LOUISIANA FILM PRIZE: Filmmaker Makenzie Smith on the Making and Meaning of CICERO

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Makenzie Smith’s film, Cicero, was in competition for the $50,000 cash award bestowed by the annual Louisiana Film Prize upon one winner. This year, more than 120 short films were submitted for the competition, with twenty selected to be screened at the festival, held from October 2 to 5 in Shreveport, to vie for the big money. Written by Smith who co-directed with Finch Nissen, Cicero was shot in Shreveport, per Film Prize submission requirements. The plot involves the tense and unexpected face off between two men — a hit man and his targeted victim — who find themselves confined together in a stuck elevator.

Jennifer Merin: Please tell us what your film is about.

Makenzie Smith: On the surface, Cicero is about a hitman who finds himself trapped on an elevator with the man he’s been contracted to kill. On a deeper level, it explores pain, grief and our connections to the people around us.

Merin: How is Cicero stylistically distinctive?

Smith: My goal through the process was to make each shot emotional. I wanted every scene to hold a layer of pain, grief, or anger. As heavy as that seems, it was important to the short story. Cicero is only 11 minutes long and is packed full of turmoil. I did my best to showcase that from the first second to the last.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Smith: This script fell from my brain nearly effortlessly, which is unusual. It all started with a sticky note. Once, the sticky note was written into the script everything else flowed out of me. I’ve always been so taken with the idea that we are all connected, that everyone around us can relate to our hardships and joys. Subconsciously, Cicero took these basic ideas and brought them to life.

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

Smith: To be more mindful of the pain our peers might be going through, or even strangers we encounter on the streets. Everyone has their own personal demons to battle and they may be similar to your own. Show a little kindness, be more open and honest. Communicate more. These are easy things that cost us nothing and you never know who it may help.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

Smith: An endless amount of knowledge and experience. I learned how to trust myself and when to listen to my gut. Each project should teach you something exciting or important about your craft and Cicero has given me a starting point to build my director style and vision on. I am immensely grateful to it because of this.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Smith: Definitely budget and time. Since I work full time, squeezing in the filming process on a weekend was stressful, but I had an excellent team that worked hard to ensure my project succeeded. I’m forever grateful to them for giving their time (many were volunteers) and their knowledge to help me make a dream come true.

Merin: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

Smith: Yes, I do. Being a new filmmaker also lent to that. With both of those combined, I felt like I wasn’t boxed in to “the way it’s always been done,” and was free to make choices based on my gut.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Smith: To continue to write original, passionate stories and to collaborate with unique voices, broadening my perspective. My partner and I have plans to develop three feature films and several more shorts.

Merin: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Smith: Wes Anderson for his bold stylistic choices. Christopher Nolan for his impeccable writing. Kathryn Bigelow for her absolute bad ass way of tackling filmmaking. She is a female director that I admire greatly and love her approach.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Smith: Find like-minded females and help each other. Build each other up. If you feel as if you aren’t getting traction or head-way, there is plenty of able female talent existing, and they need you too. We all need each other. So be kind, be supportive, be open.

ABOUT MAKENZIE SMITH: Makenzie Smith ia passionate about storytelling. She has written three novels and has many more in the works. She and Finch Nissen are film-making partners. Finch has been in the industry for 10+ years, behind and in front of the camera.

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