Wayne

Morgana, how often do people say no to you?

Morgana

I don’t want to say I’m used to it because I’m definitely not and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m probably told no more than I’m told yes, but what I try to do is pull some kind of lesson from it: “What can I do better?” And in a lot of cases, there isn’t really anything I could have done better; it’s just the way life goes. When I was 12 I submitted to my first youth short film festival. I remember being so excited to submit and I didn’t get in. It was the first form of rejection I had faced that actually really hurt. Fortunately, I had my parents there to teach me that failure was not something to control me; that I could be afraid of it, and take five minutes to cry and be sad. And if anything, that’s important. I think it’s really important to be able to feel the things that cause you pain, letting it control you is the mistake.

Wayne

I first saw you at InsideOut, you were making a really solid pitch that you eventually lost; can you talk about that experience?

Morgana

Oh, God, that was brutal. Honestly, I think the director probably took it harder than I did, which says a lot because I took it pretty hard. I mean, you work on something upwards of two months, and whether the night before you scrap the whole thing and start again, or not, you basically end up living this experience. You put your whole heart and soul into it and then when you finally put it out, someone says, “No.” It’s crushing on a whole new level, and again, I think of failure and how to deal with it. How at the end of the day, it really is (and was) important for me to be sad in those moments. I think it’s something people need to talk about more, especially in film.

Wayne

In life.

Morgana

Yeah! People don’t talk about feeling like crap. I mean; August was probably one of the best, but also the worst months of my life. I call it A Period Piece Spoon Hell, because period pieces are so detail-oriented, right up to finding the right 1930’s spoons, all for a short I was making. It was a whole thing, clearly, but it was interesting to hear people respond to the stills and say how amazing they looked. Yes, they were amazing, but behind those stills was a very brutal shoot.

Wayne

How so?

Morgana

I remember having a moment in a cornfield, alone in the rain, calling a director friend of mine in LA. We were so close to the end of production and a generator broke. I had been working on this for months and shooting on a documentary the month prior, so I was overwhelmed and obscenely close to my peak point of sleep deprivation. I basically broke down and started explaining everything to him and just said, “You know, it’s not that I can’t do this, because I know that I can, and I know that in ten minutes I’m going to get up and finish this shoot, but holy crap, this is so hard and I just feel really alone in feeling this.” He laughed at me and told me the exact same thing had happened to him on his last short, except he ended up locking himself in a bathroom and calling his Dad. That’s something that I wish people talked about more, I think its important. I had a bonding moment with a fellow filmmaker and friend, that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been open and just called someone. I wish someone had told me that behind those really beautiful visuals or Alexa mini camera package is someone who has just as much anxiety as you. I think that’s something that a lot of youth aren’t being taught in any field.

Wayne

Especially in social media where we’re being conditioned to be more interested in the film stills, than the woman behind them.

Morgana

Yeah, it paints a really false picture of happiness and the way people are feeling and really only shows the high points in people’s lives. It’s disheartening.

Wayne

Totally.

Morgana

I try to be open about my feelings because I think it’s important for me to share that I’m not perfect, and for other people to hear that it’s totally fine to have failure. It’s important to feel it and share your feelings with other people because they are probably feeling the same things too.

Wayne

What else bothers you?

Morgana

I think people can get sucked into the idea of who they want to be in terms of a role model, or the money, or the credentials, and they forget about the story; the passion and the interest and the joy behind why they got into this in the first place. I never want to fall into that and wake up ten years from now thinking, “Where did the dream go?” It’s very easy to look at where other people are and want that. You end up making your own conclusions on how to be like them. A lot of people try and do that imitating thing. Avoiding it is really difficult. I’m not perfect at it, but I think it’s about having a little bit of, I’m not sure if it’s integrity, or if it’s resistance, but I think everyone needs a little bit of resistance to what’s around them. You’re always going to have people saying you’re doing it wrong, so you just have to decide what’s right anyway. What makes you happy and what you find fulfilling creatively.

Wayne

When has your integrity stumbled?

