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I hate talking about this

I was hoping I wouldn’t need to write about this topic, but I feel like it’s better to make a post about it instead of just reacting to people’s questions and opinions. Still, it’s too bad this is even an issue.

The lead actor in Ellie is the wonderfully talented Sebastian Labissiere. Here is a film still from Ellie with Sebastian, and here is a photo from the private cast & crew screening with Sebastian and I embracing after not seeing each other since the Ellie shoot in August (I’ve missed this kid a lot).

A still from "Ellie" – Jeff Lawson and Sebastian Labissiere

A still from “Ellie” – Jeff Lawson and Sebastian Labissiere

Morgana and Sebastian at the Ottawa private screening of Ellie

Morgana and Sebastian at the Ottawa private screening of Ellie

Sebastian is African American. Why would this be a topic of discussion?

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, Ellie started out in 2014 as a project at Prodigy Camp. I wrote the screenplay under the mentorship of John Jacobsen, and I attempted to film Ellie during my one week stay at Prodigy Camp. We shot some of the scenes, but the production was too complex to finish at Prodigy Camp during the allotted three hour window, and so I shelved the project for six months before picking it up again last spring to do here in Ottawa.

In the 2014 Prodigy Camp version of Ellie, Nathan Gamble was cast in the lead role. Here is a still of Nathan from the original version of Ellie. The framing is reversed, but it’s the same moment in the film as the photo with Sebastian above.

A still from the unfinished 2014 "Ellie" shoot with Nathan Gamble

A still from the unfinished 2014 “Ellie” shoot with Nathan Gamble

When it came time to cast Ellie last year, I decided to make it an ACTRA union production with the incredible help of casting director Ilona Smyth.

In my early discussions with Ilona, I made it clear I had no racial requirements for the casting. I only wanted the best actor for the roles, period. After the first round of auditions for the lead role, I was left with a choice between two very talented actors: Sebastian, and a caucasian actor.

Before choosing Sebastian I realized there was a possibility the colour of his skin might cause people to interpret the story of Ellie differently or feel uncomfortable with some parts of the film. However, I felt strongly that Sebastian was the right actor for the role, and not giving him the role because of skin colour would be very wrong. I will not judge or make decisions based on race.

I know that film is art, and people get to choose how they interpret art. But I want to make it clear: as the screenwriter and director of Ellie, my intention was to tell the story of Ellie in the best way I could with the best actors, and nothing more. I feel I’ve done that.

Ellie is Finished

Actor Sebastian Labissiere in a still from the short film "Ellie"

Actor Sebastian Labissiere in a still from the short film “Ellie”

A little over a week ago I finished the colour grade on Ellie, and my composer Dave Johnson completed the final tweaks to the score and sound design.

I’m really pleased with how Ellie has turned out and I have begun submitting it to festivals, starting with festivals that I have a relationship with. Throughout 2016 I expect to submit Ellie to over 40 festivals.

I really can’t wait to share it with all of you. Because of festival requirements, Ellie won’t be public until sometime in 2017. So, here is the plan for sharing it privately…

For local (Ottawa) backers with a festival pass reward, I am organizing a private screening at the Mayfair Theatre on Sunday April 10th at 3:30pm ET, and I will get in touch with more details about the screening soon. Most of the cast and crew will also be attending the screening, and there will be a brief Q&A at the end. If you are a local backer who doesn’t have a screening pass reward, and you’re interested in attending, please contact me.

Because Ellie is a short film (7 minutes long), and we are renting a 320-seat theatre, I am putting together a number of other short films from local filmmakers to screen before Ellie. I think this will make the event even more fun for everyone.

All backers will also receive online access to Ellie on the same day as the screening, later that evening.

Originally I had planned to send out the rewards before Ellie was finished. Instead, I had to work on post-production full time in order to meet a very important festival deadline at the end of January. I’ll keep everyone posted on festival news as it happens. Looking back, I should have set the rewards’ estimated delivery dates for after post-production wrap in February, not before. This is just one of the things I’ve learned from running my first Kickstarter.

