Gretl Claggett has always been surrounded by art. She grew up in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, right by the Mississippi River – a town well known, despite its size, as the place writer Mark Twain grew up. The town also homed a summer stock theatre, Ice House Theatre, where Gretl’s mother performed, “My mother was an incredible character actress,” she says. And so, with a lineage of creatives on her mother’s side – from painters to musicians – and her father’s love for cinema, art and artistic expression has always been tethered to Gretl’s consciousness.
Her father was a cinephile and a collector, with a special adoration for the Golden Age of Cinema, so Gretl grew up watching the classics, “Essentially things he had watched growing up,” she says, reminiscing over the home cinema her father built.
“I would get so wrapped up in the film that I would walk up to the screen and I would try to go through it because I wanted to go inside the movie!”
From an early age, Gretl began theatre acting while focusing on writing poetry. This is something, she says, that saved her life. Growing up, she was sexually abused – something she kept silent for a very long time. “I didn’t come out and tell my parents until I was, I think, 16-years-old,” Performing and reciting scenes, reading books and travelling through the many worlds of cinema, served not just escapism for the trauma she was experiencing, but as a way of perseverance. “It was always something that helped me express my emotions that I couldn’t express in my own life.”
“I really do believe in art as being a very powerful transformer in our lives,”
Eventually, Gretl ended up in New York City to pursue her love for acting and has had successful runs both off and on Broadway. She is also has a Masters in Fine Arts (acting, poetry, and nonfiction, to be specific) and has a published poetry collection, Monsoon Solo.
Before she transitioned into narrative filmmaking, she worked as a branded content producer and also spent years working in sales. This diverse range of experiences has fuelled into a melting pot of creativity and possibilities. As we creatives, as Gretl says, we never stop. We don’t have that on-and-off switch other people have with their work and personal life. “We are holistic, we are multi-dimensional human beings. That’s the fun thing about creating – every experience, you can pull from – you can mine from. Whether you write about it directly or not.”
Gretl’s writing was always very visual, and often times her professors would say that she was perhaps trying to do too much in just one poem. While she had been urged to delve into longer form prose and television for a long time, it wasn’t until a series of rejections on a different project, that led her to go Why not? Why can’t I make a short film? and so she began expanding Happy Hour – originally a poem written about her childhood experience of sexual abuse – into a script. Read more about Happy Hour here.
“I sat my mind to it and I did it!”
Since then, she has now also written and directed the long-form short, Stormchaser, which has been accepted into dozens of film festivals and won her AMC’ Best Female Creator of 2020! Another story adapted from poetry, Stormchaser follows Bonnie, an aspiring tornado chaser but current storm-door salesman, on her journey of realisation and retaliation against her exploitative boss, Flip Smyth. It is a captivating story symbolising inner turmoil and also functioning as an allegory for our current socio-political state. Read more about Stormchaser here.
You can listen to #25 | Personal Transformation Through Filmmaking with Gretl Claggett, now on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts, etc.) to hear more about how to adapt your experiences into fiction and how to use storytelling as a way of personal transformation. Gretl also gives her excellent advice to indie filmmakers and talks more about the state and future of the film industry.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the co-host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing Skills at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.