Name: Morgana McKenzie
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario CANADA
Company Name: Morgana Films
Random Facts About Me: I have a completely ridiculous obsession with potatoes and
Doritos (but obviously not together, that would be weird), and I have no shame.
One sentence about why I make films: Film is the perfect passion that combines so many of the things I enjoy and live to do.
1. Can you give us some background on how you first got into filmmaking?
It was the summer before I went into grade 7, and my family and I were on vacation in Florida. On one of the days, we didn’t feel like going through the hustle and bustle of rides and amusement parks, so we went to see a movie. The movie we saw was Super 8 by J.J.Abrams, and that movie ﬂicked on a switch in my head.
On its own, the ﬁlm was a great action packed and emotional ride. But, what really made me think were the teenage characters in the movie who were making their own short ﬁlm with a Super 8 camera. The idea of someone my age actually making a ﬁlm was crazy, but I wanted to be apart of that.
The following month, I spent an afternoon with my friends shooting a 10 minute zombie short ﬁlm on a Canon camcorder that I was terriﬁed of breaking. I laugh when I watch the completed product now, but in all seriousness it was my ﬁrst of many short ﬁlms to come. Making that little zombie short was an experience I never would have undertaken without seeing Super 8 that one lazy day in Florida.
The success of Gifts was a huge jump forward for me. It taught me how important it is to learn from your failures and never give up.Morgana McKenzie
2. I met you at NFFTY 2014 in Seattle, Washington. I believe you won Best Emerging Female Filmmaker that year? You have already been screened at many ﬁlm festivals and won a large number of awards. Can you tell us about how you found out about submitting to ﬁlm festivals and some of your favorite ﬁlm festival experiences?
After making several smaller ﬁlms, I decided to make my ﬁrst narrative short ﬁlm called Mirror when I was twelve. I took Mirror pretty seriously and making it was a valuable experience. It taught me a lot about ﬁlmmaking, such as the importance of good sound and the value of ﬁlm festival rejection.
A production still from Morgana McKenzie’s film Gifts
When I made Mirror I had no intention of entering it into festivals, but after it was completed I decided to go for it and submit to some festivals anyway. Mirror was rejected from all of the festivals, except for one festival in England. It was my ﬁrst time submitting to NFFTY and I was absolutely crushed by the rejection. I ended up taking all of the general feedback that NFFTY sent in their rejection letter and I became even more determined to improve with my next ﬁlm Gifts.
The following year when I was fourteen, I entered Gifts into NFFTY. Incredibly, I won Best Emerging Female Filmmaker and a Prodigy Camp scholarship. Since then, Gifts was accepted into twenty-four other festivals and won another nine awards. The success of Gifts was a huge jump forward for me. It taught me how important it is to learn from your failures and never give up.
Aside from watching ﬁlms, what I enjoy most about festivals is the networking and the people I meet while I’m there. Over the years, I’ve taken away many great and valuable friendships that have supported me personally and helped my ﬁlmmaking.
Morgana McKenzie behind the camera during the shooting of a scene from Ellie
For example: last August, Max Retik (a fellow NFFTY alumnus and a good friend) ﬂew up from his home in New Jersey and did the lighting on my most recent short, Ellie. Currently, I am working as Cinematographer/DP for a short ﬁlm by Carol Nguyen, a friend I met at the TIFF Next Wave Jump Cuts Festival for Youth. I value these people and so many others I’ve met not only as colleagues but as friends. Some of my best friends are ﬁlmmakers and that never would have been possible without the festivals.
3. Are you working on any projects now that you can tell us about? And maybe you can talk to us a little bit about the collaboration process on Carol’s thesis film as her cinematographer.
Currently, I’m working on a treatment as well as the pre-production for my next narrative music video, which I plan to have in production this fall. I made the decision not to produce a narrative short film in 2016 so that I can use that time to create a quality screenplay. Work on the script is already in progress and I’m very excited about it!
