"At age six, Jan was miraculously revived after her body was retrieved from the frozen river that consumed her parents. Now, after a lifetime of experiencing visions of others' pain and suffering, thirteen year old Jan hopes to intervene on fate and prevent a murder." -- synopsis for the short film GIFTS.
Official Selection 2014 NFFTY (National Film Festival for Talented Youth)

News

Prodigy Camp Experience

A month ago, I went to Seattle for a week of indie filmmaking at “Prodigy Camp“. I received a scholarship to attend Prodigy Camp back in April at NFFTY, and was incredibly excited to go!

The first few days went by, and I loved every aspect of the camp. Attending lessons, meeting new people, really everything. I played different roles while I was there: grip, sound, and acting (the acting was a new and pleasant experience).

I acted in Elijah Seneker’s film, “Facebook Friends“. It was a last minute request, but after gladly accepting and reading the script, I was more than happy that he asked me. By far the most fun I’ve had on a shoot. I wrote a brief blog post on it and included the finished film, here.

I really learned a lot from being on set, and around the DP’s (Directors of Photography). All the staff and interns were so nice, answering any questions I might have, and helping out with anything I might need. Stefanie Malone came by one night to talk about NFFTY, and we had an opportunity to chat before her presentation, which I really enjoyed.

On to my shoot…

Before coming to camp, I prepared a script entitled “Ellie”, which is about a teen boy trying to escape from his long-time captor.

A still from the "Ellie" shoot - Nathan and Kevin

A still from the “Ellie” shoot – Nathan and Kevin

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some great actors, including Nathan Gamble (which I was very excited about), and I had a great producer Adam McArthur, so I was really excited to start the shoot. However, as the shoot went on, I became more and more stressed. Feeling stressed on shoots can be normal, but I still found myself feeling uneasy. That feeling came because of a couple of reasons:

1. We had only a three-hour shoot window, and we started 20 minutes late because the shooting location needed some last-minute prep before we could start. I’ve had people suggest to me in the past to do things like 48-hour film festivals, but I’ve kindly turned them down because of the fact that it’s really difficult for me to work under such time constraints. I meticulously plan my shoots, but capturing an entire short film within a handful of hours isn’t for me.

2. That being said, although I was really proud of the screenplay I came up with (and my mentors loved the screenplay too), it was way too difficult to shoot this screenplay in three hours. Maybe if we had more rehearsal, and I had more time to communicate with the crew prior to our three-hour shoot, it might have been possible. But frankly, the screenplay I came up with was not meant to be made in that short amount of time.

3. This was my first time working with a Director of Photography (DP). Traditionally, a DP is in charge of the camera work, and a Director…directs, without handling the camera. Although I did take the camera in my own hands at some points, I still found it really difficult having to direct actors, crew, and a DP all at once. Especially when I had only just met them.

4. I also, sadly, found it difficult to connect with my DP on an emotional level, which is crucial when working on set with anyone. You need to be able to work with people that you can easily connect with and have the same vision, so the shoot can be done in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible. If you can’t connect, it makes the shoot a lot more difficult to get through. This had nothing to do with my DP’s technical or artistic abilities, but having to work with someone who you’ve never met before, only to find out that you approach things differently when you arrive on set, becomes a problem. Trying to sort this out on set, in a three-hour shoot, can be disastrous.

One of the things I walked away with however, is realizing that the point of camp is to make friends (or “connections” if we’re being professional), learn from the lessons and discussions, experience the different roles in the shoots, and just have fun while doing it all. The final product of a short film is a bonus. It’s great to have it, and I would have loved to finished “Ellie”, but the experience is as important as the outcome. What I took away, was an amazing experience, and yes it stings to not have a film as a final product, but I’m happy with what I’ve learned and taken away from it all.

And I do really want to especially thank Rick Stevenson (founder of Prodigy Camp) for his understanding and handling of a difficult scenario. For the session on the last day of camp where everyone presented their finished films, Rick suggested that I present some of my footage and talk openly about what went well, and what didn’t. Laura and Ned Hosford, who both work as staff and act at Prodigy Camp, were also really supportive and fun to work with.

