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St. Pete Beach filmmaker Amy Seimetz talks juggling directing, acting, creating ‘The Girlfriend Experience’

Amy Seimetz has battled neomorphs as Maggie Faris in Alien: Covenant, portrayed an aunt to Stranger Things' Eleven and now heads a critically acclaimed series about high-end escorts.

A St. Pete Beach native and Florida State University alum, Seimetz, 35, has become an important voice in the independent film community both as an actor and filmmaker. In 2012 she even wrote, directed and shot indie thriller Sun Don't Shine around Tampa Bay.

She's now a writer and director for Starz' The Girlfriend Experience, the anthologies series based on Steven Soderbergh's acclaimed film. She talked about the series' second season, juggling acting with filmmaking and more during a recent phone interview.

You've had some high-profile roles in some of the biggest shows and movies this year, but I heard have deep connections to Florida as well.

I'm a St. Pete Beach baby. I grew up there, went to high school at Bogie (Boca Ciega High School). I went to school at FSU and NYU, but came back to St. Pete when my dad was sick. I was back for about three years before my dad passed away.

My mom still lives here. She works at Bayfront as a speech pathologist, and I still keep in touch with everyone from here. And during that time taking care of my dad, I even made a movie in St. Pete — Sun Don't Shine, which came out in 2013.

Did you break into the entertainment business happen in Tampa Bay?

Well, I always wanted to be a writer, but I always thought it was just going to be a hobby. I was in the medical magnet program at Bogie; I wanted to be a doctor. I always thought I would have a career and be a writer on the side.

But just like suddenly I decided I wanted to make movies. It was very scary for my parents, who are not artists. It was scary to commit my life to the arts.

Then I went to NYU for the film program, and then FSU and studied literature. I kept making experimental theater and film firstly. I acted in my own films when I would make them. They were very strange, and I didn't have the confidence to tell someone what to do in them.

But once you start making stuff, you find there's a small pool of people who are motivated to make stuff for no money. I grew up acting and helping in others' films and no budget movies, like Barry Jenkins who also went to FSU and Joe Swamberg. It's a whole generation of independent filmmakers, we all sort of grew up together.

It all started in St. Pete Beach, now you're mixing acting and directing with Stranger Things, Alien: Covenant and The Girlfriend Experience. Do you have any difficulty switching hats?

Yeah, look at me now!

But behind the camera or in front of it, they all sort of inform the other. They feed into each other. As an actor, I definitely have to take off my director hat and surrender to somebody else's vision.

But it helps going onto other's sets and seeing how they run things. My whole crew (for The Girlfriend Experience) is built off of sets I had acted on. My costume designer I met on the set of (HBO series) Family Tree. My production designer this season was on the film with Kate Mara and Ellen Page, My Days of Mercy.

Do you prefer acting over filmmaking? Or vice versa?

I like doing all of it. I always approach it as storytelling. Writing and directing is time consuming. You have so much responsibility. When I get tired of too much responsibility, I like to go back and act. I just get to play then.

Is there any scene or character you played that's particularly special to you?

I really loved doing the film Upstream Color. That movie is really special for so many reasons. It's very visionary, and was a personal film for me. It's maybe my favorite film I've acted in. But I love all the films I've made, because I've made them. They're all my children in some way.

The Girlfriend Experience has been a smash success and is now in its second season. What sorts of stories are you exploring in Season 2?

Taking a page from Soderbergh, who asked me to make The Girlfriend Experience, directing is really just someone's creative choices. Everyone has a different way to tell and approach a story.

This season we broke format. Because it's a limited series, we tried to envision how to make each season fresh. Lodge (Kerrigan, co-creator) and I decided it would be interesting to do two storylines. We wrote and directed seven episodes each.

His explores the 2018 midterm election, obviously a politically charged time, and the underbelly of that. It mostly takes place at a super PAC office, and explores the world of lobbyists and all the money and dirtiness that goes on.

My storyline is about a woman, a former escort, who enters a witness protection program. She's trying to rebuild her life. She's under protection, but starts to dabble back in the world of transactional relationships.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

The Girlfriend Experience airs new episodes 9 p.m. Sundays on Starz. Watch past episodes on the Starz app.

Catch Amy Seimetz as Becky Ives in Stranger Things Season 2 on Netflix, and as Maggie Faris in Alien: Covenant, available to rent on Amazon.

MORE

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