Interview: Amy Rice – Director, Cinematographer, & NYU Alumna
By Rachel Lambert.
Amy Rice is an incredibly talented director, producer, and cinematographer whose work spans both the documentary and narrative worlds. In 2009, she directed the documentary, “BY THE PEOPLE,” a film which followed Barack Obama during his campaign for the presidency. Her additional credits include “Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot,” a look behind-the-scenes of the film “Wet Hot American Summer,” a TV documentary mini-series about Lindsay Lohan, and a documentary about YouTube star Tyler Oakley. Amy talked with Fusion about her career, from how she started in the industry to what projects she has planned for the future.
What sparked your interest in filmmaking?
It all started when my grandmother gave me a polaroid camera when I was around 10 years old. I proceeded to take photos of everything I could possibly document – my dolls, my family, the Thanksgiving table, the seasons. And then my parents bought a video camera (it looked like a big beta camera with an external deck for the VHS tape that you would sling over your shoulder) to film home movies of us when we were kids, but my brothers and I used it instead to shoot tons of music videos and crime mysteries with our friends. I ended up going to NYU, but not to study film. I was a photojournalism major. But I was terribly lonely walking the streets of New York City alone taking photos, so my friend suggested I try working on a film crew in the camera department. So my first job in the film industry was as a camera PA for the movie, “HIGH ART.”
What draws you to cinematography, and when did you decide that you wanted to be a Director of Photography?
I had always loved photography since I was a kid, and once I started working in the camera department on movies, music videos, and commercials, I fell in love with cinematography. It added a whole new challenge to photography that I grew to love. You weren’t just framing up a still shot. You were constantly framing and re-framing a moving image in your viewfinder.
What attracts you to documentary filmmaking?
I love telling real stories as they unfold in front of you. Today most content we see is so perfectly scripted and packaged for us. Documentary filmmaking is the opposite. I always refer to documentary filmmaking as the ER of filmmaking. You have this great challenge of telling a story that you have no control over as it is unfolding in front of you and constantly changing and you only have one take!
What about a story catches your attention and makes you say, “I have to make a film about this”?
Usually if the story personally resonates with me; if I have a personal connection to it. Also, if it’s a world I’ve always been curious about.
Describe your first experience as a director. What was most challenging and what was most rewarding?
My first experience as a director was making “BY THE PEOPLE: The Election of Barack Obama,” which I co-directed with Alicia Sams and Sam Pollard edited. I think the most challenging and rewarding part was finding my legs and vision for the film as a director, while also trusting the brilliant creative minds around me. I think it’s hard to strike the right balance with this when you are finding your way as a first time director, but you can reap huge benefits from learning to collaborate and empower your creative team while staying true to creative vision.
What has been your favorite project so far and why?
“BY THE PEOPLE” has been my favorite project so far because of my own personal connection to it, and because we had the opportunity to film a piece of history as it unfolded before our eyes.
Who inspires you?
Anyone who picks up a camera and tries to tell a story.
As a female filmmaker, have you experienced gender discrimination in the industry? What do you feel encourages progress and promotes equality?
I’m sure I have, but I try not to focus on it. When I go into a meeting and pitch my vision for a film, I don’t walk into the room as a female filmmaker. I walk in there as a filmmaker with the best take on [the] movie, and that producer is going to invest millions of dollars in my vision for their film, not because I am a man or a woman, but because the best idea wins. Usually, when I don’t get a job, I rarely think it’s because I’m a woman. It’s usually because I know my pitch wasn’t that strong and there’s a good chance someone else had a better take on it. But maybe I’m in denial. I think continuing to mentor and encourage young female filmmakers and minorities is very important in our industry; encouraging them to keep stepping up to bat and taking huge creative swings. And I’m also going to continue to strive to be the best filmmaker I can be, which will hopefully encourage progress.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently attached to direct two narrative features that will hopefully shoot this year. And I’m currently developing a half hour comedy series with IFC.
What is a goal that you hope to achieve in the future, filmmaking-related or otherwise?
My goal is to be able to keep telling stories that resonate with and possibly inspire people, and to have the opportunity to continually work with people in this industry who I can creatively learn from.
What advice would you give to students pursuing careers in the film, TV, and new media industries?
While you’re in school, experience every role on a film set – sound, cinematographer, AC, producer, actor, etc. The film and TV industry can be a very tough industry, especially as a freelancer, so once you graduate, ideally try to find a steady job within the industry to pay your bills so you can afford to build your reel/portfolio and chase your film dreams at the same time. And adopt mentors!