I am now focusing on putting together the rewards (Polaroids, Singular Diary of Awesome, personalized video messages, etc.), and will share more about that soon.

Of course, if anyone has any questions about any of this, please get in touch.

Thank you again for support Ellie. It would not have happened without your support!

Ellie moves to post (and festival updates)

I had an amazing summer, filled with friendships and film work. I had planned to do a post talking about the highlights of my two month break, but I’ve been slammed with work ranging from Ellie work to home work. So until then, I have a brief update on the post production of Ellie, and some festival updates.

Ellie

The Kickstarter campaign for Ellie was more successful than I could have imagined, bringing in $5,275, which was 175% over my original $3000 goal.

The 4 day shoot in Quebec was fantastic (and exhausting). It was a pleasure to work with my two actors Sebastian Labissiere and Jeff Lawson, and my crew were great. My good friend and fellow filmmaker Max Retik flew up from New Jersey to work as key grip, and to help me create the dramatic lighting setups I wanted for Ellie.

Here are some photos and stills from the Ellie shoot. More photos and stills will be posted to the Ellie page over the coming months.

Grace Zanichkowsky is the youngest member of the Ellie cast (14 years old), and yesterday Grace met me at the sound-editing suite of SAW Video to capture her performance. The following is a short behind-the-scenes clip of the recording session.

Festival Updates and Events

My two current films “We All Go the Same” and “Kurayami no Wa” continue to do well in the festival circuit, screening at film festivals in Canada, the U.S., and far away places like Guam and England (BYFF and Thurrock). The ongoing list of screenings, awards, and any media mentions can be found on my “Screenings, Press, Awards” page.

Calgary Film Festival

This week Kurayami no Wa screens in the Youth by Youth Cinema (YYC) category of the Calgary Film Festival. The festival wasn’t able to program We All Go the Same in the YYC category because it’s a music video, so the wonderful festival staff offered to screen it in the main festival instead! It will screen twice, preceding the feature film “Keep in Touch“.

Downtown Tyler Film Festival laurelsDowntown Tyler Film Festival

Both films screened at this festival, and I’m excited to share that I was awarded the “Best Young Filmmaker” award!

Brighton Youth Film Festival

“We All Go the Same” won Best Short Film in the 13-15 year old filmmaker division!

All American High School Film Festival

I am extremely excited to be attending All American High School Film Festival this year in NYC. I was accepted to the festival last year with GIFTS, but ultimately couldn’t go due to timing on one of my shoots. Well, I have the chance to go again this year for We All Go the Same, and am taking it. I’ll be staying with pal and cool filmmaker Max Retik for the duration of the festival, so expect to see a blog post shortly after on our adventures in those three days.

Local Screenings and Events

Attending the Ottawa Spookshow with festival organizer Brett Kelly and my friend Emily Andrews

Attending the Ottawa Spookshow with festival organizer Brett Kelly and my friend Emily Andrews

Earlier this month I attended the first Ottawa Spookshow & Fantastic Film Festival with my good friend Emily Andrews.

Next month I’ll be attending the Ottawa International Film Festival (Oct 16-18) which is screening both “We All Go the Same” and “Kurayami no Wa”.

Lastly, I’m honoured to have “We All Go the Same” screen at the “Lights! Camera! Cure!” event on October 22nd, in support of cancer research and the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. Visit the website for more details and tickets. I look forward to seeing you there!

 

Ellie Kickstarter Campaign

"Ellie" KickstarterAs you can tell by the title of this post, for my next short (which I will be shooting in three weeks) I’m running a Kickstarter campaign!

It’s my first Kickstarter, so it should be a nerve-wracking but fun adventure!

I won’t bother going on about it, as all the info is covered on the Kickstarter page, so I’ll encourage you to head there and check out the pitch video! Let’s make this happen!

