In this episode of the podcast Clarke speaks with Haya Waseem about editing docs, and moving into the commercial filmmaking world, getting repped and her first feature film.
Since the time of this episode, Haya has gone on to direct her debut feature Quickening, which premiered at TIFF 2021. Congrats to Haya for this wonderful achievement.
All right, you’re ready. Miss Waseem,
Okay, so the question I asked everyone at the start is, Who are you? What do you do? And how’d you get your start?
Perfect. Yeah. So my name is Hi, Waseem, I’m a film director. And how did I get started? Well, I got started a little bit, not by accident, but through a path that wasn’t necessarily directed towards film. I was always interested in theater and performance. And I mean, I’m from Pakistan, my family’s from Pakistan. I was born there. I lived there till I was 12 or 10. And then I moved to Switzerland and then I moved to Canada and then to New York. So as I was moving from Pakistan to Switzerland, like it was always this sort of hope that I would move closer and closer to Hollywood, like somewhere where I could make movies and, you know, be closer to cinema. But I enjoyed theater.
Hollywood is what’s going on. Not the same thing.
It’s so many things became clearer and separated as as I got closer and closer, but you know, I remember being like 10 years old and like sitting in like a really hot kurachi apartment in the summer. And there’s just like, Nickelodeon documentary on like, the Kate Winslet and like, the Olsen twins, not not Kate Winslet. I don’t know where that came from the Olsen twins, and like, how they have this empire of like books and movies, and I was just sitting there and going, like, how could Whoa, like, I’m 10 I’m sitting here, like, what am I doing? Whether, you know, I just wanted to get close to that so and it seems like impossible. It just seemed like a you know, a world that is almost as fictional as like the films that you know, you see so
so I was always interested in their lives are definitely manufactured. So there’s there’s some truth in what you just said, right? Yeah, I
mean, it just it just I I grew up on bollywood, so and when Bollywood was just entertainment, and you know, it never really, I wanted to be an actress as in those movies, but never like a filmmaker. And I would put like, little plays with my cousins up for my family. And people would always, like my family would always react really, like positively like my mom, like when I first wrote a poem, she was like, You didn’t write that, like No way. And so I was always kind of encouraged in these little ways, but nobody in my family was was film or creative or are driven at all, you know, lots of doctors and you know, things like that. But like, but my parents never discouraged me. So when I got to Canada, that was like, the closest that I got to like North American, like film and television world, and I decided to take film in college, instead of theater. And when I went to film school, I actually had no idea that there were people other than the director that made the movie like that was the level of knowledge I had of filmmaking, like the first time I went to class, and they were like, there’s a gaffer, and there’s a grip. I was like, What the hell is that, like, you know, so I had no idea about filmmaking. But when I got to share it, and college, which was the school that I went for, for film, I sort of got my base for filmmaking there. And I was really drawn to this one professor that we had, his name was Vlad, he’s from the Czech Republic. He’s this filmmaker that was grisly and old and he was known to have a very tough reputation on on on his students. And in second year, he had to decide whether to documentary or live action filmmaking. And only like a handful of students would decide to take documentary because of this professor. And to me, he seemed like the only filmmaker in the whole school like I was like, this is a filmmaker. So I decided to take documentary and that’s where I fell in love with documentary filmmaking and very taste cinnamon that you could have a documentary that’s not just like a pseudo informational kind of, you know, format. And that’s kind of how I got started. I fell in love with documentary and I followed the stream of editing. So that formed my base for storytelling was documentary editing.
Okay, so looking at your IMDb today, there’s a lot under the rubric of editors so after film school like what happened next to you, you during film school you really concentrated on on editing which is fantastic because I think personally I think every filmmaker should do some editing I know you know, Chris, we were talking about something that he didn’t like so he recut it so you know, it’s a skill that every filmmaker even a cinematographer needs in your case that was something that you that you chose for the story element while you’re in college while you’re in film school.
Yeah, I’m when I was in the documentary course all projects died in posts, like my professor was kind of In his like last after my year, he taught for maybe two more years. And then after that he stopped teaching. And it was because students kept decreasing. And it was a, it’s really tough to make a documentary. And if you’re not like completely committed to it, it happens that in post production, it just crumbles, you can’t put the story together. So I was determined that I was going to finish a film. And I shot a movie, I never wanted to be a director, but I directed the project so that I could cut the project. And when I came to the Edit, it just wasn’t working. And I spent like two nights in the edit suite, and I couldn’t cut the film. And I was really, really down about it. I went to Vlad and I was like, you know, Vlad, I’m not going to be able to finish this film. And I was like, on the verge of tears, and he just looked at me, he’s like, you know, hi, I should take care of your health first. And so I just, you know, I went home, I went to bed, I came back and I came back to the Edit, I finished yet it. And that film, you know, was the only one that was finished in my year. And then it got a little award in our school too. And it just sort of instilled in me that any film can be cut. And that’s where my sort of focus on editing came, and especially in documentary, you get hours of footage. And Andre, I focused on hundreds of hours of footage, which we can talk about, because that that kind of, you know, influenced me in a different way. But that was where, you know, I became very fascinated with editing and editing became my focus. And after, after film school, I got into editing as my sort of career and started as like an assistant editor on a Food Show. But it was a nighttime job. So what that allowed me to do was during the day, I would work at the small production company in my school as an editor, so I was always editing, which was great because a few of the other students in my year that wanted to be editors got jobs as as assistant editors. And still to this day they’re assisting and they’re trying to get into editing, but they never got the opportunity to. So after the Food Show, there was this editor. His name is Nick Hector. And he cut all these documentaries by this amazing filmmaker. His name, his name is Alan king. He was kind of the forefather of Veritate cinema in Canada. And his documentaries, I fell in love with an in film school and he came to do a talk. And I went up to him afterwards. And I said, I want to stay in touch with you, I want to, you know, find an opportunity to work together sometime. And he called me out of the blue and was like I needed an assistant, will you come join us. So I started working with him. And he’s this amazing editor. And it was a very fulfilling job like working alongside with him. And at one point, he had a documentary that he couldn’t edit. And he asked me if I wanted to edit the film, and that he would guide me through the process. And I got on that project and I just started editing it. And he was too busy to help me and I eventually finished the film and he was like, Oh, that’s You did a great job. And from in that year, I cut for feature documentaries. And that was a year after I graduated. And I remember people around me like I was very very ambitious. I was like I want to cut documentaries. And people that I worked with were like oh yeah, it’s gonna take you like five years and then you might you might get your first documentary and I was like No, I’m I just want to get right in there. And somehow through this opportunity and just through like the eagerness in that year, I cut for docs and one of them was actually bloodstock my professors film, so it was just like a great year to just actually cut films. And I think it was because I never stopped cutting films. And it just kind of building.
