Q & A with Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, Director of Aquamarine
A little bit about Liz:
Elizabeth ("Liz") recently directed the independent thriller, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, starring Nick Jonas, Dermot Mulroney, Paul Sorvino, Graham Rogers, and Isabel Lucas. Produced by Hyde Park Entertainment and Troika Films, the film will be released in 2014. Allen made her feature film directorial debut with AQUAMARINE, Fox 2000’s 2006 mermaid movie starring Sara Paxton and Emma Roberts. She followed that up with the 20th Century Fox film, RAMONA AND BEEZUS based on the book series by Beverly Cleary. A graduate of Cornell University and USC Film School, Allen launched her career with the short film, EYEBALL EDDIE, starring Michael Rosenbaum, M. Emmet Walsh, and Martin Starr, which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2001. Produced as Allen’s USC thesis film, EYEBALL EDDIE went on to win awards at festivals worldwide. Most recently, she directed episodes of Gossip Girl, 90210, Life Unexpected, Vampire Diaries, StarCrossed, and Franklin & Bash.
What are the first things you do when you approach a new script?
When I first approach a new script, I try not to get latched onto anything too quickly. There are no boundaries at that juncture, and I look at the world with a wide-open “blue sky”. No restrictions. It’s the one time that I can just let my mind run wild. Often, I’ll start to get excited by imagery or by feelings/emotions that the characters go through. My screenwriting professor, Ron Austin, once suggested that we should “take our characters to dinner” -- get to know them, their fears, and how we relate to them. Discover what we find interesting and worth exploring in them before nailing anything down.
Then, after I’ve given the imaginative stream-of-consciousness phase ample time, I’ll start to apply some structural formatting to the script to see if it’s hitting the beats. Though I’m not stringent about this, it’s a very useful tool to see if things aren’t working and to understand why.
How did you break in to directing?
Before I became a director, I began by working for several years as an assistant to a producer. Viewing the industry through a producer’s lens, I was able to see the kind of work that prompted him to hire specific directors, and it became a clear choice for me to attend USC in order to refine my voice and make some short films. When I began graduate school, I already had some industry perspective, and that prompted me to really funnel my energies into making a short film that could sell me as a capable director with range -- comedy, drama, crowds, visual effects, action, etc. My short, EYEBALL EDDIE, was a story very close to my heart, but it was also packed with elements that could function as a calling card. It eventually led me to directing my first studio feature.
What major lessons have you learned while on the job and from pursuing a creative career in such a competitive field?
The more I learn, the less I know. It’s important not to get too set in my ways. There’s always more to learn. The people who stop challenging themselves tend to plateau; I hope to keep learning and growing.
Talk about a couple of key strategies you use to create synergy on set.
It’s empowering to realize that you, as the director, can set whatever tone you want on a movie set. If you decide that you want a playful, loose environment, you can be the one to lead the game. If you want to encourage people to feel comfortable, you are predominantly responsible for creating that vibe. I read that Ang Lee would practice tai chi with his entire crew before shooting each morning on SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Also, food is so important in influencing people’s moods! On RAMONA AND BEEZUS, we had the craft service woman provide a chocolate hour in the late afternoon.
What part of your job as a director makes you say to yourself, "This is why I'm doing what I'm doing."
The adventure of it. On any given day, at any moment, a phone call can change the course of my life. Additionally, I’m constantly meeting fascinating new people -- and getting a chance to collaborate in new ways where people are challenging me and letting me see things through new lenses. It keeps me alive and enthusiastic.