A chat with Director / Writer / Producer Layne Marie Williams

(CREDIT: Abbi Chase)

After meeting Director / Writer / Producer Layne Marie Williams at a Stage 18 event, Dallas McGee, owner and Executive Producer of production company turned creative agency Pink Hippo, decided he had to have the young auteur on his directing roster.

It was not an outlandish wish, as Williams, it turns out, was also a fan of the company. She has now joined.

“We met Layne Marie a few years back and have always appreciated her unique vision and felt her industry knowledge and skillset would make a perfect fit with our clients. We are so happy to have her on our squad and can’t wait to keep growing with her on our team,” McGee told Reel 360.

The rapid-fire signing is no surprise if you know the driven and refreshingly outspoken filmmaker. Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, it took Williams not even two weeks to land her first directing gigs. Not surprising, given the talents of this acclaimed Chicago filmmaker.

Prior to arriving in LA, Williams has logged over a dozen credits, from writing and directing award-winning shorts and web series to directing and producing internationally acclaimed features.

Phew. And she’s just getting started.

​Barely 30 and a fierce advocate of women in film and TV, Layne Marie has already founded the non-profit film organization Women of The Now and is co-founder of The Women’s Film Festival. She recently started her own production company as well, Legacy Marie Pictures.

No matter what her endeavor, whether it’s making films on her own, or supporting other filmmakers, Williams cultivates the world of film with brave storytelling choices, enthralling characters and images you’ll never forget.

Reel 360 had a chance to catch up with Williams, who took some time from preproduction on her new feature film, Wizdom. 

Congrats on joining the Pink Hippo roster, Layne Marie! What was it about this company that made you want to join?  

Thanks very much! I lived in Chicago for 5 years and was a fan of Pink Hippo all while I was there. Now that I’m in LA it feels super full circle to work with them here, back in Chicago, and beyond. I’m impressed with their determination and persistence. Those are both qualities I know I gotta have in the people I surround myself with.

What do you as a storyteller bring to Pink Hippo? How will your voice enhance their brand?

I’ve devoted my career to not just telling stories to universal audiences whom I hoped to engage with, but all along the way I’ve started initiatives I also hoped would help change the landscape of the filmmaking community specifically for POC, women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks.

Do I think the work has always been successful? Certainly not. But that’s what comes with the territory of taking swings and accepting you’ll have to fall and get back up again and keep actively working to grow/do better. It’s all a wholeeee lot like dragging a really massive rock up a hill – grassroots work of any kind absolutely is. 

I say this a lot, but you do have to really love it, filmmaking. Filmmaking especially with everything that’s happening with IATSE (which I’m in full support of and am so proud of everyone speaking up) making movies is a wonderful career path, but we aren’t just “so lucky” to have this work. It’s a job. A real job.

It pays our bills, it gets food on people’s tables. I hope my voice will bring that grassroots sensibility while also pushing to always prioritize our crews well being. 

Who is Layne Marie Williams really? We see the film side. We see the Instagram side. But who are you really? 

Haha, I hate this question. I’m just like anyone else. Instagram, social media is a highlight reel. I’m a filmmaker and was a print model, late teens, on. I super know how to make that highlight reel spicy for you all hahah. I’m incredibly candid and I prefer to be transparent work-wise or if it’s on a personal level as well. Truth is important to me.

Even if I have to relay really difficult information (which I often have to) I do strive to work hard to say it with kindness, a calm nature, and I usually speak in my lower register when I do business.

Someone told me recently I should do a podcast episode on The Walkie Check on that subject, speaking in your lower register as a woman. I don’t even do it intentionally anymore, it just happens and honestly, it’s helped me along the way. Even if just mentally haha. 

When was the moment you realized you had to become a director?

Oh gosh, there have been many, many and I hope there will continue to be many moments where I continue to decide to keep choosing to be a director and it keeps choosing me.

But when I had my first screening with an audience and did a Q&A after that was a defining moment. It’s there you learn so much about the work and yourself as an artist while an audience takes it all in. 

What are you doing to help other female filmmakers and writers?

Always and forever hiring and collaborating with the talent that exists and needs/deserves more opportunity. I’m very lucky to have such talented friends. I’ve done a fair amount of teaching filmmaking, mentoring, striving to be the person I never had and honestly – still don’t.

A lot of male directors have been great mentors to me along the way and I do hope someday there are more veteran women directors in my corner.  Regardless, gotta keep chippin’ away. 

We’ve all heard about Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death. As more comes out, it really feels like negligence. There has been talk because of sexism in the film industry she felt pressured to stay on set as a female cinematographer even when her crew left. How does that make you feel as a director? How does that make you feel as a woman?

I’ve had to get to a point of creating some boundaries with myself pertaining to this conversation because it all makes me furious. It’s absolute negligence, the same old song and dance over and over and over again.

It sucks this is once again what it took to wake people up. I know exactly why she stayed. I understand why she stayed. I feel incredibly sad about what happened. It never should have. We are playing pretend and that should always be the case. The entire production should get tanked.

We don’t need that movie. Especially because she can’t come back and finish the film she did fight to stay on. I really can’t say much more than that because it’s not easy to digest as a female director. All I can really say is please, please PROTECT your crews.

RIP Halyna, I’m so sorry they failed you. I know she’s making many beautiful movies in DP heaven. 

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What is your favorite part about the filmmaking process?

I love it when we get to that point where we are all talking really fast and excitedly about what we are actually going to be shooting. When there’s a space for us all to shine in our own ways to create something bigger than us. I really love and admire everyone I get the chance to work with.

Seeing the beauty in them and what they bring to the table…figuring out how I can elevate that. It just is what I’m meant to do. 

What do you think are your strengths or weaknesses as a filmmaker? 

Strengths, I’m really solid at pitching and executing the idea. Ideas are not just ideas for me. I’m definitely a doer. I do what I say I’m gonna do. Weaknesses, I’m definitely secretly incredibly hard on myself and I’ve had to work hard to be kind to myself the way I deserve..I’m also continuing to remind myself I’m in this for the long haul, no need to rush. 

What is your creative process?

I actually live inside google drive. Like I have a whole house in there at this point lol. Oh and Spotify is definitely an element I utilize too. I have playlists for literally everything. Music is a huge, huge part of my creativity. I also do a lot of sketching, writing, reading, watching, drawing with pastels etc. 

Who are some of the filmmakers you admire? 

I’m a big fangirl of Alex Garland. I also love Guillermo del Toro. Nia DaCosta, Chris Nolan, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Ava Duvernay, Robert Eggers, John Carpenter, David Lynch. The list goes on and on. 

Layne Marie, can you tell us anything about the new feature you’re in pre-production on?

I’m in pre-pro for a couple of things, but very excited to be directing Wizdom written by Ashton Swinford & Zack Sievers. We have a phenomenal team of real Chicago all-stars attached…wish I could say more…..


Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at colin@reel360.com or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1