Get Inspired/ How She Does It
Kristin Booker • July 7, 2014

How She Does It: Lilly Hartley

I have two great loves in this world: great documentary films and extremely smart, stylish women. When I get to combine these two loves in one person, you can officially call me smitten. This is why I want you to meet Lilly Hartley, the founder of Candescent Films, a film production company that produces films that make a difference, that shine a light on incredible social issues.

Lilly’s work is unbelievable (please do go watch The Queen of Versailles if you haven’t already,) and as a woman in Tinseltown she’s a force with which to be reckoned. From having her beauty philosophy partially shaped by a stuntwoman godmother who was known to set herself on fire to how the right dress can help motivate you to leave the house, let’s hear from a Hollywood heavyweight. This is how Lilly does it:

On deciding to found her film studio, Candescent Films…
I decided to found Candescent in 2010. I’d always wanted to have my own company, I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. Growing up, I was writing newspapers, directing plays, making cookies and selling them, running a babysitting camp: I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I’d been an actress, I’d been a production executive, and I was kind of disillusioned by the indie movie world, where scripts get financed but they’re not that great; they didn’t really add anything to the world.

So, I was turning 30 and I really wanted to make an impact. I wanted to try to combine what I’d learned in film with trying to do something positive and helpful to other people. That’s really what started it.  I set about raising money and thought a lot about the projects, mapped out the vision, and it sort of took off from there. It came together really quickly —within about two months —so the timing was perfect.

It took me about a year or two to get it to where it is now. I’m a very eager person, so I had to learn to be patient with myself and not rush into projects that might have been the wrong fit. It’s hard when you’re starting something to learn patience, but it’s been a great lesson for me.

On following your own path….
I definitely faced challenges flying against other people’s perceptions of what I should be doing; I found a lot of people would have rather had me follow their agenda. “Why aren’t you doing regular movies anymore?” “You should be doing something else.” “Move to LA and do this project.” That kind of thing. People will always have their vision for you, and you need to learn to listen to your own. That was a big challenge for me.

Also, when you’re starting something new, everyone seems to have an opinion, and everyone has advice, which creates a lot of noise. I think you have to be polite and listen to what they have to say, but stick to what you want to do. I had to go with my gut. There was a lot of pressure from people I’d known in the industry that I should have gone the more traditional studio route, but I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial rather than just become part of that system. I wanted to invent my own sense of what I wanted my life to be.

On the joys of success….
I’ve had great joys, one of them was receiving a Goya for producing Sons of the Clouds with Javier Bardem. The movie was challenging to make. That was one of my biggest moments, accepting the award and giving a speech at the Goyas in front of a lot of people.

I also had a great time producing Likeness with Rodrigo Prieto. It was so personal to him, and to be able to see that come to life was incredibly rewarding. We had 400,000 views on YouTube on that project, which was an unexpected joy.

I think I’m proud of certain aspects of each project. We’re doing another project called Art and Craft, and we got them to do a screening with NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness,) and now they’re going to do a screening. It’s a personal issue that’s near and dear to my heart, and I hadn’t found a film before this one that dealt with it in the right way. It’s such a dark issue, and you want to be able to show it with some life and lightness, and this project has that.

We also have a lot of great partnerships, one of which is sponsoring SummerDocs with The Sundance Institute. It’s a great series in Guild Hall in Southampton where Alec Baldwin talks about the films shown with the actual filmmakers, and it’s all a big fundraiser for the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Lilly Hartley Headshot 1

On the power of women in documentary film…
“I’m very director-driven, so I want someone who’s going to stay focused, who feels passionate around the cause. I either want to work with someone who’s up-and-coming who’s got the drive or someone established who I can count on and who has a good team around them. I don’t look at a film based on the cause, I don’t look for commerciality. We consider each project individually.  I love getting behind people who want to work hard. There’s a perception that in the film industry there are so many men driving the business, but in the documentary world there are so many strong women driving that aspect of film. I think what I’m trying to say is that I like to help other people’s careers. I get a thrill out of being able to do that.”

On having a beauty regimen that’s a little bit natural and a little bit Hollywood…
“My godmother is from Texas, lives in LA and was a stuntwoman who became famous for setting herself on fire and driving cars fast. She’s a great lady, but she’s a real Southern tough cookie. On the other hand, my mother is from Minnesota from a farm and she’s incredibly natural and organic. Very smart (she’s a scientist,) very wholesome, loves to bake, loves anything outdoors. She didn’t wear any makeup, no hair color, nothing like that. So, I grew up not knowing anything about cosmetics and washing my body and hair with organic products. I went to Los Angeles to stay with my godparents at 18 and my whole life changed: my godmother got me into makeup, she used to dress me up like a doll. It was the opposite of how I’d grown up. I think that’s how my beauty philosophy was formed: I either go organic and easy, or I like to go very glam and girlie.”

On her must-have products…
“I love Josie Maran Argan Oil. I put it all over my skin, and I recently discovered the magic of using it in my hair. I got this great new body scrub from my mom which is like a mustard plaster that you scrub off with salt which sounds really weird, but it’s amazing. In regards to hair, I was using a lot of Oribe and Leonor Greyl, but I just switched to products that are a bit more natural. I love body butter (I love Kiehl’s Creme de Corps) and I love oils…any kind of natural oils I can smooth on my skin.

