Lights, camera, stupefaction: filmmaker stunned to find herself on the Forbes tip list

The Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list is an incredible place to find yourself, no matter your age, writes Izzi Rix. It indicates significant achievement before you’ve even hit your prime, with previous year’s line-ups going on to become stars on a global scale. To her surprise, on the morning of April 8th 2021, at just 19 years old, that list is exactly where Ella Greenwood saw her own face gazing back at her.

“I was just scrolling and saw my face and it was literally incredible, I think it was 7.30 in the morning and I thought ‘oh my god I need to have cake and I need to have prosecco right now’,” she says.

Ella is one of an increasing number of female filmmakers disrupting the industry. For her, the world of film was clearly where she belonged from the get-go.

“I just always loved films. I would see the same film in the cinema so many times just because it was my favourite thing to do, all I wanted to do was sit in a dark room rather than be outside or anything,” she says.

While some children become obsessed with their favourite superhero or Disney princess, for Ella is was Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia.

“I can’t remember what age I was, maybe about – god time is a weird concept – maybe about eight. I would be like, ‘please I’ll use my pocket money on it’ and then for my birthday all I wanted to do was see it again and again,” she says.

Besotted with watching films, she knew she had to become a part of that world. She assumed acting was the way in, “For so long I thought that was it, that would be my only passion, if I didn’t do that, I would just be such a failure,” she says.

After years of auditions and landing a few projects, at 18 she realised acting wasn’t fulfilling her creative desires and decided to take things into her own hands.

“I just wanted to do something myself, to have more control and not just wait around for other people to decide how I spend my time and what I’m able to do.

“Now that I’m on set I have no urge to get in front of the camera. I still love acting, I really enjoy it, but I love film making more,” she says.

As well as being an ambassador for Stem4 (a charity promoting positive mental health in teenagers and their support network) she hopes to increase the number of representative portrayals of mental health by featuring them within her own films. Her first, Faulty Roots, delves into what it’s like for teenagers with depression.

“I wanted to do it on something that I thought could be important and potentially help people, because I have experience with mental health that just made it a bit easier,” she says.

Faulty Roots was met with great success, being nominated for an award by Film The House, a competition run by MPs to find ‘the filmmakers of the future’, and is now a feature film adaptation.

“I just felt like I didn’t have much to lose, I thought, well if the review’s bad then I just won’t share it I’ll just try and forget that it exists and hope that nobody sees it,” she says.

Being taken seriously as a female filmmaker is a struggle at any age, never mind at 19 years old. Ella decided she wasn’t leaving people’s perceptions of her up to chance, it was time to get serious, so she created Broken Flames Productions.

“I just thought ‘I’m nobody’ if I go to people like ‘Hi, my name’s Ella, I’m making a film can I hire you?’ people were going to skim past me, so I thought, if I’m going to do it let me try and do this properly and make it seem more professional.

“I had no qualifications, no training, I was like the least qualified person ever, but if you have a story you want to tell and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing then people are really nice,” she says.

In addition to a lack of personal expertise, Ella finds herself in the midst of an industry half frozen in its archaism and half hysterically trying to encourage equality.

“There is just so much in the industry based on structures that only help a certain group of people and elitism and nepotism that, I don’t know, I’m not sure I want to be a part of that,” she says.

A main aspect of her dedication and drive is to create change through her own work. In terms of mental health, the areas she sees as lacking representation are, “just everything.”

“I watched so many films growing up and so much TV and I just had no clue what mental health was at all. You’d see these really dramatic suicide scenes, it made it seem so intense and unrelatable. It just needs to be more normalised because so many people struggle with their mental health.

“For me, something that sticks in my mind a lot is the suicide scene from 13 Reasons Why, it was so graphic,” she says.

One of Ella’s upcoming films, Self-Charm, focusses on self-harm, but Ella made the decision to never show a cut or anything graphic.

“I think you can still get what you need to across and tell a story without, because it seemed like that (scene) was put in there for dramatic and entertainment value,” she says.

As a newcomer Ella wants to ensure she makes the right decisions socially and ethically, this means constantly assessing her options. “It’s so important to get it right and I’m very conscious of what I’m putting out there. It can get hard sometimes, I’m the only person making the decision.

“When I wanted to hire a fully female crew it was such a struggle to find females, but I was like, ‘No I want to do this and if it takes extra effort, it takes extra effort, but it’ll be worth it’,” she says.

Ella’s new projects are raring to go, with four currently in the works all progressing fantastically.

“I love working on different projects, it’s just nice to get to work with different people and different actors and different stories and themes, it’s really nice to have a variety of things going on,” she says.

When asked if there’s been any standout moments since she began producing, Ella encapsulates the typical manic beginning of a blossoming career, saying, “It’s all been a bit of a blur.”