Dynamic Women Award 2020 Winner: Nicole Rowley
Nicole Rowley is a Dynamic Woman.
Working in film production in Los Angeles, she is no stranger to long hours and late nights. Still, she always manages to make time to care for her loved ones, animals, and the planet.
Her mother (and nominator) Lisa Wilson said it best: “I’m nominating my daughter, Nicole, because she is the most dedicated, hard-working person I know, from seven days a week working 12-hour days to making this planet a better place for generations to come. Her leaps and bounds from PA [production assistant] to producer in the last 10-plus years in her professional career, to her committed personal relationships, her whole life, and let’s not forget Mother Earth as well. She’s so inspiring with her passion toward animals and has been an excellent example of a vegan type of lifestyle. By her example, I’m moving forward to a more plant-based diet, too. I’m beyond proud of her accomplishments in the visual effects industry, the unconditional love to herself and partner, her bravery coming out as gay a few years back, and the confidence she radiates to all that know her. Nicole is very deserving of this Dynamic Women Award. I love you with all my heart, beautiful daughter.”
To discover more about her multifaceted passions and talents, we asked Rowley to answer questions.
You work in visual effects for film. Can you talk a bit about your work and your career thus far?
I went to school for fine arts. When I was a kid I wanted to be a cell animator; I loved cartoons and was so fascinated by the process. Back in 2007, when I was in my second year of college, a family friend who knew I was interested in fine arts asked my family if they thought I would be interested in working with her on a movie called Charlie Wilson’s War as a combination intern and production assistant at a visual effects facility. At the time it was a very big decision for me to make; my family were all supportive of the idea and felt it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed, but I was concerned about the stigma of not completing my college education. Ultimately, I did decide to take the job, and I haven’t looked back since!
That job gave me the opportunity to really see and experience all the different types of jobs available in the visual effects department, from rotomation to modeller to animator, and of course all of the management roles it takes to actually produce the movie—which ultimately is what I became the most interested in. I enjoyed the idea of having a bird’s-eye view of the whole process, and the idea that someday I would be someone who would also have a valued opinion in the room, and be a part of the creative decision-making process.
Flash forward over the next 10 years, I made my way up the ladder from an assistant to production manager, working mostly for film studios directly rather than at the visual effects facilities themselves. Each role consisted essentially of being responsible for managing a portion of the crew or of the work that was being created. I was able to travel the world in a way I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and got to spend a lot of time in different parts of Canada, Europe, and Hawaii; a literal dream. I’ve had the opportunity to produce a couple of smaller-budget movies, but actually just recently signed on to produce a major tentpole at Marvel Studios. Thirteen years of hard work and dedication and now I’m exactly where I want to be, and still have so much more still to learn and experience.
What excites you most about movie-making?
The most fascinating thing to me is that it’s such a structured and timely process, with thousands of people doing their part to build up and then tear down each production, again and again, throughout their careers. And yet each film, although on its exterior looks the same, can be so vastly different when you’re experiencing it firsthand. No two filmmaking experiences are alike; you are constantly learning new things, the industry and technology is ever changing, and ultimately you’ve been allowed to have the freedom to try it your own way, perhaps in a way that hasn’t been done in the past. Multiply that by all of the different departments who must then work together to create this world—you really don’t know what to expect, and yet you apply everything you’ve learned and are able to troubleshoot along the way. You solve problems as a team and help it all come together. It feels great to be a part of that process.
Then, at the wrap of your adventure, you get to sit in a theatre, or on your sofa, and watch your name crawl by with all of those thousands of people, and there is a sense of profound accomplishment in that! That little line of white text on a black backdrop to say you were a single piece of that larger puzzle that was solved.
Your mom mentioned that you came out a few years ago. What was that process like for you?
I had been in a long-term relationship with a guy I met in high school—we’re talking 12 years long. Before and during that relationship, I had always felt curious. I had voiced that curiosity but it was met with disdain and course correction. I was never very confident with my feelings, and so I brushed it off as a phase and carried on. In 2016, I went to work on a movie up in Canada; anytime I had to travel for work, it felt like an escape from my life at home. I met a woman, or I should say she met me. She was very persistent, which at the time I just chalked up to being friendly and helpful (and she was someone who I needed to work closely with on that particular project, so I was thrilled!). I carried on for about three months before it all clicked into place and I realized what was going on. Things were not going well in my current relationship, and so I found myself open to the idea of what it might actually feel like to be with this woman.
