Generation Z is the 20-and-under crowd of actresses, musicians, artists, and entertainers on the verge of ruling Hollywood. Meet the freshest faces in the industry and get ready to root for them as they rise to the top.
For today's successful filmmakers, getting started in the industry meant getting their hands on their parents' Super 8 video camera and a whole lot of luck. For 19-year-old Lily Ives, it was a Club Penguin music video (I thought her video would be easy to find. No. There are a ton of Club Penguin music videos). The Brooklyn-based teen was was around 8 years old when she edited and uploaded her tribute to the online multiplayer game, and eleven years later, she has six short films under her belt, three of which are premiering right here on Refinery29.
Between then and now, Ives has embarked on an entirely self-taught adventure, a story as whimsical as the narratives she creates. She wore through equipment the same way other kids wore through pairs of shoes, but had way more than a stubbed toe to show for it.
"I was obsessed with my Photo Booth camera and iMovie when my shitty laptop was the only resource I had," she remembers. "I actually ended up breaking that laptop by making my own version of Alice in Wonderland in 5th grade."
This obsession likely came from her exposure to the film world at a young age. Her dad was a cinematographer and her mother a creative director at a record company. While her first brush with fame included a stint as a baby lion in a music video for The Lion King, she quickly found herself drawn to the behind-the-scenes aspects of her parents' endeavors.
"Having the on-set world be so constantly normalized to me at an absurdly young age 100% played a role in where I am now," she admitted. "Needless to say, repeatedly seeing my dad hold down an entire set and growing up with his eye formed my attraction to filmmaking that to this day is still shaping me. "
However, her approach to filmmaking isn't just thanks to genetics — Ives is constantly being shaped by other artistic influences. She cites Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist and writer, as her all time hero, but is also drawn to the work of artist Doug Aitken, and music, particularly hip-hop, in general. Still, she credits most of her inspiration to the young women she interacts with every day.
She decorates spaces like her own bedroom with "balloons, bubbles, wild projections, and slip dresses I wore in 8th grade" to create her signature aesthetic.
"I always find myself surrounded by young creative women and collaborating with them has driven me to produce work," she explained. "I [found] ways to involve the people I love in my videos because of the comfort I felt in being able to grow and give directions at a very young age to people who would listen and actively encourage my vision."
This means that the subjects of her videos, such as "Double Tap," a short film about Instagram (she calls it a "behind the selfie” experience for girls who are popular on social media) Ives created for the 2016 Spring/Break Art Show in NYC (more on that later), are often her close friends, and this contributes to the intimate, artistic feel that her videos invoke.
"I think my goal has always been to put a twist on settings and feelings most familiar to me by merging reality with dreamworlds," she says. "Transforming the places where I spend most of my time into exaggerated representations of how I feel in those spaces has been a recurring theme for me."
Actually doing that, however, is a different story. Ives describes her process as being "very" in her head, which she prefers to talking or sketching out a storyboard. This also allows for total independence. She doesn't let anyone around her see any footage until it's all edited — which can take months, by the way — which means she nevers asks for help. That can lead to its own issues, but Ives says her proudest moments are always when she puts that last finishing touch on a project.
"As frustrating as editing is, it’s the perfect alignment of bizarre scenes, beautiful people, and crazy edits that make the process so rewarding," she explains. And while the editing may be the bulk of the work, the actual execution of her videos is very DIY. She decorates spaces like her own bedroom with "balloons, bubbles, wild projections, and slip dresses I wore in 8th grade" to create her signature aesthetic.
Being a teenager is definitely a huge part of that aesthetic, since her work does have a young and charmingly reckless feel to it, but Ives says she's more mature thanks to her city upbringing, and thanks to parents who put their full trust in her. It's definitely paid off, since some of her most recent work appeared in the 2016 SPRING/BREAK Art Show, a brand new opportunity for the 19-year-old.
"It was a really exciting first experience creating a piece for an art-world setting," she recalls. "This experience and also constantly attending art installations and gallery shows has helped [me] to feel comfortable talking about my art, something that before wouldn’t come easy to me. Being able to physically share my experiences and indulge in conversations about issues I highlight, that level of communication I grew up struggling with, has been challenging to overcome but I don’t take it for granted."
One day, she hopes to take this talent and turn it into something that supports her financially, but more existentially, she hopes continuing along this path will stretch and grow her in new, creative ways, particularly when it comes to balancing and working through the frustrations that often come with being an artistic but ruthlessly independent soul. But that's, like, five years from now, she says. More immediately, Ives is heading off to Otis College of Art and Design in California. This is her last summer in the city — at least, as a permanent resident — and while there's always something up her sleeve, she's spent the past few months not making videos.
"This summer I was planning on making a video for my friends and I to remember this time in our lives by," she says, "but then got too distracted by the love I have for them and my stress about moving across the country." This is one of the rare times that the intimacy of her art clashes with her personal life.
"Sometimes it’s really overwhelming when the idea of my video in my head is too closely related to my life," she explains. "Sometimes the lines between what’s happening in my life and how I want to show it get blurred."
That's why, for now, she's taking everything one day at a time — a luxury she's definitely earned. Her self-taught nature is about to crash head-on into the world of academia, and the whirlwind four years ahead of her are sure to transform an already impressive body of work. This isn't a "you knew her when" situation. Lily Ives is killing it right now.
Watch the first of her video series "<20" for Refinery29 here.