When was this? How many how many years ago was this?
This was about five, six years ago.
Alright, and so normally that lead the second question I asked is, what’s the one thing that you do? That’s been the biggest contributors to your success so far? I think there’s probably a good way, like a good segue into that because clearly there’s something you’re doing. Strategically even, even if you don’t know, like a you might just feel this as normal. But I’d like to investigate what is it in you that got you to be different than and you know, to cover features? Your first year out? One of them’s your professor from University from film school. So clearly, there’s talent there. But there’s this. I know there’s no way known I would give a hand over a feature doc to someone who’s fresh out of film, film school, even even if they are talented. without there being something more than that, which I know what I would I would do, but I’d be interested to hear what you got to say about what you think it was. So what was it that you were doing, do you reckon?
Well, I think it It was a mix of extreme desire to cut the films and like be an editor and on the flip side was like a complete naivete like I had. Still to this day, I feel like I have an extreme desire to do the work that I want to do. And I have a an unawareness of what it takes to do that work.
Okay, so that will manifest as kind of curiosity. like a like a genuine curiosity just to keep digging, digging, digging, and looking at ways these ways is going where’s this going? where’s this going? But added with not like resentment, ah, this is back and this thing’s terrible. No, it’s not that it’s like, an enthusiasm. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, yeah, a lot of enthusiasm. And when film school kind of was ending, it was just like, you know, it was like, days and nights of work. And I think that pace never stopped because I, my, my job was at night and I was editing during the day. So I just kept I remember, I was, you know, it’d be cutting three projects at the same time. And that would be that would be normal. It says, Yeah, so when I was editing, it was like, it was lots of projects at the same time. And, and, and I just didn’t it’s it’s, it’s funny, because it’s not that far back in the past that I was doing this, but it seems like another lifetime. Like it’s, it seems like my, my editing phase was ages ago, but I do remember that it was like a complete obsession. Like, just, I had friends that I would talk to, and they would just not understand. Like what I was saying. So I think it was just complete determination and like and love like I was just extremely curious. I loved cutting documentaries. Like I think the people that I worked with usually the projects that came to me were not perfect projects. They were either projects that were only had development funding and so they only had that kind of footage or and I would just be like yes, like Give that to me, I’ll make something out of it. And so I think that’s kind of what what was in the mix was just like, I had lots of energy, like
endless energy to do projects and a willingness to a willingness to make something work to the best it could possibly work without you Without whining without winning in Australia we’d say winning without kind of without making it difficult for the people that were hiring you so easy to work with. And I know I’m sure you as a director now which we’ll talk about more extensively in a minute. Uh, no, I my thing is directing as well as the people that I need to work with need to be easy to work with. If someone’s giving me trouble, they are never coming back no matter how good they are. Because life and business as tough as it is you don’t want to be working with people who make it worse you want to be making you want to be working with people who make it better so I’m hearing that as well. Was that a conscious decision that you were making as you as you were going I need to be friendly and open and show enthusiasm were you being the word strategy can sometimes be a little bit achy, right? But was there a conscious decision to be like that or was it is this just naturally you
I it that was that period of time. So what happened The thing is I did things very fast so that that patients kind of ran out and like I wouldn’t I would not edit the same way I have not cut the same way since but I had multiple jobs. So I was earning a lot of money. Which was completely like a surprise. So I had no worries on that front. So to me, it just seemed like gifts like creative gifts. I was like oh, this is a great I was genuinely just excited and curious but so the timing worked out really nicely. So I have the people that came to me I think they saw that it was enthusiasm and just like oh you don’t have a budget that’s fine because this other project has a great budget and so it just kind of balances out it was all like a collective creative and, and enthusiastic period in my life. But as as I went through projects, and I kind of became aware of like, Okay, I’m, I’m, I’m getting to a place that changed. But during that early like the first two years of graduating and getting those projects, I think it wasn’t so much that I was conscious of it, I could I just genuinely was so thrilled. And I could tell that the projects that I was getting, were coming from this desire to want to do those projects. So so so I was aware to a certain extent that that having that enthusiasm and having that energy is what’s Paying paying off and bringing these projects about. And when that enthusiasm and energy level changed, I was also aware of that and it affected how it worked from that point forward,
did it affect the the the amount of work that you were getting as well?
