Talking With Teen Filmmaker Ella Fields
Originally Published: December 23, 2022
Revised: December 23, 2022
I first discovered Ella Fields in 2019 after her short film Bubble Gum landed on my YouTube recommended page. Over the course of nine minutes, I watched two young girls fall in love as they frolic on a beach, scream cathartically at a passing train and almost share a kiss. My middle-school-aged mind was blown upon reading the credits and learning that the person who wrote, directed and edited it was only 14 when she made it!
I wasn’t alone; scrolling through Ella Fields’s socials, you’ll find viewers of all ages sharing their awe and heartfelt thanks for making something so moving—some even expressing how Bubble Gum had helped them when they were still closeted.
Since then, her videos have continued to transport me into a wonderland of warm pastels, unique characters and above all, stories that have made me feel less alone as a teen. From claymation and animation to puppetry and poetry, with stories that explore the challenges, joys and growth that come with coming of age, her channel has become a safe corner of YouTube.
Now 19 and in college, Ella boasts over 30 short films to her name, as well as many awards and acclamations. I recently had the opportunity to speak with her and hear about what it’s like being a teen filmmaker.
Sex, Etc.: How did you get into filmmaking?
Ella: Storytelling is something that has been present my whole life in different forms. As a little guy, I was always writing books, putting on skits and puppet shows and coming up with stories with my toys. When I was about six, my dad brought home a camcorder, and all of that creativity immediately spilled into filming the world around me. When I was 11, I had the opportunity to study in a cinematic arts academy at school and I see that as the place where I was supported in transforming this passion for storytelling with a camera into something both more expansive and fine-tuned.
Sex, Etc.: How do you come up with topics for your short films?
Ella: The answer to this has changed a lot throughout my teenage years, as well as with every project that I work on. A lot of my past work was created as a form of catharsis and processing events in my life. In middle school, this manifested as difficulty in social situations, which later transformed to topics like love, identity, queerness, sexual trauma. What was at first a subconscious process had become a tool for getting through tough stuff that came along with adolescence. It was always a reliable place to dump my emotions, stretch the bounds of my creativity, meet new people, collaborate and find meaning in my life.
Sex, Etc.: What inspired the gender-reversal concept behind Stereo?
Ella: I have had a fascination with gender norms for most of my life, especially having had interests and ways of presenting myself as a child that didn’t quite fit into the binary boxes of how gender is expected to look and act based on biological sex.
When creating Stereo at 13, I had only just begun to scratch the surface of the realization that gender isn’t just “as it is,” but something that has been made up. I had seen a short film that reversed the norms of sexual orientation and wondered what I could say by applying a similar concept to the idea of gender. Given I was 13 when I made Stereo, I think that it can be very binary and surface level in some of its approaches, but this was also the first time I realized that an impact could be made through sharing my work online. Though sometimes self-critical of my past work, I am proud of a lot of the things this little film has done.
Sex, Etc.: Could you talk a bit about the process behind making Bloom?
Ella: Absolutely! Bloom has been one of the most difficult films I have worked on, on both a technical and emotional level. This was my first time delving into claymation, so it was a major learning curve of building characters, sets, etc.
I had just gotten out of a relationship that was not healthy for me, and was also just beginning the process of working through certain traumas that I had experienced prior. A lot of tears went into that clay, but by the end it felt like such a raw representation of everything I had gone through, and something that, having worked with my hands and physical materials, allowed me to let go of a lot of things that I had been harboring inside for a long time.
Sex, Etc.: There’s a line in Bloom I love that says, “Maybe now you can use what you’ve been through to help other people.” Could you speak about how this line applies to the things you create?
Ella: Teenhood can be difficult, confusing, uncomfortable and isolating in so many moments, and I feel so lucky to have found a medium that I love so early on, to have had the resources to pursue it and the opportunity and platform to share this work with people. What began as a process of catharsis for myself soon became an opportunity to have an audience on the other end; an opportunity to show people who have been through similar things and felt similar emotions that these characters understand, that I as a creator understand and even that profile photos and screen names in a comment section understand.
In relation to the line in Bloom, the concept that I could turn a really negative and traumatizing experience of mine into something that could speak to somebody else with a similar experience is an important part of how I want to use my platform and medium.
Sex, Etc.: Your films have been well-received by a diverse audience. What has this been like for you?
Ella: I made a film called Bubble Gum when I was 14; my first film that focused on queer identity. I had recently begun to explore my own queerness, and a film that bloomed directly from that space ended up becoming a piece that even now, years later, so many people have expressed helped them uncover or accept their own identities too. It is wild (and often scary, to be honest) to feel like my work has had such an impact on a community in which I am still constantly growing and learning what it means to me to be a part of, but I also think that having the ability to create from such a raw place is perhaps the reason why that film touched people who were at the same stage as I was.
One of the most memorable moments I experienced was at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2019 where Bubble Gum screened to an audience ranging from [grades] K-12. I got to participate in a Q&A with them afterwards and [hear] some of the ways they were moved by the film. With all of the current attacks against queer youth and bills being passed that prohibit LGBTQ+ topics from being discussed in classrooms, to have the opportunity to witness this was something that I wish politicians could experience. These topics are urgent and important for young people to learn about.
Sex, Etc.: What was your sex ed experience like? What’s something you’re grateful for learning and something that you wish that you’d learned?
Ella: I do not remember much except being split into rooms of “boys and girls” and deciding to myself that I never wanted to have sex or children. The curriculum was more “the only thing to make it 100 percent certain that you won’t get pregnant is by not having sex!” as opposed to actually teaching about what it means to explore sexuality in a safe and consensual way with your partner. I do remember having an understanding about consent in a sense of “yes means yes, no means no,” which I am glad that I learned about at all, but the conversation on consent needs to be more nuanced than that. I think I would have benefited from learning about coercion, the fact that consent can change and that consent for one sexual act does not mean consent for all. And as a queer person, of course, I would have loved to have learned more about that sex can be for people other than those who are cisgender and heterosexual.
Sex, Etc.: Has there ever been a specific subject you’ve included in a short film that you may have felt alone in experiencing but later learned that many other teenagers could relate to?
Ella: Bloom was a huge example of this because it allowed me to connect with sexual assault survivors, some people who I did not even know, to record the voiceover for the end of the film saying, “It was not your fault.” It also opened up the doors and gave me the support within myself to have conversations with people in my life who were there for me in my healing process.
Sex, Etc.: Any new and exciting projects we can look forward to?
Ella: This past year, I wrote and directed a queer romance called Merry Go Round about two girls that meet and have a special connection but a limited amount of time to spend together; it explores how love exists through distance, memory and a nonlinear perception of time. It is one of my absolute favorite projects that I have worked on, and it premiered on Ella Fields YouTube on September 20th!
Sex, Etc.: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ella: I really love what you are doing at Sex, Etc. and think it’s a wonderful resource for people to have 🙂 Thank you for asking me to be a part of it!
Thank you so much, Ella, for speaking with Sex, Etc! Check out Ella’s website here!
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