Artist Interviews 2022
Julia Annabel Siedenburg
By Laura Siebold
Julia, you are a filmmaker in Los Angeles, originally from Germany. Can you tell us a little bit about your career? When did you first get here? What made you choose Los Angeles as the place for your film studies?
Yes, of course. I am a true indie filmmaker, you could say. I write, direct and produce most of my work. I do a little bit of everything. Depending on the projects I work on, I sometimes also coordinate but my main passion is directing and writing. I myself so far, have mostly created short films and short documentary pieces. As a production assistant, producer, and coordinator I have worked on feature-length pieces as well as commercials and music videos.
I first came to Los Angeles in 2017 after I graduated from my undergrad. It was not a hard decision as Los Angeles is known for being the Film industry capital. All the famous studios are located here—most of the Unions. The Oscars are done here. It was simply the place to be for me. And a lot of great film schools are located here too. One of the perks of going to school in Los Angeles is that there is a very good chance that your teachers are still actively involved in the industry, which is very helpful for networking and getting real insights into the business.
In LA, I started to help out on a few commercial shoots, then moved on to a few set days on a feature film and landed two 2 internships (Bold Films and DeLaurentiis Company). The internships got me to learn about the development as well as the distribution side of it, and one of them was even located on the Universal lot. I learned a lot that year and made some great friends and connections along the way. I also directed an LGBTQ short film based on true events that were inspired by my friends’ journey of learning about who he is and what she desires. “Sam” was selected for a few film festivals in the US and one in Australia.
Towards the end of it, I decided to return to school and receive a Master’s Degree at Mount Saint Mary’s University. At MSM, U I was able to choose the classes that I wanted and due to their weekend/evening program, I was able to focus a lot on writing and working on projects with friends. And as a result, my thesis project,t Hide and Seek became my most significant and dearest project yet.
After Hide and Seek, I took a break from directing and focused more on producing and coordination. I became part of the post-post-production of a documentary that eventually led to producing and directing two series, one about accessibility and one about disability justice. The 18-part disability justice piece called “My Disability Justice” ended up becoming the most challenging project I had worked on so far, as I was pretty much solely producing, coordinating, and directing it. We are the currency of our last two episodes and afterward, we will be working on a behind-the-scenes piece about the process of it.
I have also been getting more involved in commercials and music videos in the last few months and plan to coordinate and maybe, in the near future, direct some of those.
My overall goal is just to keep on creating, writing, and directing this year.
A local newspaper in Germany recently published an article about you and your career. What was it like when you left Germany for the U.S. to study film? Did your friends and family support you? How has your success as a young filmmaker in L.A. been perceived at home?
Yes, that was exciting but also odd in a way. And the same I could say about leaving home to move to the US. I have always loved the US, and I have always traveled a lot with my parents. So it was not a hard decision to move to the States after I finished high school. I never knew I would actually stay here, though. I was hoping it, but I didn’t know it would work out. Growing up in the countryside of Germany, I always desperately longed for the big city life. The energy, the people, the diversity.
But also growing up as an only child and not having been away from my parents for longer than 3 weeks (summer camp trip), it was a little overwhelming and intimidating when I was in New York City by myself and having to navigate school and just in general life on my own.
It took some time to adjust, and I did miss my friends and family a lot. But we all frequently touched base,e and once I had found my people there, we became our little family in a new city.
But my family and my friends have always been incredibly supportive and I am so thankful for that. Without my parents’ support,t non of this would have been possible. My parents helped me with every move, always came to visit, and follow all my work. Even my grandparents, who do not understand one bit of English, watch my movies which is so sweet.
I got a lot of help from everyone from back home when it came to making and later promoting Hide and Seek. And whenever I can make it home, it always is as if nothing has changed between us which I love. One friend of mine said she didn’t think I would stay in the US when I left; some say they knew that this was the journey I would be taking.
Overall, I have only gotten good feedback and encouragement from back home. I always had big dreams and a lot of creativity, and everyone knows that I am going my way, following my passion, and doing what I genuinely love.
When did you first come up with the idea of becoming a filmmaker, and what were the earliest steps you took towards this career?
From a young age was making up and writing stories. I think it partially had to do that I was an only child, and so I was bored a lot. But I always loved to create worlds and stories in my head. I was able to see them so vividly. I loved writing stories in school and at home. I first thought I would maybe become an author, but then I wouldn’t be able actually to bring the worlds and visions I had to life. I was a huge movie buff, so that idea of wanting to be part of the movie world came pretty quick. I also was always watching the behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes of all my favorite movies and tv shows. Early on, there was this curiosity about the filmmaking process.
