There is a moment that I can remember where I sat, slumped in front of my laptop screen cursing the day I chose to become a filmmaker. The frustration of festival rejection letters, the continuous search for funding, heck even the accelerated flurry of social events that seem to be a prerequisite, had me feeling blue and uninspired.
It was on this day that a TIFF.net article entitled ‘Rejection is How You Become a Filmmaker’ was passed on to me by another aspiring screenwriter. It was written by Molly McGlynn, a first-time feature director and recent TIFF acceptee. Molly’s irreverent, very funny thoughts on what it takes to become a director and how truly awful rejection actually is, was exactly what I needed.
Flagrantly open about the difficulties of making it in this industry, Molly championed hard work and perseverance. It made me feel less alone. It made me feel brave. But most of all, it pushed me to keep going. Which is something every creative person needs once in a while.
An alumni of CFC’s Writer’s Lab, a 2015 Samsung TIFF Emerging Director nominee and an NSI Drama Prize Winner, Molly is known for intimate narratives that are often based on her own personal experiences.
Her feature directorial debut ‘Mary Goes Round’ was abuzz this past year at TIFF and for good reason; Variety called it ‘a canny mixture of rueful humor, warmth and realism’.
She has stated that she wants her films to be ‘scorchingly true’, which seems all the more important because all of her central characters are women. Kudos to writer/director Molly, whose films break the stereotypes and present women as the uniquely flawed and complex humans we actually are.
Below, five questions with Molly McGlynn.
1. Your films seem to all touch upon deeply personal narratives from your own life. I'm curious about how you shed your vulnerability to put yourself out there so openly --- and why you choose to create public stories about very private issues?
I think I tend to make films requiring a degree of vulnerability because I am an emotional masochist, I guess. My films aren't autobiographies or dear diary entries, but there is a lot of deep and painful emotional truths that I'm trying to grapple with that come out in my work. I am also drawn to film as a medium for connectivity and how it's a powerful tool for visual beauty, but also a way to form connections with strangers. I am always so moved when a stranger responds to something in my film. It makes me realize how connected we are in our pain and joys and also that we aren't all unicorns in how unique our life experiences are.
2. I read somewhere that you don't consciously write humorous stories, but that the humour just reveals itself as you craft the narrative. What is it about emotional pain that you think creates such funny moments?
I think I have coped with the darkest moments in my life with a sense of humour. My family is a large Irish Catholic one, which means there's an appreciation for the joy and humour alongside the darkness we all experience. Have you been to an Irish wake? Great party. It will probably be the best party I throw for my loved ones. See? Here I am making uncomfortable jokes about my own death because that's how I deal with the idea that we are all heading to the same, unknown place. I guess I should clarify that I don't find people's emotional pain funny, but there's a way to make them bearable and that is through finding humour or levity. Unrelenting earnestness makes me uncomfortable and I find it boring.
3. You've written and spoken often about perseverance and the filmmaker's journey. Do you feel the resilience it takes to make it in the industry needs to be amplified when you are a woman? What challenges have you faced as a female filmmaker?
I had a conversation with a fellow filmmaker friend last night about this very thing. It's kind of a chicken or an egg scenario; are we filmmakers because we are determined, resilient people or are we resilient and determined because of the inherent experiences of being filmmakers? I'm not really sure, but it's probably a bit of both. I think it can be challenging as filmmaker to find your voice at the best of times, but being a woman means you're trying to find your voice while making sure you're being taken seriously, not put into some "female filmmaker" ghetto you don't want to be in, that you don't have too much makeup on, that you're shirt is baggy enough so no one needs to look at your body at work, that you have to overhear some grips talking about what actress they would sleep with, and on and on and on. I will say, though, that I have worked with some really extraordinary men in this industry who have done nothing put give me respect and space to do my best work.
4. Mary Goes Round is your first feature. What difficulties come with transitioning from shorts to features and what advice would you give anyone undertaking their first feature?
My best advice to filmmakers, specifically writer/directors, is that just because you wrote a scene does not mean you know how to best direct it. You have to apply the same script analysis and prep to direct what you've written. Also, what you wrote on the page may be so crystal clear to you, but when it's time to get your scene on it's feet, it gets more challenging or an actor has a question about intention that changes everything. I guess what I'm saying is don't get lazy with your own scripts when it comes time to direct them. My more general advice is that you're never going to think your ready, but do it anyway. By "do it" I mean prep the shit out of it, get a lot of sleep, don't drink too much and make sure your shoes are comfortable. Shorts are really good practice, but a feature is a whole different beast. You're never gonna be ready, but say fuck it and shoot it anyway!
5. There's much discussion amongst our peers about how different directors are on set. What kind of atmosphere do you like to create on set and how do you achieve it?
Yes, the strange thing about directing is that you never really see other people doing it, so there's always some insecurity or questioning if you are doing it right. As I get more confident, I really just try to not worry about how other people direct. Whatever they do, probably works for them but it may not for me. I try to be guided by a sense of flexible inflexibility; there are certain things I will fight and push for and will be non-negotiables, but at the same time I'm prepared to change everything at the 11th hour. Makes no sense on paper, right? But its magic I tell ya. I don't think you need to lead by terror or fear, but I do think you need to make decisions quickly (even if you doubt yourself after you say something, just keep it to yourself) and be someone who people will respect and listen to. That looks like different things to different people. I try to be personable, respectful and make jokes so people have fun. We spend so much of our lives in this industry with our co-workers, you may as well as the AD about how his son's birthday was, you know?
Molly McGlynn is a Canadian writer and director. She has won awards and exhibited internationally for her short films “I Am Not a Weird Person,” “Shoes,” and “3-Way (Not Calling).” “Mary Goes Round” is her first feature film, which premiered at TIFF 2017.