You may remember the wonderful Stella Blackmon from her three years at Cup of Jo — she took photos and wrote about things like ice cream sandwiches, eating out alone, moving away from home and a secret to a happy marriage. She then worked as a photo editor for New York Magazine and now is splitting her time between Brooklyn and Missouri, where she writes and directs short films. And, you guys, those films are hilarious, poignant and BEAUTIFUL. I’m excited to share her new seven-minute gem, about trying to live up to your social media persona…
How amazing is that? If you’re curious, here’s some behind-the-scenes from Stella:
Last summer, my teenage cousin Goldie and I both made small declarations on social media about what we were doing with our lives (she posted a YouTube video titled, “How I Got My First Job” the day before she found out she didn’t get the position, and I wrote on Instagram about pursuing filmmaking hours before I accidentally corrupted all my footage from a 12-hour shoot). We laughed about how wild it felt trying to keep up with the online version of yourself, even though we were often our most loyal (and only) viewer.
That was the catalyst of the film idea, but earlier in the winter Goldie made a YouTube vlog about a day in her life, and it included swim practice and a skincare tutorial where her phone was taped to the mirror. I probably watched that video 20 times because I was struck by how Goldie was documenting teenage life in the Midwest. We have a 15-year-age difference, but her videos were so relatable. Also, the visuals of her at swim practice reminded me of one of my favorite photo series by Rineke Dijkstra.
WORKING WITH GOLDIE
Making a short film with Goldie was the highlight of my summer. We had so much fun brainstorming things we had in common that might work for the story, like how we add things to our online shopping carts when we think we might get a job (or the pain of removing them when things don’t work out), put Wite-Out on our shoes, or take pictures of ourselves after we cry just to see what we look like. Also, our breaks consisted of watching TikToks and driving to Arby’s to get curly fries.
Have you recently used a HDMI cable? It’s what you use to connect your TV to your stereo or DVD player. When I was working with my friend Mason on our short film Ghost in the Graveyard, he would use the phrase “HDMI” to describe a moment when you are working with someone and the two of you are so connected you don’t even have to talk — like you already know what that person is thinking.
Goldie and I started using this phrase when we were filming because I would have an idea or edit while we were recording, and Goldie would start to do it before I even communicated the thought. We would shriek, “HDMI!!!!” Goldie wrote me a birthday card a couple weeks ago and signed it, “HDMI, Goldie.”
When I started filming, I had a list of songs I imagined licensing. But I realized pretty quickly that in order to make these short films on my own budget, it just wasn’t possible. Most of the songs cost about $1,500 to $2,000 dollars for the rights for social and film festivals. Then one sweaty summer afternoon, my aunt Rosie suggested I talk to my cousin Mabel. I commissioned 17-year-old Mabel, and she ended up transforming the project. I would send her video clips and within hours she would text me back with a Voice Memo that exceeded everything I could imagine. Her mom was her piano accompaniment! I ended up using most of their original demos because I became so attached to the authentic moments they captured within the recordings, music page being flipped or her three-year-old brother Sonny talking in the background.
We found it THRILLING to film around our Missouri hometown, including at the pool where Goldie has her swim practices and the pool where she took her first lifeguard test. We were able to negotiate an hour of filming at each place, so we had to move quickly, but we would have moments where we would realize where we were and feel like we were playing Barbies with our real lives.
Watching other directors communicate their visions makes me want to keep working, working, working. When I saw The Rider by Chloé Zhao a couple years ago, I felt like the world stopped spinning. The story follows a rising rodeo star from South Dakota who suffers brain damage from a rodeo accident. Zhao made the film with a five-person crew and cast real people from the area, rather than actors. There was so much tenderness and power captured through quiet moments of everyday rural life — moments you don’t often get to see on film.
I am also completely enamored with Joanna Hogg, who did The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II, which just came out. Her pacing and point of view are magic. And, of course, the queens Greta Gerwig and Sofia Coppola. My list could go on and on, but I feel lucky to be a viewer of these works of art.
HOPES AND DREAMS
My dream of all dreams is to write and direct a feature-length film. Creating these weird little short films makes me ache for the space and time to tell stories of small-town America on a larger scale. I’m working on a longer script, and my hope is to keep making shorts for fun in the meantime. I have so much to learn, but it feels like the most exciting time to be in that stage where it feels like nothing and yet everything is possible.
(Behind the scenes photos by Ruby Reddecliff.)