June 3, 2019
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: MORGANA MCKENZIE
NFFTY has grown into a wonderful community of over 2,500 filmmakers from around the world. Alumni have experienced successes in many areas of the media industry. To celebrate these achievements, we are highlighting NFFTY alumni here!
A cinematographer, colorist, and director based in Toronto, Morgana McKenzie is a NFFTY ‘14 - ‘18 alumni who has won numerous awards at the festival over the years, including: Best Emerging Female Filmmaker in 2014, the Jury Award for Best Music Video (Atlas World, 2017), and the Powerful Grit Audience Award (Wild, 2018).
Morgana recently received two nominations from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers for her work on Wild (Dramatic Short Cinematography) and the documentary Lost Time (Robert Brooks Award for Documentary Cinematography). As the cinematographer and colorist on Lost Time (directed by Leo Pfeifer, check out his Alumni Spotlight here), she and Leo were chosen as the winners of the NFFTY 2018 NextFilmFestival Award!
OUR INTERVIEW WITH MORGANA MCKENZIE:
Your work was recently nominated for two awards at the 2019 CSC Gala, how did you become interested in filmmaking and all of its facets?
Visuals arts was always a huge part of my life and upbringing, so an interest in filmmaking came quite easily. When shooting my own shorts at 13, I didn’t realize directors didn’t shoot their own films. I had no idea what a cinematographer was. Since then I’ve established myself more as a cinematographer independently, and for my own projects I still both direct and shoot, which very much comes from a place of comfort. I’m accustomed to directing with the camera on my shoulder.
What challenges did you face on the set of Wild, and how did you learn from them?
Hands down Wild was the most bonkers film I’ve done to date. A large portion of funding wasn’t confirmed until a month prior to our shoot, so the majority of pre-pro was put on hold until we had word back. We shot 2-4 days a week over the course of August, half of which were overnights. In addition, we pulled off a full set build and dressed an entire farm house to 1930s Canada.
This entire time I was in the process of moving to Toronto, and therefore living in temporary accommodations after the sale of my childhood home. It was a wild month.
All this considering, my main takeaway is that great relationships make great movies. Wild would not have been possible without the dedicated crew who felt just as passionate about the project as I did. Technicals of filmmaking aside, a strong crew is to me the most important factor in a successful shoot.
What has your experience been like as a female cinematographer in the film industry?
The majority of the time, this is a positive not a negative. Being a female cinematographer has brought a range of opportunities to me, from productions looking for female DOPs to entirely female led projects. It’s certainly helped me connect with a community of people I otherwise may not have.
Can you talk a little bit about your crew on Wild and what it’s like to team up with other NFFTY alumni on projects?
As much as possible I try to collaborate with fellow NFFTY Alum. These are the people who year after year wow me at the festival, having them on board is a no brainer.
Breaking it down, I had three NFFTY alum on board:
Hadley Hillel (Production Designer) worked closely with me the month prior designing the farm house, and it’s period accuracy.
Max Retik (Gaffer) has been on a few shoots of mine before, and vice versa, so in the best way this felt almost routine. Max attended our four overnights and worked in rain and cold amidst the corn.
Leo Pfeifer (Editor) and I cut the film entirely over Skype for four months before we locked the edit. This, by all means, was crazy. I have to thank Leo for his ability to deliver excellent work despite a time-zone difference and limitations of Skype screen-share.
Where do you find inspiration for your genre/story choices as a writer?
I really don’t consider myself a writer. I don’t live and breathe writing by any means. But I do live and breathe cinematography, so visual storytelling plays a huge role in the stories behind my directed work. “Wild” has minimal dialogue, and is largely small vignettes observing the day to day of a little girl trying to find friendship on a rural farm.
If you were to strip away all dialogue, how can you evoke tone, relationships and story through visuals? This is the challenge with all of my work, and the focus for my writing choices in Wild. I write out of necessity in order to create emotionally impactful visual storytelling.
How has NFFTY impacted your life or career?
NFFTY has surrounded me with likeminded young filmmakers. When I first attended NFFTY at the age of 14, this was instrumental. There’s a strong feeling of support present every year at NFFTY, that I often struggle to see in other festivals.
Do you have any advice to give to young filmmakers?
Surround yourself with likeminded individuals. Fail, a lot, and apply what you’ve learned again and again until you have bigger fish to fry. Take a minute to be proud of what you’ve done, and then ask yourself what you can do better next time.
What’s next for you, any upcoming projects?
I recently signed on with Vanguarde Artists Management as a Cinematographer, so the next few months are largely cinematography focussed; various shorts and documentary projects (client work).
Shortly after the CSC Awards, Leo and I wrapped production on our new documentary, so we’ll have our heads down in post for the next little while.
Later this year I’m hoping to launch into development of a short version of a feature script. This will be my next narrative focus.