Photographer and director Lauren Dunn remembers the exact moment when she fell in love with film.
“One of the distinct memories I have of my childhood is sneaking downstairs to watch Titanic through the banisters of my staircase as my parents watched it,” she tells UPROXX. “I was six or seven.”
Too young, perhaps, to fully appreciate the classic romantic epic, but old enough to understand that the art form and the stories it could tell would always be a part of her life. “That movie just really captured my heart. My mom actually caught me and the next day allowed me to watch some of the scenes, anything that wasn’t too risqué. So I had a really fun upbringing, just surrounded by movies and stories.”
Dunn quickly fell in love with photography too, though that was more her grandmother’s doing. Dunn recalls always having a camera in her hand when she was young and snapping pics of anything that caught her eye.
“It’s where my love of film and story and photography kind of overlap,” she explains. “I felt like they sort of feed into each other and inspire different parts of my work.”
She started taking acting classes, thinking that was the traditional path into the moviemaking business, but soon realized she loved setting up scenes and directing her fellow actors more than she enjoyed reading lines. She took side gigs in college, assisting producers on set and helping friends pull together scrappy music video shoots. It wasn’t until a university professor suggested she go all in toward her filmmaking passion that her future career came into focus, though.
“I felt like a fish out of water,” Dunn says of that first year attending USC School of Cinematic Arts, noting that most of her fellow students had more experience and a surer idea of what form their art would take from an earlier age. “All these teachers must have known something I didn’t at the time,” she continues. “Seeing my passion, I think that’s at the heart of all — my passion for people and for story. Even the way I approach photography, I like to really get to know somebody through the image, whether that’s composing or staging it; whether it’s sort of a dreamy approach to getting to know them or a really raw documentary-style approach. Either way, it’s about getting to know somebody or getting to know a character.”
Dunn often felt like she was playing catch-up in those early years so she said “yes” to every opportunity that came her way — handling incoming pitches at an entertainment management company, and assisting showrunners on TV sets. Despite the full calendar, it was hard to shake the nagging feeling of imposter syndrome.
“Rather than trusting that I have an eye and an instinct, that I know what I’m doing, I was like, ‘I’m so lucky I got these,’” she says of her thinking back then. “So that fear of failure and having people recognize my eye before I could pushed me to really learn. That’s a really healthy part of my art practice — trying things, improvising, having a plan, and then also knowing when to not stick to it.”
Dunn’s worked with everyone, directing music videos and shooting campaigns for Billie Eilish, The Weeknd, Megan Thee Stallion, and more. She just wrapped her first short documentary with Amazon Music. More narrative-focused projects and high-profile photography campaigns might be on the horizon.
“It’s finding those bigger, inspiring projects, whether that be making a film or making another documentary or shooting an incredible meaningful fashion campaign,” she says of her career benchmarks. “Things that shift culture, that’s the goal. I have a lot of work to do to get to that place and I’m ready for it. I’m excited.”
When she thinks of where her directorial efforts might end up, she draws inspiration from “jack-of-all-trade” types that have an enviable amount of creative control over every project they sign up for.
“Those are the artists I aspire to be,” she confirms. “[They] never get put in a box. And I think that’s so cool. So that’s what I aspire to… making my own box.”
That drive to carve out her own niche within the industry is what solidified her spot as one of The Next 9 by Porsche, a line-up of rising talents putting their own stamp on their artistry, no matter the genre. Dunn says being recognized by the brand is just further confirmation that she’s on the right path.
“It’s truly humbling,” she says before joking, “My madness is paying off!”
Then, she goes quiet, pausing to offer up a deeper reflection of how the recognition feels, and how her creative drive matches the essence of a legacy steeped in innovation. If Porsche has crafted a reputation that rests on the balance between luxury and utility, Dunn is hoping to find a balance of her own in her filmmaking career.
“I aspire to find a beautiful balance of living and making art in a way that my experiences and my personal life can influence it,” she explains. “The travel I do can find a home in the stories I want to tell. I aspire to never let things cloud my life. It’s a hard balance to strike, especially when you’re constantly striving to reach another level, but that sort of unconventional approach is hopefully going to inspire other people to do the same.”