Project of the Week: The Texas Trilogy by Emily Elizabeth Thomas
After I took my first screenwriting course, that was it. I was hooked. I would come to class with 150 page scripts that I had beaten out in a weekend, and my professor would be like “who are you, and what’s wrong with you?!”
photo by Nadia Gilbert
The Texas Trilogy is a trilogy of films with the first being Lola: Girl Got a Gun
We caught up with Emily and asked her a few questions about her journey as a filmmaker, her production company: Jane Street Productions that writes, directs, and produces original content that promotes inclusivity, diversity, and dedication to authentic, female-focused storytelling, and what's next for her!
please check out her campaign and support, share, or connect!
What was your journey like into becoming a writer, director, and producer? Have you always wanted to make films?
I’ve identified as an artist my entire life, but my journey to “filmmaker” was full of turns and edges. I’m from Austin, Texas so I’m lucky to have grown up in a creative city. When I was 13 years old my parents sent me to a summer camp at the University of Texas Radio Television Film School, and I directed an episode of Friends. I was out on that little set working out my blocking and moving around the art. I thought it was the most important thing I had ever done! You could call that a beginning. In highschool I would show prints and drawings at galleries on the East side, and would take lithography and painting courses on the weekends. I knew my path was in the arts, there was no denying it. Fast forward many years later to my formal training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I took one thing and one thing only seriously as a kid – and that was to get to SAIC, and train as an artist. When I finally got there for my studies I just lit on fire. That’s where I started writing scripts, shooting 16mm films, and studying the craft and history of film. Honing the craft from all angles was incredibly important to me. Film is an art form that I have respected since I was capable of cognitive thought. It’s been my life blood for a very long time. I couldn’t get enough of it in school. I’d rent out a light kit, a 16mm camera and studio space and I’d stay at school all night shooting little films and then go to class. My crew of friends was always at the school working all night! We’d visit each other’s studios and drink tons of coffee and just keep working. I just would not stop the relentless studying practice. After I took my first screenwriting course, that was it. I was hooked. I would come to class with 150 page scripts that I had beaten out in a weekend, and my professor would be like “who are you, and what’s wrong with you?!” I just couldn’t stop, it mattered too much to me. That’s where it all really started, back at SAIC and in Chicago. There was just no denying that I was a filmmaker. It’s who I am, and it’s been quite a ride since then.
What was your inspiration behind Lola: Girl Got a Gun?
Lola is an incredibly important story to me. She came from many places, but mainly my desire as an artist to tell stories about complicated, difficult and, yes, quite dark female experience. I am tired of seeing women on screen with their shit all the way together. That is not real. The complexities of what we deal with everyday as girls and then as women is just extraordinary. It is difficult to be a woman. We make incredibly difficult choices day to day, and there is no way to fully understand the complexities of womanhood unless you live the female experience. We are living in a society that was not built for us even though we forged it from our own hands, and I am outraged by that fact everyday. But there’s also a lot of beauty in the fact that we’ve persisted in writing our own narrative about our worth. We are so incredibly powerful. Look at what we’ve done with the little power and agency we’ve been given historically. Look what we’ve survived. Look what we’ve created. Look what we’ve lived through. Our strength comes from our ability to barrel through walls, and to get back up when we get knocked down. Lola is a story of triumph, courage, and the importance of being your own hero even if your choices are deeply flawed. It’s for every woman who’s ever felt powerless.
Why did you decide to make a trilogy of short films?
I always thought of Lola as part of a larger narrative arch about the power and fortitude of Texas women. Let me tell you, I come from some hell raising women. My Grandmother was a union leader in the South, and she fought for justice and equality everyday. She was not somebody to be crossed, and I admired her deeply for her compassion and strength. My Mother, well, she’s just my hero. There’s no way to articulate what she’s given me. My Stepmother, Aunts, dear friends and mentors, they’ve all conquered so much. I’ve heard “I had it tough, and I just kept going” so many times from women in my life. It’s unbelievable the amount of female power and strength I have witnessed. The trilogy is for them - the women I stand on the shoulders of. They showed me the way. And, to be totally honest, I received the absolutely insane opportunity to finish this trilogy very recently. I didn’t know if I would get the chance to bring this home, but I did. So here I am, ready to roll.
You have a production company Jane Street Productions. Can you tell me a little about it?