I plan on going again next year for “Production Camp”, which is a three-day version of Prodigy Camp for the alumni, and would love to be an intern for Prodigy camp as well (wink-wink nudge-nudge). For my film at Production Camp, I am going to prepare a story idea and have a simple concept around it. I did a Fav Film Friday on a Prodigy Camp film “Well” that is similar to what I’m talking about.

Prodigy Camp was amazing, and I thank all the staff and fellow campers that made the experience the way it was. I can’t wait for next year.

Fav Film Friday #15: Well

A short film by “Rosa Berndt”.

I worked as “grip” on the set of “Well” at Prodigy Camp. As the shoot went by, I became incredibly excited to see the finished product. And when the screening day came, I was astonished at what came out of the small three hour shoot.

Rosa’s film, to me, is the definition of a film that you do with a three hour time constraint. She had a one page script with a simple concept, and then finished off the film with some beautiful visuals, working with Director of Photography Andy Maier. The overall simplicity and beauty make a great short.

Aside from Rosa however, I do think that Dylan Bachmann sold the role perfectly. Props to you my friend. Rosa put so much heart into the piece, and it’s evident in the final product. Keep doing what you’re doing Rosa, and I wish you luck in your future projects.

Fav Film Friday #14: Prospect

A short film by Shep Films (@Shep_Films)

“Prospect is the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl on a toxic alien planet. She and her father hunt for precious materials, aiming to strike it rich.”

Soon, I’ll post a blog on my experience in July at “Prodigy Camp”, but for now I want to start things off with a bang with a Fav Film Friday on “Prospect”!

I had first seen the Kickstarter campaign for this, and when the final product came out, I was in awe. It’s great when you get to see the original idea spiral out into something so much more.

Looking past the evident overall beauty, and production value, I admired how the director had moments focused on the father and daughter’s relationship. This is something that I often find is lost in sci fi’s and thrillers; the relationship between characters gets buried behind all the action, and loses it’s meaning. Prospect doesn’t lose it. Even in high moments of intensity and action, the connection isn’t lost.

I love long steady shots, so this film really won me over, because it had a lot of them. It also shocked me how smooth they were, considering all the logs, sticks, and branches around the camera operator. I can’t imagine trying to operate a steady cam while running through that. It obviously paid off in the end.

Prospect didn’t end how I expected it too, but I still loved the film tremendously overall.

I was in a film?

A couple weeks ago, I attended “Prodigy Camp” in Seattle. It was amazing, and I’ll post a blog on my experience soon.

While I was there, I was asked by fellow camper Elijah Seneker if I could be in his film. This was different for me, because I don’t usually act in anything other than the occasional class play. But, I was thrilled with the idea and promptly said yes.

It was interesting stepping back, and not directing for once. I had a blast on set with the crew, and I think Elijah did a great job on the film, so I’ll just leave you to it…

Festivals, Kurayami no Wa, and an Unnamed Music Video

Kurayami no Wa Audition Slate

Kurayami no Wa Audition Slate

Morgana is away (on her own) for the month of July, and this week she is attending Prodigy Camp outside of Seattle on a scholarship she won at NFFTY. So I (her dad) am tasked with keeping her website and social media engagement going until she returns. My first order of business? To round-up all the news from the past month…

Festival Updates

ASK Film Festival – This high-school film festival, in Kosovo, ran over a weekend in April. We knew that GIFTS was part of the official selection, but only recently did we learn that GIFTS won the festival’s “Best Editing” award!

Thurrock International Film Festival – GIFTS was recently selected to screen at the Thurrock International Film Festival in England, as part of their “Under 18″ category. And, even better, GIFTS has been nominated alongside two other short films for the “Best Under 18″ award!

Josiah Media Festival – GIFTS will also be showing at the Josiah Media Festival in San Antonio Texas this week. The festival runs from July 10th – 12th, screening two hours of films by young filmmakers each night.

SAW Video Grant

SAW Video is a local (Ottawa) not-for-profit organization that supports filmmakers with resources such as workshops and equipment rentals. Back in the March break, Morgana attended an Advanced Production Tools workshop to learn how to use a dolly and crane; tools she intends to incorporate into her upcoming short film “Kurayami no Wa”.

