Awards Discovery: Newcomer Lindsay MacKay & How Scaling Up Shorts Works

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During Awards Season when most focus on trophy sweeps by the majors, behind the scenes, tens of 1000’s of films go up for some kind of consideration.

J.K. Simmons Wins for Whiplash, Debut Film by Damien Chazelle

J.K. Simmons Wins for Whiplash, Debut by Damien Chazelle

From Canada’s TIFF to The Festival de Cannes on the French Riviera to the Santa Barbara International Festival (SBIFF) on the American Riviera, new films (long and short) vie for attention.

This year, writer-director Damien Chazelle with Whiplash was the most recognizable discovery, with five Oscar noms and three wins his first time out.

But there was another smaller film by an unknown filmmaker who started at TIFF and made a splash at SBIFF. This writer/director is Lindsay MacKay, from Canada, who is now scaling up an award-winning short film, Clear Blue (2010), to match her feature-length flawless first effort. Riffing off the pool theme of the short, her debut feature is called Wet Bum. (See Director’s Statement below.)

Aesthetic Similarity to Robert Altman's 3 Women (1977)

Aesthetic Similarity to Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977)

It has elements of Robert Altman’s 1977 film 3 Women, that interwove budding Sissy SpacekShelley Duvall and Janice Rule in therapy pool scenes with senior citizens. But Lindsay has an entirely different perspective, with this level of craftsmanship.

Call that a gush rather than a review, Wet Bum is a stunner, one of those “moment movies” that mark the moment when a new talent emerges in the world of cinema. The film begins with three suspended bodies in a flick of Magic Realism that hints at floatation and enlightenment. “I’m hoping more people get a chance to see the film and it gets some recognition,” MacKay said. “I think this is the kind of work that could speak to many generations and I hope they get to see it.”

Just for the record, filmmaker Lindsay MacKay didn’t come out of nowhere. She is a graduate of AFI’s Directing Program, and the recipient of  both a Franklin J. Schaffner Fellowship and a Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award. She once merited a blurb in Interview Magazine back in 2011, when her short was winning awards – from the Student Emmy for filmmaking to a Top 10 Finalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Screenwriting Competition. This film debuted in Toronto at TIFF, and we met up at SBIFF, near the end of Awards Season 2015. Wet Bum stars award-nodded upcomer Julia Sarah Stone, a very skilled veteran Kenneth Welsh, also Craig Arnold, Leah Pinsent, Diana Leblanc, and Jamie Johnston.

Awards Discovery: Lindsay MacKay on the Map of Cinema

Awards Discovery: Lindsay MacKay on the Map

Here is discovery Lindsay MacKay talking about how to scale up a short, how she still needs distribution, and a nod to famous Canadians in Hollywood.

Q: Can you give us a quick summary on the three floating people, their vignettes that tie the film together, and are you thinking visually or storyboard-wise or just serendipitously about images?

LINDSAY MACKAY: This is a hard thing to summarize quickly but here’s my best attempt. We all attempt to give our life worth, and we place that worth in the things we collect, the people we love, and the people that love us. But what happens when the things we collect vanish, the people we love die or move on, and people who love us forget? This is manifested through Ed’s (played by Kenneth Welsh) crumbling old farmhouse and the newly built subdivisions. As Sam (Julia Sarah Stone) navigates her way through the spring she is torn between the old and the new — the abandoned relics of a past generation and the changing town she lives in. All of our characters are hovering in a state of in-between.

Kenneth Welsh Fine-tunes Loss & Love

Kenneth Welsh Fine-tunes Loss & Love

The opening and ending sequences are meant to touch on the idea of transcendence. I hope to subconsciously highlight the notion that we’re all passing through. Mortality is unavoidable, life continues on past the limits of our own experience but we are all linked through our humanity and the cyclical nature of life.

Q: Is there a sensibility you bring from the gaze of someone who is seen themselves as ‘different,’ not just due to your physiology (she has a congenital “stunted arm”) and gender, but as a first creative artist in your family?

LINDSAY MACKAY: As a storyteller I strive to shed light on the people less seen, the outsiders. I like to focus on character development,  exploring the seemingly mundane to discover the complicated layers beneath. The older I get the more I realize that the world isn’t black and white and that our differences are the things that make us all interesting.

I have a lot of creative people in my family, just none of them have perused it as a career the way I have. But they have been incredibly supportive and provide me with years of brilliant material… Haha.

Q: How did you get signed, off short films, in the US?

LINDSAY MACKAY: I made a short film called Clear Blue, which I’m developing into a feature at the moment, and it was screened at the DGA in Los Angeles. A manager saw the film there and really liked it. The rest is history.

Stats Make Ripples

Awards Tally: WET BUM, The Stats That Make Ripples

Q: Do you feel there is real support for your ideas within the agenting/management community, and the creative community here at large?

LINDSAY MACKAY: I think this is something every artist struggles with… It’s sometimes a hard fact to swallow that film-making is just as much a business as it is an art form. That being said I think that audiences are smart and are always looking for new voices and I think the creative community as well and managers and agents are too. So yes — I think I have to believe that there is support for my kind of storytelling.

Q: Has Wet Bum found a distributor, and is there another viable approach like Netflix or Redbox for viewers?

LINDSAY MACKAY: We haven’t found a distributor in the US yet. In a dream world I would love a small theatrical and then a platform like Netflix! I like to believe Wet Bum is a little gem that people will discover by word of mouth!

Q: Many famous Canadians have influenced Hollywood, from an early founder Mary Pickford, up to Ryan Gosling – is there a sense that US Cinema can co-exist with Canadian Cinema, and do you approach films differently for a US market?

LINDSAY MACKAY: I would love for Canadian films to do better in The States and honestly even in Canada — however both markets seem to be driven more by star power than anything else. As a small Canadian film, it was difficult to attract big stars. But believe me, we have some phenomenal talent in this film. I feel really fortunate have had the opportunity to work with Julia Sarah Stone at this point in her career. She’s a real talent and brought so much to the role of Sam.

Julia Sarah Stone, Bright Flash in the Deep End

Julia Sarah Stone Flashes in the Deep End

We also have a great supporting cast of Craig Arnold, Kenneth Welsh, Leah Pinsent. Each of them really bring a lot to the roles and help to make this story so rich.

I really hope I can continue to make films the way I am, with the audience and talent to support me on the journey. I try and keep business and the idea of markets out of my creative process. I try to focus on stories I would like to see, and subjects that feel true and important to me. I think that’s all I can focus on or else I would drive myself crazy trying to use some type of formula filmmaking.

Q: Some insiders say short films are the way in to the Academy Awards, both short documentary subject and short film fiction. Do you have any drive to make shorts specifically for competition to test that theory?

LINDSAY MACKAY: I love short films and they’re definitely a way to get your work seen and some doors to open. But I feel like at this point in my career focusing on longer format material is important. Wet Bum is my first feature and I’m really excited about working in longer format. That being said, I think shorts are great to return to when I want to try something or have a story that suits that format.

Q: Are you still traveling with the film?

LINDSAY MACKAY: We are still traveling — I’m heading to Stockholm and then Seattle and hopefully a few more places!

Special Thanks to Lindsay MacKay for making time for this interview.

Director’s Statement:Wet Bum is based on my own childhood – Sam’s journey throughout the film is based on my own experiences at her age. I grew up in small town Ontario, Canada, where my parents ran and owned a nursing home and one summer my parents gently pushed me into a job as a cleaning woman there. “

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