Yes, I mean, those, so I was an editor in Toronto. So I mean, the community was a lot is a lot smaller there. So I feel like the first dock I did the second dock, I did, like everybody in the documentary field knew who I was at that point. Because especially because young editors did not pop out that frequently, like there was the heavy hitting editors, and I knew them very well. And if they weren’t able to do a project, you didn’t really have many options of who to go with after that. So the fact that I was I popped up in a time where I mean, I had a skit, like I have a knack for telling stories, in documentary, especially in editing, like putting images together that you know, so I had something going on, and I was aware of my talent in the editing world. And at the same time, there weren’t very many other people that were that that had just come out of school that we’re doing the same thing that I was doing. So there was tons and tons of work when, when my energy change, and I shifted and I wanted to do other things. That work was still coming in, but I just started saying no to those projects. And it’s funny because even to this day, like I get the random person that’s like oh, I heard you but they remember my reputation from like, a few years ago where it was like oh, there’s this person and she edits and she’s just you know, I don’t know who she is but she can cut a film. So that’s kind of how those projects came and as I started saying no to them that that that that feedback or that reputation sort of dispersed to so so it did change it there’s still like a little bit of residue that keeps coming but I’ve made a conscious choice or I don’t feel a desire to to cut those projects anymore.
Yeah, okay, so you moved on so we’ll do the same so what happened next?
What happened next was I mean I was I was editing documentaries from there became like music videos and and, and feature films. And what I started noticing was the projects that were coming to me had no foresight of like, how they wanted to cut the projects together. So the Edit like I felt more and more like I have all this enthusiasm, but I’m actually not getting things that I can feel creatively engaged with. So this frustration started to build, you know, and I started to get footage and become judgmental of how the direction was.
Yeah, I did. And I remember yelling at the last the last thing I cop for a production company that I worked for a long time ago. I remember screaming at the at the at the at the screen at the monitor, talking directly to the person who was who was shooting, and I think I said something like lift the fucking camera up like that. So I know that feeling here anyway,
sorry. Yeah, yeah. So so that was this, this building frustration and, and my, my boyfriend, Christopher Lu, who is cinematographer collaborated with, you know, on most of my projects, he was shooting a lot of commercial projects and a lot of narrative like, you know, different projects that were short, short format. And every time he would tell me about a new project, and what it entailed as Oh, this is how I would do it. Or this is like, how are you planning on doing I was always very inspired. And so at one point, the two of us through our conversations, he was like, you know, I want to buy a 35 mil camera, I want to start shooting on film. And I was like, I want to start directing. And so we just decided that we were going to do a project together a documentary. And at that point, still I was like, I’m going to be I’m going to be the best editor on this planet. And all I need is the best footage to cut that great film together. So I decided to direct the project not because I wanted to be a director, but because I wanted to cut a great film. And he bought the camera. And we had 12 rolls of film that we dug out of Sheridan College’s basement that they’d had there for 12 years collecting dust. They were like, please test the film before you shoot and we’re like, sure, but we never got around to testing the footage. And we just went embarked on this short documentary of three people that we followed in the city of Toronto that were within like a small radius of each other strangers to each other, but we interacted with them. It was a cab driver. It was a Japanese waiter at this ramen restaurant and this little girl who was the daughter of a co worker of mine, and we had 12 rolls of film and I was like okay, this is a math equation. like three roles per character, and we’ll just see four roles per character and we’ll follow just what is happening in their lives at this point. And so we made this film and we just shot for I don’t know how long like, a few different days and got the footage back and the footage turned out and I cut the film and, and it just was like the most It was exactly what what I was craving, like when I cut the film, and I watched the film, and I was just like, blown away, okay, by it’s exhilarating. And it was again, it was like that touchstone moment of like, when I couldn’t cut that film, and in film school, and I came back and it was cut, I was like, okay, no film ever that I’m going to touch, I’m going to say it’s not cuttable it’s just, it just is. And what after doing that short documentary, I was like, Okay, any project that I can can think of can be made. So you know, if we can do it, and it was just the two of us, like just just the two of us doing the whole the whole film and we made it, and we shot it on film. And, you know, so so that kind of created a little bit of a turn, where I was like, Okay, what else can I can I film so we applied for a grant and I wrote a short film called Shazad. And we applied for this grant. And we got the grant. And then I mean, I shot that film. And the narrative films that I started directing, I was I was disappointed with the first dock and it was an exhilarating experience. And then the second film was not that good. And the third film was not that good. And then you know, so but but it was so then it got a bit bumpy, but the fact was that first film kind of kicked it off. And then I was just like, determined to keep keep doing it.
I was like, why would I not as good do you think acting?
I’m acting and the my editing sensibility kind of, you know, the first the Shahzad that we film that we shot?
Yeah, yeah. Okay. Are we talking about actors actually. So he’s so I’ll cut out of the bag, we actually had to pause the interview this talking to the audience now. Because I had to go and vomit, because I’m pretty old. But I told him before that we were talking about activists and that you’ve done this, you’ve done this documentary, it was exhilarating. You’ve gone into to do some kind of narrative, live action narrative pieces. And you were you were disappointed you felt let down. And I asked whether it was the acting had a similar experience. But here’s the here’s the funny thing when I was auditioning. And it wasn’t, it was all, if I’m completely honest, it was my lack of experience as a director, directing actors, that meant that the acting wasn’t as good as the potential of the film and the potential of the story. And so that was my my first feature. So you know, completely transparent. It’s not as good as what I wanted it to be. It’s a good first effort shows some potential. And I think everyone agrees with that. And if at all, it’s my mistake, it’s all on me. But I want to tell the story, just very quickly of, because here’s the thing, I think that that, for me, it’s our business is a business of relationships, not transactions. And that strategy is really important, but strategy in a in a genuine, authentic way, about building relationships, and so forth. So when I was auditioning for 1000, Moments later, edition audition, the boys and the girls, men and the women did the women first because her character was really important. And I just met a whole bunch of actors in a cafe, and one girl turned up essentially turned up was like, okay, she’s, she looks great. And I reckon about three minutes in, she said, Clark, I’m really sorry, I’m, I need to go to the bathroom to vomit. And she ran off, and she came back a few minutes later, like sweaty and I could see what she turned up. She was very rock and roll, which is exactly what I needed in, in the character. And she said, I’ve actually got gastro, and as soon as he told me that I went, you got the part? Because someone who is that sick, who can still turn up and do the job, even if I have to run off shows an enthusiasm about the project. That means that when we’re in the middle of shooting and things are difficult, as you know, all nearly every project is this person’s going to have my back. This person is going to be able to and obviously I had to do my due diligence with skills like there has to be less like for us as as, particularly cinematography. If you’re no good if you don’t if you can’t shoot. You don’t even get to play the game, but it’s not your work. That will get you more work it’s everything else it’s Are you a nice person all those you know we you turn up even though you got gastro that kind of stuff. So anyway, I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m patting myself on the back. But anyway, so so acting so what happened in the in the in the in these projects Why were they disappointing?
