Video platforms like YouTube have made it easier for users to create and upload their work to a potential global audience. That's helping young filmmakers punch through the Hollywood system and serve their storytelling directly to their audiences, many of whom are hungry for real representation. Teenagers like Ella Fields are taking advantage of that opening.
At only 15, Fields is breaking the mold of what a young queer filmmaker looks like. After gaining an impressive following on YouTube by posting short clips of herself speaking on issues impacting teenagers, she began transitioning into writing and directing short films. At 13, she made Stereo, a cinematic narrative on the binary view of gender roles. In its first year, it garnered 5.5 million views. Her latest, Bubble Gum, is a short depicting the nuances of experiencing one's first crush on another girl. In a single month, it was seen nearly 400,000 times (by late September it was up to nearly a million).
Creating stories is in Fields's blood. Her father is Tommy Fields, a successful musician and composer who writes music for film and TV. Her step-mom is Nikki Boyer, a successful TV personality and cohost of the podcast Straight Talk with Ross Mathews. The family (including Fields's sister, Taya) has long encouraged expression through art.
Fields's passion for film began at 6 years old. "My sister and I would play around with this flip camera our dad bought for us," she remembers. "Out of boredom, I would constantly be creating films."
For the senior Fields -- who often collaborates with his daughter on her film scores--allowing her to find her own original voice is crucial. That can be difficult for a lot of parents. "As parents, we tend to try to raise our kids the way we were raised instead of guiding them and just making them good people," he explains. "[But] each of us has our own passions, our own desires, and ways of looking at the world."
Fields's stepmom, Boyer, adds that raising young independent women also requires an open line of communication when it comes to matters of the heart. "We have always been a very open household," says Boyer. "We have the difficult conversations. And we always get to the heart of things as best as we can."
Fields says Stereo and Bubble Gum have been her biggest passion projects thus far. "When writing Stereo, I was trying to think of ways to prove that stereotypes are meaningless," she explains. "I wanted to show that the only reason they exist is because we came up with them. By reversing the roles, I wanted to showcase the fact that if we were raised differently, it would be completely normal. For Bubble Gum, I wanted to represent the painful and confusing journey that every LGBTQ person goes through, to show the raw feelings of falling in love and heartbreak. I wanted people who are questioning to know their feelings are valid. They're not alone." Fields says she wants audiences to understand "there are others that are feeling exactly the same" and to "inspire them to speak up for themselves. That is so important."
The young queer filmmaker hopes to expand visibility of marginalized communities. "If the media showcases stories of the minority, then it will help people to better understand what it is like to be living as a part of a community which is, in fact, less privileged," Fields says. "Everyone's voices are valid, so we need to be learning from all different types of people when it comes to the media. Plus, in my opinion, there is no better art form to take advantage of when it comes to telling your story."
Her growing success is incredibly affirming for the artist, who says, "The positive response that I have received from my films is insane." Still, her parents acknowledge lingering concerns about social media fame.
"I have to say, the social media world is a little terrifying," admits Boyer. "As much as I love all of the opportunities that are given to her, I think we also tread lightly because it is a very interesting time to grow up and raise children with social media being such a prominent force."
"I am super happy about the support [Ella] receives online," her father adds, "But the flip side of social media, especially for younger people, is that it's kind of like the Wild Wild West in teaching her how to navigate it."
Through it all, the teen credits her family as a major force in nurturing her creativity. "Family is one of the most important things," Fields says. "They helped mold me into the person I am today. They have been nothing but supportive along my journey so far, and I know that they will continue to build me up every step of the way."