Over the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a DP/Cinematographer on a couple of projects including a local short here in Ottawa as well as Carol’s latest short film Façade! Working with Carol happened unexpectedly and I’m having a great time working with her on this wonderful project. The film has some really cool and interesting elements, and is very artful. I’m ecstatic to be able to say I worked on it.
Taking pictures at the NFFTY Photo Booth… and cracking each other up.
From left to right: Kira Bursky, Ruby Rae Drake, and Morgana McKenzie
4. I know that you do not go to a traditional high school. Can you tell us about it?
I was in a Montessori school from the time I was a toddler to grade 8, and then I auditioned for the visual-arts program at Canterbury Arts High School here in Ottawa. It’s one of the few visual and performing arts high schools in Ontario. I really wanted a public high school experience and I had been taking weekly art lessons since I was five. Getting into Canterbury was very exciting. Plus having access to student actors and actresses in the school theatre arts program was a huge bonus.
Many people assume (because I attended an arts high school) that I was taking film-related classes at school. But Canterbury doesn’t have a film program, only single film electives. All of my film work was done outside of school hours.
The fairy dress designed and created by Morgana McKenzie for the film We All Go the Same
Approx. 30 hours of work to design, cut, sew, and dye the fairy dress
Approx. 50 hours of work to design and build the fairy wings with a 10 foot wing-span and hinged winglets
I loved the visual arts program and I made lots of great friends, but with each school year the workload increased. At the same time my film projects were getting bigger and with each new project I try to top my previous work and learn something new. I spend months doing my own pre-production and post-production work. Each of my films is a year long project. Trying to fit a regular high school course load, the visual arts program, and my film work into every twenty-four hour day was getting very tough. I always loved school and, even more so, learning, but I was at the point where I was becoming miserable because I felt like I couldn’t give 100% to either my education or my films.
Part way through this past school year (grade 11), after weeks of discussion with my family and some of my teachers, I decided to withdraw from Canterbury and become a home-schooler. My parents, the school, and my teachers were incredibly supportive of my decision. Switching to a home-schooled status means that I have control over my education and my daily schedule.
Having control over my schedule also means that I no longer have to pass up incredible opportunities to do freelance cinematography or post-production work for other filmmakers. For example, I’m doing the cinematography for Carol Nguyen’s film Façade, traveling between Ottawa and Toronto for four shoots over two months. There is no way I could have done that if I had to be in class every day.
Finally, I’m starting to take part-time college courses. My first course is a Criminal Psychology course focused on serial killers and mass murderers. Just the kinda of stuff I love.
The biggest misadventure was during a night scene we had to reshoot due to weather conditions. We arrived on location deep in a forest and we were happy that we didn’t have to deal with freezing rain again.
Instead, we had coyotes.
5. Do you have any stories about unexpected or surprising things that have occurred on a production of yours?
I don’t really have a lot of crazy experiences and stories from my productions, but I do have a couple.
Morgana McKenzie and crew on the location shoot for Kurayami no Wa during the Day of Hell
In the winter of 2015, I made a short film called Kurayami no Wa. It was a dark post-apocalyptic winter thriller and it primarily takes place outdoors. However, as I live in Canada, shooting it in winter was anything but easy — it was brutal. There was frostbite, frozen snot, peed pants, copious amounts of hot chocolate… the list could go on forever. The biggest misadventure was during a night scene we had to reshoot due to weather conditions. We arrived on location deep in a forest and we were happy that we didn’t have to deal with freezing rain again. Instead, we had coyotes. The crew stayed together in a group. There wasn’t much risk of harm, except for the fact that one of the actresses had a crippling fear of dogs. And we could hear the coyotes circling past us in the trees. It was a long night.
And on Ellie, we set off smoke alarms in the final minutes of a union shoot.
But, to me, these are examples of what makes filmmaking fun.
6. What is one piece of advice you would give to a young filmmaker who wants to start taking their first filmmaking steps?
Make films and learn from your mistakes. I’ve seen so many of my peers make mistakes and let those mistakes discourage them, which is sad. Take mistakes and rejection as a learning experience and keep doing the work and improving. If you like what you’re doing, don’t stop.
Create, learn, repeat.