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Director Liz Hinlein Has a “Kid in a Candy Store” Approach to Filmmaking


Recently signed to Great Guns USA, Liz Hinlein talks to LBB about working across multiple mediums, creating immersive art in VR, and her upcoming feature film, ‘Getting Tommy Laid’

Director Liz Hinlein Has a “Kid in a Candy Store” Approach to Filmmaking

As a director, Liz Hinlein - newly signed with Great Guns USA - is inspired by “beautiful, stimulating work” like that of Reed Morano, Wes Anderson, and Richard Avedon. But directing is only one of the hats that she so deftly wears as Liz is also creative director and a visual artist, enjoying working across mediums - film, music videos, documentary, advertising - and utilising VR too. She’s also the creative director of film and cinematography at the New York Film Academy where she leads initiatives and partnerships to strengthen the NYFA brand through innovative and creative thinking. 

Liz’s work spans spots for global brands such as Dove, Gillette, and Maybelline, and music videos for artists Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears, and Quincy Jones. Working with VR technology, Liz has created immersive experiences for NFL and Walmart, while her work with Accenture, ‘Behind the Style', received Best VR Branded Content at CES VR Fest in 2019. She’s currently making ‘Osage '85’ - “a deeply intense and provocative 15-minute documentary experience” in VR that will premiere at the Venice Film Festival next year. 

Today, we spoke to Liz all about her creative hunger, the changing perception of female directors in the industry, and her upcoming dark and thought-provoking comedy, ‘Getting Tommy Laid’.

LBB> Liz, before you became a director, was there a film or a TV show that made you consider the career path, from a craft perspective? 

Liz> As part of a college class I watched Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Conformist. I was immediately struck by the film's masterful cinematography and the sophisticated manner in which he conveyed a complex and ominous narrative. The experience left an indelible impression on me and kindled an enduring passion for the art of filmmaking.

LBB> How did you get your start in directing?

Liz> Upon viewing Bertolucci's 'The Conformist' in a film studies class at the University of Wisconsin, I was utterly blown away by the sheer artistry of the film's cinematography and storytelling. It was a truly eye-opening experience that left me feeling positively smitten with the medium of filmmaking. So, I decided to create an experimental film about the incredibly handsome crew team I coxed for and used that to apply to NYU Tisch School of the Arts. To my great delight, I was accepted, and thus started my path to being a director.


LBB> How would you describe your directorial style? What do you always pay close attention to?

Liz> I would describe my work as cinematic, lush and focused on telling emotional, human stories.


LBB> Are you influenced by anyone’s style and work?

Liz> I am influenced by an enormous number of artists, cinematographers and photographers. From Harris Savides, Richard Avedon, Reed Morano to Wes Anderson and John Cassavetes. I am a huge fan girl of beautiful, stimulating work.

LBB> You’ve worked across different mediums like film, music videos, documentary, and advertising. What attracts you to working in such varied ways?

Liz> As someone who loves to create, I don't limit myself to just one medium. I'm like a kid in a candy store - I want to try everything! Each medium has its own set of tools and techniques for building worlds, and I enjoy exploring them all. It's like a never-ending adventure where I get to learn something new with every project.

LBB> You’re currently working on a documentary VR experience, ‘Osage ’85, and it’s due to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2024. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Liz> Our upcoming project, Osage '85, is a deeply intense and provocative 15-minute documentary experience. This project has been a labour of love for my team. Through the Venice Biennale College Cinema VR we workshopped our concept, and the result is a gripping and powerful exploration of the events leading up to the 1985 bombing of a Black working-class neighbourhood in Philadelphia. Through this immersive experience, you will be transported back to Mother's Day 1985 and placed directly into the homes of both the revolutionary group MOVE and their law-abiding neighbours, creating a powerful and harrowing experience that will leave an indelible impression on users. Osage '85 is a raw and unflinching testament to the struggles and fortitude of a community under siege.


LBB> You’ve worked using VR before - what about the process appeals to you?

Liz> The medium of immersion is a remarkable and cutting-edge form of artistic expression. Through immersive experiences, I am able to create emotional and intellectually stimulating works of art that push the boundaries of traditional storytelling structures. By harnessing the power of this medium, I can transport my audience to new and unexplored worlds, making use of a wide range of sensory stimuli to create deeply immersive and affecting experiences that are both intellectually and emotionally engaging.


LBB> Besides directing, you’re also the creative director of film and cinematography at the New York Film Academy. What does the role entail and how does it inform your own work?

Liz> I spearhead initiatives and partnerships aimed at strengthening the New York Film Academy brand, utilising creative and innovative thinking to achieve our goals. One such example is the recent collaboration with Sony Cameras and Cooke Optics, where we brought together a crew of over 50 NYFA alumni and students to shoot a music video for NYC-based band, The Thing. Co-directing alongside one of my former students, we crafted a high-quality video that will be premiering at Cinegear LA next month. By partnering with respected and high-end brands like Sony and Cooke, we were able to create an impactful and mutually beneficial collaboration, as they were able to connect with the next generation of users while we were able to raise the profile of the NYFA brand. I have a passion for creating and creative directing provides an excellent outlet for that desire.

LBB> Directing has historically been seen as a male pursuit though that’s changing now. What’s the gender parity like at the New York Film Academy, and do you think directing is friendlier for women today versus when you first started?

Liz> For many years, when I stepped onto a film set, I was met with a familiar reaction - people assumed I was the coordinator. I can't count the number of times a first A.D. has told me I was their first female director. It was disheartening to see how ingrained these outdated attitudes were in the industry. But something has shifted in recent years. With the rise of #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and other movements, people began to realise that women and minorities are more than just midwives to a project - they have the skills and abilities to run it and direct it with excellence. And not only that, they can do it profitably.

In 2023, it's frustrating that we're still having this conversation. It's high time that we as a society move past these archaic notions and recognize that talent, skill, and experience come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. It's refreshing to see that today, people are more willing to give credit where it's due and respect those who know what they're doing, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

LBB> You’re recently signed with Great Guns USA - why did you decide to join the company’s roster?

Liz> Because they are fabulous, smart and modern, and we agree we are going to do great work together.

LBB> What’s next on the horizon for you? Any dream projects you’d like to work on?

Liz> My feature film script, ‘Getting Tommy Laid’ is a dark comedy that follows a determined Jewish mother as she embarks on a cross-country road trip with her 30-year-old single daughter and autistic twin son in a misguided attempt to help him lose his virginity. As their journey takes unexpected turns, the family is forced to confront their deepest fears and desires, resulting in a poignant exploration of love, sex, and family dynamics.

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Great Guns Los Angeles, Thu, 25 May 2023 09:35:00 GMT