Morgana

I definitely stumble with holding my ground, but ultimately am confident that I know what I’m doing is right. Mainly because I have so many people telling me I’m doing it wrong. It’s about blocking it out and understanding that’s their opinion, take it with a grain of salt, use a few of their tips and pointers and aside from that, you just keep doing what you are doing. But retaining that mentality, in the really cutthroat world of film, especially in camera, because freelancing can be so brutal and judgmental, it’s hard. But I’m learning and I’m getting better. It’s not easy I guess, basically keeping confidence that what you are doing is right. That you are walking in the right direction.

Wayne

What were you like as a kid?

Morgana

I was always kind of alone with my thoughts, I was never introverted, I was very extroverted, very out there, very social, but when I was alone, I felt like my thoughts really took over things. Growing up, that was something I had to figure out, how to hone and handle because those thoughts can sometimes travel out of control into a darker manner that you don’t really want. One of the coolest things I learned from those thoughts was how to make the dark and scary things beautiful. I think a lot of my films are very dark. I really just want to be able to shed a beautiful light on that stuff with my work and that definitely stemmed from just being in a place where you were just kind of left alone with your thoughts.

Wayne

And so many kids today don’t get to experience that solitude, that sense of adventure, either in nature or in their minds.

Morgana

I think it comes down to parents, more than anything. It would be wrong to say that my parents aren’t the reason that I’m here right now. I’m really fortunate to have that. Like, I remember being in the car a few months after I made that first short film, and my Dad going, “When are you going to make another short film?” And it’s not that I hadn’t thought of it, I mean I kind of wanted to, but I was scared to and when you’re little and you don’t really have other people encouraging you, it can stop you from doing it again, and to have my parents basically say, “No, you should do it again!” And never give me false hope (they are very realistic parents, they would never watch something that was brutally bad and tell me it was good), that kind of support seeped into my mental state. They never shut my ideas down or made me feel like the way my brain worked, or my thoughts worked, were an issue. But for a seven-year-old to do that for themselves, I think that’s really hard. I think it’s important to have a parent, or someone, to tell you that you are doing just fine, to keep doing it.

Wayne

What do your parents think about your career as a filmmaker?

Morgana

I remember my mom having a good family friend of ours ask when I was going to get a real job (I was 17), and she didn’t say it at all in a way that was malicious, she was just genuinely curious. My mom kind of gave it to her a little bit and basically said, “This is her job. This is what she is going to be doing because that’s what she wants to do.” One of the biggest lessons I learned from my parents is that it’s okay to go for something understanding there is a possibility you might not like it and want to go back.

Wayne

So do you have a fallback plan?

Morgana

Nothing in my life is a fallback. I left high school early; I ended up leaving halfway through Grade 11 to just work in film. I actually had the principal call me into his office and basically tell me I was making some huge mistake, he said, “Well you’re not getting XYZ credits, so technically if you wanted to go back and be an engineer, you wouldn’t be able to do that right away. You would need to go back to adult high school to get those credits….” And I told him, “Well that’s great, but I’m sure that if I wake up one day and want to become an engineer, I’ll have the drive to do that.” Leaving high school, was something a lot of people judged my parents for and a lot of people judged me for, and the biggest lesson I learned from that, was my parents saying, “You know, Morgana, even if you do end up changing your mind a few years from now, it’s fine. You’ll get there when you get there.” It’s gotten me through so much, whether its just in the moment issues, or whether it is long-term struggles, “You’ll get there when you get there.” That’s kind of one of the most valuable life lessons I’ve learned thus far.

Wayne

Right. Because unless there is an opportunity in front of you, there’s nothing you need to do except prepare.

Morgana

Yup.

Wayne

Yet, we can so easily be swept up into those thoughts of, “What’s next? What’s next?”

Morgana

It’s so true. Imposter syndrome is a real thing. And I think people, and I do it too, take silence and moments of calm as a negative.

Wayne

Well, it’s seen as failure.

Morgana

And that’s kind of adding on to my point from earlier, people who cave to this idea of needing to work all the time. Instead of filling that time with work, why don’t I take some time to learn things I don’t know, why don’t I take some time to go experience life, because if I don’t experience stories and live stories how am I going to be able to tell them? I think people can be in such a hurry to get somewhere it actually blocks them from ever actually getting there. Rather than living this fast food style of working, which is just trying to accumulate very quickly and fill time, why not just take some time off? It’s good to just take a second to breathe.