Um acting I think for Shahzad the acting was good I mean the the there’s a little boy in it and he was he did a great job I think that was it was it was I had just completely had never done narrative filmmaking before. And we had storyboarded the film and I was like, that’s all we need, like, all we need is the shots that I know will stitch together. And then when it came to the Edit, I had no options at all. Raj Raj. So where my editing was kind of, you know, giving me all this confidence as a director, and it paid off in the documentary, it did not pay off in the narrative side. And so that was kind of what what fell short of it. I mean, it’s it, it did pretty well like that short film was at Tiff and it was well received. But personally, it just didn’t satisfy me the same way. And I think it was a combination of just lack of experience, a little bit of like being hard on the project. But I don’t regret the experience. It kind of was a good first experience, but I’m still struggling with narrative and it’s a little bit nerve racking because I’m going to be directing my first feature next year. And that’s a narrative film. And all my work to this point since has been craft focused, but with doc elements. So so we’ll see But yeah, narrative experiences I haven’t yet been like yes, I you know, I’ve got it. I feel confident.
So are you a fan of one hertz? Oh, I am Yeah, so he’s, he’s someone that’s been able to marry those two worlds together. And I I’ve heard stories where even in these Doc’s, he’s actually kind of manipulating the situation to as he, he wants the doc to say this, you’ll actually like in a narrative film, look, can you can you work, walk through this door again, for me, please, I just want to get a reverse on that. But it’s not what you do, in Verity, at least right? observational, you do not touch, you do not touch the scene in any way. Wynonna doesn’t do that. He doesn’t believe that. So I think if you if you were to take that kind of sensibility into a narrative piece, where you kind of what you’re actually creating is a hybrid between documentary and narrative, which is the stuff I love to do. A lot of the work that I do is this kind of hybrid, even documentaries that are scripted, they’re still they’re not scripted in the sense that they kind of informational. This kind of plethora of information or documentaries that we’re now seeing on Netflix is kind of annoying. And, you know, useful at the same time game changes as an example, right? But this hybrid where you’re able to put your stamp on how you want the narrative to kind of weave. And at the same time, the people who you’re capturing are actual real people. So you’re telling a real story, but you’re manipulating them. That’s the wrong way to say it. It’s a hybrid between the two. Yeah. Have you thought about doing it that way?
Yeah, I mean, I find Verner Hertzog really inspiring for that reason, because he kind of like has this confidence. He’s like, I dismiss you know, not dismiss, but I reject. Very tasted in mine, he has this and I agree with him, he’s kind of reaching for this emotional truth. And he’ll he’ll he’ll craft the film in a way that that resonates for that purpose. The films that I’ve made that are documentaries don’t read as documentaries. I mean, I did a film about sisters called sorors. And then I did the ballad, the recent film about the relationships. Those are both documentaries in my eye. You know, they’re real sisters. And they’re real couples, and they’re there. They’re not asked to do anything outside of that relationship. But you know, it doesn’t read like a doc. I mean, so so many of my films have in terms of like,
are you directed or you’re a directing them? No, let’s take bell so the ballot was the things shut off. 65, right. Yes. Which looks amazing. So anyone that’s listening to this now, hit pause, go and go and go and check this film out because it looks amazing. shot on 65 were you directing them at all?
I was but it’s this delicate kind of directing. You know, it’s like and it’s directing though. So real people Well think that they’re performing that they’re acting. But the direction isn’t elaborate. I mean, it’s just as an example, it’s like we set up a room, and there’s a mattress, and I would tell a couple to lay down on the mattress, and that would be it. And then they would lay down, and it would be suggesting a certain pose, or asking them a question about how they laid together. And just, that’s as much as we communicate. And then Chris, meanwhile, frames it up. And then we just capture that moment. And it’s like this, it’s, the best way that I can describe it is it’s just enough direction, but just enough lack of that it’s the suspended moment of like, Am I supposed to know a little bit more than then what I know, before we are ready to roll. And those, I think that that moment is the best moment to capture a bit of their reality, but a bit of influence of what we need for our film. And so the ballot is, that’s all that it is, it’s just frames of moments who are real, real people in real relationships, exhibiting real intimacy, but with a bit of influence. So what I found interesting was some of those couples performed, like I was like, let’s see you kiss, let’s see him at me, you know, being being close to each other. And their interpretation of what I was asking them came out in all sorts of, of unique ways. So yeah, I, I find it what where I’m, where I’m at now, where it’s gonna go. Next is how to incorporate dialogue into that you know, how to incorporate conversation, and I just did a series for, for lift, which isn’t out yet. But we traveled all around the us and we captured portraits of different drivers. And I did I would do the interview with them. But when we were capturing footage of them, it’s completely directed. Like it was not like, what do you do in your normal day to day, they might say, like, I go to a coffee shop, and I spend time with my girlfriend. So we’d go and see the character with their girlfriend, but I would tell them, Okay, sit on the bed this way, hold each other this way. And then we would frame it up, and we just capture it. So again, it’s like just just suspending them enough to a place where they’re like, is that all we’re supposed to do is sit here and look where you know, but I just don’t answer those questions, then it’s like this, this perfect moment of reality, because they rely on each other and the moments that are truthful to them, but they’re a little bit in a situation that’s fabricated. So I mean, I love that I do love that I’m curious where it goes next.
