“Can you hear me well?” asks Amy Seimetz, the multi-hyphenate talent who co-wrote and co-directed season two of The Girlfriend Experience, and who recently appeared in the supporting role of Becky Ives on season two of Stranger Things.
I can, in fact, hear Seimetz well as I reach her in Cambodia from California. “I don’t live anywhere,“ she explains. “I live out of a suitcase. I don’t have a house. I don’t own a car.” Free of the trappings of contemporary life, Seimetz travels during her “writing period,” allowing her to focus on the next project.
Although her roots are in independent film, she’s found success in more mainstream fare over the past few years. (Case in point: her turn in the rebooted Alien franchise that dropped earlier this year. Seimetz’s resumé just keeps on growing.) And the more she works, the more intriguing the work becomes. Talking to her, one gets a sense that she is someone who is simultaneously curious and disciplined. She has fun with her work, but it is work.
How are you managing the workload of all these projects right now?
I didn’t come from anyone in the arts. I treat writing and the film industry as a normal job. I’m pretty diligent about that. The luxury of that is that I get to travel. You can write anywhere. I don’t own anything. I always think stuff begets stuff. So I just don’t have stuff to maintain, which makes my cost of living very low. I’m obviously very lucky to be able to do all this the way I do it.
And yet you didn’t grow up in the arts. Your success seems more a matter of being willed than being lucky.
That’s something I like to remind myself: It’s work. You have to take it seriously. People take advantage of the lifestyle of being an artist. They get stuck because they think they have to be in New York or Los Angeles; they have to suffer all the time. I’m just taking advantage of the fact that I don’t have an office job. I can write anywhere and go anywhere, and I have a laptop. I don’t have to be anywhere unless I’m shooting.
You shot a handful of episodes of season two of The Girlfriend Experience. What did you learn from the first season?
As one of the show runners, this opportunity that Steven Soderbergh has given us was basically, “Do whatever you want.” I kept waiting on the first season for somebody to step in and be like, “No, you’re not allowed to do that. Do it this way.” That never happened. So the second season I went in even more fearless. It’s the same way I see my life: I can do this really unique thing, so I will. If I have the opportunity, why not seize it? My roots are still in independent film and wanting to do something new all the time.
Did you feel like Stranger Things was doing something new?
I read the script and it’s really special. There’s not really anything like it on television. It was interesting to come back on the second season, after it had been wildly successful, which was a giant surprise to me. The crew and the cast are a giant family. You can really feel that everyone cares for each other on that show.
Something I’ve always appreciated about your body of work is that it very much feels like a body of work. You take a kind of egalitarian approach—unafraid to work projects of different sizes and genres.
I think in general I’m just a cinephile. I do love genre. I grew up in the heyday of horror films. My dad was the bachelor who let me rummage through the horror section in the video store. I watched everything I wasn’t supposed to watch. It’s really hard to make a good, precise genre movie. When it’s done right I find it more gratifying than a straight drama. A lot of my work as a director and writer is taking those genre elements and bending them and molding them into something else. Not straight horror, or straight sci-fi. I’m not political in a filmmaking sense—I just want to make interesting work. I don’t have any ego as an actor to pursue projects in a career sense. It’s always been about making something, or being a part of something interesting.
Has it been difficult to avoid getting wrapped up in what a career should look like?
The way that I live is so weird. I won’t be stateside for a while. That’s just a part of my personality. I find ideas more interesting than talking about my career. But again, I say that now…it’s such a rollercoaster and at this moment I’m doing really well. Maybe I’ll put my foot in my mouth if something doesn’t work out and I’ll be like, “Oh, wait, I should’ve thought about my career!” So far it’s worked out to do things from an instinctual standpoint as opposed to thinking about what’s going to get me an Academy Award.
What’s something you know now that you wish you knew starting out as a filmmaker?
That it’s not rocket science. First, recognize your strengths, and wherever your weaknesses are, hire the people that fill those weaknesses. Hire the people that are smarter than you in those areas, and be okay knowing that they are smarter than you. Trust them. As a director, you’re never going to be 100 percent good at every single department. Second, every set is the first day of school. Third, don’t be afraid of failure, because that fear is what gets you into pretty lame corners. You can make something stale if you’re afraid of failing. When you’re on set, be open to mining material to find the best, most interesting thing out of your script. You can write forever, but on set you only have a limited time. Take advantage of what’s in front of you.