The Real Deal Neal: An Interview with Natalie Neal

It has been nothing short of a long day for Natalie Neal. She has just photographed the ball kicking, feminist ballad singing Kate Nash for The Pulp Zine. (Later, Montgomery Jones, Managing Editor of The Pulp Zine, will leave a comment on the TPZ Facebook group asking for someone to do a shoot just as professionally as Natalie, saying "She really is a pro.")
   Her life doesn't stop after capturing a bold, suburban shoot of Nash, highlighting the singer's signature style with Natalie's own. Neal goes on to promote her new film, Seashells, a coming-of-age film that anyone can relate to.
   Long days aren't new days for her. They're normal, beautiful ones. Days that she fills with joy and brings joy to all those around her. We watch as she transforms something as normal as suburban LA into something much more, awestruck at her talent. This isn't her first time at the rodeo, and Natalie Neal is for real. Her films have sparked high recognition for their originality and pleasing aesthetics (we adore the Lisa Frank stickers, in particular!). With a career ahead of her that will stretch for miles, we know the world is anticipating to see what Neal will produce next. Whether it be a new film, a new photograph, or even just a new Instagram, we know it can't help but be great. With these things in mind, Written Citizen has given Natalie her own nickname after we interviewed her: Natalie "The Real Deal" Neal.

Take a look:

Photo by Chris Duce

WRITTEN CITIZEN: Hey Natalie! How are you feeling?

I feel great! I am working on a music video for Ruby the RabbitFoot that is really fun, and I’m excited for the holidays!

WC: We, as devoted fans, know that you love being behind a camera and that you also love directing [film]. Can you tell us how you got into film?

While I was studying photography in college, I met a lot of film students. I first got involved in the world of filmmaking through working as an Art Director and Production Designer in short films, music videos, and commercials. As my enthusiasm grew, I began to write my own scripts and work as 1st Assistant Camera on regional commercials. I was focusing on fashion photography in college, and started directing fashion films. Right after I graduated college I wrote and directed my first short film, Rose and Sophia.
WC: There’s been a lot of media attention surrounding your newest film, Seashells. Give us the deets on that!

Thanks! Yeah, we have a cool t-shirt of seashells covering each 'boob' on the shirt (put that in quotations because the shirt is for men too!) that Petra Cortright and I collaborated on, and people have been excited about that. Lots of cool publications, like Nero, Ladygunn, and Doolittle are featuring the film in their December issues too.

WC: How has Seashells been different from anything else you’ve ever done?

When I wrote and directed my fashion films and my first narrative short I was making them impulsively and from my own point of view without having studied film theory or structure very thoroughly. I wrote Seashells two years ago, and to me it represents the perspective of my sophomore voice in filmmaking. It is also the first thing I created featuring a protagonist that was younger than sixteen years-old. Our star Michelle Moores was nine when we were in shooting.

WC: If you could tell the viewers of Seashells one thing while they are watching the movie, what would that be?

I would tell them to try to relate to the film from whatever perspective they hold; men, women — we can all relate to the movie in some way.

WC: When does Seashells get released?

Seashells had its world premier at the Oaxaca International Film Festival this October. There will be an online premier for the film this fall or winter, but the specific date and place is not yet available to the public! There will also be future festival screenings yet to be announced.

WC: You also excel at photography. Which do you prefer — snapping photos or creating a film?

NN: I love both. For me, photography and directing are the same in terms of controlling the story and vision of what you’re making, and that’s all I care about. The rest is just technical knowledge that separates them on my end. And of course every medium has its limitations and strengths.
   What makes directing special for me is the opportunity to tell a complex story that can have a well defined arc and resolution. That is what appeals to me as I get older and have more complex ideas to explore.

WC: What has been your favorite project to date?

Rose and Sophia is still my favorite, because it marks a point in my development where I realized I was willing to do whatever it took to make a project happen. When you’re in school, you are taught that there is a 'right way' to do everything, and I had just graduated and my head was filled with limitations. On Rose and Sophia, I wrote the script, did the production design and costumes, shot it myself, lit it myself, and directed it. It took courage for me to crowd-fund it on Kickstarter, because I think it is a huge deal to ask other people who are your peers, friends and family to give you money. I made the movie for only $1000, cast non-actors, and most of everything that went in to making the film was something loads of people told me I shouldn’t do. The whole process empowered me to think outside the box.

WC: You are a practically a 'Renaissance Woman'. You’re a talented filmmaker, photographer, and you have an incredible style. How would you describe your style? What are some daily essentials for you?

Thank you! I describe my style as menswear-inspired fashion a unicorn would wear. I love collared button-ups, structured silhouettes, sparkles, and pastel colors. I always tell people my favorite color is 'rainbow' (laughs).
   My daily essentials are my black penny-loafers, pastel tinsel-woven socks, some type of shirt with a collar on it, and a gem-stone ear cuff.

WC: Do you have any role models? Do you base your work off of anyone?

NN: I never base my work off of one person. I take my inspiration from many mediums, genres, and artists. If I have to name one name as being important in my photographic development, the name would be Tim Walker. He helped me realize that there actually aren’t any boundaries for image. The first time I saw his images I cried. He made me realize I had been operating within a box, and after I studied his works my mind was free. On a different level, all my role models are women; my mom, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler. I am obsessed with all of them!

WC: How is it being a woman in the film industry? Any complaints, or is there the same amount of respect for you as a man would have?

There is definitely not the same respect or treatment for men and women in the film industry as a whole, although maybe specific individuals may respect them equally. I have worked very hard for what I have accomplished, and I certainly receive credit for my accomplishments, but there is always a post-script concerning me being a 'woman director'. I have had people say to me straight up that they are trying to find their token woman. I have very talented and accomplished friends who are female directors that lose bids to men on jobs where the woman was far more qualified. I could go on about this topic forever, but in a nutshell, I see it as other people's problem and not mine, if they view me as inferior in some way, when I haven't earned that evaluation. If I need to fill a 'niche', even though it is nonsense in my own opinion, I will do it. The thing I care about most is being an usher for progress, or pushing the boundaries so talented and hardworking women in the future can be treated as equals to their male counterparts. If directors who are women in 2014 are getting jobs or signed to rosters just so studios and companies don’t look like assholes, that is just a growing phase that is necessary until society reaches full equality... whenever that will be. I know that equality is a process and goes through small progressive steps even though many of us would like everyone to just get a clue and embrace equality. I try to be patient and focus on the good.

WC: Is there a soundtrack for Seashells? If yes, who’s on it? If not, who would you have on it?

I have songs in the soundtrack from a few music projects that I love featuring female vocalists, and my friend Andrew Aguilera, the brain behind Mooninite, wrote the score for the film.

WC: Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I will be in development or principal photography for my second feature film or a television series! I’m not sure what it will be, but it will feature a complex protagonist that is a woman, and it will represent everything I care about!

Visit Natalie's website
Keep up with her on her Instagram
Help us anticipate the release of Seashells by watching the trailer