As content creators, tech enthusiasts, and filmmakers descended upon Austin earlier this month, Wider Lens was there to soak up all the creative vibes!
In between inspiring panels and catching the hottest screenings, we met up with some of the Ontario creatives who made a splash at SXSW with female-focused stories.
Catch up with the creatives behind Fitting In (previously titled Bloody Hell), a coming-of-age dramedy about a teenage girl who discovers her sex life is about to become more complicated than she could’ve imaged: Director Molly McGlynn, Picture Editor Maureen Grant, Production Designer Thea Hollatz, and DP Nina Djacic.
Molly, why did you feel like now was the time you needed to tell this very personal story?
Director Molly McGlynn: As a filmmaker, I always knew that this story was one I had to tell. It’s super personal to me, and I’ve never seen anything like it in a film. I made my first feature film, Mary Goes Round, a few years ago, and while I still love it deeply, it’s a lot simpler in many ways. It was a way for me to build my confidence and skills as a filmmaker, technically speaking.
When it came to this new film, however, I knew it had to be my second feature. The story is not as clear-cut as a narrative, and there are some complex themes that I wanted to explore. I knew I needed to be more developed as a filmmaker to tackle this project.
After Mary Goes Round came out, someone from TIFF emailed me to submit to a screenwriting lab in Greece. The deadline was in less than a month, and they asked if I had a second feature. I replied, “I do now,” and wrote like a psychopath for weeks. I submitted the rough draft to the screenwriting lab and was selected!
The experience was wild, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I landed in Greece, and they told me that I could meet Paul Thomas Anderson the next day for a three-hour meeting about my film. I was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe that someone of his calibre would read my work. However, I knew that as a filmmaker, sometimes you have to throw yourself into the ring of fire and get going with feedback.
Nina, Maureen and Thea: How did you get involved in this production? When you read it, why did you gravitate toward it?
Picture Editor Maureen Grant: I was drawn to this project because it was a female-focused and queer story that questions the idea of what normal is and who gets to define “normal.” That really appealed to me. It’s a topic that you don’t often see tackled, and it’s so nuanced. I loved that it was a female protagonist finding her way through her own identity, making mistakes, and stumbling along the way. When I spoke with Molly about the film, we had a really wonderful conversation and connected on so many things, like our love for stories, music, and the tone of the whole project. I was sold from day one.
Director of Photography Nina Djacic: For me, this script was different from the others I had read before. I usually struggle with reading scripts in one sitting. But this was the first script I read straight through in an hour. I just had to keep going and learn how it ended. What really stood out to me was how Molly captured a moment in time during a period, which spoke to me because life isn’t always linear. I feel like movies always have a beginning, middle, and end, but life isn’t really like that. The emotional timeline of the film really captured the ups and downs of life and the fact that sometimes things don’t make sense. It’s not always about neatly wrapping things up with a bow like some films try to do, and I appreciated that about this movie. It’s really unique and special to me in that regard.
Production Designer Thea Hollatz: I knew Molly before we worked together on this film, through various projects and through friends of friends, but we hadn’t worked together before this. However, I did see Mary Goes Round at TIFF and was familiar with her work and style of filmmaking. I had also worked with Fitting In’s Producer Jennifer Weiss the summer before on Stellar, Darlene Naponse’s feature. I was asked to meet with them and see if it was a good fit, but what drew me to the project was that the script was very good, and the story was so unique. More than anything, it was knowing that Molly had a vision that couldn’t be entirely summed up in the script or materials. Molly shapes this unexpected tone and texture in the film through her directing. That’s where it becomes really special. I was excited to be part of that and unpack what that special quality was and how the design of the film could facilitate that quality and tone, especially for a story like this, where it’s from a teen girl perspective and almost like teen girl tunnel vision. The repetition of things draws focus to the similarities and timelessness of being a teenager and dealing with difficult things as a teenager. It also pulls out some of the differences between making this movie today versus making it in the early 2000s, especially in terms of social elements and diversity in the film.
What was it like to work on a production with women in so many key creative roles? Did it make it easier or more comfortable to explore the themes in this movie?
Molly: Working with a female cast and crew was really special. There were certain experiences that we all intuitively understood, like going to the gynecologist or having difficult experiences with the medical system. And we didn’t shy away from portraying those experiences in the film.
Maureen: It was really refreshing to work on a film where we all understood these experiences and were able to bring that understanding to our work. There is a particular scene where the medical residents walk into the room to observe a gynecological exam, and it just really captures that specific experience and fear that so many women have had.
Nina: And there was something special about the way we captured that moment, where most men would just say no and get the residents out of the room, but women often feel the pressure to say yes and not make waves. We didn’t shy away from showing that dynamic.
Molly: I remember when we were shooting a scene where Lindy (Maddy Ziegler) is sending “thirst traps” to her boyfriend and taking off her pants. I was at the monitors, and Nina was on set shooting the scene. I just remember trying to telepathically communicate to Nina to stay on her face, to stay with the emotion of the moment instead of sexualizing it. And, of course, even without me saying it, she did stay on her face. There was no “pan down her body slowly.” It was a real moment, through a woman’s lens.
