The Director: Gren Wells

26Gren_Wells_Refinery-1235_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.
Gren Wells just made her directorial debut with the indie flick The Road Within. And, the most instantly compelling thing she told us about when we sat down together was something her mentor, Bruce Gilbert, described as the "fuck pass." As the pastel-haired Wells tells us, "if the script can live without cursing, then it should be PG-13, and you should take the curse words out. But, if [curse words are] required to actually tell the story and be true to the characters and all that, then it should be R." And, with that, consider our interview suitable for mature audiences only.
However, the 43-year-old writer-director is about a lot more than just colorful language and colorful hair. For her, work has always been about the story. About letting the world know exactly what her viewpoint is. It is this kind of drive that inspired her to leave a job on Wall Street to head to Hollywood and then, to try her hand at directing after years of being a successful TV writer for networks such as HBO, Showtime, and NBC. And, with Well Go USA recently picking up the distribution rights for The Road Within — a coming-of-age story featuring an incredible cast of characters facing personal emotional hardships, including Zoe Kravitz and Dev Patel — it's clear that we’ll be hearing many more of Wells’ stories in the coming days. But, naturally, only the uncensored ones.*

What has the road leading up to this point in your career looked like? What are the highlights?
“I worked on Wall Street because I didn’t want to do the starving artist route. Then, after like five years I wanted to kill myself, because I just had no creative outlet in my life. So, I gave that up and started acting in some indie films in New York. I always knew I wanted to write and direct, I just wasn’t sure how to get into it. One of the movies that I did ended up winning Best Short at Sundance. And, I had a movie at Slamdance that same year, so I was like, 'Oh, great, I’m ready for L.A.!' Then I get out here and realize no one gives a fuck about indie film. So, I started doing stand up comedy. I had a meeting with CBS, and the first thing they say to me is, 'You’re here because we love you, but we don’t know what to do with you, because you say c*** 47 times in your show.' So, I literally went home and wrote my first script, which was called Earthbound.

"It took a long time to get made, but it turned into the film starring Kate Hudson [called A Little Bit Of Heaven]. I was going to direct that one, but then, it was one of those things where, my agent said, 'You have two options. Door #1 is, you sell the script, get your foot in the door, and start to have a writing career. Or, you can keep it and it may or may never get made.' So, obviously, I chose Door #1, which was fantastic. I tried to get things together over the years directing-wise, but they didn’t come together, either — cast-wise, script-wise, money-wise — until The Road Within.”
27Gren_Wells_Bildschirmfoto 2014-08-17 um 18.36.00_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.

So, then why directing? What's the attraction?
“Being in control. Not gonna lie. Here’s the thing: Being a feature writer, no one cares about what your thoughts are. They just want you to write the script and walk out the door and let it hit you on the way out. Obviously there are a few writers that command more attention and more of their viewpoint, but it’s not much. It’s a director’s medium. Obviously, TV writing is the writer’s medium, which is why I do TV, as well. It was also being able to see my viewpoint from beginning to end, so that it didn’t get changed. That’s what every writer bitches about. But, that’s the nature of the beast.”

Did/do you have any fears about working in the entertainment industry?
“I don’t like being driven by fear in any way. So many people asked me, leading up to my directorial debut, 'Are you scared?' No, I’m excited. I feel fear paralyzes people so much. Not to say I don’t get nervous. Obviously, that first day of calling 'action' was a huge moment. But, I changed it to excitement, so that I didn’t get stuck in any kind of fear moment.”


How much do you see yourself in the characters you create? Do you pull inspiration from your own life?
“I definitely steal from my friends. No one is safe around me. They all know that. You know, truth is stranger than fiction. When someone says something among my friends, I’m in the corner writing it down. But, also, in terms of my sense of humor, I do feel like I look at things in an 'off' way. It’s not so much I put myself into it — I put my sense of humor into it, and how I look at the world."

What's been the hardest part about directing for the first time? What kind of lessons have you learned?
“I love the movie that we made. Especially for the amount of money we made it for — which I’m not allowed to say, but, it wasn’t a lot and money provides time. And, that’s one of the things that everybody wants: more time to do more with it. It was a valuable lesson to learn about budgets and money. You need that time to do it right."

Do you have any mentors that you’ve worked with in the industry?
“Bruce Gilbert. He is everything. He produced On Golden Pond, The China Syndrome, Coming Home, Nine to Five. The man is just a genius, and I worship him. He truly taught me how to write a script. And, the only thing he asked in return is that I teach someone else, so that these lessons wouldn’t be lost. "

028Gren_Wells_Refinery-1183_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Stay true to your voice.”

And, who told you that?
“Bruce. And, also, turn a scene. The scene should not be in a script if it doesn’t turn in some way — for the characters, for the story — and that was something invaluable. I look through every script. And, also, do a fuck pass."

People kind of view 40 as being a milestone age. And, you essentially took on a huge career challenge during this time. What can you say to women who want to do the same?
“Age is a number. It doesn’t matter. Honestly, I feel better now than I did when I was younger, just because I’m happier, I’m more in my own skin. I think the 20s are highly overrated. I just read this amazing book written by Annabelle Gurwitch called I See You Made an Effort, and it’s all about approaching 50 years old, and the indignities that she goes through and stuff. And, one of the quotes is, 'Everyone’s always saying, 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40.' And, she goes, 'You know what? 50 is fucking 50.' It was really interesting, because she was just, 'This is who we are and you've accumulated life lessons that 20-year-olds don’t have.”

Any advice you'd give to your younger self, then?
“Start drinking good wine. Don’t drink crap. The hangovers are not worth it.”

*Since this story published last month, Gren has attended the Rome Film Festival where she took home the award for Best Film in the Alice Nella Citta section. And, what's more remarkable is that the jury members were all between the ages of 15 and 21. Looks like some of our favorite new names in Hollywood are not exactly "on the verge" anymore. Congrats, Gren!
25Gren_Wells_Bildschirmfoto 2014-08-17 um 18.37.16_R_SIZED (1)Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.

Look 1: Adeam dress; Steve Madden shoes; Alexis Bittar cuff.
Look 2: A.L.C. dress; BCBG belt; Kate Spade New York shoes.

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