Age ain’t nothing but a number for talented director Emily Gurland, currently a student at Tisch. Her work has a clarity of vision that’s rare for a director at any stage of her career, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for her.
Emily Gurland is a born and raised New Yorker. Her goal is to pursue a career in directing and tell stories about underrepresented individuals.
We’re excited to be able to share Emily’s short, “Blister” (made with a crew of all women!) and her music video for Halima‘s “Know Your Worth”. We also had the opportunity to have a conversation with her, and discussed her inspirations, aspirations, and process.
Check out our interview with Emily (along with some great photos Emily shared with us) below!
How did you get started as a filmmaker?
In 3rd grade we were assigned to make a poster about our dream careers. On mine I wrote “I want to be an actress because I feel bad for people who don’t have enough drama in their lives.” When I got to middle school I participated in every musical possible and in high school I found myself drawn to filmmaking because I was mesmerized by the rush of emotions I could feel in the span of 2 hours. I remember watching Harold and Maude for the first time. It was so weird and different and cool. It expanded my understanding of what a movie could be. College has really been the place where I’ve been able to actually start filmmaking. I’ve had to dig for confidence in myself while working alongside so many of my dedicated peers. In my first two years I’ve made such talented friends and collaborators, and I’ve learned the only way to become the director I’m itching to be is simply by doing.
What or who inspires you, either in art or in life?
Destiny Frasqueri (aka Princess Nokia) has been a significant, consistent influence on me for over a year now. In my eyes she is a radiant force of nature, changing the way girls, especially black & brown girls, express and love themselves. When I first started to admire her, a friend of mine beaded me a bracelet that spells out *Lil*Titties*Fat*Belly* which is the chorus of Destiny’s most popular song “Tomboy.” This line for me acted as a representation of the unapologetic, celebratory, empowered kind of feminism in which I wanted to take part. A kind that screamed to the world “This is my body and it’s so dope and I’m gonna make sure you know it.” She can be hard and gaudy, but also soft and sensitive. Her strength and capability for self-love is what’s inspired me to find comfort in rejecting an impossible mold. She inspires me to LOVE the fact that the industry is so male dominated…It gives me the opportunity to prove just how creative and powerful women are. I’ve worn this bracelet nearly everyday since, because it acts as a reminder that I can be and look anyway I want. I don’t need to fit anyone’s expectations but rather work hard to fulfill my own.
Both “blister” and your music video for Halima’s “Know Your Worth” are very introspective. What’s your approach to creating that feeling of intimacy on film?
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in film school is the power of contrast. How the good is only really good if we first experience the bad. I like all my protagonists to be vulnerable at some point or another, because you can only reach a place of empowerment once you’ve felt broken. Creating a space for intimacy in my opinion is always dependent on the vibe of your set. As the director it becomes your responsibility to be aware of the different energies impacting the room. Working on blister was special for me because I wrote it with my friends in mind to act. Creating the comfortable environment was my biggest priority. Stars Ray and Mer are very close in real life, and my all girl crew was so professional that a natural performance was instant.
Blister in particular is a very relatable portrayal of young queer love. What drew you to tell the story?
At the time I wrote blister, my close friend was going through an excruciating break-up. I kept attempting to muster up ground breaking advice but would fail miserably. I watched the emotional turmoil that consumed her and tried to imagine a positive ending, a state in which she wouldn’t be in so much pain. I was simultaneously in awe of my friend Ray, who was and still is navigating a gender nonconforming existence; to be queer and not want to dress or shave as a young “woman” is expected to. Ray embodied the type of character I found myself craving to watch. Queer love may have its experiential differences but love and heartbreak is all the same no matter how you slice it.
Do you have any favorite types of content to produce (music videos, etc)?
I’m still in the exploration phase of my content producing. I’ve always been deeply attached to music (it’s probably a second dream of mine to pursue when the time’s right)…so my inclination to direct music videos is strong. Know Your Worth was my first official one, and I’m in the pre-production phase of another that I hope to shoot in the Spring. I’ve also started to work on a documentary about my father’s unusual, unique career as a “vocal trumpet” (Grammy Nominee, Carnegie Hall, etc.) (I would go into more detail but it’s a long story and my film will explain it all). This specific project will likely take me a few years but I’m really looking forward to the process. And of course blister was a foray into the short narrative world, a place in which I plan to continue creating.
Since you’re currently a student at NYU, what are your plans for when you’re out of school?
I love this question because every time I’m asked it my answer is always the same. I have NO idea WHATSOEVER and I’m thrilled about it! I’m currently in LA this summer interning for a production company on the Paramount lot. Then in August I head to Burning Man with my family (it’ll be my second year attending) and September I’m off to NYU study abroad in Paris. There’s this idea perpetuated in our culture that we’re supposed to know where life and our careers are going to take us. I look up towards my parents, who have gone down so many different paths towards finding where they want to be. I’ve decided I intend on being hardworking, but also open to the idea that the universe will decide the many logistics of my future. All I know is that I want to make films and music and have lots of fun in between.
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?
As a female identifying filmmaker, I feel I have an even greater responsibility to thoughtfully depict marginalized people (queer, POC, minorities, etc.). So many narratives have been neglected and the sooner opportunities are created for more than just the white male, the better content will be, period. What is being gained in this industry if the same stories are being told by the same people, from the same perspective? The more inclusive a story is, the more people can identify, creating a wider audience. I believe, diverse representation simply makes a better movie. Specific to being a woman behind the camera, I’ve had a recurring realization that may be a generalization but also gives me great comfort. Whether it be producing, writing or directing, women have an attention to detail that is unparalleled. We are empathetic and protective when we need to be. And we are hard-working as hell– especially because we have more to prove. We have so much going for us, it’s only a matter of time before we dominate the industry.
What do you hope for the future of your work?
I’m starting to make films at a pivotal moment in my life. I just turned 20 and am attempting to navigate how to grow into this so called “woman” I’d like to be. I’m realizing part of my journey is going to bleed into the films I create and vice versa. I want to show girls struggling with body hair, dealing with period blood and awkward new experiences because our perspective is so rich and interesting. I want to see a wave of unapologetic women, who declare from the rooftops that they are artists and forces of nature that can’t be manipulated or tamed. I’m learning all I want from my work is to reveal moments of honest lived experiences that have been deemed inappropriate or too uncomfortable for the screen.
Any words of wisdom for girls who are interested in studying film?
Don’t let statistics stop you from dreaming. Be honest and bold and show people the immense strength that comes with your perspective. Tell stories you want to see. Keep your head down and do the work. Hard work beats an image of success every time. And have so much fun with it because if you have the privilege to be making films, you’ve already won.