And I would say what you just said was beautifully said the the, I’ve got a job coming up things crossed, we win the pitch, which is it will be this kind of hybrid thing and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do is capture is set up the moment and but don’t give any blocking I don’t want them to go, you know, go from here to here to here, I don’t want them to be thinking about what I need to be doing. But I want to set up the situation and then just kind of let reality come out of that situation. And it’s this it’s it’s, I can see the excitement when you talk about it and I feel I get I’m kind of I can feel that same I know that same energy it’s it’s it’s almost magical, when you can when you pull it off when you when you don’t pull it off because it doesn’t always work or I remember a shooting some branded content. Husband and wife and the husband was great and and unfortunately, in this case, the wife was just she was actually trying to act and because of that it didn’t work. So we couldn’t use a lot of her footage but he was great because he was just you know, do this, then do that and do this and do that they would just do it. And it came across as very documentary. The whole thing was staged, it was written in my head. Not so much on paper. And there’s something there’s something really quite beautiful and magic magical in that being able to create something like that with real people about their lives. Which I just I love I really really love that so you’re talking to the converted on I’m on your side, dude. Cool. So let’s let’s move on because I’m so out of out of film school for features. You’re now doing projects, mainly on film, and you got one of your shorts into TIFF was the first production company that you signed with? We are variable.
Yeah, yeah. Got variable was the first Okay, so
they saw the short film at TIFF like how did that relationship begin?
Um, I had actually reached out to them. I was in Toronto. It was after a year. I I’d gone to the Canadian film Center, which is like Canadian version of the American Film Institute. And there it was specifically to work with actors. So that’s what I focused on was, you know, how do I collaborate and and my experience there was, it was just draining, it’s a six month intensive program. After it was finished, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do next. And they kind of push you towards television, directing, and film directing. And I was almost about to sign with this amazing manager. And, you know, there was a path ahead, but I wasn’t quite satisfied. And I quit everything I just decided not to sign with that agency and, and let that be. And it was because anonymous content out of the blue, got in touch with me, and I really admired them. And it was the first time I was like, Oh, I can reach out to American production companies. I don’t have to kind of work my way through Canada before moving. And that kind of sparked this curiosity of like, Okay, what what can I explore here? And that’s when I reached out to variable I really admired their work. I, I’d been following them for a while. And I didn’t expect much, but it was one of those days where I was like, if I don’t reach out what’s you know, what’s, what’s the harm, are we you know, it was, it was one of those situations, and I was lucky enough to hear back from them right away, and I went and met with them. And at that point, they were like, oh, we’re not looking for any directors, but we would be happy to meet with you. And when I met with them, I spoke to them and had a great conversation. They’re like, Oh, we’d actually love for you to meet the rest of the team. And I said, Yeah, of course, I didn’t really think much of it. And then a few weeks later, we spoke again, and they invited me down to New York again, and they were like, We would love to work with you. And that’s kind of what started that introduction
as a director, or would they bring you on as a as an editor? as a director? Okay. So even though they weren’t looking for directors, they basically saw your work and said, okay, we can we Yeah, we can use her.
Yeah, yeah, I they saw something in the work. And, again, you know, the same energy that I had when I was an editor, and I was just like, I was in love with him. Same thing with with, with directing, and with the commercial world, especially. Because I had no contact with that world. I was completely in documentary and narrative. But because of Chris, I saw all the work that he was doing in the commercial world world. And I just, I just thought there was something I could do there. There’s something in the project that I heard that just immediately would get my brain working. Yeah, the Bing branded
content in particular, that kind of hybrid of doc and, and narrative sensibilities is would be perfect for you. So is that the kind of work that you were doing with variable? Yeah, I joined
with, I joined them last year. And by the time we got up and running, because to get my visa and all those things sorted out, I started working with them last year in the summer, and we did two projects together for the American Civil Civil Liberties Union, ACLU. We did this, like this American Lung Association thing. So they were starting to get me these smaller projects that could start to build my reel, and we were just getting started. And it was amazing. And then unexpectedly, they they told me near the end of last year that they were shutting their doors. So just when we got started, just one thing started to pick up. They they
shut down. Okay, so they were bankrupt.
Yeah, they will. They had some some issues. And, I mean, they were doing extremely well, like, at that point variable had an amazing reputation. But
then everybody that well, if they’ve shut down, I can’t be doing that. Well, sure.
Yeah, I think I think the sad part of it is, it might be that they’ve prioritized Good work, but they weren’t, you know, able to sustain the rest of their business. Perhaps. It was just so early on in my collaboration with them, too, that I was I was just more so just just surprised, shocked and heartbroken because I was really starting to, to feel like that was home, like, that was a place where I was going to start to make projects and really develop my voice and so, so that happened, but, you know, it was a big, big, big surprise. And I was planning on moving to New York with Chris and you know, we just decided that we’re still going to go go forward with it. And so that’s but the team like the people that I met at variable I’m still friends with and still get to, to collaborate with and talk with and, you know, so it was very, very valuable. Like that’s what what opened up the doors to New York, for me, at least in my eyes right now. It’s like, that’s what brought me to where I am now.
