No Sleep ’til Fruition: Interview with 18-year old filmmaker MJ Slide

Read MJ Slide’s biography and her first Her Film interview (“Staying True to Yourself”) from September 2010 here.

Her Film: It’s been about a year since your first interview with Her Film when you discussed your film, The Saving, and you took it to the Seattle True Independent Film Festival this June.  Can you talk a bit about your expectations you had for the film and what’s been happening with it?

MJ Slide: The release and reception The Saving has received has far exceeded my expectations. It’s been screened in dozens of the theaters across the US and in the UK. As awesome as getting into festivals is (5 to date for this film) more importantly for myself as a Writer/Director would be the fact that individuals have really connected to the film’s message and passed on the word that this upstart 18-year old filmmaker is serious about making films and making them with quality generally not associated with my age.

Filmmaker MJ Slide at the premiere of her first film, The Saving, in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in making your first film and navigating the festivals?

MJS: Do your research and if you can, snag a personal contact with someone within the festival structure even before submitting to it. It will go really far once you’re ready to submit. There’s nothing wrong with having an “in.” Be personal and go the extra mile to convince the fest your film is one their festival NEEDS. Also Watch Paul Osborne’s Official Rejection, a documentary on the politics of film fests, and go ahead and buy Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Both are invaluable resources to any independent filmmakers prepping to take on the fest circuit.

“Give back to your audience…because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…”

MJ Slide with STIFF student block director, Daniel Hoyos, at Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)
HF:  What tools or skills have you found to be the most effective for building an audience?

MJS:  First and foremost, (and it’s kinda sad how many people overlook this step), have a quality film.  Second, know your demographic, and third, be personable. People like to deal with real people; be genuine, know your stuff, and continue to build relationships with those who are in similar situations. Reach out and connect, it’s a two way street. Give back to your audience, treat them like royalty because honestly, without them, your film is just that, a film…that no one is watching. Cultivate your image both on and offline, and I can’t stress enough how important social media is. It’s one of a filmmaker’s strongest tools. It’s free but it is an investment. Your audience is waiting for you. All you have to be willing to do is put yourself out there in creative engaging ways.

Official development one-sheet for Fruition Hard Line. (Image courtesy of the filmmaker)

HF:  What are you working on now?

MJS:  Several different projects but garnering most of my attention is my very first feature film, an indie steampunk movie entitled Fruition Hard Line.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

 I’m both co-writing and producing. It’s a truly amazing project and the group of people we’ve already assembled in development is by far the strongest, most versatile, and talented set of individuals both myself and my director, Timi Brennan, have worked with in either of our careers. We’re working very hard to push the envelope and raise the bar on what people would consider possible for an independent film shot in what would be considered a less than ideal filmmaking climate.

From the Fruition Hard Line screen test (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

The story itself is about a young girl, haunted by immense psychic abilities, who becomes entangled in a bizarre underworld of machinery and magic. I can list on one hand the amount of properly made sci-fi fantasy indie films, and my sincere hope is that Fruition Hard Line will be able to join their ranks. It’s going to be a long haul but I most definitely think it would be worth you guys coming along for the ride. As we say at Magnolia Hideout Pictures, it’s all indie film world domination up in here 🙂

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To connect with MJ Slide and learn more about her work, check out the following:

Junk Ink Films

Fruition Hard Line (film)

The Saving (film)

@MJ_Slide on Twitter

Interview with Screen Stockport

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Staying True to Yourself: An Interview with Beginning Filmmaker Mahogany J. Slide

 

MJ Slide discusses a shot with Location Manager Stuart Sabin.

BIO: Mahogany J. Slide is a 17-year old independent filmmaker and native of Greenville, South Carolina, who  just recently embarked on her directorial career.  Inspired by a lifelong fascination with art, writing, and self expression, she took the plunge into the world of filmmaking, both feet forward. She’s a self proclaimed nerd, lover of classic and modern science fiction, and has a passion for quality filmmaking well beyond her years.

