Mentor Theatre Hall of Famer & Hollywood Filmmaker Leigh Janiak

Mentor Theatre Hall of Famer & Hollywood Filmmaker Leigh Janiak

Read about one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming female horror directors

At Mentor High School students strive to discover themselves and learn lessons to carry into their future. Leigh Anne Janiak is a shining example of this. Today we share with you some words and history on an admirable woman who is an inspiration as a progressive writer and director.

Early Education

Leigh Janiak, screenwriter and film director, was born February 1, 1980. Janiak had an interest in film from the beginning. She spent most of her early childhood watching movies from the ’80s. She reported to DP/30 that The Goonies was one that really clicked with her and helped her find that she was made for more than suburban life.

From 1994-1998 she attended Mentor High School. Her time at Mentor was spent mainly in our theatre which she remembers very fondly as she was an avid participant in various plays, including Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer-prize winning two-woman play “‘Night, Mother.” She explained that as a student she struggled with being a female and having an interest in cinema. She said to DP/30 “being a director never crossed my mind. I thought maybe I can act?” In the following years she attended New York University, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and The University of Chicago studying religion and creative writing.

Big Break  

In 2005 her path changed when she got her first big industry job at Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way Productions. She was quickly offered many jobs working on TV shows, but she ultimately turned them down to avoid the stigma around female directors. In 2014 she shared her first big project Honeymoon. Honeymoon follows the story of two newlyweds, Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway). The couple’s journey in exploring married life soon is interrupted by a series of dark events. The movie soon sparked interest with critics and gave rise to Janiak’s career. Janiak explained in an interview with podcast The Witching Hour that “I was very lucky that Honeymoon was embraced by the festival community and the horror community in a way that was amazing and kind of exactly what I had hoped to happen.”

Fear Street 

Submitted by Leigh Janiak

In 2021 she made even bigger headlines with the Fear Street trilogy starring actress Kiana Madeira. The popular movies follow Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) and others in their journey to rid Shadyside of a demonic force from 1666. Janiak explained to interviewer Tyler Treese that when working on the films it was very fun to look back at the decades for her movies and pick  apart what could make that era unique to horror. She also looked to many popular slasher films like Scream to create a familiar feeling for viewers. People responded to these films with huge enthusiasm, people were thrilled to see a darker look on the R.L Stein books they enjoyed as kids. Even more than that people were excited to see such a wide range of inclusion in a horror film. One viewer explained “I was so excited to see an LGBTQ+ couple as the main characters it made me feel recognized in horror movies which I feel is not always common in this style of horror.” Overall, the Fear Street trilogy is a huge hit in Janiak’s career and we can’t wait to see more from her.


Cardinal Nation had the pleasure of talking with Janiak in February about her education and career.

Cardinal Nation: What did you learn at Mentor that has been instrumental to your career as a director and writer?

Janiak: Mentor Theatre was the highlight of my high school experience. It ignited a passion and confidence in me to pursue a career in the arts. I’m a director (and writer) now, but the first hand experience I gained as an actor with Mentor theatre still helps me today. I often think about the intense vulnerability of being on stage as I give an actor a note and I think it helps me (hopefully) be more empathetic to their very complicated, difficult job.

Cardinal Nation: What would you say to students at Mentor who want to go in the direction of acting or directing?

Janiak: These are two very different positions, but I would say to be unafraid to push forward and pursue their dreams, while understanding that it is a difficult path that requires a lot of hard work and a thick skin.

Cardinal Nation: What about your job is the most important to you?

Janiak: As a director, I love that I am able to collaborate with so many different people with so many different talents. Being open to these diverse points of view and expertise I think is incredibly important to success in my position.

Cardinal Nation: In the Fear Street trilogy there is a focus on inclusion. How did you go about this?

Janiak: Telling a story of “outsiders” was the reason I became involved in the project in the first place. The slasher genre felt a little bit played out – there had been so many great movies, but I was unsure of where to go to bring anything “new” to it. And so, in brainstorming about it in the earliest stages, I thought about the people who usually die in these movies – the people of color, the queer people, the “side” characters … and wondered if I could center a narrative around them.

Courtesy of Leigh Janiak

Cardinal Nation: What are your biggest influences?

Janiak: Oh. There are so many. But I always say Goonies. Psycho. Almost all of Spielberg’s movies. Pulp Fiction. Trainspotting. Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet. Fight Club. Mark Romanek’s music videos. These were the touchstones that made me understand and become excited about the potential of movies and visual storytelling.

Cardinal Nation: Where do you see your career going in the future? What are your ambitions?

Janiak:  I just want to keep making things. I feel lucky to be able to create and tell stories. While it’s very hard work, it never feels like a job and I am extremely grateful for all of it.

Cardinal Nation: Who would you like to collaborate with on future projects?

Janiak: There are a lot of actors that I am excited about, but I don’t want to say any out loud and jinx it!

Cardinal Nation:  My last question for you is what have you learned in your career so far, and what do you hope to learn? 

Janiak: This is such a big question! I think there are all the usual things one would expect about working hard, collaborating, listening, persevering, etc. but also I think, the power of “no.” It’s hard when you’re trying to get something made and you need to convince people to give you a lot of money. Everyone has opinions and everyone has things that they think is best. As the creator and director, you are the final gatekeeper to the idea. You have to learn what things are OK to compromise and what aren’t. You have to protect the project at all costs, even when it’s hard, even when sometimes it means saying “no.” And I guess moving forward, that’s also what I hope to continue to learn and get better at … compromising while still preserving the integrity of the project.

To sum up, Leigh Janiak as a person is truly a difficult task as she has done so many wonderful things. We have the privilege of watching her journey through her films and we cannot wait to see more from this incredibly talented director.

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