Interview with Roslyn Muir, VWIFF Director

A LOVE OF STORY CROSSES GENRES AND INSPIRES HER CAREER

by M A Clarke Scott, VWIFF 2012 Blogger

Recently Women in Film Festival Director ROSLYN MUIR took time out to answer a few of my questions, about the festival, and about her own career as a screenwriter…

head shot of Roslyn Muir

Roslyn Muir, VWIFF Director

MACS: How long have you been involved in the VWIFF, as the director or otherwise?

RM: I’ve been a member of WIFTV for 15 years. I’ve been on the board a couple of times, and got involved with helping the organization. I started with the festival four years ago, helping with steering, choosing films and the artistic vision for festival.

MACS: What have you learned from past festivals that has changed your approach this year?

RM: Starting last year, we’ve begun creating a focus on certain under-represented filmmakers. Last year, the focus was on aboriginal filmmakers. This year, a couple of films genres, like horror, which women are doing more of these days. This is really exciting. We’re always trying to prove that women can do any type of film, and they are definitely doing them. Also the Yukon focus is out of the box. They have always brought an interesting perspective. We plan on something different each year¾ little cells. Already, for next year, we’re planning a focus on Middle Eastern filmmakers.

MACS: Are there favourite films or other aspects of the festival that you are particularly looking forward to this year?

RM: I think the whole program is exciting. I always try to program a diversity of voices and stories. Some years we get sent a lot of films in one area. The program has to be based on what we get sent but I also try to bring in others, too. The program is partly a reflection of what’s happening- different trends and I try to program around those trends. Different themes. Unfortunately it’s still difficult to find features directed by women. But there are a few.

There are so many great shorts, of course we want to include them. The placement in the year of our festival makes it challenging. So many are in the fall, such as the Toronto Film Festival. By December, many films are about to be released in theatres. We try to create a balance, try to find the right films.

Our festival has an international scope, but we always try to get as many Canadian films as well. It’s hard to find enough.

MACS: Can you talk about your own career a bit? What was the impetus for you to become a screenwriter and film producer? Did you complete formal training and do you think that’s imperative to get a start?

RM: I had been an actor. I have a degree in theatre, and did fringe shows, some TV. Then I took a break to have kids, and became a high school drama teacher, but was always writing, always involved in theatre. I stopped teaching after a family move and decided to throw myself fully into film. Screenwriting. Some documentaries, lifestyle shows. I wrote and produced and directed a couple of shorts Independently (Everything’s Rosie and F-Stop).

MACS: What projects are you working on at the moment?

RM: My short film NO RETURN was a finalist for the MPPIA Short Film Award at the Whistler International Film Festival in December 2011. My feature comedy, UNRAVELLED, is in development- nothing lined up production-wise yet, as well as another one. It takes a long time to take a feature to production. You have to do other things at the same time.

Photo Sioban Devine, director

Sioban Devine, Director

photo Gabrielle Rose

Gabrielle Rose, actor

I’m still writing a lot but busy with school. I’m doing my masters. I also made another short film in November called OMG THE MOVIE, which is in post-production now, starring Gabrielle Rose (The Sweet Hereafter). I was writer-producer on that with producer Siobhan Devine. We went on one of the fundraising websites. Raised $2500. For a short film, you can need anywhere from $500 to $100,000.  We also managed to pull in favours, free equipment, free cast. We had to pay for cameras, some equipment and food. We did quite well.

MACS: Do you enjoy being involved in the production of your own scripts?

RM: Depending on the project, you may or may not want to be involved in the production. Some people want to direct things creatively.  You have to be confident. You have to be able to pitch your ideas.

You also work as a story editor and script consultant. Are you motivated by the search for good stories, or by the desire to help other writers get somewhere?

My script won a Praxis contest in 2009 and had a reading, so I’m listed with them. I had been doing story editing before that, and will continue to do story editing after I complete my degree. I love story. When you’re a script editor for feature film, it’s different. You’re guiding the writer, providing another pair of eyes on the work. Providing rewrite notes. Pointing out things they might have overlooked. I enjoy that one-on-one with the writer.

MACS: What advice do you have for those changing careers? Who may be writing for different media versus film?

RM: I am writing a children’s fantasy novel as my thesis in the UBC Creative Writing program. When I began the program, the plan had been to do a screenplay as thesis. I took a children’s writing class and was inspired. Writing in different genres opens up your writing. There are different ways of writing. My MFA is just about done. I’ll be graduating in April. And I’m still editing the novel.

I think universal story telling can cross through genres. It’s important to understand the format, get the hang of it. It takes a bit of work. If you have that desire to continue, it doesn’t matter. But it does help if you have some formal training because it gives you opportunities. I think the film industry is the only one where you have to win a contest to forward your career. It’s very competitive. You must apply for these things all the time. Who knows what the defining factor is? It really helps if you have a short produced.

It also helps in film to understand the medium- filmmaking. If you’re working in film already, that affects your writing. The learning curve goes up much quicker. Collaborating too- finally sitting down with a director, a producer. You understand more about the production process.

MACS: Is industry experience important to success, and how valuable is mentoring?

RM: You depend on so many people to be onside with your story and your vision. The funding system in Canada affects your ability to produce a film. They have to be on board, as well as the stars, the director. There are so many variables.

Mentorship is important. I’ve been mentored many times by women in the industry. I have learned a lot. Having someone who can give you a hand with things, or give you advice. Or even just someone who knows your name. And the networking, getting to know people in the industry. It’s never just “here’s my resume.” It’s often about knowing people, hearing about jobs through the grapevine.

MACS: Do you feel you face/d extra challenges because you are a woman? Do you think the industry has improved much since you got your start or are we still fighting the same old battles? 

RM: I don’t know that it’s improved much. The statistics have stayed pretty low. You don’t notice it until you see the statistics, that women aren’t working as much in the industry. With Canadian funders, they are looking at American stats. The demographics haev changed. Women are the big film-going demographic now. They are still going to the theatre.

It all comes back to the money. The studio system. The perception is still there that women can’t be given large amounts of money.  There are a lot of women actors making the transition to directing and producing so they can control their own careers and keep working.

For example, when we were working on OMG. It was a mostly female crew, because those were the people we knew working in the industry. We each have such varying perspectives. The reason we have this festival is that women do tell different stories.

MACS: Thank you so much, Roslyn,  for taking the time to talk to me, and for your heroic efforts to direct the 2012 Women in Film Festival again this year. 

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