Teaser Trailer for Gracie Bellissimo's 2017 documentary short film "Indie Kids"
I recently had the opportunity to interview 19 year-old Gracie Bellissimo, an aspiring filmmaker, on her experience as a teen in the arts. Raised in Los Angeles, Gracie is currently working towards furthering her film portfolio and experience as she enters college studying film. Touching on subjects from her love for Lorde to her incredible internship opportunities, Gracie shared with me her journey thus far:
Caitlyn Phu: What is your passion and when did it begin? How did it develop and grow throughout your life?
Gracie Bellissimo: When I was just four years old, I watched a “Barbie Goes Hollywood” movie and that’s when I realized that making movies was actually a job that someone could have. It seemed so fun to me that I didn’t even think it was something you could get paid for... I still sometimes can’t believe it. From there, I thought I wanted to be an actress, but I grew up writing and directing my own plays that my little sisters would star in. I would act in them as well on top of basically putting on all the little productions. I eventually got a hold of my dad’s handheld camcorder and started making mini movies on it using barbies or littlest pet shops. When I was 6 or 7, I somehow taught myself how to edit these mini-movies on iMovie. I honestly don’t know how I just figured it out without any instruction but it felt very natural to me and it was pretty much one of my favorite ways to spend my free time. Once I reached middle school, I had done over 40 musicals in my community theater...so I still thought I wanted to do acting. One day in eighth grade, I decided to shoot and edit a youtube video of how to make a Tumblr-inspired notebook collage. I was literally just bored one day and put it up for fun, but the video racked up a ton of views, so I posted a few more.
I didn’t really see myself as a Youtuber though so I stopped for a while, but then Colleen Ballinger (AKA Miranda Sings) gave my channel a 2-second shoutout in one of her videos, without even linking my channel, and a ton of people still went and watched it/subscribed. Before I knew it, I had nearly 30K subscribers and demand for content was high, so I made youtube videos for a while until it finally wore on me and I realized it was not fulfilling my true passion: Cinema. I stopped posting youtube videos and by that time, I was at the end of my sophomore year of high school. For junior and senior year, I joined an incredibly immersive film program, where I made some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had. It didn’t teach me as much as I hoped it would about film, however, so I started making a ton of short films on my own time outside of class so that I could have a portfolio when applying to colleges. A handful of my short films were accepted into international film festivals, and I also had made my own connections through social media and got to remote intern for Lucy Tcherniak (Director of The End of the Fucking World) and also shadowed at Paramount Studios my summer entering senior year, which led me to shadowing and assisting Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum with her upcoming show (the Pretty Little Liars spin-off), The Perfectionists. I did my first semester of college in Brooklyn, New York, but I quickly discovered that the east coast isn’t for me. Now I am studying Cinema at San Francisco State University and am very excited to continue creating my own short films and music videos.
CP: How do you express yourself creatively? What mediums do you use?
GB: I love creating my own short films, but I also have a lowkey passion for music. Whenever I am stressed, I either listen to music or write my own songs. I feel that writing music is my fastest, most honest and fulfilling way of getting things off my chest. I have horrible stage fright, however, even after growing up in the theater, because I hate singing in front of others, so it’s more of a personal release through art. I have considered recording an EP, so maybe that can be expected in the future. Back to film, I use film to express experiences I have either observed, experienced myself, or randomly thought of in a daydream. They usually focus on a specific theme or message.
This past year, I have also been dabbling in 35 & 50mm photography. I carry either a disposable camera, my point-and-shoot, or my Canon AE1 wherever I go. I do this simply as a hobby and because of my love for the visual arts. Film photography has been a dying art form, but I love it because it’s honest in the sense that it is untouched and captures a moment raw, something we don’t see very much in an often facetuned/Instagram world. I also love the excitement of waiting to get your photos developed because every time...your roll is a mystery and there are always exciting or even disappointing surprises (I've shot a few blank rolls hahaha...still learning!)
CP: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Is there a particular artist that you find inspirational?
GB: I have always looked up to Lorde as my inspiration, mainly for film, but also for music. I just think it’s so inspiring that she was able to accomplish so much at such an early age. She has driven and inspired me to create honest art with hints of teenage nostalgia, and also inspired me to not let my age affect the opportunities I have worked hard to obtain (Paramount, internships with directors, etc). I even made my senior project a seven-minute video that abstractly tells the story of my high school life soundtracked by Lorde’s songs because they perfectly encapture how I felt in every stage of high school. She really changed my life and opened a whole new world to me as an artist.
I can still remember the first time I heard “Royals” before any other songs of hers came out. I was only in middle school, and I knew that this girl, although only a few years older than me, was going to shape the way music today is made (I could write a book on why Pure Heroine inspired like 80% of the music we hear today haha). But basically, Lorde showed me that age shouldn’t ever stop you from pursuing your dreams as an artist and that doing something totally “out there” may actually become revolutionary. Another fan of Lorde’s was David Bowie, who even called her “The future of music”. I look to him as a prime example of variety. He was an ever-changing artist, always experimenting with different genres, which is something I long to do in film.