Jane Street Productions is a production banner that I founded in 2016 with the goal of producing interdisciplinary work by and for women. Jane Street has brought me the opportunity to work with incredible talent in front of and behind the camera, and connected me to great producers and filmmakers. My first project under Jane Street was a short documentary in support of the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign for gender equality, which brought me great working relationships with producers Devin Tusa and Anna Bjerke, DP Nadia Gilbert and sound designer David Britton, who all stayed on for Lola. It was scary to launch a company at such a young age, but I just jumped off a cliff and hoped there was a net somewhere near the bottom. I have a tendency to do that. I haven’t hit the bottom yet, so I guess time will tell. Helming Jane Street has taught me so much about how to be a productive, diligent, detail-oriented artist.
What advice do you have for other young filmmakers?
Advice is something I’m being asked for a lot lately, and my real answer is that I have no answers. I have so much to learn still, and I am humbled by the opportunities I’m receiving to tell stories that matter deeply to me. Something I do know for sure, and that my creative trajectory is cold hard evidence of, is that persistence is incredibly important. Giving up cannot be an option even on the days where you slept 30 minutes the night before, or on the days that you’ve got a 103-degree fever and you’re on a pre-production call. The work is real, it is not glamorous, and it is not for the faint of heart. Especially in indie film, it’s up to you to drive your work across the finish line. There’s no net out here. You have to do the work, that’s it. And last, women beware, daring to have an unapologetic creative voice is like strapping a target to your back. There are going to be people that will try to tear you down. Learn as much as you can from those moments, keep your head up, and take it in stride. History shows us that people that dare to be both different and ruthlessly persistent are often knocked down in the beginning. It’s about how you get back up. Just keep going. Shake it off. Stay in your shine. If it’s too heavy to carry, let that shit go.
What was your process like in getting Lola made? I feel like this is the question young filmmakers always have since it’s hard for them to actualize how things go from concept to reality.
The eternal question! My answer to this question is more simple than I think you might expect – I wrote Lola, and trusted friends and collaborators rallied behind it with incredible speed and strength because I am lucky enough to have a diverse and talented creative community. I called on favors and collaboration from every single stage of my life. I had friends I’ve known for 10 years working on Lola, friends I came up with in art school, friends I had worked on other projects with or had met more recently. Everyone on Lola was down for the cause! Everyone loved the story, and showed up with the best they had. That’s really what you need – people that just love this work and are going to give you their best. But in the end, you’ve really just got to have the courage to ask. After I wrote the Lola script I literally called up the most talented people I know late at night and was like “Hey, I’m doing this thing, here’s what it’s about, and do you want to be a part of it?” Most of them said yes before I could even get the sentence out.
What's next for you and your trilogy of films?
I’ve got some wild tricks up my sleeve! First things first, I’m bringing The Texas Trilogy home with Texas-based renegade producer Anthony Pedone. Anthony heard of Lola through the grapevine, and threw himself, his team and his resources behind the trilogy at the speed of light. It’s been so cool. We’re rounding out the trilogy with production support from Anthony’s Victoria TX-based production banner Film Exchange, and The Victoria TX Independent Film Festival. We’re slated to shoot PART II: Untitled Marfa Project, and PART III: Sweet Georgia in Summer 2018. I feel very lucky, and more ready than ever to make films.
Description of Untitled Marfa Project & Sweet Georgia:
UNTITLED MARFA PROJECT is a 20-minute short film which follows Star and Margot’s annual road trip from Austin to Marfa, two life long friends who’ve lost touch, and recently realized that despite a lifetime of believing themselves soul mates, aren’t so similar after all. After all this time, Star and Margot discover how truly different their values are, and that their individual visions of happiness, love, marriage, family and struggle are utterly disconnected, and untied. Set against the gorgeously isolated backdrop of the West Texas desert, UNTITLED MARFA PROJECT is a tribute to female friendship, oftentimes the most intense and significant relationship in our lives.
SWEET GEORGIA depicts a week in the life of Georgia-Lynn, an educated woman turned housewife in 1960’s-era Victoria, Texas who in order to escape the oppressive grasps of her life receives an abortion without her husband’s knowledge.
SWEET GEORGIA explores abortion access in 1960’s-era Texas. It draws an eerie through line to contemporary times, where abortion is still riddled with shame, crippling fear, and secrecy. SWEET GEORGIA begs the question: have we made real progress on the social stigmas surrounding abortion, and the women who make the difficult decision to receive them? As abortion clinics continue to close their doors in Texas and surrounding states, and organizations such as Planned Parenthood are threatened everyday, the answer is a resounding no. SWEET GEORGIA tells a human story of the difficult decisions women must make behind closed doors to protect themselves when their communities, families, and the law refuse to do so.