Yeah, well, the business is a business of relationships. And while I don’t know them, Well, I know the guys. They’re great guys. So it’s always, it’s always, it’s always a shame when you see great creatives. That just the business is tough. Commercial filmmaking is a tough business. But it’s changed so much in the last 10 years, it’s changed incredibly. Even in the last five years, I’m sure you’ve seen the changes. And from my perspective, you’re brand new. So but what happens is a lot of people don’t move with it with the changes. They do want to do the old model. There’s there’s this kind of, and I’m not accusing the guys variable of this, but I do see it often. Where filmmakers thinking, you know, well, Spike Jones was able to do it this way. So I’m going to, I’m going to shoot commercials and then work my way into into features or y’all tool used to work this way. So this is how I’m going to do it. And production companies used to be, you know, they’d produce the content. The problem is the budgets. Sounds like Chris has just gone. Yeah. The problem is, is the budgets have been slashed. And yeah, there’s a lot of a lot of big, I’ve heard, I’ve heard rumors, I won’t mention names, but one, one production company that is massive, they’re doing seven figure spots, a million dollar commercials. We’re very, very close to bankruptcy. So how does that work? How does that work? It’s, it’s, um, it’s a shame and a lot of people lose work as a result of it. So after shutdown, I know, I forget who you’re with now, but I know you’re with someone else. So you got, luckily, you moved to New York, and you got picked up by another agency. So tell us about all of that.
Yeah, I moved here. And what was great about moving to New York was being closer to those production companies and those creatives that I that I looked up to, and so I started meeting with a lot of people and I still feel like what’s great about being here is that all the people that I met and that I connected with when I moved here are still very very much here and if I ever need to talk to anybody, or if I’m feeling like I’m I need to speak to someone to be inspired again or get insight on something that’s always available to me as an option. So that’s been incredibly invaluable even in Toronto, which is not that far from New York. It makes a huge difference being in in New York City. And why do you think
that is, is because you can just say let’s go and go grab a coffee
I think so I think that makes a big difference and there’s just something for me it’s it’s like I’m very much like someone who likes to be inspired by where I am and and be in the environment itself. So So even though I was close enough to New York, like being in New York is has made a difference just by by being like waking up every day and being in the flow of how everybody else is moving and when they’re going you know, it’s like the energy levels do influence like my day to day uh my my like routine has shifted since moving here in little ways so so that that influence definitely like has made a difference and and yeah, just being available like if I get in touch with someone it’s not a matter of like I’m going to be in New York these dates and could you meet me in those four days? It’s more so like, I’m here and I’m available and I can pop over and meet you anytime.
So So how many of those meetings do you have?
How many meetings do I mean I’m
kind of drill drill drilling down. This is this is the clock the investigator is just turned turned up. So don’t feel uncomfortable about it. I’ve got a theory that I want to basically investigate. So yeah, so I’m not what I’m not saying is she’s talking bullshit. Let’s find out it’s not that how many of these meetings how many of these meetings do you have?
Um, like when I when I first moved here, which was March that’s when I had all my meetings and like meet it was like, I don’t know like numbers like how many? I was meeting with people almost like every every week I was meeting with somebody new. The last the last two months
in the last month, how many meetings have you had
in the last month?
If you can’t remember how many not many?
No, I haven’t really been I mean, it’s it shifts like my focus shifted. After the summer I joined a production company and focused on on working with them. Okay, and then
before Sorry, sorry to cut you cut you in but cut you off. Sorry. What about the month before that, because you’ve been in York since May. So What’s that? Eight months? 10 months?
Yeah, I think just over like nine months, yeah.
Okay. So it’s my meetings in the last 30 days. What about the 30 days before that?
meetings, as in like, with different production companies
When other things for people
in general? Yeah. So meetings, like, just so here’s the thing you said, I, by being in New York, something shifted, it was great because I can just call someone up and say, I don’t know, I’m not going to be I’m not going to, you know, I’m going to be in New York in three days. So can we meet? You just you’re there all the time. Right? So therefore, being in that place, was a good thing. So I’m now checking Well, if that’s true, and being in the place means that you can have lots of meetings, did she have actually have lots of meetings? Because my assumption is, I’m assuming this, that it’s not about being in the place, it’s something out of something else in your psychology? And I reckon you probably didn’t have that many, that many meetings, you had enough to get work. And then that was it. But here’s the reason why I think for you, it’s important to be there. It’s this feeling of being connected. Hmm. So I don’t I’m not telling you I’m kind of feeding you the answer. So I’d like for you just to check with yourself. Is that true, like that feeling of being connected, like you can walk down the street, and have a conversation with the guys who used to run variable, or being able to, you know, call someone and say, let’s, you know, let’s catch up for coffee. Even the possibility of that means you feel connected to the community. And and yeah, that’s what I’m sensing in your, if we look back at your history, from when you’re a child, if the things that that kind of interest you, then you’ll film school Association. And the professor that you gravitated towards, was an older gruff man. Which I get accused of quite often. Anyway, that’s an aside. There’s always been this kind of this thread of community, it seems to me Mm hmm. Which is, which is related to your feeling of being connected to others? Yeah. Am I kind of hitting something some kind of truth in that or a completely? Yeah,
absolutely. No, no, I I completely agree with like our I, I resonate with what you’re what you’re saying, like, what I lacked in Toronto was having a community around me that I felt like was, was in the same city, like, it matters to me, where I’m living and who’s who’s around me, whether I’m, it’s true, whether I’m physically meeting them or not, that’s not the main concern. That’s not the point. The point is, is that they’re living in the same city as me, and they’re there, they’re experiencing the same atmosphere as the one that I am. And that, that influences me a great deal. Living in New York, whether I’m meeting with people or not, and, and the fact is that those those opportunities are available. And I feel like, I’m part of the community just by being present in this in the city. But whether I meet with people or not like that, I have phases where I’m completely secluded, like I’m on my own, and I’m thinking about things that are going on in my own head. But, but at the same time, though, if I wanted to reach out to somebody, or if I wanted to speak to someone, it gives me extra, a bit of confidence and a little bit of, of, of a sense of community that I can reach out to directors that I looked up to, or production companies that I looked up, look up to, because I’m I’m part of the same same city, that they’re, that they’re also working. And so that’s that’s sort of what’s made a difference
for me, so. So what I’m hearing is that it’s it’s psychological, you feel more confident, and therefore, you’re able to express that confidence in a more genuine way when you do reach out because you feel more connected to them. You have mentioned previously, that the whole I think very early, you said I’m, I’m doing a feature next next year, and it’s a little scary. Do you think that that that feeling of being connected to others, is related to this kind of nervousness about the narrative like because it’s effectively us, everything is on you. You don’t have the support around you. So I’m wondering whether that is related to this feeling of community and support because community them feeling connected is all about support, right? You feel supported, when you’re when you’re the doodle to do that running the entire show, and it’s a feature. Everyone’s like, there’s people to support you. But everything’s up to you. Do you think they are that He related
that my nervousness is because I’m like, in New York and Dan Kennedy,
no, no, no, your nervousness is related to the fact that you’re, it’s almost like you’re separating yourself from this kind of support group where you’re, you know, it’s a step above you like you’re, you’re the you’re the you’re the woman was gonna say, You’re the man, but you know what I mean? You’re the dude in this is like, you’re the boss.
