Melissa Finell: Freelancer in Film & TV / Indie Filmmaker
Young filmmakers like Melissa often become a jack-of-all-trades in their industry. When directing your own movies, you usually have to take on additional roles depending on who is available and willing to share their talents. Your roles could include anything from director, to caterer, to actor, to driver, to editor – and the list probably goes on. Plus, when you’re working on someone else’s movie or TV show, the possible job titles include production assistant, script supervisor, production secretary, accounting clerk… etc. You basically have to be able to do everything!
With such a multitude of responsibilities, it is no surprise that when it comes time to describe exactly what you do to someone (such as the Cubicle Chic ladies), well, filmmaker is both the simplest and most inclusive answer to give. So we can’t wait for the day when this stylish filmmaker is garnering Oscar nods, because we’ll be able to say that we not only knew her but profiled her “back in the day”.
What defines your personal style?
I think my style is a combination of preppy and urban. I love that classic, collegiate/prep school look – rugby shirts, sweater vests, tie clips, blazers, argyle, elbow patches, boat shoes and I could go on. I never wear more than one or two of these items in a single outfit – that would be overdoing it – I like to mix them up with more everyday, “urban” pieces like jeans, sneakers, a leather jacket, or a graphic tee. Otherwise I’d end up looking like Andy from The Office.
What do you love about the looks that you wore for the “What’s Your Cubicle Chic” shoot?
I think this outfit makes an impression. It’s fun but also sophisticated, and it definitely shows my personality and style. When I first saw the cardigan at Top Man in SoHo, I just had to have it and was pleased they carry XXS since it’s a Men’s sweater and wouldn’t have fit otherwise! It’s elegant and tailored with a bit of a vintage feel. The red trim adds a touch of flare. Like the red trim on my gray sweater, the bright green accents on my gray Nikes definitely add spunk to the outfit. I bought my headphones to match the Swoosh on my sneakers. I can never get those tiny earbuds to stay in my ears, so they’re great for the commute out to the studios in Brooklyn and Queens and can also double as monitoring headphones when recording sound on set.
Do you have any signature or favorite go-to items you couldn’t live without?
I love jeans (both skinny and straight-leg) and wear them almost every day. The sneakers I wore for this post are also pretty much glued to my feet these days. Other go-to items in my wardrobe include a large selection of striped polos, plaid shirts, vests, graphic tees (my Batman and Where The Wild Things Are tees are my current favorites) and the occasional blazer or leather jacket. A lot of the things I own can be mixed and matched, and it’s fun to play with colors, patterns and layers.
Where do you get your style inspiration?
I’ve always been drawn to 60’s-era classic, tailored menswear. Whenever I watch Mad Men I get total fashion envy. Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl is another example. Probably the best overall style icon for me is Ellen DeGeneres. There’s a playfulness to her look that I’d love to capture. She incorporates some traditionally male items like ties and vests but does so in a very fun and endearing way, rather than looking severe or imposing. She wears clothes very well and – most importantly – always seems very much herself in what she wears, whether she’s on her show or the Red Carpet.
Have you ever made some fashion faux-pas that you now regret?
I can definitely look back at some things I used to wear and cringe, either because it was unflattering or just not me. One particular time I regret was in my first year of college when I first started experimenting with wearing ties. I had this outfit that basically involved jeans or black pants, a black shirt and this gray tie I borrowed from a friend (who also had to tie it for me). I thought I was being so cool and edgy, but looking back I think the combination of my gender and the gray tie on the solid black shirt made me look much more like a waitress than a party-goer!
What’s the best part of living, working and integrating your style into your life in NYC?
I grew up in New York and have always idolized the city. I love the theater, comedy and indie film scenes that thrive here. I love people-watching on the subway, the streets and in Central Park. I love the bagels, delis, diners and old buildings. As a filmmaker in New York, I feel surrounded by a community of artists who inspire, encourage and teach me. I never lack people to collaborate with or get creative feedback from. Just walking around the city, I constantly stumble upon locations from movies by great New York filmmakers like Woody Allen or Scorsese. In terms of style, I find it pretty easy to be myself here. NYC is diverse in terms of gender expression. In some other parts of the country, I might get more unpleasant looks from people on the street or under breath comments for wearing certain things in my wardrobe, but here in New York, androgyny is alive and well for both men and women. Plus, in the city there are always people weirder than you and nobody pays attention anyway, so you should just wear what you want!
What’s the most difficult part? 😉
Probably the cost of living. I wish I could devote myself fully to working on my own projects rather than having to work on big productions to make a living, but New York is expensive and like everyone else I need to pay the rent. In another city I’d probably be able to work less and spend more time on my own films, but then I’d also be sacrificing the inspiration I get from New York and the contacts I get from working in the industry here.
Has working in the television and movie industry affected your wardrobe choices?
Not very much, actually. Most of the clothing I like to wear is totally appropriate in a production environment. It’s a very casual industry, and if you’re working on set your clothing needs to be comfortable. A lot of my friends in other professions can’t wear sneakers to work, but in mine that’s the norm. Some of my women colleagues whose style is more feminine than mine have a more dramatic difference between what they wear on set and when they go out (you can’t wear skirts or heels on set!), but for me it’s a pretty good match. Certain things I wear do have to be toned down to be functional on set. For example, the outfit I wore for this post would be fine in the production office or at a meeting, but if I were spending the day on set I’d probably take the sweater off to protect it and just wear the jeans and t-shirt underneath. Also, after working on a particular shoot for long enough, with hours on set ranging from 12 to 16 per day, complete physical exhaustion takes over after a certain point, and I’m lucky if what I’m wearing is clean and not accidentally inside-out.
Any advice for looking your best in the movie/television world for aspiring filmmakers?
I think the most important thing is to be yourself and try to let your unique personality show. It’s a very social industry and there are a lot of people with similar qualifications trying to break in. It’s important to make a strong and lasting impression and try to stick out in people’s minds. In the film/TV industry, you’re selling yourself – your creativity, personality and overall style. Film people are very visual, for obvious reasons, so it makes sense that your physical presentation is part of that overall picture of you. It’s important to know your place, but at the same time to have confidence and not fade into the background.