Just before departing to Seattle for NFFTY in late April, we discovered that SAW also offers funding and services to filmmakers through several grant programs. When we discovered this in late April, the next grant deadline was May 1st, only days after we would return jet-lagged from our stay in Seattle. We encouraged Morgana to submit a grant application for “Kurayami no Wa”. We figured that winning a grant was a long-shot, as the grants are not specifically earmarked for youth filmmakers.

If Morgana did receive a grant, the funds would help to offset the cost of renting the advanced production equipment necessary for Kurayami no Wa. Plus, SAW grants also include access to workshops and production mentors. Regardless of whether she was ultimately awarded a grant, Morgana agreed that the experience of writing a grant application would be valuable on its own. Morgana authored parts of the grant application on the plane trips to and from Seattle, and after a few late nights and assistance from mom and dad on the budget component of the application, it was delivered on the deadline day.

Fast forward to late June, and we were all completely shocked to learn that Morgana has received a SAW Video “JumpstART Mentorship Grant” which includes a wonderful combination of funding, access to services, and expertise. Every project Morgana undertakes is more ambitious than the previous project, and Kurayami no Wa will be incredibly challenging, with complex outdoor scenes to be shot in October and in the middle of winter. While I don’t doubt that Morgana would have managed without the grant, access to SAW resources during the production will help to de-risk the project and allow Morgana to push even further on some of her more challenging goals for the film.

Morgana is very thankful for the grant, and looks forward to working with SAW over the coming year.

Kurayami no Wa

Back in May, Morgana put out a casting call for the youngest role in Kurayami no Wa: a character she envisioned as a 9-10 year old girl. In addition to holding auditions for this role, she also auditioned a small number of Canterbury High School Drama students for the two primary roles.

Over several evenings, Morgana auditioned nearly a dozen people on camera in half-hour audition sessions. Each person was provided with a watermarked excerpt of the screenplay several days prior to the audition, and was asked to perform a monologue of their choice followed by a reading and performance of their part in Kurayami no Wa. Everyone was prepared, incredibly talented, and the process worked out really well. The lead roles, and many of the supporting roles, are now filled.

Unnamed Music Video

In addition to Kurayami no Wa, Morgana has been working on pre-production for a music video. Unlike performance-style music videos, this will be a narrative short film about three-minutes in length, interpreting the song lyrics within a dark fantasy setting. Morgana has kept quiet about this project, because she’s been working through the incredibly slow (and often frustrating) process of obtaining permission to use the music, and it remains unclear whether permission for use of the song will ultimately be granted.

Auditions for the cast of the music video happened at the same time as the Kurayami no Wa auditions, and the actors have been selected. Morgana is pushing forward with the production in hopes that permission for use of the song will be sorted out by the end of the year.

May Festival Shenanigans

Over the past month my life has been filled with hectic (but very enjoyable) film work and travelling. After my trip to NFFTY in April, I was very fortunate to be able to travel to two festivals: CineYouth in Chicago, and TIFF Next Wave Jump Cuts in Toronto. Here’s a brief rundown, with pictures, of my adventures…

CineYouth

CineYouth was a lot of fun! It was a really awesome community that I was happy to be a part of this year. Rebecca Fons and the CineYouth team did a fantastic job, and Rebecca was so friendly and great to talk to. I definitely made some great connections that I’ll keep in touch with in the future. It was a two-day/three-night festival hosted at the Columbia College Chicago.

I attended a relaxed and interactive session with Academy Award winning producer Caryn Capotosto, where she shared stories about her early filmmaking experiences and the process of making 20 Feet from Stardom.

It was really great that GIFTS won the Best Thriller award! And as a winner of CineYouth, GIFTS will also be screened at the 50th anniversary Chicago International Film Festival on Saturday October 11th as part of the Best of the Fest category.

TIFF

Last year I went to TIFF Kids Jump Cuts for my short film “A Day in the Life of a Montessori Junior High Class“. This year GIFTS was accepted into TIFF Next Wave, the high school division.

It was a bit of a rushed day and I couldn’t stay after the evening screenings because we had to catch a flight back to Ottawa. I attended the Filmmaker Boot Camp sessions during the day, where Canadian filmmakers from the industry spoke with us. The filmmakers hosting the sessions were great, but the sessions were more of a lecture style setting; which was okay, but I would have much rather had the session include more opportunities for open discussion with the Canadian filmmakers leading the sessions. Nonetheless, it was fun, and I enjoyed chatting with other youth filmmakers.

