Life’s Soundtrack was able to catch up with Annie J. Howell, Filmmaker and Associate Professor of Screen Writing and Production at Ohio University via e-mail in April, 2014. Annie is an accomplished screen writer, director and filmmaker living in Athens, Ohio. She talks with us briefly about her life as a parent and filmmaker.
Life’s Soundtrack: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? How many siblings to you have? What was your experience like getting your MFA at NYU? How many children do you have and how old are they?
Annie Howell: I’m an Arizona native – a desert rat kid – who ended up living all over the place. I have an older brother who lured me to the Pacific Northwest for college (Whitman), then I moved to Seattle to work in theatre, New York for grad school, Durham (NC) for a first teaching gig, back to New York to work at The New School, and now Athens, Ohio, to teach and make movies. Film school at NYU was terrifying and thrilling; I loved it. I’ve got two crazy rowdy boys, ages 5 and 10.
LS: What was your experience transitioning into parenthood?
AH: Having babies felt like not so much change. People kept saying, “Everything will change completely!” and I felt like nothing really did; life just became richer and more intense, like the volume was turned up on what was already there. And on a practical level it was more or less the same — we would haul a baby to dinner and let him sleep under the table in a car seat. But actually being a family of four with activities, homework, vacations, the emotional ups and downs of daily life – THAT began to feel different from being more or less a free agent.
LS: Has your creative process changed since becoming a parent? When do you get the most work done?
AH: My creative process has not really changed – it’s just as challenging as ever – but now I’m much more focused when I finally have the time to work. That’s usually mornings or whenever I can grab it.
LS: What is it like raising your children in a small rural college town?
AH: There is a lot of freedom in a small college town. My ten year-old walks to play dates and school, has spontaneous interactions wherein suddenly he’s going to a friend’s for dinner – whereas in New York that kind of event would have been on the calendar for weeks in advance.
LS: Two of your films, Small Beautifully Moving Parts (2011), and Tia and Marco (2010) feature leading actors that are pregnant. Is any of the writing based on your own experiences carrying life?
AH: Oh, sure. I was thinking a lot about generating humans. But I didn’t plan to have a pregnancy cycle of films!
LS: I loved Susan Kelechi Watson as Towie in Small Beautifully Moving Parts and she also stars in Tia and Marco. Besides being a fantastic actress, is there a story behind her being cast in two of your films?
AH: Only in that you begin to have a relationship with an actor and it’s great to deepen that work by continuing in different narrative contexts. I had first cast her in a serious dramatic role and then discovered she had a great comic sense, so Lisa Robinson and I cast her as a very funny character. She is now on LOUIS playing his wife, and I hope we get to see more of her in his upcoming season.
LS: Is it difficult to be away from home, whether you are on location shooting, or promoting your films on the road and at festivals like SXSW and the Hampton Film Festival?
AH: It’s difficult but I think great for the kids to see that their mom does something she loves.
LS: Now that your sons are a bit older, do they take any interest in what you do for a living as far as filmmaking, writing or teaching?
AH: They get a lot of cinephelia at home just by default. We watch a lot of films and go to the festival here as well. It’s implicit in our family life.
LS: Do you think you or your husband’s (Dr. Michael Gillespie, Assistant Professor of Film, Ohio University) work has directly or indirectly influenced the artistic nature of your children?
AH: I hope it does! We’ve got some serious songwriting and painting happening in our house, but honestly whatever works for them is fine with me.
LS: What projects are you currently working on?
AH: Lisa Robinson and I are hard at work writing our second feature, which is set in Athens. Ohio, that is. It’s drama about a female professor in her 40s living in a small college town.
LS: Do you have any words of wisdom for fellow artists who may be starting a family, or who are currently raising kiddos?
AH: Keep it up so I have somebody else to look to, too. We need eachother.
Check out more of Annie’s work here:
Tia & Marco (2009) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDbFKZ15w9A