Don’t be ‘Unseen’ with Female Filmmaker of the Day Elizabeth Blake
Award-winning film director Elizabeth Blake-Thomas has made a career of doing it all. The L.A.-based British filmmaker has written, directed, and produced the short film Unseen. This timely tale discusses the dangers of social media and human trafficking.
Elizabeth, who is a BAFTA patron, empowers women in the film industry by ensuring that all of her projects have at least a 50/50 female crew. All her stories also feature female characters for police or teachers or other roles that one might not naturally see as being the traditional place for a woman.
Will Unseen be an Oscar contender?
Unseen features almost an entirely female cast, including c (Empire), Isabella Blake-Thomas (Once Upon A Time and Secret Society of Second Born Royals), Rebecca Da Costa (Freerunner), Yolanda Wood (High School Musical 3: Senior Year) and Kelsey Deanne (Shark Lake).
Unseen will be shooting in early May in the Los Angeles area. Unseen is being co-produced by Elizabeth Blake-Thomas with Mother & Daughter Entertainment, Mal Young (BBC and The Young and the Restless), Francis O’Toole, Mercury Pictures, and Larry Schapiro of Nine Yards Entertainment.
Famous child star daughter
Elizabeth’s daughter, Isabella Blake-Thomas (Once Upon A Time), stars in the film. She’s worked with everyone from Jon Voight to Gillian Anderson to Rosamund Pike, Rowan Atkinson, Kelly Lynch, and Cameron Bright, as well as well known child stars on Nickelodeon shows.
Isabella also played the role of Izzie in Johnny English Reborn, and her latest role as Princess January in Disney Plus movie Secret Society of Second Born Royals alongside Skylar Astin & Peyton Elizabeth Lee and more is proving to be one of her most exciting roles yet, even allowing her to attempt her own stunts. Secret Society will be released later in 2019.
Elizabeth Blake is the single mom doing it all
As a single mom, Elizabeth can relate to Unseen’s story about living as a single mum, struggling to get by with her well intentioned daughter Carly. Carly sees an advert for a modelling job on social media; drawn in by the promise of lots of money, she takes the chance. Little does she know it’s all a trap.
Focusing on the aspect of normalcy surrounding the human trafficking “game”, we see the world collapse around Carly’s mum as she deals with the pain of losing her daughter.
“It can happen to anyone, and that’s what I wanted to show,” says Blake-Thomas. “I want parents to be left thinking that they need to monitor their children’s social media. I know that I do. The film was inspired by real events in a small town in Utah. To take on this subject matter is something I take very seriously, I hope I’ve done it justice.”
Elizabeth also regularly speaks on panels about these issues and is a member of Women in Film, Alliance of Women Directors, Film Fatales, and Women in Media. She has worked with leading ladies and ensures most of her scripts that she writes have lead female protagonists.
We were lucky to sit down and talk to this inspirational female role model about life, film, and filmmaking.
How did you start your journey as a filmmaker?
I always loved creating. I would create plays as a little girl and I would make my brother and his friends play with me in my pretend situations. I think every child loves making things up and living in pretend worlds.
As I got older, I wrote these ideas down and started making proper plays, which led to my theatre company. I ran it for many years, continuing even when I had my daughter. That’s where things started to change, because she got a role in a CBeebies show, followed by many other acting jobs.
This was the beginning of her career and it was my job to be there as a mother and support her. Once on set, I realised I could help her with her acting and as it turns out, was asked by several directors to help coach other actors on set at the same time. Once we moved to L.A. for Isabella’s career it was suggested that I become a director. I realised that I had all the necessary skills and so just went for it.
Who were your early influences?
I loved every single musical. I would dream of being Mary Poppins or Truly Scrumptious. It’s not because I wanted to act, but more because I loved the make believe and what film let me escape to: a safe and different space.
Realising I could also do this didn’t come until the last few years. So really Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet made me believe I could create these incredible worlds. I chose to do this in theatre, though.
How was working on Unseen?
Life-changing. The cast, crew, subject matter. All wonderful experiences. It is my smallest yet my largest project to date. I was so fortunate to have amazing mentors to help me through the process as well, Cindy Cowan, Larry Schapiro and Mal Young.
What did you learn from the experience on Unseen?
That I can truly make anything happen. From beginning the script to finished product was about three months in total. I managed to gain everyone’s trust and belief and that is a very heartwarming experience. It’s hard work on little to no budget which I knew, but it makes me all the more determined to make something incredible.
Tell us about your career before film.
I had many hats: daughter, wife, mother, friend, writer and teacher! All of those added together make the perfect recipe for being a director!
Where did the concept come from for Unseen?
I met someone at Sundance who told me about this true story and I believed it should be told. I have a 17-year-old and so this could be something that her or her friends are affected by. It was the perfect time to tell this story.
Tell us about your creative process.
I throw myself in at the deep end with the belief that it will happen and that it is a good idea. I then surround myself with talented people who can help make it better! I write the concept and vomit draft of my script and at the same time as working on it, begin the production of the film. I am always working on a script right up until shooting date. Deadlines are incredibly useful to motivate you!
What tips do you have for new filmmakers?
Just go for it. Don’t let anything stop you and don’t worry if it’s not perfect, it never will be!
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
Hard but also useful. Nothing ever falls through the cracks and I can know what’s going on with every element of the film!
What’s your next project?
I have several features in the pipeline. One with Terry Moore and Rebecca Field and my daughter Isabella Blake-Thomas as well as another exciting film featuring Chandler Kinney, Ashley Liao and Isabella. I also have a short form content piece featuring Victoria Summer and Emma Grace Arends.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I always work with mentors. I’m lucky to have met them at festivals and events and I just ask for their guidance, help and support. It’s important to always show that you’re putting in the work first!
What’s your filmmaking mission?
To change the world through film. I know that sounds crazy. But film is such an effective medium to get a message across. I want to use film to help get my messages to the masses!
Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
A feeling: whether that’s sadness or anger or happiness doesn’t matter. I spoke to an audience member after they had watched Unseen and I asked what they thought of it. “I feel awful, I want to call my daughter right now” that was exactly what I wanted him to say.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
Film Hookers is being released at the end of the year as short form so hopefully that’s the beginning of my TV career.
What’s your five-year plan?
To make an Oscar-qualified short every year. To shoot two features a year and to continue making my short form. Releasing my online course to help other filmmakers make films.
Finally, to be able to continue living on my boat with my daughter and dog!
What filmmakers should be on our radar?
Mother Daughter Entertainment are mentoring constantly, so anyone involved in our projects is one to watch out for!
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
That’s so difficult to answer. Moulin Rouge comes to mind because I believe creating that meant anything was possible! Mixing old and new, music and film, comedy and tragedy. You can do anything if you believe in it!