Interview: Director Ella Greenwood Talks Smudged Smile And Mental Health

“What’s the point of getting upset about things you can’t really do anything about?” – Zoe, Smudged Smile

Ella Greenwood’s latest work as director in a vibrant short film, Smudged Smile, introduces us to the world of Zoe. She’s happy about absolutely everything but finds it hard to always be that way. In just under 20 minutes, we feel seen as an audience, our emotions are valid. It can be so hard to stay positive all the time, especially if that’s how so many people see you. The film cleverly uses narration to allow us into Zoe’s head, and I have used email correspondence to get into the head of the director’s.

Hello Ella, so lovely to chat with you and for your new short film which is great. Written by Hannah Westall, Smudged Smile follows a story that everyone can relate to. What made you want to join the team and direct it?

I had actually originally written a really rough draft of the script for Smudged Smile and so had come up with the concept and what I wanted to share with the film, and I had been talking to Oriane Pick and Anais Ferrato at Candid Broads Productions for a while about working together on a project, so I shared the idea with them, and they then put me in touch with Hannah. They’re all such wonderful people who care a lot about raising awareness of mental illness, so it’s been amazing working with them on the project.

The short stars Mia McKenna-Bruce as happy Zoe, and she does brilliantly to convey such changing emotions. How did you help the character of Zoe come to life in such a realistic way?

A key feature of the film is how depression can just come out of nowhere, it doesn’t have to be caused by any external factor and this is something that I really wanted to get across with the film, which Mia incorporated so well with the variety of emotions shown. Zoe within herself is very cheerful and upbeat which Mia shows with her relationships and energy and then when she starts struggling with her mental health, she’s still the same person but it’s showing that shift in energy and how the way she is in her relationships has changed.

After seeing the behind-the-scenes photos for the last few months and then the trailer, I was so intrigued by the overall aesthetic of the film with all the colours and filming style used. Talk us through the team choices of creating the Smudged Smile vibe.

I wanted it to be really bright and colourful to highlight the contrast in depression not being caused by any event or circumstance. Zoe lives in this happy and bright world and yet she still starts struggling with her mental health. This was brought in with every aspect, from the lighting to the gorgeous production design, to working with our DP Xenia Patricia who really helped build Zoe’s world.

Created in collaboration with Candid Broads Productions and Broken Flames Productions, with a range of sets and characters, do you have any behind the scenes stories you can tell us? I’d love to learn more about the team and the fun you got up to on set.

It was honestly such a lovely environment, everyone was so great to work with and we never ran out of time or had anything stressful happen, I think we even finished shooting early one day. A moment I really enjoyed is a scene at the school (partly shown in the trailer) where Zoe is chatting with her friend Lucy played by Priya Blackburn. Mia and Priya have a great relationship as they had worked together before on the TV show Get Even. We wanted them to walk down the hallway a bit before they started their lines, so we made them ad lib and they just kept coming up with different jokes which was very enjoyable to watch.

Filmed over lockdown (I’m so over talking about it now,but I feel this is relevant, hahah), how do you think a short film like this appeals and relates to its audience in the current situation?

So many people have been struggling with their mental health as a result of lockdowns and the pandemic. There was such a need to speak openly and raise awareness of mental health before Covid but there’s an increased need now. I’d like to think the film approaches the subject in a way that people can feel seen, but there’s also happiness with it and so I hope it’s a combination of the audience relating to it and enjoying it!

Ella Greenwood on the set of Smudged Smile. Photo by Ines Hachou

In recent months, you’ve taken on these incredible roles of director, founder, writer, just to name a few. Is there anything new you’d like to try next?

I think I’d enjoy a lot of things, though there’s nothing new that comes to mind currently as I’d love to explore a variety of things within these roles. I’d love to write an animated feature soon, direct a horror, a bit of everything!

Smudged Smile is just one short in an amazing line up that you have coming for us, looking at mental health and so much more. What would you say to people reading this to push them to watch this new short of yours?

Mia is such an incredible actress and so you definitely need to see her as Zoe! And I think the film can appeal to both younger and older audiences, so hopefully a lot of people will enjoy watching it. 

Thanks Ella, you’re always welcome at Close Up Culture!

1 comment

  1. It’s a cool article, reading it, I immediately noted to myself that a very powerful work was done, which deserves praise. I can say that the symptoms described here were personally experienced by me – post-traumatic stress disorder, I was lucky that real professionals worked with me, if not for them, I don’t even know where I would be now. I was very moved by the way you managed to convey all the feelings that a person experiences in that state. I would like to say one thing: take more care of your health, both physical and mental.

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