Thea: There were definitely some foundational experiences that a lot of us could draw from. There was no need to explain things unnecessarily. We all got it and could build from there. I think it certainly shaped a certain environment for work and for talking about the movie’s themes. We didn’t need to think twice about being honest. It allowed us to be on the same wavelength in a way that might not have been possible otherwise. It also shaped the way we read the text or script and interpret scenes and characters.
Nina, the cinematography in this film is very beautiful and feels very personal and nostalgic, but these are modern teens in a modern world. How did you and Molly integrate this sort of retro sensibility but also make it modern?
Thank you for noticing. That was our main goal! We really wanted to capture nostalgia and create a look that was both modern and retro-timeless at the same time. To do this, we had to be very strategic in our camera and lens choice selection. We shot on the Arri Alexa Mini and with Hawk V-Lite Vintage ‘74 lenses used vintage 74 lenses from Hawk V light, which are actually lenses that are often used for spy films. These lenses have a lot of blue and green pull that we offset through lighting, and they overall flare beautifully. We felt that, in combination with the modern camera sensor, this would give the film a timeless look. A big thank you to Jim Teevan at Sim Camera, who made our lenses a reality!
It’s worth noting that we also wanted to make sure that the film didn’t feel too vintage nor too modern. We wanted to strike a balance where viewers could find themselves somewhere between the two. We focused on creating a gradient velvet look rather than something glossy. We also used a lot of practical lighting, which helped to create a more grounding and realistic look. Overall, we wanted to make sure that the cinematography supported the story and the characters.
Thea, how did this aesthetic translate to the Production Design?
Thea: The design of the film facilitated the quality and tone by supporting and enhancing the storytelling. It was important for us to make sure that the design didn’t overpower the story but rather helped to tell it in a visually interesting way. For example, we used specific colours and textures to highlight the different emotional states of the characters. We also worked to make sure that the design was consistent with the time period of the film while also making it feel modern and fresh. The original concept was the parallels that could be drawn with today’s youth and teens today, and the style and sensibilities in the 90s and early 2000s – especially those visual sensibilities that were in TV and movies at the time, and drawing for that for the palette and some of the textural bits. Molly would have been growing up with this certain sensibility dominating the culture, and now we get to draw on those nostalgic elements.
One thing that I did was speak to a few teenage girls as cultural consultants for the film. They mentioned Euphoria and how it’s relatable on some level, which I found really interesting because my experience as a teenager was very different. But maybe there’s a certain second-hand nostalgia for this style and sensibility. It felt a little cosmic to be able to do that. This cycle of 1990s and 2000s style is fully documented, so it feels recent. And for it to be coming back, designing it for this film was just a really cool experience.
Maureen, can we talk about the editing in the film? There are many montages that seem to create a circular structure, and they work really well in the film. How did you come up with the idea of having these repetitions in the film to show Lindy’s journey from insecurity to self-confidence in her sexuality?
Maureen: Molly’s writing had a lot to do with it, especially the circular nature of the beginning and the end of the film. As for the montages, they were planned emotionally, like the pain of trying something new and the rage that comes with it. The music choices were made to match these emotions. The “Fuck the Pain Away” (by the Canadian musical artist Peaches) montage was always a song on Molly’s playlist, and we wanted to find the right imagery to express how Lindy would be feeling in this scene while she’s literally making room for other people in her body. We used stock footage of landscape destruction, which we felt was a very masculine image. It was like magic how it all came together. Lindy, in this scene, is just like, “I don’t fucking want to do this. I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I’m supposed to be doing this.” So the scene is her butting up against the advice she’s been given and the expectations that other people have that she’ll just make her body fit their norms. We had footage of craters, asteroids, imploding…
Molly: Yeah, ending on the asteroid. We were laughing out loud as we were cutting, like, “Yeah, perfect, print it.” Having been through that process of dilating, anyone who has an iota of thought that this is a sexual or pleasurable experience is deeply misguided.
How did you find and create locations for the movie that felt personal to your story, Molly, but also captured the feeling of any small town in North America?
Molly: Nina and I discussed quite a bit and worked together to create the locations. I was raised in New Jersey, where the medical system is different than the Canadian system. And specifically, the storyline where Emily Hampshire’s character is saving money for breast reconstruction is a very American health care system issue. That would be very different in Canada. I intentionally made the location of the movie vague, but it definitely does have a sort of Canadian aesthetic. The “weird wooden house” that Lindy and her mom live in that belongs to Lindy’s late grandmother, we walked in, and it just felt “lived in.” There was wood panelling everywhere and mismatching furniture. It really felt like a Nana’s house. The contrast of the house worked nicely with the clinical medical spaces, which we shot at Collège Boréal in Sudbury.
We couldn’t shoot the MRI scene at an actual hospital because MRIs are in high demand in Ontario. There’s one booked 24 hours a day. I was really adamant about getting that shot, so we had an old prop MRI machine delivered from Toronto to Sudbury and had to shoot it in a hockey rink. Nina, Thea, and I lived and died on that janky MRI machine in the hockey rink, which definitely felt so Canadian.