Yeah, well, the reason why I’m nervous about the feature is because I’m, presently I’m in a state of mind where I tried so hard to I mean, I jumped from things right, I jumped from being an editor to being a director, and then I jumped from being a director to a commercial director, and then I jumped from being a commercial director in Toronto, to a commercial director in New York. And all those things required a huge psychological shifts. For me, personally, I were like, Okay, I have to, even though I know I’m the same person, I’m the same director in any circumstance, but psychologically does something to me to turn my head into, like, what is the environment in which I’m playing, especially between commercials and narrative film, I feel like they’re completely separate worlds like the the, just the way you can you who you how you conduct yourself or, or something about the two worlds is very very jarringly different to me. And the fact that what I saw naturally was that commercial directors who start in the commercial world and wanted to do a feature, they establish themselves in the commercial world, and then they decide to do their feature. And then they either come back or whatever else happens from there. But I started in the narrative world, that’s my personality, and that’s who I am. And then I entered the commercial world, very, very new in it still. And now I have this huge like, thing ahead of me my first feature film, as I have six months to develop my commercial footing. And so what makes me nervous is that I have no idea who, where I am and who I am at this point. And that’s critical for me to be making the work that I’m making. So the fact that I’m confused, or lost, or any sort of feeling in that world, is extremely difficult. But the funny thing of it all, is that that’s exactly how I feel, when I’m making narrative work. When I’m writing a feature that’s personal, that I know I need to be a part of, I feel this way, because it forces me to to regurgitate or like, expel what’s underneath the surface, because that’s what I’m trying to untangle in my work. But the reason why I get nervous or confused is because I feel like I need my shit together in the commercial world. So it’s completely conflicting parts of myself where it’s like, for the narrative work. And for this feature film, which is the pinnacle of like, what I want is my first feature film, and it’s happening, you know, that’s the other thing is like, it’s happening, we’ve got the funding, we’ve got the script, we Everything is there, and it’s right in front of me, but it’s like six months in front of me. I’ve got six months right here, where the commercial world is like, you have to establish yourself right now. And my mindset is like, is, you know, do I do it, so it’s just completely but that’s the thrill of it. Like I felt this way, at every point where I’ve made a huge leap forward. I’ve been completely in the state of like, chaos, and like, what, where do I stand or what do I stand for? And so it’s so it’s exciting, but at the same time, my normal state of being is this, like, hyper self aware and can like and an almost, you know, like, I’m obsessed with the hero’s journey. So it’s like, I’m, I’m spiraling into the underworld world, or maybe I am in there. And it’s like, you know, this is where I have to figure out what I’m doing to come out the other end. So, I love if I step outside of myself, this is the perfect face for me to be in right now. creatively, but inside it’s it’s, you know, it’s hell.
Yeah, it’s tormenting. So the so we’re over an hour. And I’m only gonna, I’m gonna ask question two now and that’s because I think I’ve I think I know what it is that that’s the one thing that you’ve done. That unique or even strange. That’s your that has been the biggest contributor to your success so far, but I’d like I’d love for you to answer it. See what you see what you think. What do you think that one thing is?
