Actor, director, and writer Izzy Stevens has not let the last year of lockdown stifle her work. In fact, she took the time to add “businesswoman” to that list of titles. Her film coaching company, Creative Luminaries, newly launched during the pandemic, aims to let aspiring film professionals forge their own path in the fickle industry, a philosophy Stevens herself has taken to heart.
With the American premiere of her latest action blockbuster sequel Operation: Rainfall coming this summer, Stevens also took the time to star in projects ranging from the thriller Him to the upcoming Seafoam, a short film she wrote, directed, co-edited, and starred in herself. The suspenseful short is one of several that Stevens has taken the reins on over the years, and she has no plans of stopping, even planning on creating feature films on the near horizon.
We had a chat with Izzy Stevens about her many acting, directing, and business ventures, as well as her upcoming short firm Seafoam and her personal philosophies about the industry. Check out the full interview below.
You’ve got quite a presence in the industry, working as an actress, writer, producer, and even businesswoman. Do any of those roles take precedence for you, or would you say they are all equal?
Yes! Acting and directing are my ride or die, I just flirt with producing and all the other bits. I am fully focused on furthering my career as an actor/director, but I’ve always aimed to be the kind of filmmaker that can arrive on set, understand the complexities of each role, roll up my sleeves and get it done. I love it.
Owning my own film coaching business has also been incredibly freeing; it’s given me a platform to give back and share all those skills I’ve gained from working in the film industry too.
Congratulations on Occupation: Rainfall coming out later this summer in the US! How do you think your character of Bella Bartlett has changed or grown from the first film to this one?
Thanks! By the end of Occupation, Bella has matured from a teenage girl into a tough, strong resistance fighter, and she’s had to say goodbye to the man she loves.
When we meet her in the sequel, her strength has really settled in and she’s become a leader in her community. Bella is fearlessly loyal and caring for the people she loves; that hasn’t changed, but her ability to protect and fight for them has definitely strengthened.
Do you find it easier or more difficult to play the same character a second time?
There are parts of it that are certainly challenging, especially if I start to over-intellectualize the character. Ultimately, when I surrender to the truths I’ve always felt about her and find where she lives in me, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Like coming home.
How was it working with the cast this time around? Had you grown closer since the first film? What about the newcomers like Ken Jeong and Daniel Gillies?
Really awesome. We all became close filming the first one, so it was a treat coming back. They’re my brothers and sisters and I felt really grateful to have this experience with them.
During filming I worked closely with Ken, who is of course a comedic genius, and he had me in stitches the whole time. We would riff right up until action was called, and then we’d have to drop into these really intense life-or-death moments in the film and my cheeks would be spasming from so much laughter. I didn’t work closely with Dan as our filming blocks were separate, but he is just so fantastic in the film.
Two of your upcoming projects are quite different in tone, with Occupation: Rainfall being a high-octane action movie and Him being a more gritty thriller. How do you go about choosing what projects you take on?
That’s a great question. I suppose it will always come back to the character, it’s what I am most curious about, before genre or how big of a part it is or anything else. If there is something in that person I want to crack, then I’m intrigued. Sometimes it’s on the page, and sometimes it’s just a sense of wanting to explore where that person lands in me… I think it’s just a gut feeling that I’m listening to.
You’ve been quite prolific when it comes to creating and starring in your own short films. What attracts you so much to that short-form medium?
Wow, so many things. There is an immediacy to the form, I can play a range of characters, I can experiment with storytelling, I can collaborate with interesting filmmakers, I can make the rules.
I think I began making shorts because I didn’t believe anyone would take me seriously as a young female director, and I needed to prove that I could make a great film. Through making shorts, I’ve enjoyed so much freedom of expression, and you know, they’re really like a filmmaker’s currency — one great short can propel your filmmaking career. There are freedoms you have in experimentation and world-building that you don’t always have in a feature form. Even as I transition into making features, I think I’ll always love making shorts and helping others make them too.
What can you tell us about your newest upcoming short film, Seafoam?