If we’re talking non-organic, I love Sam Brocato Dry Shampoo. I love Chanel gloss, fake lashes (the singles, still can’t do extensions – I don’t want to do anything permanent to my body.) Lipsticks, foundations – I love getting my makeup done for premieres and events, which I’m constantly doing. I have a makeup artist I work with a lot named Deborah that I’ve worked with a long time. If I’m in the city and have events, I really do it up. I’m not really into that minimalist thing when I go out. I’m easy going in my private life and when I’m at home, but I think you should really do it up and make an effort when you’re going out in public.”

On her daily routine…
“I brush my teeth first thing and then just splash my face with cold water. I get up pretty early for the most part, around 6:30 am or earlier just because I like to enjoy the day. I put on Embryolisse because it gives my face that great luster, and then I usually don’t do anything else to my face for a couple of hours.

I shower at night and I prefer to wash my hair at night. I have a thing about going to bed clean. It’s so nice to wake up that way. I don’t believe in deodorant; I’m actually afraid of it. I just spray perfume under there and keep going. It’s very French. But that comes from my mother; she doesn’t wear deodorant either.In the winter, my scent is Tom Ford Oud Wood. In the summer, I just got back into Calypso Lavande for summer. I love that fragrance: it makes me feel young.

Lilly Hartley full length

Lilly is wearing: Fendi dress, Manolo Blahnik shoes, a Kaufmanfranco coat, and a Bonaire handbag.

On the power of fashion to transform your mood….
“My style is really classic but I also love theater, so I can sometimes go, well, theatrical.
On a daily basis I wear Candela, which is my friend’s line, so I’ll wear a lot of beach wear, long dresses that look dressed up but feel like pajamas. I also like Celine bags, I ilke Gianvito Rossi shoes. I’ve been wearing a lot of Rag & Bone. The Frame Boyfriend jean is one of the best things out there right now. For dresses, I love Miu Miu; they have some theatrical pieces I love now, and I have one dress from the brand that I wore multiple times in one week. Sometimes you don’t have time to think about fashion. This one dress transitioned from day to night flawlessly.”

I love Altuzarra, I love Christopher Kane, and I really love Elie Saab; they’re one of my favorite brands for event gowns.

I do have to say that what you put on changes your mood. It’s a major thing for me. If I feel like I’m in a down mood or a negative spiral, I’ll dress myself up and I feel totally different. The minute you don’t think you want to go somewhere, throw on something amazing that really inspires you and you’ll get motivated. Sometimes, fashion can inspire you to be “out there,” which is when it really helps me. My natural habitat tends to inside and away from the public eye, which is not conducive to doing my job well. A great dress and feeling really good about the way I look can sometimes be the perfect motivation I need to go out and be ‘on.'”

On why it’s important to celebrate your uniqueness….
“I think the trick to navigating Hollywood is to be true to yourself. When I was younger, I was on the set of a TV show as an actress and was told to get a mole removal in Perth and pluck out my widow’s peak. I was 20, so I was impressionable then. I followed their instructions, and when I was done I felt so generic and sad. I’d always been taught from my family that those were the things that made me unique and beautiful, and I just felt horrible. I decided I’d never do that to myself again. It felt like such a weird violation for someone to say that to me.

I feel like the more you try to conform to other people’s ideals for you, of how they think you look most beautiful, the uglier you get in some ways because your insides are also being damaged; you’re changing to be something you’re not. Highlight the characteristics you have, focus on those things that make you unique and that’s the way to stay strong with all that noise around you. Even now, when I look at magazines I can’t tell what actress it is because they all have the same nose job or similar features. it’s really about finding your best attributes and to enhance and protect those attributes with everything you have.”

On the importance of finding a few moments to yourself…
“If I’m in the city, I do acupuncture. It’s takes about 30 minutes, and it really helps calm me down. Down time is the most important thing for me, and I have to remember to take that time for myself because I rejuvenate creatively if I have that time alone. I try and find that time for myself to retreat in solitude. It’s a great break during the day to center myself a bit. I also get out of the city as much as I can to get some perspective.”

On taking chances and working through fear….
“When I’m wavering on a decision, I think about how much I would regret not doing whatever it is. I’ve rarely gone to an event or taken a meeting and regretted doing it. The more you push yourself to take those chances and trust your instincts, the better you’ll feel.

You also have to think about the risk/reward. There are certain times in your life where you have to take chances, but you also have to have realistic goals of what’s really worth the risk. If you want to accomplish something in life, you have to set goals for yourself that are achievable. You also have to be okay with disappointment; it can turn into something great. Try it out, see how you feel, and always trust your gut. Also, surround yourself with people who want the best for you.”

On the importance of being your own best support system…
“You are your own best advocate. Right now, a lot of people are invested in what’s best for them. Giving yourself passionately to what you believe in nurtures you. Support those in whom you believe, but you also have to be the best advocate for yourself and the things about which you’re most passionate.”


All photos in this post: Kristin Booker. All rights reserved.


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