Wayne

Outside of your core group of people you like to work with, is there any other criteria that are important for you have on a project?

Morgana

Definitely. When I’m talking to people about working together, I like to first try and have a regular conversation, get to know them a little. Because at the end of the day your rate is your rate, but if we’re going to be working together, I want to make sure we mesh well, both on a film and personal level. I really want to work on projects I find interesting and stories I find cool, with people I find cool. The moment it becomes something other than that, which generally falls under the line of like crappy corporate freelance gigs or people who are doing it solely for a paycheque, that’s when I start to have problems.

Wayne

Totally. I spoke to Connor Jessup recently and he said something similar, “I just want to keep working with the people I like working with, the people that I admire, and I want to keep employing my friends.”

Morgana

I love Connor. And yes, it really is that simple. I was in a meeting a few days ago, from a directing perspective, and I was talking to the writers of the script, and they said, “You know, we’ve worked with directors before who once they sign on to the project they kind of take the script and run away with it. What’s your approach to working with writers?” And I said, plain and simple, “Yeah, I have ideas about what things can change, and we can brainstorm what those are, but at the end of the day I want that to be a conversation with you, not at you.” I never want it to be a situation where I’m giving suggestions that all of a sudden turn into demands and the collaboration, which is such an important part of filmmaking, is all of a sudden gone. So I’m always trying to work with people and not work at them. If you don’t have time to have a five-minute conversation with me about why you are doing this project and what it means to you, and all you want to talk about is rate, then I’m not the right fit.

Wayne

Right. And that’s not to say people aren’t worth their rates, but I know, for myself, if I’m jazzed about the work, I’ll take a pay cut to be part of the experience.

Morgana

I think what you do and what you put out and the attitude you put out will attract the right people. The best way to approach that is to stop worrying about winning the people you think you want, especially the ones who operate from a sense of role hierarchy, because, sure, most times you can get them to sign onto your project, but you are never going to be able to change their minds. And I think that by moving forward with confidence and the work you like, people will follow, and the right people will respect that.

Wayne

Totally.

Morgana

I mean, on the last short film I did, I ended up having a conversation with a grip who was particularly difficult for his own reasons. He basically didn’t like how I was running my shoot. He felt like we had scheduled too much time and I tried explaining to him, “I understand you’re used to working on shoots with at least five different setups an hour, but we’re about to do maybe one an hour. We’ve scheduled it that way because that’s the way I make movies, and that’s the way I’d like to make this movie. If you don’t feel the same way I would be completely fine with you not continuing, because it’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to me to expect you to morph your working habits into mine, but I’m not going to morph mine to match yours. I’m never going to do that.” He ended up leaving.

Wayne

Do you ever worry about reputation?

Morgana

Yes, but my worry never wins, I guess. I always, always, always, think and ask myself, “Am I making a decision right now that’s going to look bad on me?” But ultimately I’m never really doing anything wrong, I’m just standing by what I believe in. If people don’t agree with that, then most likely they are going to go and tell the other people that don’t agree with me about it, and if anything they are doing me a favour. I mean, if that grip had gone and complained to someone like Connor, the issue he was having with me and my set, I doubt Connor would have sided with that grip. So, I think at the end of the day, despite the fear, it is important to hold your ground a little bit and understand that you will attract the right people and just trust that. I think there has been a lot of trust and a lot of disbelief in the things I do, but it’s worked out for me so far.

Wayne

You let the work speak for itself.

Morgana

Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of people who kind of agree or relate with that approach to filmmaking, whether that’s Connor or someone else, and those are the people that I need in my life.

Wayne

Did you have to search for those people, or did they come to you?

Morgana

Yes. Well, it’s a mix. I’m still searching I guess, it’s not that I’m not satisfied with what I have, because I am, I’m really satisfied with what I have, I think I’m just constantly looking for people I can talk to on both a creative and personal level. It’s one thing to be able to go to work with someone, it’s another thing to be able to get coffee with them later. And for me, I find that the coffee part is kind of important because it makes the work part so much better. I mean if you are going to spend time on this earth, then why not make it flipping worthwhile and share it with other people? So I think because of that, I’m still looking for more people, the few people I do have in my life that share those views, some of them I have found, and some have found me in very weird situations, but the hunt’s not over, which is frustrating because it’s not easy, and it’s never easy. I think the majority of my time is spent going, “Okay, it will happen when it happens.” In the meantime, I’ll do what I think is good to get there, and we’ll see what happens.

