Zoë Neary: A Few Of My Favourite Things
The Ruffian director talks us through the folklore, journals and blooming hearts that keep her creativity fresh.
Picking up the Silver New Director of the Year award at this year's shots awards The Americas, Neary's work showcases a youthful voice yet mature themes, diving between the sweet and sour in films for Levi’s, Cupcakes, and Johnnie Walker; and her short, Kids Who Jump Off Bridges.
For Favourite Things, Neary tells us about the evolution of her childhood movies, impassioned journals that inform her writing and a soapstone 'chop' that carries her name with it.
The Dragon Chop And The Folktale
When I was young, my mom gifted me with a soapstone 'chop' carved with my Chinese name on it. It was the first time I learned to put my stamp on anything!
I loved how my name’s characters had an order to them, a rhythm, and a definitive purpose for each stroke, and marked it on every piece of paper I could find. But the stories I would always read when I was that age were Irish folklore, which is my other half, and while my identity felt like it was with one side, my imagination would be completely immersed in the other.
I often come back to these two personal items as a starting point for what I want to say, and how.
I keep a stash of all my favourite fairy tales and children's stories on the shelf next to my desk because they remind me of the magic I’d indulge in as a kid, and I’ve always kept my chop as a kind of personal signature I still carry around with me.
The Painting From Hong Kong
I found this painting at a marketplace near a fishing village in Hong Kong, and was instantly drawn to her.
She feels like she’s calling you to play, but there’s a serious focus about her that feels challenging, as well.
I find myself looking over at her whenever I’m in a rut — and I always get a strange boost of energy from her stare.
The Old Tapes, DVDs, And Hard Drives
I keep a box stashed with all my old tapes from when I started shooting on my parents’ Sony video camcorder as a kid, which eventually got burned onto DVD’s, and eventually, just cut and uploaded from hard drives.
I love keeping these little stockpiles of my old movies around me since they meant the world to me at the time I was making them, and are condensed ways of accessing the thoughts and feelings I was having during that time.
I’ll sometimes put them in and play them to remind myself of how much fun I had experimenting, and not to give up that side in what I make today.
The Heart In Bloom
I love this piece so much!
I stumbled on it on a sunny day in New York, and have kept it on my desk since.
There’s a flower shop up my street, so I get to choose what colours to include every few days to reflect my mood back at myself, and that always ends up texturing the tone of what I write or work on.
The Character Journals
I have different journals for each character I’m writing in my feature film.
They have distinct personalities, moods, goals, and they come alive at different moments, depending on what I’m going through in my own life.
Writing my thoughts down as those characters helps distil what I’m going through but charges them with something autonomous — they’re a part of me, but these journals make their voices distinctly their own.
These notebooks are the real things that get me through my day-to-day.
The Chihiro And Frank
There’s an awesome artist based in Toronto named Nashid Chroma, who painted these.
Chihiro from Spirited Away has one of the fiercest wills, where she has to remember her name and identity despite getting further and further away from the reality she knew, and Frank Ocean has one of the most evocative voices, with highs and lows that feel so devastating in his tonal shifts.
Both are holding onto something I can’t quite pin down.
If there was a fictional character and a singer I’d want to embody my thoughts somehow, it’s these two, and seeing them every day side by side with this splash of colour makes me totally beam.
The Book Adaptations
There’s a handful of books I read growing up that are still so potent in my mind; I keep coming back to them for reference.
There are a few books that got so dog-eared and thumbed through I had to reprint them in binders so I could scribble all over them.
I’ve always wanted to adapt these books, and I keep them nearby to help situate myself.
The more I reread them at new stages of my life; the more added context I’m able to give them, to reinterpret them in ways that shift my perspective back on myself. Like revisiting an old friend year after year and seeing how you’ve changed through their stories.
I will never not love these books.
The Photobooks & The Matchbox
I like surrounding myself with photo-books––everywhere from painters, to digital artists, to photographers, to graphic novels.
When I keep them all together side by side, one will inspire a connection to the other, always in a surprising way.
The matchbox I got from the Fairfax flea market, and is a frame from one of my favourite films - There Will Be Blood.
I like to keep that flame right by where I work, as my little personal spark.