Filmmaker 5 with Emily Ruhl: In the Garden of Tulips

In the Garden of Tulips follows Caroline as she takes a fateful car ride with her father through the Iranian countryside. The short film screens during the 19th Annual Oscar-Qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival. Our Classic Couple exclusive interview with Emily Ruhl executive producer of In the Garden of Tulips follows.

Filmmaker 5.1:  Short film, with In the Garden of Tulips as no exception, often captures a moment in time leaving viewers wondering about what happens next. That can be both appealing and frustrating. Your point of view?

Filmmaker Emily Ruhl Credit: Martina Tolot Moroder

I love short films because I feel like they are a slice of life. And they do leave the door open. I think a lot of intent with filmmakers is to make a short with the hopes that it becomes a feature. So a lot of times it’s used as a proof of concept.

In In the Garden of Tulips Ava Lalezarzadeh plays the lead character and she also wrote the story. This is her mother’s story. So, she plays her mom and we kind of know how the story ends. We know it ended happily ever after. But in the film, the journey is to get to what really is the starting point. I do think there’s a feature afterlife with this, and it will probably start where the short film ends. I feel like that’s really exciting.

Filmmaker 5.2:  As a writer and director yourself, what drew you to In the Garden of Tulips as a producer and as a project for your production company Public School Pictures?

First, the team of In the Garden with Tulips. There’s Aaron Lemle, the producer and Julia Elihu, who’s the director and all the stars in it. They put together a really incredible pitch deck. I got to see some beautiful visuals. I got to read the scripts, and I was just blown away by almost the kind of poetic nature of the whole thing. And I knew I wanted to be a part of it. It was just beautiful from every aspect.

I love that the film is in Farsi and so when I saw that in the deck, I was super drawn to that because one of the things I love about film is it being able to expose me and viewers to lives they haven’t lived. I enjoyed being able to experience what that was like for Ava’s mom. And I think that our goal at Public School Pictures is to be able to tap perspectives shown that aren’t our own because I think that’s one of the beauties of filmmaking.

Filmmaker 5.3:  You wear multiple hats as an actress, writer, director, producer, entertainment host and model. How do these experiences show up in your decision-making as a film industry entrepreneur?

I feel like having a background in fashion definitely impacts the way I use cinematography. I’m so used to seeing a still photograph that I think I take a really artistic approach to cinematography. It also affects how I view costuming and the art department as well, which are some of my favorite aspects.

I feel like having written my own stuff, I really appreciate when someone else writes something that’s great because I know how hard it is. So, I think there’s such a mutual respect there. I know how I would want to receive notes on a script, so I try to deliver feedback in the same manner. And I do a similar thing with directing. I think I understand the process and what goes into that so that we can speak the same language. All of my experiences just give me a really great appreciation for getting to work with other people. Having an opinion that’s valued is awesome, and I think it just makes me extraordinarily excited to go to work every day because I absolutely love what I do. And I love that I get to do so many different things.

Filmmaker 5.4:  You recently introduced a non-profit Back to School program to provide students with filmmaking opportunities. What was the inspiration for this program and what is your hope for its impact?

I’m so excited to talk about this. This is the first time I’ve gotten to talk about it. We go to underprivileged high schools and bring in directors that we know or have worked with on a project of theirs. Then the kids get to have an interactive discussion with them about how they made their movie. Because I think filmmaking is hard but when you know that someone else has done it, you think, oh, I can do that too. And that’s important to us.

That period in our lives in high school from 14 to 18 is so instrumental to who we become later in life. And if we can let one kid know that film is a career that they can be successful at we can potentially affect the course of what they decide to do in college and the classes that they take.

I didn’t actually go to formal high school. I did all my high school online, and I never really got to have that experience, so to speak. I look back at my own life and see where I made various turns that led me here, whether it was my art teacher, who was instrumental, or whether it was doing musical theater, or whether it was my parents taking me to rent DVDs every weekend. There were all these little breadcrumbs that led up to me now working and so on. And so, I just want to be a breadcrumb for other kids and help fortify and nurture the next generation of filmmakers.

The idea of Public School Pictures is everybody’s welcome. We want to be able to not only have pictures that appeal to every walk of life but be able to have a nonprofit that also includes every walk of life. Our directors and our contacts can help permeate so many different demographics and towns and states and just provide as much exposure as possible. I think it’s just important that everybody hears from us, and we hear from everybody else.

Filmmaker 5.5:  What is your take on the importance of film festivals like HollyShorts to independent and short film?

I think film festivals are incredibly vital to independent films. They are the runway for so much independent film distribution. They provide such a community for independent filmmakers. I’m so thankful to be able to attend them now back in person, and it’s great to be able to go to these festivals and meet likeminded individuals and get inspired.

Film festivals mean so much to me, and they’re kind of why I’m here right now. I made my first short Blue Moon and I got into festivals. That’s what gave me the support so to speak to think, okay, I can keep doing this. I am super grateful for them, and I think that they’re incredibly important.

Watch the In the Garden of Tulips teaser.

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