 

Casting Call: Male actors needed for short film Ellie

NOTE:

This casting-call post was published in May 2015. The cast was chosen in late June. The production of Ellie has shifted from non-union cast, to union (ACTRA). Most of the original post has been removed, because it contained so much detail about the film, its characters, and the story. Production updates will be posted to the Ellie page.

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A month of insanity

Awesome people

Colour-grading Kurayami no Wa

Colour-grading Kurayami no Wa

I feel like I blinked and woke up in mid-May.

The past few months have been absolutely insane, attending festivals for both “We All Go the Same” and “Kurayami no Wa”.

I was still wrapping up the final colour grading for Kurayami no Wa (even on the plane), so I wasn’t able to submit it to NFFTY 2015. That being said, I’ve been off my website for some time, so a well deserved update is now here.

NFFTY

I attended NFFTY last year for “GIFTS“, and had an unbelievably amazing experience. I was able to come back again this year with my music video “We All Go the Same”, and this year was even more wonderful.

I got to reunite with friends, meet some new ones, and I even got to explore a little before the screenings.

Opening Night was a blast. I hugged so many people I’m sure people thought I was crazy. Before the screening, I had the opportunity to go up and talk about being a female filmmaker.

 

“Building A House: Drama, Dialogue, and Directing” with James Foley

“Building A House: Drama, Dialogue, and Directing” with James Foley

The rest of the fest was filled with panels and some really, really great youth shorts.

NFFTY 2015 was a hit. I love NFFTY, and look forward to it so much during the year. It was great being able to come back and experience it all again.

Thank you to the NFFTY staff and the rest of the people that helped make NFFTY 2015 a really great one.

 

 

CineYouth

Ivana Noa and Justin Leyba (photo via ActionBooth.com)

Ivana Noa and Justin Leyba (photo via ActionBooth.com)

Two weeks later I flew out to CineYouth! I attended CineYouth last year for my short film GIFTS, and came back again this year for my music video and my thriller Kurayami no Wa. CineYouth is great. It has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and Festival Director Rebecca Fons adds an extremely fun and happy vibe to the festival experience.

At CineYouth they had a button maker. I repeat, they had a button maker!

At CineYouth they had a button maker. I repeat, they had a button maker!

Of course, more photo booth photos were taken, only this time I made the mistake of doing the “jump and smile” pose while wearing a dress. Thank goodness for wearing shorts.

I got to reunite with my lovely Belgian friend Ivana Noa who I met last year at CineYouth. She’s one of the coolest 12 year olds I know, so you can find out more on her and her work here.

Kurayami no Wa was an extremely intense film to execute; from pre-production to just finalizing the edit. This made it even more wonderful to receive the Best Thriller Junior Division award at CineYouth.

At the end of the fest we were all a little mopey considering the jam-packed couple of days were now coming to a close. But, I love CineYouth, and I know I’ll end up seeing these people again whether next year or not, so I was happy for the time that I had with them.

In the spare moments between attending festivals and trying to complete math homework, I was still tracking other festival screenings.

Longleaf Film Festival

GIFTS, took home Best Student Made Film and Best Narrative, Student Category at the Longleaf Film Festival in April! This was an incredible surprise and honor. GIFTS was the little train that could, and it amazes me to see its still making it’s way through the festival circuit.

Lovett School, High School Film Fest

We All Go the Same was awarded Best Music Video at the Lovett School, High School Film Fest! This is the first award for my music video, a film that was meant to be a “small side project”, so naturally I was ecstatic. Thank you so much to everyone at Lovett for this!

Ottawa High School Film Festival

While I was attending CineYouth in Chicago, Kurayami no Wa was screening at the Ottawa High School Student Film Festival, and won first place!

As a part of the award, Kurayami no Wa will screen at the Ottawa International Film Festival in October. I had happy cast and crew attend to represent me (as I was at CineYouth). And, they all had a blast watching great films and dancing with Karl Wolf, who performed a great half time show.

