Elizabeth Blake Thomas is a director, writer and producer having made 7 feature films in the last 3 years with no sign of slowing down. Focusing on making content that matters through her production company Mother & Daughter Entertainment, Elizabeth also empowers women in the Film industry by ensuring every one of her sets has a 50/50 female crew. She regularly speaks on various panels such as with Sundance, Cannes and TIFF and is an active member of many female filmmaking groups like Women In Film, Alliance of Women Directors, Film Fatales and Women In Media.
Her film ‘UNSEEN’, described as a ‘must-see’ film for every parent and teenager on social media, recently wrapped its theatrical run and was digitally released on October 15th. Up For Awards Consideration, ‘UNSEEN’, inspired by true events, brings into light the role technology plays in the facilitation of human trafficking and child exploitation. Elizabeth’s next film release is this December on the 10th, the movie is called “The League of Legend Keepers: Shadows” She told us much more about her film career and entrepreneurial side of her in this exclusive interview.
Normally as a director, you’re job consists of getting together cast, making the film and then editing. In your case, you’ve funded your own projects, written them, and on the back end, you’ve worked on the P & A side as well. Can you talk a little bit about why and how you started funding your own projects and why you chose to work on them from very beginning to the very end?
I have been lucky enough to raise 1.5 million and shot 7 features. Now I need to raise that again to shoot my next slate. Instead of waiting around though for someone to give me that money, I decided to work with my team and shoot them myself. I have so many ideas and it’s all about making those ideas become a reality. Which is why I’m involved from beginning to end. My crew have been with me since the beginning and they know I make things happen and only want to create bigger and better projects. I only want people to be part of it if they can. This is about being creative and making something we can all benefit from in the future. I had a choice of waiting for someone to give me the money or I could make it happen through relationships and ideas myself.
I managed to raise the initial funding from various sources. The first was from a lady that wanted to be a producer and the second was a group of people. Then one family wanted to fund the next four. People like projects for various reasons.
You’ve been directing theatre for countless years before the film industry swept you up. You could have chosen to stay in theatre but instead you’ve joined the creative and entrepreneurial side of film. Why is that?
I love theatre and actually feel like I make my films as if they were a play. I shoot as if it’s a 360 space and want my cast to behave like they would in the real world. I enjoy making something that people around the world can see, a movie, as opposed to just the people who choose to go to the theatre, a play. I also get to play with more effects and storylines in one place in film. Allowing my creativity to overflow.
Essentially when you make a movie, you’re starting a new business every couple of months. What are some of the ways you use your business insight to start the productions?
I used to train start ups to pitch, fundraise and network. Filmmaking involves all of those aspects. It’s like creating a start-up every six months. I have to also act like a CEO and guide my crew and cast with everything I do.
Starting and running a business has its ups and downs. What was one of the lowest points in starting Mother and Daughter Entertainment and how did you overcome it?
I think it’s going from the idea to the reality and the paperwork that’s involved in that. If you could just continue to be creative without that paperwork it would be great but domestic admin sets in and so having to really consider legal elements makes things tough. I haven’t had anything bad happen yet but I imagine it would be having to let people go if they are not of the same mindset.
Not only are you a powerful entrepreneur, director and business women but you are also a single mom. What worries (if any) did you face when it came to raising your daughter as well as continuing to work?
My daughter was a minor which meant I had to be with her on set at all times or at the drop of a hat, this meant I couldn’t just take a “normal” job with normal hours. I had to work around this as her career and passion was the priority to me. Doing this on my own was intense and it was hard to make people like my ex understand that. I would therefore work every hour god sent. Whether I was with her on set or at night when she was asleep. I often found myself in hotel bathrooms on the floor working whilst she slept. I was never going to let that stop me and I knew that I needed to work as soon as she hit 14 so that when she didn’t need me 4 years later (aged 18), I was ready and up and running.
At any stage in someone’s career they need guidance to help them get to their next level. How have you received that guidance and what was the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I have some incredible mentors around me. Mostly male and a couple of female ones. They have all been helpful in some way. Mal Young with my writing, Larry Schapiro with guidance in the industry and Sean Mcnamara with his directing advice. “Now make your next one” that was crucial advice ensuring that I kept on going. As well as “don’t think it’s real until the money is in the bank.” This is a great one for saying yes to everything but until you have the money, don’t rely on it.
Speaking of goals, what are your latest goals and how do you go about achieving them in your personal and/or professional life?
Happiness, success and being creative. I’m lucky I get to do this with my daughter. Every day I work but it doesn’t feel like work. I’m at my happiest when I come up with an idea and then make it happen. I love proving people wrong as well. I feel like I’m getting stronger and stronger with my choices and styles. I want to keep making movies, mentor other people and grow as a person emotionally and spiritually. I live on a boat which means I wake to the sound of nature and the sight of sunshine coming through my windows every morning this gives me immense happiness. I work on my own ideas everyday with my daughter and this allows my creativity to flourish with no barriers. Success comes from having all these things in my life. I consider myself hugely successful already.
As we continue to learn things in our lives, there will always be things we wished we’d done differently. Is there anything that you look back on and think “oh man, I should’ve changed that!”? If so, why would you have changed it?
I actually wouldn’t have changed anything. I’m proud of everything I’ve done, because at the time I did it for a reason. I can look back and see that some ways of doing things should have been different but even my divorce was meant to be. I was supposed to learn from that and grow. I never believed I could be who I am today and so I’m happy the way things have gone.
You’ve already done so much as a director and entrepreneur in the time that you’ve been in the workforce. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next chapter of your career?
I have five features that I’m self funding and shooting over the next 16 months as well as an academy qualifying short film. I will travel and keep on writing. I have a documentary as well that will be such fun to work on. I will be growing my company Mother and Daughter Entertainment to Mother and Daughter Publishing and Mother and Daughter Music. It’s going to be a very exciting next few years.