Thea: When we were making this film, there was an effort to make it seem like the location could be anywhere in North America. We didn’t have any ultra-blatant Canadian elements. But there’s no getting away from certain things, like the differences in the healthcare system, for instance. I think the characters feel very grounded in the script, so maybe there is something Canadian about it. We’re not sensationalizing the teenage experience. They’re teenagers, they’re still children, and they act as such. I thought that that was really nice to see. A teenage girl could actually relate to this character in an honest way.
Nina: I’m really happy we got that MRI shot because it definitely held weight in the edit as well. It captured that stillness and exactly what we talked about earlier about those close-ups and feeling the emotion on Lindy’s face.
There were a ton of locations, and we just needed to be really organized and prepped, especially with the technicians, because sometimes they would leapfrog and get ahead at a location and light the set ahead of me. We just did a really great job at communicating with my gaffer and key grip about what we needed. We actually ran a system through literally the iPhone Notes app. Quite literally, nothing special, no fancy software, just the regular Notes app on your iPhone. We had a shared note, and every day I would add the scenes we were shooting, the locations, and the core of the lighting setup. Being really organized and communicating helped us tackle that many locations per day.
There was a sizable amount of Canadian content at SXSW this year. Why do you think Canadian stories are having a moment on the world stage?
Molly: That’s a huge question. I think there are a lot of factors at play. Sarah Polley winning at the Oscars and her acknowledgement of celebrating women in her film is a big part of it. I am so grateful to Canada and our funding bodies for acknowledging women’s voices and the diversity in women’s voices. However, I do think there needs to be more. Canada and filmmaking, in general, need to go further in terms of whose stories we’re telling.
Maureen: It’s like we’ve been ready for these real, raw stories that represent diverse women and queer experiences for ages. Having a team that really believes in the importance of these stories and never tries to tone anything down or remove anything is key. We were really lucky to have such supportive Producers who helped us keep the integrity of our story.
Nina: I think the stories have always been there. I just don’t think we’ve had space to share them and shine a light on them. I think that, finally, the gatekeepers are getting more diverse, and that’s why they’re making space for us to tell these stories. I’m just excited to see how things progress in Canada and the world, and the space that we continue to make for women and other diverse filmmakers.
What words of wisdom would you have for women filmmakers who are nervous about telling their stories, especially very personal ones? What have you learned from all this?
Molly: Do as much work on yourself as a person to make sure you’re feeling really sound mentally and emotionally. When our film premiered at SXSW, I was blown away by the love and acceptance I received from people. However, the other side of that is people don’t get it or have said things that are less than ideal, and that’s searingly painful. But that’s the cost of entry when you make something so personal, and I wouldn’t trade any of it. There was a young woman I met after a screening with tears in her eyes, saying she had never seen herself on screen, and I would do it a thousand times over for that person. The value of showing the world who you are will outweigh all the negative.
Sometimes people ask me what’s it like to be a female filmmaker, and I’m like, “Don’t ask me. Ask the women filmmakers from a generation or two before me, who had to beat the door down with an axe and squeeze their body through, and there was only space for one.” I’m sure that so many women from that generation had stories like Fitting In in them that were misunderstood by people. I feel grateful to be a filmmaker at this point in time.
Nina, Maureen and Thea, you also work in roles that are typically more male-dominated. What advice would you have for young women who want to be DPs, Production Designers or Editors?
Thea: If you have ideas you’re excited about, and no one else seems to be, it’s very possible you’ve just got the wrong audience.
Maureen: It’s a tough question. There have always been female Picture Editors – highly successful ones, so it’s funny that there’s this perception now that Editors are male. It’s just a matter of putting yourself out there and meeting people that you trust. You want to work with people who love working with diverse creators. I feel so grateful to have been hired on a production I care so deeply about, because it’s heartbreaking to see some queer and female stories that don’t hire women and queer people. So I appreciated the trust that was put in me to tell this story, and I gave it my all to get it done and help Molly execute her vision. I would say to any aspiring Picture Editors, ignore the hype, and just continue doing what you do and find the people who want to support you. And pay it forward when you can, through mentorship or advocating for your production to bring on trainees through the Guild. The editing community is amazing, and we’re supporting tons of up-and-coming new Editors.
Nina: You just have to keep creating and getting better and competing with yourself every day. I feel like you have to be twice as talented as them to get half of the jobs they get, whether bigger movies or commercials. It’s hard. It’s not positive advice, but it’s real. It’s going to be hard, and you have to accept that. And then after that, I don’t know… I haven’t gotten there yet. Ask me in a few years, and my answer might change! But you just have to keep pushing and growing your talent.
Next in our SXSW series: Catch up with the creatives behind Slip, a reality-bending, time-jumping comedy series created by and starring Zoe Lister-Jones: Picture Editor Sandy Pereira, Sound Editor Eve Correa Guedes, and Production Designer Danielle Sahota. Slip will premiere on the Roku Channel on April 12.