When I went to New York City for language school after finishing my high school degree, I also signed up for a 3-month filmmaker workshop at New York Film Academy to see how it would be to be in film school.
That was the first time where I directed and edited a story I had written.
I was hooked and so I applied to multiple films school. Eventually, I decided to move to Florida to join an exhilarated and very hands-on Bachelor of Science program at Ful Sail University. That is where I learned everything and was drilled on how every department in the industry works. I ended up directing our midterm as well as Final project, and once I graduated, I moved with many of my friends to Los Angeles. I would say those are the first steps toward my career. And the rest you already know.
You’ve published a few shorts like “Sam” (2018) and your most recent short film “Hide and Seek” (2021). I also know that you are currently working on documentaries and inclusive Training videos. Are you interested in a variety of subjects, or does your work have a specific focus?
I think one of the significant aspects of this industry is that you can work on different projects and different versions as you please. I love that every project is entirely unique. You never quite know what to expect when you go on set or say yes to working on a project. They can take unexpected turns and twists.
I like to switch it up and jump around a bit. After focusing on working on my own short, it is nice to go then and work on commercials and music videos or documentary pieces for a while. It keeps things fresh. And you always learn something.
From early on, I have only been in film school programs where you had to experience every part of the filmmaking process and work in different departments. Because just when you actually know what every department’s tasks are, you know what it takes to create a video.
So I was always ready to help my friends and colleagues out in any way. And I myself never choose one genre or one element I wanted to work in. When the story is right and speaks to me, I don’t mind if it’s a documentary piece or an experimental music video. I have created documentary pieces about artists, short films about family heartbreak, the afterlife, LGBTQ self-discovery, and the birth of a serial killer. The only factor that stays the same is that they are stories about the process of better humans evolving/ changing to something new. May it be excellent news or a bad one. One of my scripts that I still currently have to finish is a sci-fi piece about a Utopian future.
Overall, now after I have worked in the documentary world I the past year, I can see myself potentially directing music videos for a while next and then maybe eventually moving up into the feature world. I am ready to explore it all.
Can you tell us a bit of what it takes to create, direct, and finish a short film? How long does finding cast, assistants, and locations take? What is the editing experience like? Elaborate.
Oh wow, well, it really varies on the project. But it does not happen overnight. With Sam, for example, we brainstormed a couple of nights and talked about her experience, and then I sat down and wrote the script. Then we went over it together and once we were both happy, I started to plan it visually. Then I called up a few friends that had their equipment, and then we decided on a day to shoot it. We shot it in about 6 hours. And then my friend edited and color corrected it, added music, and I got it back a few weeks later.
I had a deadline on that piece, so it needed to be done in a two-month time frame.
Hide and Seek took way more time. I started to think about the idea in the fall of 2019. Then I started writing it and presented it before Christmas break. Then I worked through about four drafts until I was happy with it. Then I began to do some location scouting and sat down with my Director of Photography to plan it out visually. Then March 2020 I, did two weekends of casting ( right before everything went into full lockdown)
Because of the lock down, we had to do table reads and rehearsals over zoom. Those stretched for a few months. I had to push the shoot three times in total to replan locations as some locations stayed fully closed for the entire year. We ended up shooting in September and then had another pickup day in January of 2021. And then pretty much the majority of 2021 was dedicated to editing, creating the score with the composer, and coloring.
Then fall of 2021, I started to plan the film festivals and started to submit them for the end of the year and for 2022. So it took a long time. But honestly, even without Covid, I am not sure we would have been done so much earlier.
In the end, it all takes a lot of time and work to go through all the steps that are needed to make a film. And sometimes you need some time and let it sit for a bit to know if you like the version you have now.
We wanted to make sure that we had tried everything editing-wise. Looked at all possibilities. We tried it all, and the version that we have now is what we liked the most.
Can you describe the experience of being nominated for film festivals in the U.S.? Have you won any awards yet? Is there a specific festival (both nationally and internationally) you would like to get into?
It is a crazy experience. It mostly comes very unexpectedly for me. I mean, I was the one sending it to the film festival, but then I am still surprised when I get the message that my movie was selected.
Before my movie Sam, I did not expect it to get into any. Even though I was very proud of it. But I just sent it in for the experience.
This year, Hide and Seek has been going through the festival circuit, and I am thrilled to say that we have got selected in multiple festivals across the country and internationally. So far, we have won one of the festivals out of 500 contesters. We are so beyond proud of the film and are very happy with the recognition it is receiving. Another we became semi-finalists.
I just learned about a few selections in the last two weeks, so fingers crossed that more wins are on the horizon.
I have more anticipation and hope for ‘Hide and Seek”. And I am definitely more emotionally invested. So whenever we do not get selected, it hits me. But it has been such an exhilarating experience, and I am excited to be able to attend local festivals soon and present the movie myself.