CP: What kinds of obstacles did you face in pursuing the arts, either as a hobby or career? Did you have any supporters along the way?
GB: I think a lot of people underestimate my visions I have for future projects because A). I am still a teenager and B). I am a girl. I’ve been writing a very complex pilot inspired by real events and I intend to bring it around to multiple producers/production agencies, but I am super nervous they won’t listen to me because of my age or that they may take advantage of my work because they may see me as a naive, young girl. Through it all, my parents have been my #1 supporters from day one. Growing up, they provided so much love and encouragement when it came to my sister’s and my own passions. They let me use their cameras (until they eventually let me buy my own), and my dad always jokes that I was the only 12-year-old in the world to ask for a boom mic for Christmas! Music-wise, I have literally been to countless concerts because of them. They see concerts as “inspiring” rather than indulgence.
CP: While more spotlight is being brought to the voices of our generation in recent years, history has shown that the perspectives, activism, and art of teenagers are often dismissed. Have you personally experienced this as a teenager?
GB: Absolutely. I think the film industry is an especially difficult art industry because there is so much business involved in it, and businessmen usually tend to dismiss young girls with seemingly vague dreams of being a director. However, I have also found some people to be very supportive of me and my vision, such as Lucy Tcherniak, Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, Clay Pecorin, and exec. producer Peter Lenkov. They all let me shadow one or more aspects of their work and some have allowed me to assist/basically intern for them. Because they gave me these opportunities at such a young age, they only opened more doors for me and have allowed me to make meaningful connections before I even graduated high school. I am so grateful that even though I am young, they saw a bit of their own younger selves and me and gave me a shot, which apparently doesn’t happen often in Hollywood. If I ever make it, I definitely will do the same for teenagers.
CP: What does the youth have to offer to the world (whether this means perspective-wise, activism-wise, the sharing of art, etc.) and why is it important that this is recognized?
GB: We are the youth! We are young! We have fresh ideas! We aren’t afraid to say what we believe because we all start seeing ourselves as independent people around this time, and being able to speak your mind and share your thoughts with the world is so exciting and often inspiring for others. It’s important for us to speak up because the future of the world will ultimately be up to our generation, so it’s up to us to change things for the better or let things gradually get worse.
CP: Why do you make art?
GB:From a very early age, I have loved telling stories. Using film as a medium to tell interesting stories or spread important ideas to me holds more depth and contains more layers than photography for instance because so many people come together and use their talents to create one, beautiful piece of art together that ultimately can entertain, bring happiness to, or provoke the thoughts of audiences.
CP: Do you have a favorite piece that you have created? Can you explain it and why it is your favorite?
GB: I think that one of my favorite short films I have made is Indie Kids. It’s a completely improvised mini-documentary, and I love it because it was such a wholesome experience. One day, I wanted to test out some new color grading techniques, so I asked my youngest sister, Marlie, if I could follow her and her adorable/artsy friends around for the day. Tying this back to the aspect of the voices of the youth, I loved making this because I found their worldviews all to be very independent, interesting, and adorable. Also, they skate and listen to good music and dress well! In seventh grade I was a theater nerd in a Christian school, listening to just the top 40 until my eventual discovery of Lorde and Lana Del Rey turned me a bit more normal (hahahaha I’m so glad I was normal in middle school though because now a lot of other seventh graders care wayyyy too much about who they are/how they look because of social media).
CP: Do you feel like your art is representative of your experiences as a teenager? As you get older, do you think that your artistic style will change?
GB: My favorite genre of film are coming of age movies. I love the honesty and electricity of teenagers, how we all have this crazy blend of carelessness and caring a little too much. That’s what I love so much about Lorde...she perfectly captures the teenage experience in Pure Heroine, as well as the whirlwind of transitioning into adulthood on Melodrama. I think that is something I strive to accomplish, capturing teenagers accurately and creatively on camera in an emotionally moving, original story. Movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Ladybird, Kings of Summer, and Moonrise Kingdom are some of my absolute favorites of all time, paying homage to youth without many over the overdone cliches.
CP: How do you plan on pursuing your passion in the future, whether this be college or career-wise?
GB: Throughout college, I am excited to collaborate with people my age on projects while delving deeper into learning about the art of cinema at SFSU. This summer, I hope to work on some sort of studio lot or film set. Looking forward, I understand that I am going to have to work incredibly hard to one day earn a higher ranking in the film industry, and I know that everyone either starts in the mail room or as a PA, so I am more than excited to take on those smaller jobs in hopes of eventually proving myself and working my way up.
CP: Any last words or advice you would like to share?
GB: In today’s day and age, we have so many platforms available to be able to make crucial business connections for future projects, and more importantly, a variety of places to share our work with the world and get it in front of as many people as we can. This is an exciting time for filmmakers especially, with video cameras being built into even our cell phones while current directors had to grow up using costly and complicated Super 8 film cameras. Still, I would love to own a super 8 camera! I miss seeing actual FILM on the big screen, I personally love the visual aesthetic/honesty of it more than digital work.
See more of Gracie's work!
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