Finally, I was genuinely happy that Nate Wilson won for his short film “Glow”, which was also part of his application to the Ryerson film program. I also enjoyed chatting with Nate, and I look forward to what he comes up with in the future.

Casting Call: 9 to 11-year-old actress for my next film

I am working on pre-production for my upcoming short film “Kurayami no Wa“, and I’m looking for a young actress for a supporting role. Here are the details:

Production Title: “Kurayami no Wa
Genre: Dark Thriller
Production Type: Independent/Student
Project Length: Short Film (Under 10 minutes)
Production Location: Ottawa
Compensation: Non-paying/volunteer, credit in film, meals & snacks 
Audition Date: By appointment, June 25-27

Character: “Alex
Attributes: Female, Caucasian, Age 9 – 11 (or equivalent appearance)
Actress will need to:
- portray a sweet and cute sibling in a dark film
- show intense emotions when needed (crying, screaming, fear, sadness, joy, happiness)
- work and collaborate well with other actors on and off camera
- commit to this film, and be available for approximately two weekend rehearsals/shoots per month from end August 2014 until early January 2015 (specific schedule TBD). Note that (weather permitting) winter scenes will be shot during the holiday school break in Dec/Jan.

If interested, please email a resume and head shot to: contact@morganamckenzie.com
Thank you!

NFFTY 2014 Adventures

I had the huge privilege of having “GIFTS” be accepted into National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) this year.

NFFTY is the largest international youth film festival in the world, based in Seattle, WA. It is a four day festival, filled with speed networking, panel sessions, film screenings, Q&A with filmmakers, and parties. It really is an awesome event for youth filmmakers. This was my first year at NFFTY, and my experience was beyond fantastic.

My friend Laura (who played the character “Jan” in GIFTS) and her mom made the trip to NFFTY with us. We had about a 6 hour flight to Seattle. Originally I thought this was long, until I started to meet people at NFFTY from Hong Kong who had 14 hour flights, and people who made the trip from Australia. I can’t even begin to image that long of a flight.

Waiting in the airport with Laura

Waiting in the airport with Laura

Spending an afternoon exploring Seattle with Laura

Spending an afternoon exploring Seattle with Laura

Since I arrived in Seattle Wednesday night, Laura and I had part of the following day to do some exploring around Seattle. We didn’t really get to see much, but it was still time well spent.

The Opening Night Gala and the After Party were both awesome. The evening started off with a red carpet entrance where I had my photo taken, and then brief conversations and networking with others before the opening night films.

I attended a panel session on Friday, where producer Adi Shankar spoke about his experiences as a (young) producer on films such as Dredd and The Grey. I also attended a panel session with Danish filmmaker Kræsten Kusk, who talked about the value of incorporating aspects of your own personal stories into films, and he illustrated this advice with clips from his films.

Danish filmmaker Kræsten Kusk with Morgana and Laura

Danish filmmaker Kræsten Kusk with Morgana and Laura

Morgana and Laura outside SIFF Cinema

Morgana and Laura outside SIFF Cinema

GIFTS was screened in the “Edge of Your Seat” category late on Saturday night, alongside impressive thriller/horror short films from around the world by filmmakers aged between 18-22.

I was shocked and excited to win the the Prodigy Camp scholarship award. And then, to also be awarded “Best Emerging Female Filmmaker” award! You can clearly see (in the pictures below) the mixture of shock and awkward excitement on my face. So please excuse that.

The two photos of me accepting my awards are from the NFFTY Flickr gallery. First, is me accepting the scholarship award from director/writer/producer and founder of the Prodigy Camp, Rick Stevenson. Second, is photo of me accepting the “Best Emerging Female Filmmaker” award from NFFTY managing director Stefanie Malone.

Check out the NFFTY Flickr gallery for photos from each day of the festival and the parties, as well as photos from previous years.

Morgana accepting the Prodigy Camp Scholarship from Rick Stevenson

Morgana accepting the Prodigy Camp Scholarship from Rick Stevenson

Morgana accepting the Best Emerging Female Filmmaker award from NFFTY Managing Director Stefanie Malone

Morgana accepting the Best Emerging Female Filmmaker award from NFFTY Managing Director Stefanie Malone

I was really happy to meet Danielle Payne, the Australia-based 19-year old director of “Wonderlost” presented in the Afternoon Eclectic category. You can watch Wonderlost on Danielle’s Vimeo page, along with some of her earlier work such as the short film “My Friend Charlie”. I’ve been following Danielle on Vimeo for a couple years, but it was wonderful to finally meet her and chat.

