Marielle Woods is a Harvard graduate and award-winning filmmaker who thrives in the high-stakes world of action storytelling.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Marielle about her latest short film Spin, breaking into the industry, working on Baby Driver, and much more.
Q: Your story of breaking into the industry is one of persistence and clever use of IMDb Pro. Can you tell us about those early days and the grounding working on docu-drama television gave you?
A: Ha! Yes, I came out to LA for the first time the summer before my senior year of college and used IMDb Pro to find any contact info I could for films in production. A lot of cold calling and emailing led to my first internship which turned into my first job as a Key PA.
The next year, after graduation, I moved out to California permanently and started working on TV shows for networks like Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. That’s really when I realised action storytelling was my passion. I was swimming with sharks and blowing up planes and re-creating gunfights and animal attacks and loving every second of it. Growing up, I had as many toy guns as I had baby dolls (if not more), so this all made perfect sense.
Q: You then worked as a stunt assistant on a number of films including ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’. Do you have any fun memories to share from those experiences?
A: Oh man, I have nothing but fun memories from those experiences. I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with some of the best second units and stunt teams in this business.
Baby Driver was one of those sets where I never wanted to go home at the end of the day, I just wanted to keep hanging out with the crew because everyone was amazing. I especially loved every day we’d have lots of car work – which obviously was often! – and we’d chalk out a mini highway grid on the pavement and use toy cars to map out the plan. We had so many toy cars! And all that car work is real, which is incredible.
Q: I was entertained by the concept and trailer for your latest short film, ‘Spin’. What do you enjoy about action films and working in this genre?
A: I am truly never happier than when I’m flipping a car or filming a gun fight. It’s literally the most fun, and it’s all storytelling. Visceral, physical, exciting, dynamic storytelling. A fight sequence is really as much of a conversation as a dialogue scene, and should represent the characters just as specifically.
I’m a big believer in earning the action – we have to care about the characters involved – so I really enjoy working on the dramatic resonance of a scene as much as choreographing a fight or a car chase.
Q: Can you tell us more about ‘Spin’ and the inspiration behind it?
A: I love visual storytelling so a lot of my ideas are borne from images – in this case I happened to be on a martial arts kick and had been looking at a lot of bo staff sequences.
As a former band kid (I played the French horn for 9 years) my brain made a visual connection to the spinning elements of the colour guard and it all clicked into place. I want to see many more eclectic female action leads in film and TV, and it was clear to me that Spin was a chance to portray one. It was also a chance to lean into some really fun, stylised worlds and a very specific visual tone, which is always an aspect of my filmmaking.
Q: I know Jenna Boyd has an athletic background that would have helped with the action scenes. Can you talk about casting her and working with her on this project?
A: Jenna was crucial to pulling this film off. I actually can’t say enough great things about her. She’s a consummate professional, an incredibly committed actor who has a huge range and also nails character subtleties, and she is insanely physically competent.
She had just about three weeks to learn sign spinning, colour guard, and the entire fight sequence, and she crushed all of them. I’m really excited to see her do more action work, because she’s made for it.
Q: You made ‘Spin’ through the AFI Directing Workshop for Women. How supportive have they been?
A: The AFI program will be the thing that I look back on, or talk about in interviews like this, that I will credit as being one of the pivotal experiences in my life.
The amount of personal and creative growth I experienced over the course of the last year is indescribable. I’ve built deep relationships with many other female filmmakers, from the women who run the program, to the women I went through it with, to the large and impressive alumnae network. It’s really empowering – and exciting!
Q: If I’m right, you are also in production with Brando Benetton for your debut feature, ‘American Bullet’ (great title by the way). Can you reveal anything about that?
A: Interestingly, this is actually an anthology film that’s made up of action-filled short war stories, and my previous short, Do No Harm, is one of these. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project, and really look forward to expanding the audience for Do No Harm, which features stunning performances by Spencer Treat Clark, Shanola Hampton, and Daniel Zolghadri.
Q: What are your hopes and plans for the future?
A: More explosions and fight scenes! Spin was a proof of concept for a feature, and we’re about to start taking that script out and about. I’m also driving hard towards episodic directing – there’s so much fantastic action-driven television that I’m excited to be a part of.
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