OutSet Alum Moira McFadden Talks on Filmmaking & Diversity

OutSet Alum Moira McFadden Talks on Filmmaking & Diversity

moira mcfadden
Photo Credit: Mo-Mik Photography

By Camille Elston

The afternoon, like many of the afternoons in California this record-breaking year, was hot as f*ck. The heat was no deterrent to the excitement I felt, however, as I walked towards Urth Cafe in Downtown LA to meet the talented Moira McFadden. I was more than psyched to have a sit-down conversation with the young filmmaker who had their producing debut a few days earlier at the 2018 general Outfest Film Festival.

The first time I met Moira was a couple years ago, when we both volunteered at Outfest. Since then, I saw them around at different Outfest events, such as the annual Stashes and Lashes Fundraiser. I came to know them as a knowledgeable volunteer and a friendly face. Today, I know them as a friend, an Outfest staff person, and as a burgeoning filmmaker.

I saw a post they made on Instagram (@moira_mcfadden) about their short, “The Curse,” being screened at Outfest as a part of the organization’s OutSet program. Outset is a unique opportunity for aspiring filmmakers between the ages of 16-24 to learn how films are made from top to bottom. The final result of the six-month long program is the screening of shorts that are created in groups, and done at little to no cost to them.

OutSet is an excellent program that allows for artists like Moira to gain experience in producing, writing, and designing successful films that tell their our (queer) stories. Moira and other participants of the program are part of the next generation of queer media makers.

Suffice it to say, the sun and its death rays were nothing in light of being able to have a one-on-one conversation with Moira, and get their insight on filmmaking, what can be done to improve diversity, and what it means to use film as activism. Read the full interview below:


Alright, let’s start with pronouns and your hometown.

My pronouns are They/Them/Theirs, my hometown is Dayton OH.

 

How long have you been making films?

I’ve been dabbling in film since I moved out here, so around six years, in a multitude of capacities. I did two years at an acting conservatory at LACC, then I left there to do work on film and then went back to school for radio broadcasting at LAVC to learn a bit about sound, because I found that that was one department that was severely overlooked. In the process of doing that and exploring podcasts I was brought on as a sound engineer for a couple of interviews on campus for the Gay Straight Alliance there. Eventually I found my way to Outfest, interned there, then they hired me on as staff. It’s just an amazing organization with the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. In the process of working there Jessica Broutt, their Educational Programs Manager, suggested I apply for OutSet and through that program I produced one of the five films that was screened on Sunday this past week. [July 22nd, 2018]

 

Tell me about the premise of “The Curse” and about the team behind the film.

We had a killer core team of creatives. I produced, Dave Berenato wrote and directed the film, and Juliet Delgado did the production design. Together we made a killer team, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished.

“The Curse” is a charming story about lead character, Kyle, who’s going on a grindr hookup which he believes to be the hookup of a lifetime. In the process of going to meet this guy at a Halloween party, Kyle bumps into a witch in the bathroom and a curse is put on him so he can only tell the truth. [From there] it follows everything that happens to him [under this curse]. I don’t want to share too much, but the ending is, again, very charming, and does a nice job of touching upon a subject we can all relate to- navigating relationships, especially when we’ve got all these dating platforms. [It also notes] the need to truly connect. That’s ultimately what his character is looking for and so I think it’s a good commentary on that while also being very cute and charming and funny.

the curse
Jay Renshaw and Ryan Rimas – Photo Credit: Anabella Trujillo

So, tell me a little bit about working on that film. As a producer, what did your job entail?

Leading up to shoot day, [it was] coordinating everything, from getting a film crew together [like] your first AD, your DP, your first AC, your DIT, all these terms that I was totally unfamiliar with. [There was a lot of] learning on the fly to make it happen. We only had 12 hours to shoot the film. And while you are trying to get the film crew together, you are also working to cast your actors – going through the casting process and coordinating with the casting directors, getting the breakdown together with your writer and director, auditioning those individuals, dwindling it down to who you think has the best chemistry, and then ultimately casting them.

Paperwork, SAG-AFTRA paperwork in particular, is a high priority job that falls on the producer. You want to treat your actors and your crew right so there are regulations you have to follow. That’s the same with any job. I mean, that’s a big oversight of the producer – making sure that you’re on time. Taking breaks when you need to. [Making sure] that people are taken care of at the end of the day. So yeah, a lot of coordinating. But there’s also a lot of power to finesse, again, with who’s behind the camera diversity-wise and who is being put in front of the camera. If done right, a producer has a lot of power to influence the marketplace right now.

 

Going through that whole process, do you have any idea why it still seems to be such a struggle in Hollywood to have more diverse films?

