Amber Sealey is an award-winning filmmaker and actor who was born in England and raised in New Mexico. Her most recent film, NO LIGHT AND NO LAND ANYWHERE, had its world premiere at the LA Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Award. Amber was selected for Film Independent’s Directing Lab and their Fast Track program with her feature script NEW MEXICAN RAIN. She directed Miranda July (ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW) for her scene in her short film, Somebody, and has worked for director Mike Mills (20TH CENTURY WOMEN) pre-directing his actors for commercials. Amber extensively shadowed director Jamie Babbit on Kay Cannon’s Netflix series “Girlboss,” and shadowed Jill Soloway and Marta Cunningham on Soloway’s Amazon series “Transparent.”
You were noted of having the reputation as one of the most promising directors of female-driven stories working the U.S. today. That’s an awesome badge of honor to be given. How would you say you developed your craft as a director?
I came to filmmaking slowly. I started as an actor and a modern dancer, that led me to theatre, which led me to devised and experimental theatre, then to performance art, then to video art projects that involved live performance, and then finally into making a feature film. It was very organic and was a natural progression for me. I like to think of myself as always learning, each film, each job teaches me something new about myself and about the craft.
How has your skill evolved since you started directing?
I like to try new things, to challenge myself. I like to surround myself with people who I find smart and interesting, and we learn together. Each film is its own beast, and requires its own skill set in some ways. And that’s half the fun — the surprises, the unexpected moments and connections. You prepare, plan, prepare, plan, and then get to live in the moment. It’s a pretty fun mix of spontaneity and obsessive organization.
What would you tell someone who is a natural at directing but wants to take their natural ability up a notch? What are some suggestions to develop their skill if they can’t attend film school?
You know, everyone comes to this profession from such different places, I would never really presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do it. Every path is just as valid as the next. What I would say is: if you love it, keep doing it. Stay focused on the craft, make that your reward and success. Stay away from outward markers of success or fame that can get in your head and cloud your own experience with your path. Just keep working, keep trying. There is no one way to do this.
You had the opportunity to attend the Film Independent’s Directing Lab and their Fast Track program, what is one lesson you learned while attending that translated into a skill that you still use as a director?
I’m a big fan of Film Independent, they really support their fellows and welcome you into their family when you do their labs or screen at their festivals. They are a great group of people who genuinely love film and love supporting new voices. I can’t remember any specific skills that I picked up at either of those programs, but I remember having really enriching relationships with my classmates and with the mentors — relationships that continue still and became people that I have worked with and will work with in the future. It’s just a great, nurturing place to explore your craft.
Many women in film struggle with balance, how have you managed being a mother as well a filmmakers?
I don’t really think there is such a thing as balance, nothing is ever balanced. You just put your energy and focus on where it’s needed in the moment. You become good at blocking out everything else while you’re doing something. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids: I put away my phone, I try not to be on my computer unless I have to. But when I’m working it’s the same, I’m not thinking about my kids, I’m working. I don’t think of myself as a “working mother” or whatever the term is. I just think of myself as a person, a filmmaker, who also happens to have kids. But that thing about balance and “having it all” — no, that doesn’t exist, I don’t think.
Tell us about your feature NO LIGHT AND NO LAND ANYWHERE?
No Light & No Land Anywhere is coming out at the end of March, and I’m really proud of it. Gemma Brockis who stars in it is just amazing, and it’s her first film. It was made by a really cool group of people who all pitched in because they believed in the project, and I’m so excited for the world to see it soon. It’s a film about loss, and love, and family, and finding connections where you least expect them. There is a particular kind of loneliness that exists in LA, and we really explore that too. It’s raw, and intimate, and unflinching. But ultimately it’s about something very universal: family and loss.
You had a successful Indiegogo campaign why did you opt to seek financing through this avenue and what do you attribute to having a successful campaign?
We ran a crowd funder to help pay for some of our post production, and it was a ton of work, but totally worth it. What I like about crowdfunding is it enables you to really connect to your audience and create a swell of support around the film. It makes you feel less alone on a project. Our campaign was really a labor of love from everyone involved, I couldn’t have done it without my producers, Drea Clark and Alysa Nahmias, doing it with me. Having a successful campaign is all about preparation and being relentless. Let your ego go, and just keep going.
What is your suggestion for women who want the opportunity to direct more projects for hire whether it’s film or commercial?
Make your own stuff. If you don’t yet have the experience to get hired or have an agent, then just make your own things. However small. Stay creative. Write, journal, take photos. Do anything that keeps you connected to being an artist, just keep practicing and making.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a super busy year ahead! No Light and No Land Anywhere comes out in a few months, so we are planning the release of that. Then I’m shooting a short film in the summer which is fun because I’ve only made features and never made a short. And then I’m working on another friend’s film that’s also shooting in the summer, which I can’t say anything about yet but it’s very exciting. Then I have the Creative Acting Class that I teach that is weekly, and regular coaching clients. Plus I have two other scripts in development and am trying to finish another feature script. So, it’s a lot, but having a lot to do is a good problem to have.
What are you watching right now and what are you reading?
Actually right now I’m re-reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamot, which I recommend to everyone creative. It’s a fabulous book, especially for anyone who writes or likes to explore their own creative process.
As for watching, it’s screener season so I’m watching all the screeners. It’s hard to watch them all in such a short time! I especially try to watch the small, indie films that no one has ever heard of. I find we all watch the ones we heard of, and we’ve only heard of them because they have bigger marketing budgets, so it creates a vicious cycle of the smaller films never getting a fair chance at awards. Often people vote without even having seen all the smaller, less-known films that are nominated, so of course they end up voting only for the bigger films that had marketing campaigns. So I try to watch the titles that are not familiar to me. It’s the same when I go to film festivals, I avoid the big films that have stars in them that everyone is going to see — why do that when you know they’ll get distribution and you’ll see them in the theaters in a month? I’d rather see the smaller, weirder films that might be much harder to catch later.
How can we keep up with you?