Wayne

How important is it for you to surround yourself with fellow female filmmakers?

Morgana

I am trying really hard to do that. It’s kind of a double edge sword because I hate that I have to do that. I mean, long story short, I find it very frustrating that harassment is a topic of conversation I can bond with female crew over. I really hate that. I think that’s the reason why it makes me feel a bit crappy to have to seek out female talent because I feel like when I do we’re all just a little bit afraid of everything, in some sense. But on the other end of the spectrum, I have surrounded myself with a lot of really wonderful male talent and male colleges. In my opinion, it comes down to how we raise our children. I don’t think it’s a men problem, I think it’s the way we’ve raised a specific group, which are men and boys.

Wayne

As a director, what ways have you started to create a sense of equity on your shoots?

Morgana

I think there is this idea that when we are trying to support female crew, we’re taking jobs away from men in the process, and that’s not the mentality I have, so it’s unfortunate that so many people think this way as we try to make space for females. I know it’s a touchy topic, but I’m in support of 50/50 split crews, just because I think it gives a bit of opportunity to the females that have been neglected, for a period of time, in a very male-dominated industry. We’ve been given a window of time to enact change, and in that window of time there is a lot of excitement that we’re finally in a place where maybe there will be a change, but I think amidst that excitement people forget that that window does close and that it won’t be open forever. I hope to get to a place where we hire the best person for the job and there isn’t any sexism or predisposed opinions involved at all. I look forward to that. I don’t know when it’s going to come. But I don’t think it’s soon.

Wayne

Do you feel we’re moving into a time where filmmakers are more able to transcend genre? Specifically as a queer filmmaker?

Morgana

I’m so glad you mentioned that. I remember being kind of annoyed during that pitch you mentioned earlier because there was a point where one of the judges basically said, “Okay well, that was a really good pitch, but we need to hear more about the queer side. Your lead is transgender, is there a way to get more of that in the film?” I remember that was a huge conversation with the director, to be able to make a film with a transgender woman, but it not be about a transgender woman. And what we were really trying to do with those characters was really more about this trans woman reconnecting with her estranged father in a time when a town is being shut down. Obviously, the fact that she is transgender is part of the plot, and something we planned to dive into, but it wasn’t the driving force for every scene. So I guess it was a bit frustrating that in a setting like that to have one of the judges contradict our goal and say, “We need more transgender.” That’s not the way it works. At least that’s not the way it works for me, and for our team.

Wayne

It certainly opens up a conversation about palatability. Is the world ready for a story like the one you pitched? Do we mask queer stories as just stories and then speak about the queerness once it is out in the world? Or do we explicitly go I am a queer filmmaker, making queer stories for the queer community?

Morgana

The thing is, I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out. I want my films to stand on their own without being supported by “It’s a horror movie” or “it’s a queer film,” or whatever it is. And that’s obviously easier said than done, but its one of the biggest things, one of the biggest challenges I’m trying to tackle with my work.

Wayne

Does it behoove someone to ignore industry standards and make what they want to make and allow other people to identify it as they see it?

Morgana

I think it’s a little bit liberating to be able to choose when to pull which card. It’s taking something that is a little more crippling and making it empowering.

Wayne

Like your age?

Morgana

Sometimes. In terms of my age, I don’t talk about it, or at least I don’t like to draw attention to it. I have kind of subtly fashioned my life around it. On set, I won’t ask if someone went to film school, because they will want to know the same about me. Suddenly they’re saying, “Oh, why didn’t you go to film school? Wait, how old are you?”. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s really helpful to pull the card, but mostly I try to avoid topics like that. It shouldn’t matter anyway. Whether it’s a genre of film or my age, I don’t like picking and choosing and I really hope there is a day where I can just have one, and don’t really have to live two realities. I’m not really sure when that will come, but it’s definitely not now. Because I can’t staple myself as an X genre director, and I can’t staple myself as “whatever my age” is director, right? So I think it’s a process, that I haven’t quite figured out yet but I’m actively wandering through.