I think part of it lives on a subconscious level. Subconsciously we write, direct, film, and create content that reflects what we’re most familiar with, whether or not we openly recognize that. I grew up in Ohio where I was the majority, then I moved out to Los Angeles and I realized what it meant to be in the minority. That was very eye-opening. Until you can work on a conscious level where you are intentionally putting the people who deserve to be seen in front of the camera, and again behind, I don’t think we’re going to see the direct shift in the marketplace that we need to. We all need to work on a conscious level to make it possible.

 

Before the screening at Outfest, is this the first time you saw your film on the big screen?

We’ve seen many parts of it but this was my first time seeing [the] complete, fully produced version and that was absolutely magical. I had no idea the difference a color timing session and a sound mixing session could have and if you have the budget for it I highly advocate for it.

“I think film is one of the largest platforms where change is achievable and together we

filmmakers can make it happen.”

At Outfest they tend to say that if you have a camera or you have a phone you can make films, which is true, but I know at least in my experience, that sometimes having the hardware makes the whole process easier, obviously. Do you have any tips that can help make the process easier for folx that are working on a very limited budget?

Like different platforms and things available to filmmakers on a low budget?

 

Yeah, and how to enhance their project on a low budget, like little tricks they can use.

Right. For writers, keep it limited on locations and to as few actors as you can. When you’re looking for those locations make them – I mean try and stay true to your story – but if you can keep them as general as possible so that they aren’t hard to find, do that. In terms of filming, I think if you don’t have a lot of lighting equipment, a suggestion I have – my twin sister’s a photographer – utilize natural lighting as much as possible. If you have to shift the time of day to accommodate, try to do that.

As far as filming equipment, there’s so much available nowadays. I mean, cameras on phones blow me away, even. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends for the things that you need. I found that the [film] community and the LGBTQ community are super supportive, because we’ve all been in the same place. So reach out to your community and let them know what resources you need. At the end of the day, if all else fails, rely on your story. If the story is there, that will triumph above all else. Everyone is willing to follow a good story.

 

Do you also write your own content?

I do actually, and in tandem with the program I produced another film that I co-wrote with my sister. [It’s] another LGBTQ film, a queer coming of age story about a bisexual youth. It’s more or less a commentary on the fact that bisexuality can and does exist [within humanity] just as it has in nature for millions of years. It’s a very touching, sincere, and honest piece. That one is also on the film circuit.

 

Can it be viewed anywhere?

It’s only available by private link. We’re still waiting to hear back from a couple of film festivals so it’s not currently screening anywhere.

 

Can I get a name for it so we can look out for it?

Absolutely, it’s called “One of the Flowers.”

 

With all that said, how important is it to go to film school?

It certainly helps. I never actually went to any formal film school. OutSet was my film school and bootcamp. I think if you don’t have the budget to go to one of those film schools, look into OutSet if you are a queer filmmaker between the ages of 16-24. Film Independent also has plenty of similar programs, as does AFI. Honestly, I think that’s more worth it than anything else- you get to work with mentors who are current industry professionals and you get the all-important experience that you need.

 

“As far as art goes, do it because you love it not because you’re looking to make money off of it.”

 

I graduated from USC this year and the amount of money I’ve spent in two years… I avoid looking at the number, it’s so much.

I feel you. When I moved out here my parents weren’t in the best financial state, which meant the burden of paying for college fell on me. I’ve never attended formal college- I’ve just gone to community college and taken breaks in between when work came up. I’ve found that to be the most beneficial path for me, but everyone’s journey is different.

 

Back to “The Curse,” can it be viewed anywhere?

It’s not viewable to the public. Again, it’s on the festival circuit – for those who don’t understand how that works, it’s going to be at least a year before we release it on the web for public viewing. Film festivals need to be able to make their money back, and they can’t do that if a film has already been viewed by thousands of people. In particular, they always seek out films that haven’t had a premiere because they want to be the first to claim that film. We’ve got a long list of festivals we want to submit to, yet, so we are trying to be mindful of that fact.  

 

So in the meantime, how do the filmmakers make money?

I’m still fairly fresh to the film circuit in that regard. But from my understanding the best way you can make your money back is to get a distributor involved. Right now I don’t know so much that we’re interested in that. We’re aiming to create buzz around the film. As far as art goes, do it because you love it not because you’re looking to make money off of it. Especially right now where there is this tremendous opportunity to marry art with political activism…message first, money second.

 

Any closing thoughts?

I think just that- leave the money by the wayside and focus on getting your message across. Diversity on the big screen is being achieved, but it can’t stop here or now. I’m not going to stop on my end. I think film is one of the largest platforms where change is achievable and together we filmmakers can make it happen.

Find Moira McFadden:

Instagram:@moira_mcfadden

Website: https://www.moiramcfadden.com/

 

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