Seafoam is a psychological thriller that I wrote, directed and acted in, and am currently co-editing. It’s about a woman called Billy who visits her mother in a psychiatric facility and starts to believe she’s being followed. Billy is questioning what’s real, and I’ve had a ball experimenting with ways to get us fully invested in Billy’s perspective so that when she is questioning her reality, we are right beside her questioning too.
I love film and TV for its ability to put us inside the character’s head. Bit of a digression but Mare of Easttown has done a phenomenal job at this recently. Kate Winslet is bringing the goods every episode… wow it’s great.
When inspiration strikes for a short film concept, how long does it usually take to create the finished project? What’s your process like?
It’s always different, but with Seafoam it was actually pretty bizarre. One evening last December, I’d just finished up on a call with a client who was in pre-production on her film, and I was about to cook dinner, but I had this urge to open my laptop. I sat down, and 15 minutes later I had written a 6 page script. I called a buddy of mine and said ‘Hey I’ve just written a short, I want to make it in two weeks, hook me up with any producer friends you know,’ because I had just moved to LA and didn’t know anyone yet. By the end of the week, we had a full production plan in place, and a team, and it was sort of wild. I suppose I was following my gut, and when I know what I want, I’ll just go ahead and do it. So we had it in the can before Christmas.
Post is always a different process: I like to take my time and make sure the thing we’ve created is allowed to be what it is — if that makes sense. It’s always going to be different to the original script in some way, so it takes time to relinquish control and let the story show you where it lands. That sounds so woo-woo but I really believe that if you grip it too hard, it won’t affect people. It’s different each time I make something.
Do you see yourself making the jump to producing full length features at some point?
I definitely see myself directing features, but I’m not sure if I see myself producing so much. So far I have produced projects that are either my own because I want to get it made, or others’ films that I fiercely believe in, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. I am much more interested in performances, and the story, and the world we are creating.
Tell me about your business Creative Luminaries. What is it all about and what inspired you to start it?
Creative Luminaries is a coaching platform for actors and filmmakers who are sick of waiting for some elusive “big break” and want to see their talent celebrated. I help actors and filmmakers make shorts, pilots, write scripts, features, start production companies, and all the stuff in between.
I love to skirt the “regular” way of doing things because this industry is fickle, and we actually have so much freedom if we can get clever about our careers. It’s the kind of thing I wish I had when I was starting out 10 years ago. I’m inspired by breaking the rules, and doing it for the love, not the fame.
My intention is to grow Creative Luminaries into not only a coaching platform but a full production house. We’ve also begun to offer a BIPOC creators scholarship and we’ll soon have more initiatives to support underrepresented filmmakers, too. I’m so excited for it to grow.
It must have been difficult starting up a business during a pandemic. Were there any unique challenges you faced because of that?
Funnily enough, I actually feel like it was the opposite. The pandemic forced me to slow down and check in, and when I did that, I realized that there was this gap I wanted to fill. Because it was such a scary time, it gave me this project to channel all of my energy into.
I wanted to find a way to give back, and this was my currency: coaching and mentoring others to build the careers they wanted. It felt like it gave me purpose during a time when I could have easily felt really helpless, so I am grateful to have had that opportunity. It also offered me and my clients a sense of community and of building something during a time when I think we were all feeling really isolated.
Do you have a particular philosophy you live by as an actor or filmmaker that you would like to hand down to students of Creative Luminaries?
If you’re watching films and you’re watching TV, and you’re frustrated because you don’t feel like the stories or characters are speaking to your truth, then that’s your calling to make it. We are all storytellers, we all deserve a seat at the table, and if no one is going to offer you one, you’ve gotta make your own damn table.
Plenty to look forward to this year from you! Are there any other upcoming projects we can look out for soon?
Seafoam will be released in festivals later this year/early next, and I have just directed another psychological thriller called Worst Enemy which I am so excited to get released, too. I am currently writing a dark comedy thriller feature which will be my next big project, stay tuned!