraid to use that. Don't be afraid to lean into it, you know. And I think, especially now diverse stories are needed, not, but on top of that, but there's also a demand, you know, in the same way that I was saying, like, you know, so hard to make anything Native American related or trans related say in 2010. Like now it's almost like it, swung the other way and there's people actively seeking out diverse voices, you know. So, you know, no matter your background, like you're very much needed right now.
CC: Totally. And yeah, I mean, there's so much in the world that would lead people to you know, question their own voices and have that like imposter syndrome and sort of feel like the worlds that have historically not been as welcoming are sort of out of reach. But I do think also like having people like you, having the careers that you've had already so far, and obviously as you continue to build and grow is really, means so much because it gives people, the, gives people a precedent or at least a possibility model or something to see, you know, well, that's your journey. And then here could be my journey.
SF: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I think in your, like, you never know, like when a personal experience or your personal background will come into play, you know, I… When I was first transitioning in San Francisco, you know, a lot of my friends were, you know, for lack of a, you know, they were sex workers and they worked, they were dancers at a club in San Francisco. And that was very much a part of my, sort of my formative transitional years. And, you know, a lot of my friends from back then, you know, we had so many stories and experiences, and then you fast forward, like fifteen years. And I was on a show in Toronto and I got a script for a Percy Valley, P Valley, and it's about black strippers in Mississippi. And I read the script and Katori hall created it. I read it I was like, Oh, I know these people. I know these people what, like, you know, I mean, it wasn't a one-to-one, but they were, they were women of color and they were hustling and they were dancing and it was like, it took me back to those days in San Francisco. And we had this, you know, I had a call with Katori and it was like, we ended up talking about two hours and I just, basically her telling, sharing stories and me sharing stories. And we didn't really get into logistics about the actual shooting or anything, but it was just talking about sharing these personal experiences. And I was able to bring that with me, but you know, when we shot it, you know, we shot last year in Atlanta. But like all of that, all those experiences helped inform how I shot the film, not the film, the episode.
CC: Yeah. Totally. And that's, you're going to make connections based on who you are, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what your background maybe. And so it's so cool to watch it all sort of coming together and flourishing and building something that, you know, we can all enjoy.
CC: Well, thank you so much. I think we should probably wrap up, but it was so great to talk to you. Oh, and also, congratulations. One thing I didn't get to mention. Congratulations on becoming a member of the Academy in June this year.
SF: Thank you.
CC: Round of applause.
SF: Thank you. Thank you. Yes, it's a, yeah, that's a great honor. And also, yeah, Sterlin Harjo and Ellie Maija Tailfeathers. So both are also Native American directors. We got three and then the Guild. Not the guild, the Academy, sorry, not the guild.
SF: So, you know, progress is progress.
CC: Yeah. Well thank you so much. And hopefully we'll get to see more of your amazing work all over the place soon.
SF: Thank you.