10 Directors to Watch: Military Service Gave ‘Holler’ Helmer Nicole Riegel Tools to Lead

Featured on the Black List in 2013 for her screenplay “Dogfight” and invited to participate in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab the following year to develop a script she wrote about American POW Jessica Lynch, Riegel has been channeling her personal experience — former U.S. military and Midwest small-town escapee — to tell authentic stories missing from the U.S. film scene.

That’s especially true of her feature debut, the upcoming “Holler” (executive produced by Paul Feig), a genuine depiction of a resourceful working-class teen trapped in a Rust Belt town that positions the UCLA graduate as the Debra Granik of her generation.

“I didn’t really see my coming-of-age story onscreen, and I really wanted to put a film out into the world for girls from towns that you can’t escape, but you want to,” Riegel says. “It’s hard to leave those places because they’re home. They shaped you and they made you. I felt that kind of story should come from a director who actually grew up there.”

Expanded from Riegel’s 2016 short of the same name, “Holler” was heavily influenced by Barbara Loden’s early feminist indie “Wanda.” Following Loden’s lead, Riegel chose to shoot on 16mm in her Ohio hometown, casting non-pros in supporting roles and that, in turn, lent credibility to her portrayals of factory workers from communities she knew well.

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After high school, Riegel joined the military, which gave her license to travel. She completed her training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then decided to become a writer once she finished her service with the army.

“I really think being in the military gave me a great deal of discipline and drive,” she says. “I trained with women and men, but the vast majority of my fellow soldiers were men, so it wasn’t that shocking for me to find myself in a profession where that’s the case.” Riegel’s responsibility, she says, is to fight for the stories that are important to her.

Agency: ICM Partners
Legal: Patti Felker at Felker Toczek Suddleson Abramson

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