Exclusive Interview with Rachel Thomas – Screenwriter, Director
Rachel is a New England based award-winning screenwriter, director, and independent filmmaker. Some of her recent honors include being named an ISA Top 25 Screenwriter to Watch; recipient of The Michelle Mower Female Filmmaker of the Year Award, Austin Revolution Film Festival; Best Narrative Short Film Director, Mystic Film Festival; and recipient of the Female Filmmaker Award at the Lonely Seal International Film Festival for her film The Squirrels in the Attic, which was taken to the Cannes Film Market during the Cannes Film Festival. The film screened at 17 festivals worldwide and won numerous awards.
Rachel is a Board Member of Women in Film Video New England, a member of the Alliance of Women Directors, and has served on the Sherman Oaks Film Festival Filmmakers Board and the Film Invasion Los Angeles Filmmakers Board.
Rachel’s screenplay The Influencer—the Grand Prize Winner of the Emerging Screenwriters Shoot Your Short contest—is in postproduction and planned for release this year. Her newest screenplay On the Last Day was a top 15 finalist in the 2022 Short Scripts Short Film Fund, a Screencraft Short Screenplay Contest semi-finalist, WriteMovies 2022 Screenwriting Contest semi-finalist, Hollyshorts Screenplay Contest quarterfinalist, and won best screenplay in the Hollywood Art and Movie Awards.
In the Company of Crows, for which she was finalist for the New England Film Star Awards, has screened 18 festivals to date, winning multiple awards and nominations, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film in the Paris Independent Film Festival; the Grand Jury for Best Production Design in Film Invasion Los Angeles; Best Folk Horror Short Film in The Shawna Shea Film Festival; Nominee The Tostevin Award for Filmmaker of the Year, Michelle Mower Female Filmmaker Award, Tobe Hooper Award for Genre Film of the Year, U.S. Genre Short; U.S. Short Film Director, and Best Produced Script at Austin Revolution Film Festival.
Her latest film Penny is currently in the festival circuit, earning multiple nominations to date and screening at Pasadena International Film Festival, the Academy-Award Qualifying New Hampshire Film Festival, Mystic Film Festival, Chain NYC Film Festival, Block Island Film Festival, Open Gate International Film Festival, Nightmares Film Festival, and Austin Revolution Film Festival.
Rachel feels that stories are an extraordinary tool that can help both empower and humanize individuals that may not have that voice in the real world. There are so many stories to tell and she’s looking forward to continuing that journey through both writing and independent filmmaking.
NY Glam: Tell us a little about yourself, growing up and your passions.
I was an avid reader growing up and always been interested in the nature of human beings and by extension storytelling. It’s funny, I was that kid with a camera making films but I never considered filmmaking as a career possibility. It took some time for my passion of writing and film to converge. I’m also a classical pianist, dancer, and into theater and musicals but writing definitely rose to the top in choice of artistic expression.
NY Glam: Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry?
Certain films would strike a chord and I’d watch them repeatedly, unaware I was probably studying their structure. A few that come to mind are Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction, American Beauty, and Thelma and Louise. I love films and filmmakers that push the boundaries while staying within the realm of reality.
NY Glam: What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new feature script based on my short script On the Last Day. I received some feedback that there’s already a feature arc in the short but it’s still challenging to expand within the framework of that. I often get distracted by short script ideas and divert and complete a new short because I can’t stop thinking about it. While it’s great to be producing so much material I’m going to try to reign the impulse in temporarily in order to finish the feature.
NY Glam: What was the most important thing for this script to achieve from a narrative and character standpoint?
A satisfying narrative and character arc, which is harder to do with shorts but still important for audience fulfillment. And by satisfying it doesn’t necessarily mean positive or that the reader isn’t left with questions. I love writing unexpected often unsettling endings, ones that provide some type of revelation. Fenwick definitely falls into this camp.
NY Glam: What makes a film interesting for you? What are three qualities that you look for in a movie?
Intrigue, subtext, and a world that’s familiar but unique. I love films that make you think and question assumptions and are impactful in their storytelling. In my writing, I try to create worlds that are unpredictable but still relatable.
NY Glam: What project helped you launch your career?
I’d say it was my first film The Squirrels in the Attic. It screened at festivals worldwide and won numerous awards. Getting positive feedback is certainly validating but the most important part was how it opened up these mental doors for me. My focus changed from trying to find people to tell my stories to being able to tell them myself. That’s really powerful. Directing also instantly made me a better screenwriter…you realize something you didn’t give much thought to as a writer could be very difficult to film.
NY Glam: What are you most proud of? Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?
I’m most proud of my perseverance and not being afraid to make mistakes. As an introvert I’ve really pushed the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with and continue to do so. I think my biggest accomplishment to date has been writing and directing four films in two years, three of them shot during Covid. In between filming, I’ve squeezed in a lot of writing, all while working full time as a magazine editor.
NY Glam: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Making them multi-dimensional. No one is strictly good or bad and showing flaws creates more relatable characters and a more interesting narrative. We all want to see people we can connect with and react to on some human level. I enjoy the challenge of attempting to make readers invest in characters who aren’t necessarily likeable.
NY Glam: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Ultimately, I would love to make screenwriting and directing a full-time career. I love creating worlds and telling stories and strive to take my work to the next level each time. Even though writing can at times be torturous, it comes from a place of passion and I don’t think I could stop if I wanted to. Thankfully I don’t want to!
NY Glam: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re super excited about?
Yes! The film Influence, which was the Grand Prize winner of the Emerging Screenwriters Short Your Short Contest, is coming out soon. It was my first time working as a screenwriter with another director and it was a fantastic learning experience. It’s one of my favorite shorts I’ve written to date so am excited to see people’s reaction to it.
And I have another short in post that I wrote and directed called Cult. It’s a short dark comedy, which is a change of pace for me. It was a really fun to shoot and hopefully will be fun to watch!
NY Glam: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry, especially as a film director?
Don’t let fear or lack of experience stop you. I went in incredibly green to my first directing experience but taking that plunge changed everything. Keep educating yourself and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. Surround yourself with people who have skills you don’t have and learn from them.
It’s also important to keep perspective and not take yourself too seriously. While filmmaking can at times be incredibly difficult, it’s also incredibly fun.
NY Glam: Can you discuss any future projects or direction you are taking in regard to film making?
I’m hoping to shoot another short this spring and have narrowed it down to three scripts that have been garnering some attention in contests and festivals. I also have a lot of unproduced material I don’t plan to direct so will spend some time trying to find possible homes for those screenplays. And after directing a couple more shorts I should be ready to direct that new feature once it’s finished!