Melissa Dowler is an award-winning film director and co-founder of production company Long Haul Films. Her work focuses on transformation, creativity, relationships and women’s empowerment. Melissa’s work has been screened on television, online and at events and film festivals including The Cleveland International Film Festival, IFF Boston, NorthWestFest, Chagrin Falls Documentary Film Festival and The Woods Hole Film Festival. Melissa also directs commissioned branded content which tells the stories of artists, entrepreneurs and inventors for companies such as Thomson Reuters, Siemens and Techstars. Adele and Everything After, Melissa’s award-winning debut feature documentary, was released by Gravitas Ventures in early 2018.
In 2015, fueled by her desire to encourage young women to consider careers in film, Melissa co-founded an organization called She Sees, which has a mission to inspire the next generation of diverse female filmmakers through education, mentorship and positive collaboration. The program is currently being piloted in Los Angeles schools. When she’s not making films, Melissa spends her time supporting progressive political causes, practicing yoga and exploring new cities.
What do I do best?
I inspire people to believe that more is possible. Even as a kid, I used to give my friends rousing speeches about living life more meaningfully… and now, it’s the backbone of all the work I do and how I live in my personal life.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I’m never satisfied. I take on new challenges and seek out opportunities to transcend the boundaries of my current reality.
Now, I’m a believer that our best qualities can simultaneously be our biggest flaws. And in this case, never being satisfied can have its down sides. I often forget to stop and savor the moment, which I’m working on changing (daily gratitude practice FTW). But I’m convinced that until my dying day, I’ll be asking “what cool thing can I do next?” and I’m ok with that.
What are my aspirations?
I’m a filmmaker so my business aspirations usually have to do with the next movie project I’m working on, which in this case happens to be a coming of age film set in late 1990s London which explores some very timely themes about how young women define themselves in a male-dominated world.
My goal is to first complete the script, then finance it, then direct it with all of my first-choice actors and then premiere it at the Sundance Film Festival.
On the personal front, I just bought a house in Los Angeles and my goal is to turn it into a home full of beauty and magic, while also not going insane from dealing with contractors and spending long hours in Home Depot.
My Biggest Success?
As a young woman, I loved writing, directing and cinematography (well, playing with my Dad’s home video camera), but I didn’t see many role models who looked like me; which meant it took me a long time and lot of detours before I realized I was a filmmaker. That’s one reason why I started an organization called She Sees with a mission to introduce young women to filmmaking, and show them that it’s a viable career path for them.
In collaboration with my awesome co-founder, Cynthia Siadat, and a dedicated team of volunteer mentors, we run a 10-week curriculum at a middle school in South LA, and inspire and empower young women to make their own short film that shows how they see the world. Not only am I proud of what we’re accomplishing at She Sees, but working with the students gives me so much hope for the future. If you want to find out more about us, visit shesees.org.
My Most Challenging Moment?
One of the toughest decisions I ever made was to leave my well-paid, relatively secure and comfortable job in advertising to pursue my dream of becoming a filmmaker and starting my own production company, Long Haul Films.
Filmmaking was my side hustle for a long time, and it took me a lot of soul-searching, life coaching, saving, studying and planning to decide I was ready to quit my job and pursue film full-time. It was one of the riskiest, scariest decisions I ever made. And it was also one of the best. I let go of the security of a guaranteed paycheck and the structure of a big company, and opened up space to awaken my own creativity and live a more meaningful life pursuing my great passion.
This answer is especially hard for me because I’m an inspirational motto addict, and I collect them everywhere. It’s so hard to pick a favorite. There’s Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There’s former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s words of advice “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” There’s Seth Godin’s encouragement to “quit waiting for someone to say you’re officially qualified and pick yourself” which I have lived by for the past decade of my life.
But if I have to choose one, I’m going to take inspiration from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Any time life feels too safe and stagnant, I remind myself of that and then decide to pursue some big, crazy goal that’s been brewing in my brain.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
We are living through challenging times, and the people I look up to are artists who are fearless in their activism and who use their platforms to fight for change. That includes Women’s March co-chair Tamika D. Mallory who is doing so much work for racial equality, feminist poet Rupi Kaura, singer Janelle Monae who fights on behalf of marginalized populations; and director Ava DuVernay who is changing the narrative for women of color both in front of, and behind, the camera.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I lived in London throughout my 20s. It’s where I met my now-husband and creative partner, Tom, and it’s also the place where I discovered how big and beautiful and complex the world is. It’s the city that taught me about art, made me a traveler, and introduced me to so many experiences I might never have encountered anywhere else.
Every time I land in London, it feels like home, and since I lived there long enough to get my citizenship, I imagine a day when Tom and I retire there, to a little apartment on the South Bank of the Thames or in Soho, where we will spend our final days wandering the dreamy streets and drinking pints in drafty old pubs.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I love lomo cameras, which are these quirky little film cameras that have a really unique history and take the most gorgeous photos. I have a few lomos, and my new favorite is my LCA which I was given for my last birthday.
To continue with the analog theme, I love playing records and I have a whole bunch of favorite vintage albums that make me ridiculously happy, including Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass’s Guantanamera (the best dinner party album ever). A lot of the records belonged to my grandparents and parents, so I like imagining them listening to the same songs back in the day.
I’m also a huge fan of my yellow Pure City bicycle, which I haven’t been riding enough and is ready for us to spend some time together enjoying spring in LA.
And lastly, my passport, because fundamentally I am all about experiences over objects.
My Current Passions?
Yoga! I resisted yoga so hard for so long, until I was hired to film a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I was able to participate in classes each day, and it was the first time I realized how transformational yoga could be.
From then, I was hooked and I developed a committed and consistent practice. I love how yoga connects and cultivates the mind, body and spirit, and it leaves me with a feeling of inner and outer balance and alignment that I don’t get anywhere else in my life.