So, while a continent apart, I called my partner and told him about this person I had met. He wasn’t thrilled, understandably, said it was a phase, asked that I not to do anything I’d later regret and to come home. None of this sat well for me, and I still had a couple months before I was meant to come home. Unfortunately for me in my experience, my ex took away the one thing that most people who are coming out are intended to do, and that is the actual coming out part! My ex took it upon himself to inform my dad, and I was crushed that he didn’t get to hear it from me. Despite all of that, it was met with a tremendous amount of support and love, and for that I’m truly lucky. I immediately called all of my family to tell them my news; I was more afraid of my ex taking my moment away from me than any reaction I would get from them. Again, I was met with support and understanding, and love. All in all, it worked out for me, regardless of what had initially happened.
The best part is that the woman I met later became my wife, and we’re continuing to live happily ever after every single day.
What guidance do you have for others who are considering coming out?
One thing that really stuck with me in my experience was that you must be true to yourself, no matter what that might feel like. You shouldn’t live your life for other people—you should be the person who is going to fulfill you. I’m fortunate in that I really did not lose many of the friends and family that meant the most to me. However, I did lose a few friends who ultimately did not agree with my choices. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still think about those friends I lost, but for me what was more important was staying true to myself. I did it for me. I’m the one that has to carry on living with myself every day, and I was tired of faking it.
Being vegan is also important to you. Why is that? What do you suggest for others who are looking to adopt a more plant-based diet?
I’m not one to sing it from the rooftops, but there have been situations where I’ve enjoyed challenging the opinion of those who don’t follow the same lifestyle. I’ve never been good at debate, and sometimes being vegan can very easily fall into what feels like a heated political discussion; there are a lot of unique opinions on the topic. My journey is somewhat new. I became a vegetarian in 2017 and essentially little by little eliminated animal products from my diet. I was vegan six months later.
Animal welfare is a huge factor for me; I love animals. I foster kittens, and donate my time and money to many rescue and wildlife organizations. Sustainability is also a very important practice for me. It’s going to take a lot more than my household, but if I can help others see that small changes globally can make a bigger difference than a single person being the best person on the planet, I will.
My advice to anyone trying a more plant-based approach is to take your time and have someone you trust to help you stay accountable and back you up. My wife is that person for me. She’s currently a pescatarian but will eat vegan with me and always goes to bat for me at restaurants to ensure we’re staying true to our values. There is such a thing as a flexitarian these days, so take it a day at a time. Everyone is on their own journey.
Self-care is different for everyone—what does it mean to you?
To be honest, I’m trying to figure that out for myself on a daily basis! In a way, I feel like my self-care routines are a little less conventional. At home, I enjoy re-arranging our home decor; it’s meditative for me. Also, I love practicing mixology and baking—I love the precision required. I often say that if I wasn’t in the film industry I’d want to be a vegan cocktail and baking blogger, though I’m still working up the courage to try out my own recipes.
I also enjoy practicing self-care at my workplace. I typically find the office spaces we are put in to be so drab, so I’ll bring in my own decor and plants and desktop items. I have a routine in the mornings where I’ll check on my plants, turn on my ambient lights, stereo, and something to make the space smell nice, whether it’s a candle, diffuser, or room spray. It puts me in a more relaxed headspace to start my busy days, which can sometimes be upwards of 12 hours.
What is your favourite or most memorable piece of advice?
There is a quote I read right out of high school that has stuck with me, and resonates with many of the life choices: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” —George Eliot
Is there anything else you’d like to add? The floor is yours.
I think I’ve probably enjoyed this enough already! Thank you for the opportunity, and for the award. To be considered among what I have to imagine is an incredible group of inspiring women, I’m so grateful. I hope your readers have enjoyed getting to know a bit about me and can find some inspiration themselves.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Read about the other 2020 Dynamic Women Award winners here.
Read about the 2019 Dynamic Women Award winners here.