This past month has been amazing, and thank you to everyone that helped make it that way. It’s been insane, and I look forward to see what insanity is in store next.

Best Director Under 25, Ottawa Independent Video Award

2015 Ottawa Independent Video Awards Best Director Under 25 Award

2015 Ottawa Independent Video Awards Best Director Under 25 Award

In a night filled with great socializing, networking, some awesome short listed filmmakers and talented folks, I was extremely happy to attend the inaugural Ottawa Independent Video Awards.

I attended not only because I was nominated in two categories (Best Music Video and Best Director Under 25) for my music video “We All Go the Same“, but also to support Ottawa’s indie filmmaking group, which I haven’t networked with in the past. I’m thrilled Ottawa is having more events like this to support indie filmmakers.

To my complete surprise I was awarded “Best Director Under 25”! Other than the fact I almost pulled a Jennifer Lawrence and wiped out on the way to get my award, I was extremely happy to accept the very “sharp” award (see photo above).

I do want to give a huge thank you to my cast and crew who worked their butts off to make this film possible. In particular Julia Frangione, my assistant makeup artist (a.k.a. partner in crime) who worked tirelessly with me to get the overall looks right at 5am call times. I share this award with you Julia.

The night was a wonderful hit, and I look forward to seeing more of what Ottawa’s indie filmmakers have to offer.

Morgana receiving her award at the OIVA gala

Morgana receiving her award at the OIVA gala

We All Go The Same at KCFF

I’ve been completely focused on editing my thriller Kurayami no Wa for the past two weeks, but I wanted to give you some festival news!

After a year of being in the festival circuit, GIFTS has received four more festival acceptances since the beginning of the year! It warms me to see that GIFTS still lives out in the festival world. The only one I can publicly announce right now is the screening at the Providence Children’s Film Festival.

In addition, my music video, We All Go The Same,  has been accepted at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) and will be screening on Saturday February 28th! I am excited to be attending along with several members of the cast and their families.

A huge thank you to Lucia Alloggia who allowed me to have both of her daughters, Laura and Victoria, in We All Go the Same. Below is a still of Victoria alongside the matching portrait painted by Lucia. I will be updating the We All Go The Same page soon with more photos.

A still from We All Go the Same

A still from We All Go the Same

Ottawa Family Living Magazine Article

Back in September, I needed volunteers to help move two car-loads of equipment out to the forest shooting location for “We All Go the Same”. Three people on Twitter volunteered to help: Pete Patterson (@OttawaPete), Karen Fox (@SoupFox), and Pam Dillon (@PamnDillon). It was a very long shoot day, that wouldn’t have been possible without their help moving equipment very early that morning.

A bonus on the shoot day was that pro-photographer Charlene Burnside (and awesome friend of ours) was on set for part of the day taking production photos!

Fast forward a few weeks, and Pam asked if she could write an article for the upcoming issue of Ottawa Family Living Magazine, about my film work. I hadn’t met Pam before the shoot day, but it was a really fun process doing the interview with her! I can’t thank Pam enough for taking an interest in my film work.

The result is a wonderful five page article, with Charlene’s amazing production photos.

The magazine is available throughout the city, but for those of you who can’t get a copy, the article is also available online.

Click photo to view the Ottawa Family Living Magazine article.

Click photo to view the Ottawa Family Living Magazine article.

Fav Film Friday #16: Foam Drive Renegades


A short film by Adam DeViller (@AdamDeViller)

A gang of petty criminals enlists the last-minute help of an irrational acquaintance to pull off a robbery.

I really loved this short film, it was the perfect combination of dark comedy, great editing, fine details, and fantastic acting featuring some friendly faces (Glen Matthews and Josh MacDonald). Well done to everyone who worked on this epic short film.

P.S. Also see the related Fav Film Friday #9: Game, starring Glen Matthews and written/directed by Josh MacDonald.

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