Wayne

How do you think we can make things authentically Canadian, whilst avoiding stereotypes?

Morgana

The same way I would approach a queer film; I don’t want the staple to be Canada. I think for me a great example would be Closet Monster; shot in Newfoundland, Canadian Crew, Canadian DOP, Connor Jessup and Stephen Dunn. It’s the perfect example because it doesn’t once in the movie scream down your throat, “THIS IS CANADA!”, but can still be a great addition and part of Canadian film. I want to be able to make films like that. Again, easier said than done, but it’s important to me. I worry sometimes about betraying Canada and making movies in other locations, whether it’s Arizona or Germany. But really we are just trying to tell a good story, so, though the location is an important part, it is not the reason why I make the story.

Wayne

You’ve primarily made your films by crowdfunding online, or out of pocket, I’m curious what your opinion on granting bodies and public funding is?

Morgana

I feel a little bit like an outlier, because I haven’t received funding from the Ontario Arts Council, or Telefilm, or BravoFact, when it was around. And because of the fact that I have done crowdfunding or out of pocket, it puts me in a seat that feels like I’m watching from the outside. That’s a feeling that has its ups but also has its downs. It’s a little bit weird because right now I’m trying to, if anything, work a little bit more with The Man than I have in the past. It’s not always the best solution but in the end, I think it comes down to what the project is for me, and what I’m doing and what I want to be able to do with it. I’ve done two Kickstarters, I raised $12,000 for my last short, but I’m not going to do that forever. I’m brutally aware that I’m entering a new stage of film for me and my career, and I think part of that stage involves things like Telefilm and Bell Media, and that’s a pond I’m stepping into with uncertainty. I think as long as I can still hire the people I want to hire and work with the people I want to work with and be happy, then I’m good. So whether it’s self-funding or going through Bell Media, as long as I can do those things, and make the movie I want to make, everything else is workable.

Wayne

What’s it been like relinquishing control over certain aspects of the filming process for you?

Morgana

So relieving. Really relieving. About a year ago I just kind of realized how done I felt with doing it all myself. And it’s not that I won’t, and if anything I’m really fortunate to know how to do many of the roles to make a film happen, but supporting all of them is just not possible. I cannot tell you how happy I am now to just be able to direct my VFX artist, my sound designer, my composer and my editor. To spend my time directing them and other minds that I respect, and want to influence this project because I think they’re cool. That being said, there are other aspects that I don’t want to step back from; I shoot and direct my own work. And while that’s not something I’m wedded to, it’s something I do, at least on my own projects. I don’t mean this in a glorified way, but I simply cannot pick between the two, it’s not a choice for me. And so my ideal for the future is to be able to direct projects and if it also works that I can shoot it, then great. I’m no longer afraid of stepping back and giving things to other people because for me, it’s no longer the idea of, “Oh they are going to do it wrong,” and more the idea of lets get some really cool minds on board and see what they can bring to the table, to make this better. At the end of the day, I have cool ideas but they are not necessarily always the right ones.

Wayne

What are you most proud of?

Morgana

I mean I never really thought that I would be here right now, paying my own rent and being self-sufficient by the work that I do. That’s something I’m really proud of and I feel very fortunate about. I think a lot of people don’t give film credit because when it pays, it, generally speaking, pays well. The fact that I am able to do this at all, it’s the one thing I’m able to give myself a pat on the back for. The fact that I’m able to consistently work and not fall on my face in some way. I would love to get to a place where the money I’m making could be put towards more personal growth opportunities, rather than funding my latest film. But at the end of the day, film is how I make my living, and it’s fine if that living also seeps into my projects, I just don’t want to have to scavenge for the rest of my life. A lot of other people obviously don’t, so if they can do it I assume I can at some point. The ideal lifestyle for me is to work on what I want when I want, and am able to take time for myself when I need it. I’m on a determined and vigilant hunt for more of that.

This conversation was recorded at Aroma Espresso on Bloor St. West in Toronto, on March 23rd, 2018. All Photos by Yuli Scheidt.