I do not really have a festival that I want to get into at the moment. I hope to get into many local ones so that my friends and I can attend and celebrate it in person. That is all;
Do you feel that the film industry in the U.S. is different from the film industry in Europe, specifically Germany?
Yes, I think there is a big difference between the two. That is partially also why I wanted to work here and not back home.
In Germany, most productions have been funded by the state and the available film funds. They are primarily shot in the same two cities which are Berlin and Munich. And because the budget is mostly not as big, there is a certain limitation to what is possible.
With the streaming services supporting international production and buying international movies and series, it is thankfully changing.
We have a lot of very talented and visionary filmmakers in Germany but they are bound to what is possible to produce or even more what the German population wants to see, which has sadly, for the last decades, been cheap crime shows and romcoms. Those are the german productions that have been the most successful.
I am pleased to see more experimental, action, and mystical pieces such as the show Dark.
The US simply has more variety. Locations and funding does not limit you (if you have a company or studio to back you up). And primarily due to production companies such as A24, unique independent pieces have found a place here. Anything goes movie and story-wise. No genres are dominating the market. And US releases mainly also are distributed internationally. So you have a way broader audience that watches your work.
You and Johnny Otto came up with the idea to publish an art magazine, and Art Squat Magazine was born. Is art an equal passion for you besides film? What fascinates you about the artists and art world in LA?
My passion for art comes from my parents dragging me to all those museums since I was a little girl. It was very dull and annoying growing up, but something stuck with me. My parents also loved to have art in their house. I would look with them through auction catalogs and such. We also always had a lot of art coffee table books. We have this enormous Andy Warhol book that I once took to school during art class to showcase. It was crazy heavy but I loved to show it.
Since I am a very visual and creative person, the love for one medium turns into the love for another. And actually, so many movies were inspired by art pieces and styles. I sometimes try to see if I can recreate a piece I am fascinated by. It is encouraging to look at paintings, photographs, and sculptures. And nowadays I actually also have a few friends that are very talented artists. I am not good at painting or sketching myself, sadly. But I really wish I could.
When I studied in Florida we had to do a documentary piece, and I ended up making one about a local artist. And I loved to learn about her process and her inspiration. I still have the piece she painted for us during our shoot here at my place.
And especially having lived in New York City and Los Angeles, you are surrounded by so many museums and art. And I always noticed the street art pieces and took pictures of them. From the start of Banksy, I had a significant fascination for him and his work, so I always looked around trying to find one of his pieces on the streets.
LA specifically has such a rich art culture. So many galleries and art fairs are consistently popping up all around town. There are street art murals everywhere. It became part of the landscape. From the electro boxes to storefronts, trash bins, and walkways. You are constantly surrounded by art. And the people here honestly care about it. They actively support it and give artists a chance to express themselves and share their art. Going to all these gallery shows and art fairs for Art Squat Magazine has been such a joy. Also, it is a great excuse to have a girls’ night out with you, dear Laura :)
What is the project you’ve worked on to this day you are the proudest of, and why?
I think Hide and Seek is truly still my proudest work. It is a project that I worked so hard and so long to finish. It is also the most challenging subject matter so far. Partially the fact that I had to do all the planning, shooting, and editing during Covid play a part in it. We had to overcome so many obstacles and so many uncertain moments that we had to master. Many people put their projects on hold, but I pushed through till the end. I was told I wouldn’t be able to make it. But I did. And we made it happen. And I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. It was my first project and I had put my all into it.
The film industry is known for long and exhausting days. What inspires you daily to keep going and pursue your career in film? What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
That is a good question. I think it is surrounding yourself with great people where it is fun to work with them for that long. If you have the right people around you, the days don’t feel as long. I mostly get the chance to work with friends that I have known since Full Sail time, so it almost feels like we are back in school working on a project.
And just overall, the passion that I have for creating films and videos. If it’s a fantastic project and you are excited to be a part of the process, you don’t mind staying a little longer.
Don’t get me wrong, of yours, the best project can sometimes lose its power after +16 plus hours. But we are all an essential part of the creative process. Everyone is needed to make it work. Everyone is going through it together. And it will (mostly) be worth it in the end when you see the outcome.
My goal is to continue direct and write. Hopefully eventually, on the feature film level. I would love to direct a bigger piece. Maybe if I get lucky, even the Utopian story that I have been working on.
But overall, just keep moving up in the industry and work on cool stuff. Success would not be such a bad thing.
I do not aspire to become famous; that is not my goal. But to be respected and successful in what I do. Creating stories that people enjoy and that matter.
Being part of the movie magic. That is all I want.