Yeah, I mean, I’m curious to know what you think too, as I was thinking about that. The only thing I could think of was that I learned filmmaking on film. That was like, like, my own thing was you know, it’s shaped kind of this like obsession with with with craft and cinema and like construct but but but at least
it’s funny how creatives we all go back to the work, it’s never about the word work, the work has to be good, right? So whether it was film or digital, it wouldn’t matter. The the thing that would look different and the end the methodology would was different. I here’s the thing, I think with you, is your willingness to stand on the cliff, on the edge of a cliff, and go and jump. I think that’s the the, if you look at, you know, all the way down to when you first had that, even when you were a little girl, your 10 year old looking at. I think the reason why I said Kate Winslet is we were talking about cinema. And then you the who those two little girls, I think one of them’s name is Kate, actually, hey, yeah. So that’s why you got those two mixed up. You’re, you’re clearly ambitious, but ambition without being fearless is I mean, they don’t work. ambitious people who are fearless, and also smart, because, you know, obviously, there’s the courage of a dumb person. You know, that can sometimes people can hurt themselves physically, mentally, financially. So there has to be some smarts there. And it’s almost like the perfect storm. There’s curiosity, there’s intelligence, there’s enthusiasm. There’s also a willingness to go, you know, fuck it, I’m going to jump anyway. I’ve got no idea what I’m doing. And let’s go. I think that’s, that’s the thing that’s got you to where you are so far. And it’s the thing that will propel you even further. So that’s, that’s my own feeling. I don’t know. Put other people might be going Clark, you’re talking shit. It’s bullshit. But that’s my feeling. So let’s move on. Question three. So we got through question two really quickly. Question three is, actually what is question three? Um, I’ll use the excuse of law habits are well, I’ve given you the question. So maybe you can read them out? Because my sicknesses meaning that I’ve got an excuse, and I can’t find the questions. I think it was, what’s the I should I should notice? Because I’ve asked them so many times. What do you do to sustain your career, that’s what it is,
oh, to sustain my career, um, well, I have a huge source of, you know, inspiration, or like a partner in this because Chris, and I talk about film and filmmaking, and what’s inspiring us and everything regularly, so that keeps the fire alive. I think that’s and that’s important. Because, like you said, it’s true, I, we, you know, I think both Chris and I take huge risks. And that can be scary. But if you have a partner, it’s, it’s, it feels like an adventure. So I think that’s a huge, huge part of it, is having a great collaborator, and not only Chris, like, I have a few strong collaborators that always give me the fuel to keep going. So that’s, that’s really a huge, huge part of it. Other than that, it’s just being proactive, like one lesson that I learned, and that I keep getting reminded of is just making work. Like I think all the things are extremely important. And sometimes I get really too caught up in, like, Who should I meet? or What should I do, and you know, all those things, but ultimately, it’s and who represents me and all those things like those, I get bogged down on that quite a fair bit. But I need to always remember, and I’m reminded that the work and putting out work that you’re proud of, or that you’re trying something is, is really ultimately, like what matters the most, to me, at least so great collaborators that I completely lean on all the time. And the second thing is, if I’m really getting stuck, or if I have extra time, like what can I make, like what can I put out there and nothing beats that feeling like when we put out the ballad, it was after two years of making the film and just being able to release it and share it has now given me like another breath to keep keep pushing on to the next thing. So working and and being inspired and, and having conversations with people that I that I admire or that I respect has been kind of the sort of the main backbone of what I would say sustains the career.
Okay, good answer. Final question, because we answered three and four together and that I reckon what’s, tell us something that you’ve watched, heard or read recently that inspired you? So again, talking about inspiration? Is there something specifically that that you’ve been You’ve seen or heard or read, that inspires you.
Um, I always go back to I read a lot so, and I’m, I read nonfiction a lot and I’m trying to get into fiction. So I’m reading normal people, which I’m quite enjoying right now and but but the one book that I keep coming back to when I get when I’m approaching a new project, or if I’m if usually every two years is the artists way. Have you heard of that book before?
I haven’t know, the artists way. Yeah,
it’s hugely popular. I think it’s been in print for like 25 years, okay. And she’s the author Julia Cameron. I think she was married to Martin Scorsese or something or anyways, she she wrote this book called The artists way. And it’s basically a 12 week program. For artists. It’s like an Alcoholics Anonymous, all of us but for but for creativity. And I feel like it just for some reason, it works for me, like a great friend of mine, who’s one of my like, she’s a she’s, her name’s Yasmina, she she’s a Jordanian filmmaker, and she inspires me just as much as Christos, like, I speak to her. It just brings me back to life. And she recommended this book to me when I was really stuck. And she told me that she goes back to that book every couple of years. And I bought that book and I’ve done it maybe three or four times and it’s just a bunch of exercises and like chapters that just kind of are like creative encouragement. And some days I read that book and I’m like, Oh, what is this but other days when I’m in the right mood, it just completely sparks sparks me. So so so I would say that but but there’s tons of tons of things.
I love the love the subtitle a spiritual path to higher creativity. So it’s a way of being able to get past the kind of fluff on the top that’s blocking what’s underneath and trying to get that Zach out. And it’s, it’s a practical methodology to do that. So it’s like Pilates for creatives or something like that.
Yeah, and it’s active. That’s what I like about it, too, is that you know, it, it kind of pushes you, you might think it’s so silly. And sometimes I’m like this, these exercises are so silly. But even if I do two of them, it’s at least gotten me to do something. And that’s enough to then you know, propel me to take other actions. So that’s why if I’m if I’m ever stuck, or if I’m feeling completely uninspired, because there’s points where I wouldn’t want to watch a movie, I don’t want to do anything, I’ll force myself to pick up pick up that book and do like, one exercise out of it. And that usually gets me kickstarted. Again,
I’ll definitely check it out. Because there are times when I’m so busy, I get so exhausted. That which is possibly part of the reason why chili, you know, has done so much damage to my body, because it’s just chilling, like, what the hell. But I’ve had that same feeling where like, something’s coming out. And there’s like a new movie, I’m like, I can’t sit there for two hours and, and I’ve got a beautiful home theater with a massive huge, 4k HDR projector with a huge screen. And I’ve got a really nice place to watch this. I’m not even like watching it on a phone or an iPad or a computer, or shitty television. And yet, I can’t do it. And I can feel as it’s actually resistance inside. For me, the the War of Art was a book that that I find truly inspiring for similar reasons sort of trying to get me to realize that that resistance is actually internal, it’s not external. And I particularly find that with, with writing. Sometimes I can feel that resistance with writing. So I’ll just sit down, I’ll start writing something, I’ll just start creating something that once you do that, which goes back to what you said earlier about just doing the work. And that the work, the work kind of just gets something you know, you’re always trying to get work, right. He’s trying to do something. That’s the thing that that gets this kind of wheel rolling. But the hardest part is trying to get momentum. So yeah, thank you. Thank you for today. I’ve enjoyed this interview. Very, very much. Thank you. Yeah, apologies for having to scoot off, you know, mid mid chat.
No problem. I hope you feel better.
I will either for better or die. It will be one of the Anyway, thanks for today. Thanks, thanks. Take care.
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