BWW Blog: Monica Furman - Creative Juicing with Mariah Owen and Leah McKendrick
Content warning: This article describes art about sexual assault.
Hey there, it's been a while.
I was recently in New York City on my last winter break. Ever.
I saw Manifesto, a theatrical filmic art installation (let that sink in) by JulIan Rosefeldt at the Park Avenue Armory. The installation showed twelve films, all starring the incredible Cate Blanchett who portrayed a myriad of characters, from a homeless man to an art exhibitionist and everything you can imagine in between. All of these films paid tribute to art movements and manifestos throughout history, such as Dadaism and Futurism. Each made a big political statement, as the artist himself claims all art to do. Some of my favorite quotes uttered by Blanchett were:
"Artists cannot be remote during times of conflict
Art has never existed for art's sake.
Art requires truth, not sincerity."
I haven't had an inspirational moment big enough, such as Manifesto, to write about in the midst of senior year...until I connected with Mariah Owen, a Canadian indie film producer, actor, and athlete. This woman does it all with precision, passion, and interdisciplinarity.
Both JulIan Rosefeldt and Mariah Owen interact and curate art in a similar vein; they carve their own path. During our brief chat, Mariah spoke of how she approaches producing through an athlete's mind, a point of view that requires taking everyone and everything into consideration for a successful outcome with a risk-taking edge. Throughout her busy schedule, Mariah has managed to produce and executive produce eight projects in the last twenty-four months, a very quick turn-around. Did I mention she's under twenty-five years old? After speaking with this powerhouse, I was inspired to revamp my artistic organizational methods.
You may be asking why I'm profiling a tour de force from the indie film industry on a theatre blog. Mariah's educational training is theatre and performance based, so everything that subsequently results from her incredibly driven mind is influenced by that basis. Take for instance, her investing in Chapman theatre alum Leah McKendrick's latest feature-film MFA. "After reading the script, I just had this gut feeling about the project," says Owens. "M.F.A. is one of those rare films where you watch it, learn, love the characters, laugh a little, have your heart broken and finish feeling the urgency to help change the world we live in."
The film profiles college sexual assault, an incredibly pertinent issue that has always been present but is only now getting any attention, from a rather interesting angle. Mariah comments, "M.F.A. is a film that not only identifies the issues with our current societal views on rape; the film powerfully addresses them from a female standpoint." The survivor, a graduate art student (hence the title MFA, or Masters in Fine Arts) realizes her plan of murdering rapists on-campus after accidentally killing her own. Very gutsy and jarring. But, like JulIan Rosefeldt's installation, perhaps it takes something original that is very out-of-the-box and eerily specific to catch the audience's attention.
But what exactly does a producer do? "As an executive producer, your job can vary. Usually, you're sitting in video village or not even on set at all. That's not how I work," said Mariah. "I'm an 'all hands on deck' kind of filmmaker and because of that I was included in more of the production process. As an executive producer, I helped to "greenlight" the film, which meant that the project could be made for the intended budget."
At the heart of McKendrick and Owen's collaboration was....heart. "[M]ore importantly to me, I was able to be on set every day with awesome filmmakers. Leah wrote a phenomenal script, and assembled this team that truly felt like a eclectic, loveable family and I'm grateful that I got to be apart of it," Mariah said, who was short of beaming with pride and admiration over our Facetime. "We got to make a movie and some friendships too (cheesy, but true)." Leah wasn't short of praise for Mariah either. "She [Mariah] did everything from keeping me sane, to production work like locking locations to grabbing Starbucks."
Searching for a crash course in creating your own work? When I asked Leah to talk a little more about the chutzpah (great Yiddish word, check it out) it takes to create in today's Los Angeles and with a bank account on the verge of tears, she had this to say:
"If you're waiting for Hollywood to give you permission, chances are- you'll be waiting a long time. Hollywood is only giving permission to the people that are already creating, succeeding. Be one of THOSE people. Risk making something terrible. At least you are MAKING something. That's more than most of this town can say.
It's very difficult to make a movie, a web series, a short, a sketch-- ANYTHING. It's hard to have an idea and actually sit down and write it and follow it through to completion. I just make what speaks to me, what excites me and warms me up. What I'd like to see out there. You've got to believe in it so much so that when you reach the point where it's easier to just scrap it- you keep fighting. If you don't love your project from it's inception, and you're not making the big bucks, I don't know how anyone is able to cross the finish line. And it's ALL about crossing the finish line. There's a great quote: You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do. So talk less, do more."
Am I hearing a little bit of a Hamilton lyric? (I couldn't help myself.)
Want to keep up with Mariah Owen or Leah McKendrick? Check out their links below:
Mariah Owen: http://www.gteproductionsinc.com/
Leah McKendrick: leahmckendrick.com