Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Wendy Morgan on SUGAR DADDY

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Some films jump off the screen to announce the arrival of vital new talent. Such is the case with Wendy Morgan’s Sugar Daddy, starring Kelly McCormack in a tour de force performance as Darren, a new age music composer and performer who is trying to break into the record industry. Sugar Daddy is the opening film for Whistler Film Festival 2020.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Wendy Morgan: Sugar Daddy is about a young woman at that very raw point in her life where she knows so strongly what she should be doing that has trouble doing anything else. It’s about making art and coming to terms with yourself. It’s also about value, self-esteem, and seeing how Darren navigates in a patriarchal world with no actual father. It’s a love letter to music and mothers in the end.

Merin: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

Morgan: We were not really looking at other movies when we designed this film, our inspirations came from Art History, paintings, music videos. My intention was to make a really intimate, portrait of this young woman as she is just beginning to connect with her creative self and what that looks like. Lots of the scenes are simply Darren and what she feels as she performs, reacts, imagines music. These themes felt really close to me as it’s sort of where I come from as a music video director. Coming up with visuals that have emotional tension and feels connected to the music.

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

Morgan: I had a pretty instant reaction to the script, Kelly McCormack the writer had a really strong idea and she also embodied the sexual/political ideas she wrote about. We created Darren together, Kelly had a very strong character from her very first draft. I drove the musical, stylistic direction of the film. I think we made a great duo as we come from very different backgrounds, mine is music videos, hers is theater. Also although Darren’s mother is only in the very beginning of the film, her presence, the single mother was very central to the film and especially the conclusion. We have since reconciled but during the shoot, I was a single mother of three small children, so yes I understand the power of a woman on her own.

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

Morgan: One of my favorite moments in the film is the scene during Darren’s birthday party. The conversation that occurs in that scene, the dialogue that Kelly McCormack wrote is such an interesting political moment in the film. In that conversation feminism in the modern conciseness really gets dissected and you get radically different interpretations of the same situation.

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

Morgan: I learned how wonderful it is to live in a story for several weeks as you shoot. I learned to allot about working with actors and bonding with a crew over a longer shoot than I am used to. Sugar Daddy is a real collaboration and I think we all learned to allot about trusting other people, other women.

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

Morgan: The biggest challenge was getting it started, there were many stops and starts. I had a small baby less than a year old while we were filming which was not easy. But the biggest challenge was working within the budget and the time we had, we shot the film in 18 days which flies by. That’s the biggest commodity when your shooting, it’s time.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Morgan: I would love to shoot more features and do more TV work also. I continue to work in Music Videos, and I will always love that medium. My plans for the immediate future are two projects I’m focusing on, one a feature film I’m developing with my two sisters Michelle Morgan and Grace Morgan that takes place between Canada and Chile. And also a musical – dance narrative project.

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

Morgan: Some of my faves, Wong Kar Wai, Mark Romanek; Maya Deren, Lynne Ramsay, Lucrecia Martel… I also need to mention Judith Westin who’s writing is so valuable to directors making their start. She helped me prep to shoot this film and I will be forever grateful to her. Judith’s advice was to make the film about “radical acceptance” and I think we did!

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

Morgan: I would say just start, start reading, start shooting, follow your heart, and make work that reflects your vision. Be ready for lots of judgment and disappointment also but when you are shooting something with an amazing group of people and you achieve that sublime feeling that you have been chasing. It’s the best feeling in the world.

About Wendy Morgan:

Wendy Morgan’s parents emigrated to Canada from Chile the year she was born. The eldest daughter of six children Wendy began her career directing music videos in Vancouver after graduating with a degree in Art History at McGill University in Montreal.

Within her first couple of years directing music videos, Wendy won seven Canadian MuchMusic Video Awards, including Best Director two years in a row. Her iconic video for Gnarls Barkley’s Going On was an official selection at the SXSW Film Festival and was named in Time Magazine’s list of Top 30 Music Videos of all time. Wendy’s Tightrope video for Grammy-nominated Janelle Monáe was the number-one video of 2010 for UK music bible NME and received Best Choreography nominations at the MTV VMAs.

In 2015 the Paris Opera debuted their online platform the “3rd Stage” with Wendy’s dance film etoiles, I see you shot inside the Paris Opera, Palais Garnier, with American dance legend Lil Buck. In 2016, her video for the Kills, Doing it Death, shot in Los Angeles was nominated in the “Best Rock Video” category at this years UK VMA’s.
Wendy also directs commercials internationally, working for clients such as Lanvin, Renault, Volkswagen, IKEA, Cover Girl, Ford, Roche Bobois, and JC Penny.
And in 2017 Wendy was named one of Women in View’s “5 in Focus” a project supporting five up and coming female narrative directors in Canada.
On the narrative side Wendy has directed eight episodes of The Family Channel’s show Backstage and two episodes of Little Dog on CBC.
In 2019, Wendy spent the year creative directing for Belgian/Congolese artist Lous and the Yakuza for Sony Music France. She also shot a music video Underdog for Alicia Keyes which was nominated this year for an MTV VMA. In 2020 Wendy’s debut feature film, Sugar Daddy will be released. Wendy currently resides between Paris and Toronto, she is also the mother to three children, Giancarlo, Noémie and Gala.

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