An Oklahoma City-native, Elizabeth Wood moved to New York City to study writing at the New School. After a few years of making experimental and documentary films, Wood received a screenwriting fellowship from Columbia University, where she received her MFA. Named one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” in 2016, Wood made her narrative directorial debut with White Girl, inspired by her true story. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Elizabeth co-founded Bank Street Films with her husband, Gabriel Nussbaum, in 2007.
Talking to Elizabeth Wood is akin to talking to the coolest girl in school. Her directorial debut film, White Girl, was one of the boldest, most fearless, and most intoxicating films released in 2016. A breakout hit at Sundance, the film was released in theaters this fall to critical acclaim, and garnered comparisons to Larry Clark’s Kids, another film that explored the dangerous and daring world of being young in New York City. Still, Wood’s film still stands firmly on its own.
Inspired by Wood’s early days in New York, White Girl follows Leah, a naïve college girl who moves into a new apartment, falls in love with the boy next door—and ends up risking everything for him. The film features a career-defining role for lead Morgan Saylor, best known for her role as Dana on Homeland.
“I spent forever trying to cast that role, looking for the right girl,” Wood says. “We auditioned so many girls. Then I saw Morgan, and I knew it was her.” Wood spent some time with Saylor before production began, getting to know her and making sure she was comfortable with the material. “She didn’t get along with Brian ‘Sene’ Marc (who played Blue, her love interest in the film) at first, but I thought that added an interesting challenge and chemistry between them.”
Wood notes that Saylor could not be more different than her semi-reckless, daredevil character: She is currently a mathematics major at the University of Chicago, and could often be found solving equations during takes.
Wood also worked on the film with cinematographer Michael Simmonds, who she approached during a seminar at Columbia. “He came in to talk about his films, and I really wanted to work with him. I really admired his work.” Clearly, the feeling was mutual.
Filming provided its own set of challenges. After the first batch of funding fell through, the summer shoot had to be re-scheduled to fall, and Wood had to make significant cuts to the script in order to make the film. She remained confident that she would still be able to tell the story as she intended.
As far as what lies ahead for Wood in 2017, she’s currently writing more scripts—one for a television series—but she cannot reveal much more at this stage. One thing’s for sure, though: When it comes to her work, Wood will continue to lead with her singular voice and march to her own beat.★