I had the pleasure of interviewing 17 year old Emily Robinson, who produced, wrote, directed and stars in Virgin Territory; premiering at LA Film Festival 2016. Virgin Territory is a ‘sex-positive, queer, questioning coming-of-age story about a teenage girl’s sexual awakening and exploration .’ Emily produced the film herself, fronting the first $10,000 of the film and then raised $17,000 on Kickstarter, $11,000 over the goal! She currently plays young Rose on the Emmy, BAFTA, Golden Globe award-winning TV series Transparent on Amazon Prime. Emily herself is also an award-winning actress with a career starting around age 6. Now embarking on writing, directing and producing, she is one to watch!
JP: It is extraordinary that you wrote/directed/starred in/AND produced a short film this young (17!)!! First, how did you learn how to screenwrite, cast, and direct?
Emily Robinson: From acting for a while, from reading a lot, from watching directors I’ve worked with, and writing has always been a passion of mine. Through listening to people speak, I learned how to tell a story. I learn from talented people around me, such as Jill Soloway. She allows people to do what they do, she allows such an open and creative environment, and surrounds herself with people that she trusts to explore and do what they do.
Although I had a very strong vision and knew what I wanted to do going into it (the creation of Virgin Territory), and at the end of the day we did accomplish that… I surrounded myself with people that I trusted and that trusted me, and I wanted to create the kind of environment that allowed them to explore, and to capture those moments on camera.
What inspired you to write/direct/star in/produce Virgin Territory?
Emily: It started with me being frustrated with the lack of movies with strong, layered, female protagonists. Female protagonists that can talk openly about sex and have sort of a sex positive conversation. There are all of these derogatory terms that are applied to women, but terms that men never get labeled. The female protagonist in Virgin Territory doesn’t necessary know what she wants, but knows that she wants something. She is curious and trying to find herself and what she is, and she is hindered by this system that forces labels on us and forced people to know exactly how they are and exactly who they are, and what you want to do, and who you want to be from an early age.
It extends from conversations that my friends and I have. This (Virgin Territory) in particular talks about sexuality, but both sexuality and gender, and how society causes us to know exactly who we are, but there is this grayer ambiguity that we haven’t been talking about. I think it is just a movie that shows what people question. Why we judge people for ambiguity yet we don’t know who they are, why we judge their sexuality and why we feel the need to do that. I think that at the end of the movie she just sort of realizes that she doesn’t have to know, that she can just be open and just explore, and be ok with her desires and herself.
I learned that you reviewed over 70 reels from cinematographers, and interviewed 12 before making your final choice. Why so precautious with choice of cinematographer?
Emily: That was a particularly hard part, because it’s so much of what a movie is. Film is a visual medium, and how a project looks is so important, and how it’s shot… overall it makes a movie what it is. And it helps us look at the story in a different way. Every person has a different vision, and whoever is behind the camera is going to impact how the story is told. So that choice was extremely important to me.
And I had Kay Madsen who has a background in documentary film-making, and experience working with natural light, and making do what what you have; which is what i wanted to do because we didn’t have any gaffers, or anyone doing light, so we found someone who is an expert in what they do for what we had. And we had a reference for sound, Peter Beer, who was recommended from people at Transparent. And I knew the actors I wanted when I was writing it. Michelle Clunie and Mel Shimkovitz are hilarious and lovely and I knew I wanted them to be in the movie, luckily they said yes! So the cinematographer was definitely the one I searched hardest for because most of the rest were through referrals, recommendations and friends.
Were you in high school when you began this, and are you still in high school now?
Emily: Yes, this film started the day after Thanksgiving last year, and by March 1st everything was done. I’m a senior and graduate on June 27th. We started to shoot it the day after Thanksgiving, and now it’s premiering, which is crazy!
Has it affected you in school or socially with all of the restraints on time?
Emily: My friends understand what I want to be doing and are really supportive. It’s a time commitment, doing all of that and doing school. Time commitment is difficult, but wonderful friends and family help out a Lot.
What is your goal/dream with Virgin Territory?
Emily: I’m not exactly sure. To run the festivals circuit, and after that for it to be available somewhere for the public to see. People who have seen the trailer or seen it have already reached out, relieved and grateful that it is trying to bring these things to light. The goal is if it helps open up the conversation, and helps people know that it’s OK.
Not everyone’s going to like the movie, but as long as it helps start a conversation, open up a discussion, and open up knowing that it’s OK… I’m happy. And I’m hoping that wherever ends up, it’s a place that a lot of people can see it and help starting even the smallest of conversations.
What is your ultimate goal/dream right now if you could do Anything at all?
Emily: Act, write and direct, Forever. And I want to figure out how to do that while still going to college. I want to be able to do it all! Acting is my first passion, but writing and directing are the other two loves of my life.
JP: Thank you so much for interviewing! I think what you’ve done is amazing, and important toward pushing cultural norms by encouraging discussion and thought about female sexuality and the labeling that comes with it.
It will be premiering at LA Film Fest in the short film competition, and is playing right before 72 Hours, A Brooklyn Love Story.