Laura and Morgana with Danielle Payne

Laura and Morgana with Danielle Payne

Final After Party

Final After Party

Mae Catt is a writer/director I met after the GIFTS screening on Saturday night. I didn’t get an opportunity to see her film “Sam’s Story” when it was presented during the festival, as the screening categories overlapped and I had to make choices about which categories to attend. There were always films I regretted missing. But Mae did arrange for me to see “Sam’s Story”, and I loved it. Mae and I reconnected on the final after party on Sunday evening, and I got to hear about her experiences as a young female independent filmmaker.

Laura and Morgana with Mae Catt

Laura and Morgana with Mae Catt

NFFTY completely exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were already high. I was super-excited to go, and kind of bummed to leave. There were so many great films, and so many talented filmmakers. I can’t wait to work with some of you talented folks in the future. Thanks to everyone who made NFFTY 2014 so awesome, and I hope I’ll be back next year.

NFFTY Poster with the festival filmmaker signatures

NFFTY Poster with the festival filmmaker signatures

CBC Ottawa Morning Interview

CBC Ottawa Morning Radio Show - Morgana McKenzie and host Hallie Cotnam

CBC Ottawa Morning Radio Show – Morgana McKenzie and host Hallie Cotnam

This morning, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Hallie Cotnam on CBC Ottawa Morning radio about GIFTS and the upcoming NFFTY festival. It was a wonderful experience, and everyone was extremely nice, especially Jessa the producer.

Before the interview, Hallie told me that she watched GIFTS earlier in the morning, and was feeling uneasy because she isn’t a huge fan of scary movies. The idea of her nervously watching GIFTS at 4:30am made me laugh.

Press the play button below to listen to a recording of the five-minute interview:

Shots as a form of Art, and Moo!

Moo Cards

My Moo Mini Cards

My Moo Mini Cards

NFFTY 2014 is coming up fast, and it’s very difficult for me to contain my excitement. Another reason that I’m excited, is my Moo mini-cards (several boxes) came in the mail the other day! Moo is a service for creating business cards that you can style and change to fit your business and personality. I styled mine so that each mini-card had a different frame from one of my films on the back, and of course all my important info on the front.

Moving Pictures

My family and I watch movies often, and we usually take turns on weekends picking which film we’re going to watch next. A couple weeks ago, my Mom picked “American Beauty” by Sam Mendes (brief note, if you haven’t already seen American Beauty, stop reading and go watch it). I had never seen it before, and wasn’t really sure what to expect.

As we watched the film, I slowly began to realize the beauty, framing, and symbolism in each of the shots. I already had a wide knowledge on the beauty of shots, but after watching American Beauty, I truly understood how individual shots can be a form of visual art in themselves.

When I say “a form of art”, I mean that its more than adding in an indulgent filler shot, or just framing it in a certain way to fit the overall scenery in. I mean that each shot is almost like a painting; each composed differently and meticulously, and different colour palettes used to symbolize different things. Films were originally called “moving pictures”, and especially with American Beauty I feel that each shot is like a different painting, or picture, in itself.

Here are some of my recent favourite examples of shots when it comes to specific colour selections, and the framing. By the way, some of these are “cinemagraphs“.

American Beauty

American Beauty

American Beauty

American Beauty

The Shining

The Shining

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 1

In Gifts, I did have the knowledge of using specific colour palettes to provide different feels. So I made all the scenes with the character “Jan” more blue than anything else, whereas her visions were colourful. This shows the sort of feeling that Jan experiences all the time in her world: a blue, sad, and gloomy colour. In her visions she doesn’t feel or see that blue colour because she is seeing someone else’s much happier life (even in a murder situation).

The reason for blabbering on and on about this, is that for my next two films I am really going to focus on story boarding shots, selecting colour palettes, framing and composition, wardrobe and makeup. I really want to better achieve that feel something that isn’t just a film — but a series of moving pictures, or paintings.

This is going to be fun!

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