Her Film: Why do you love film?

Mahogany J. Slide: I love film simply because it unites my two favorite artistic mediums, photography and writing, like nothing else can.  At my essence, I’m a storyteller, just ask my parents.  I know in this generation there are so many more people who will watch a movie then read a book and so therefore I can reach those audiences with the same great stories and concepts through making films. I love the ability to express myself, experiment and constantly learn about people, myself, and the world that surrounds me.

HF: How long have you been writing and what are your goals as a new filmmaker?

MJS: I’ve been writing for a little over a decade now. The funny thing is before the age seven getting me to write was like pulling teeth.  It was a real challenge but my mom worked hard to build my passion for words.  She made me read – a lot – and then I started reading all by myself and realized I had stories of my own I wanted to tell, so I did.  I began with novels and short stories.  I didn’t really get into screenwriting until I was thirteen.  People kept reading my work and saying “it reads like a movie” and they were right.  It was as if I had been waiting for a writing format to come along that gelled with my minimalistic style, and screenwriting kinda fell in lap. My goal as filmmaker is to learn everything from the ground up, all the facets of production and be well rounded but true to myself as a writer.  I think like any writer our goal is to write what we get excited about, our passions, desires and our thoughts and perceptions of the world around us.

The Saving promo poster

“I love the ability to express myself, experiment and constantly learn about people…”

HF: Describe the process of writing and directing your debut film The Saving. Why is this story important for you to tell?

MJS: The inspiration for The Saving came from one line in one my favorite novels of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird.  The basic idea was there are many different ways of turning people into ghosts.  To me, that statement sinks into my mind like this:  people in general don’t have to be dead or in some form of limbo to be ghosts.  When we get so wrapped up in our troubles or tough situations that life throws our way we become only a shadow of who we really are, letting our problems define us.  We become ghosts.  It’s that concept that really is backbone of The Saving and then how does humanity remedy that?  Who’s our hero?  Who’s gonna save us?  Sometimes people ask why I decided to tackle such a heavy theme in what is my true debut short film and the reasoning behind it is simple — everyone on the planet has lost someone who’s been close to them or knows someone who has.  It’s a common experience for all mankind.  Our reactions are all very different but at our core we’re bound together. How do we handle it? What’s right and what’s wrong?  What is truth?  These are some of the questions I wanted address.

I wrote the first draft of the screenplay in a weekend and then let it sit for several weeks but it was never far from my thoughts.  I finally went back and decided this is a film I know I can make – it was as simple that.  I wanted to make the movie and I was gonna figure out how to make that happen.

HF: You’re very young — 17 yrs. old!  Who & what are your influences as a filmmaker?

MJS: Oh heavens, my influences are on all sides of the spectrum.  I pull a lot from classic American poetry and literature:  Shakespeare, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Cornelia Funke, C. S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, and I’m also a diehard sci-fi fan, so Issac Asimov and Phillip K. Dick have a huge effect on the more science fiction areas of my writing.  For those who are not familiar with the indie filmmaking scene, my greatest mainstream influence is the shooting and directing in M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films, barring The Happening and The Last Airbender.  It’s actually his film Signs that made me want to be a filmmaker. That was the “ah-ha!” moment for me as a beginner.  I love the fact he keeps his successful stories well contained (such as The Sixth Sense and Signs) and they’re not these vast, sprawling, epic films which I think anyone in the indie film biz can appreciate.  I also admire the fact of how little he cuts between angles in scene, he holds himself accountable for the shots that he takes, not allowing them to detract from the characters and what is going on in the story.  He doesn’t normally do things strictly for the shock and awe factor – every angle has a purpose.  Which brings to my one of my favorite films,  hands down.  No matter how cliché and overrated people think this film is, I love Citizen Kane.  Orson Welles had it all in that movie:  minimal cuts, powerful lighting, a stellar script, and an unrelenting passion that drove the whole storyline.  As far as writing goes, I liken my style to sci-fi guru Joss Whedon, at least in dialogue and pacing.

