Close-up: An Interview With Ethan Paisley

IT takes some people a lifetime to achieve what award-winning producer, director, writer and actor Ethan Paisley has done in just 18 years.

Ethan took a break from his busy schedule to chat with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge about his early start in the entertainment industry, telling impactful stories and what the future holds.

Q: By 12 years old, you were at a regular at the Cinnabar theatre and would soon have your own YouTube channel. Why do you feel you were such an early starter and how did these experiences shape you as a creative person?

A: GROWING up I remember dancing to Broadway showtunes in the mirror and acting out my favourite Disney movies in front of my parents. It got to a point where my mom decided to enrol me in community theatre when I was like 5, and this is where I truly fell in love with the arts.

I’m really happy I got an early start doing theatre and later doing on-set work because it gave me the confidence to tell any story I wanted using an accessible medium such as theatre or film. When I got my first phone, this is where my ability to tell stories grew exponentially and I found my calling for filmmaking.

Q: You wear so many hats – acting, directing, producing, writing and more. When do you feel most comfortable and what challenges you the most?

A: IT is funny, because my first love is acting and directing, but I feel most comfortable producing. Actors and directors have to be extremely vulnerable, whereas producers have to be the bigger person and make everyone around them feel less vulnerable. In other words, producers are the ones managing the actors and directors.

People always want to be actors and directors without realising those are the hardest jobs on any film. I do miss the challenge of acting and directing, but right now I’m enjoying developing my writing and producing skills.

Q: You’ve tackled drug addiction in ‘The Art Of Escape’, human trafficking in ‘Playing The Game’ and bipolar disorder in ‘Point 453’. Why do you think you are driven to these challenging subjects?

A: PEOPLE always say “write what you know” … I’m not afraid to admit I’ve grown up privileged and I find my own stories boring. I’m interested in other people’s stories.

More specifically, I’m interested in stories that I’m scared of affecting me personally. Falling subject to drug addiction, human trafficking, mental illness are all fears we hold personally and as a society. I guess you could say my stories are driven by fear, and the trajectory of the characters in those stories is a measurement of how I think I would survive in the reality of my fear.

Ethan Paisley, Photo: Heather Tafolla, HMUA: Vanessa Blanche Lee, Stylist: Jacqueline Urbina, Clothes: H&M, Zara Man, Helmut Lang. Shot in Chinatown, San Francisco, CA.

Q: Is there anyone in the industry at the moment that you can point to as someone who inspires you, especially by telling socially impactful content?

A: I just watched Skin by Guy Nattiv that won at TIFF this year, and it blew my mind. Best movie I’ve seen all year. He built empathy for a white supremacist while unlayering racial tensions in the US with a horrific true story surrounding a family.

Fortunately I’m now working with the company who executive produced it! I’m reading lots of scripts right now that can hopefully play at the same calibre as Skin. Please see it when it’s in theaters next year!

Q: I know you are fluent in French and went to Cannes last year for the premiere of Point 453. Do you see yourself working in Europe in the future? Perhaps on a French arthouse film?

A: I love European cinema, and I’d adore to live in either France or England someday. One of my favourite directors is Jean-Luc Godard. I’m in school at the moment and may travel abroad to Paris next year. There’s nothing creatively pulling me there at the moment, but I do have a slate of projects I’m submitting to Cannes this year. Crossing my fingers!

Q: A short film you produced titled ‘Wilted’ is currently showing at festivals. Can you tell us more about the project and the reception it has had so far?

A: WILTED is doing awesome and I’m really proud of it. We just had our LA premiere at the Cinema Darlings Screening Series in Echo Park and I’m headed to New York this week for it’s East Coast debut.

Chadd Alciati (writer and director) did a fabulous job with it. He depicted something so ugly and personal in such a beautiful, tangible way. Women come up to us every time and tell us they saw their stories represented. I’m not going to give away what happens or it ruins the experience. Hopefully it will be on Amazon and iTunes next year!
WILTED - Poster

Q: I believe you have started pre-production for ‘Turn Out’. Can you reveal anything about this project?

A: I don’t know what I can say! We’re gonna begin shooting next year and we’re in the middle of finishing up the script and casting it right now. It’s an exquisite team we have pulled together and I hope the story reaches everyone in some way. I’ll keep you posted.

Q: Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?

A: YES! I’m shopping two TV series during pilot season. One is a comedy, the other is drama-comedy I’m producing with my friend Katie Chang. Also I have two feature scripts in the works and I just started as a producer at PaperChase Films. Starting a November movie shoot (hopefully) in New York with one of my favourite directors.

And I’m in college at Chapman University majoring in Creative Producing. So you can bet I’m reading a lot right now! Very excited about everything that’s happening.

Q: Lastly, please tell us your mission statement for the next few years?

A: I am young and I still have a lot to learn. I just want to keep making mistakes and learning how to tell better stories. In the next four years I want to be in a writer’s room for a TV show and work my way up to being a showrunner. I would love to act in the same TV show. Issa Rae from Insecure is someone I look up to a lot. She does it all.

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