HF: You have an experienced crew and a production company.  Describe how you made contact with your crew and the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you make the film.

MJS: Three words:  Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo.  Social media was the way to go for what I needed for this film.  It’s a great way to establish your local and international contacts and simply to meet loads of creative people and build friendships with other in the arts. I found my mentor, Chris Jones, who is an author and a director shortlisted for an Academy Award, through twitter, along with my executive producer and composer, and my director of photography on facebook.  Social networking is not a piece of cake.  Like any good collaboration it’s gotta be built on a relationship which takes time and motivation.  My cast, crew and myself have poured all that in and it’s paying off, although a lot of people assume it hasn’t really been all that difficult to pull together a crew of professional because of my age.  It’s actually been a large part of my success.

Passion is contagious and I don’t think anyone could ever claim I’m not passionate about The Saving and the art of filmmaking.  It also helps that I have a pretty killer script. It won a lot of people over and for me, that’s how it should work.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the storyline – is it worth telling or not?  The biggest challenge I have and I am still facing is balancing my normal life while running a production company.  Finding the time to meet with my crew, work with my actors – it’s definitely a divide and conquer type situation.  My family have been real troopers throughout this whole experience and I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without their constant support.

The stars of the film, Patrick Hussion as "Paul Connel" and 16-year old Stephanie Ibboston as "Skye Mattheus."

HF: What are your hopes for The Saving (fests, distribution, etc.)?

MJS: My hopes for The Saving, well I wanna get it made for starters.  We’ve scheduled a release date for the film to premiere (hopefully) at a local theater that is partial to independent films, on February 5, 2011. Then if all goes well, we’ll ship it off to several film festivals within the area, just to test the audience.  Of course, every indie filmmaker dreams of Sundance or Slamdance and I won’t say I don’t have my eyes on those festivals, but I’m not gonna be totally heartbroken if The Saving isn’t accepted.

I plan on going for self-distribution through a website I set up for anyone interested in purchasing a DVD, but for the most part distribution isn’t a major point of focus.  Short films can’t really snag a major distro deal simply because…well…they’re short films.  People don’t generally want to pay twenty-something dollars for twelve minutes of movie and those who do are usually art house types (which is completely fine by me).  The whole point of making The Saving is for me to have the experience of directing a decent sized film, building my skills on all levels, and getting my name out there.

HF: What are you working on next?

MJS: I’ve actually got a few other short films in the works, most notably my In Protest of Twilight with the working title Bleeder.  It’s a vampire story but it’s not.  Feel free to be confused.  I’ve also got a feature script up my sleeve I’m in the process of writing entitled Jersey Noise. I’d describe it as The Great Depression meets X-Men.  Depending on how well The Saving is received,  I’d really like to bang my first feature before I’m 21. That’s the goal.

HF: How have you raised funds and how is the process working out for you as you prep for production?

MJS: All the money we’ve raised so far for The Saving‘s production budget as been through this really neat crowdfunding site called indieGoGo .   It took a lot of prep work to get the page set up, with the pitch, teaser trailer, backer incentives, etc., but as far a micro-crowdfunding goes, IndieGoGo is really working for us. We still need help to secure the $3,500 we need to shoot The Saving and we’ve got to raise $2,700 in less than three weeks.  We’re working all routes, both local and online to get the word out about this film. I had an interview just yesterday with our local newspaper and we’ve been plastering posters and handing out postcards all over the place in hopes of garnering more local interest and support for this production and the independent film scene in my home town.  It’s a lot of work but I truly feel it’s paying off.

Visit The Saving online.

Become a fan on Facebook.

Follow MJ Slide on twitter @MJ_Slide.

Read the blog at Junto Ink, MJ Slide’s production company.

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Thanks to MJ for doing this interview via twitter and email.