Tribeca Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Mickey Sumner on WITH/IN – I’m Listening

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Mickey Sumner’s I’m Listening was shot in response to the WITH/IN short film initiative. The directive was simple: Using an iPhone and whatever’s easily at your disposal, shoot a short film dealing with quarantine life in 2020. It’s not as if there wasn’t a surplus of storytelling angles, themes and emotions available, considering how much everyone’s lives changed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In I’m Listening, a young mother takes care of her young child while isolated in a cabin while her husband is away. With her phone as the only connection to the outside world she relies heavily on Siri who becomes a source of comfort and also a foe when Siri starts taking matters beyond obeying direct commands. Played on the edges of Sci-Fi and comedy it is a unique take on our reliance and relationship with technology

Jennifer Merin: Please describe what your film is about — both in story and theme.

Mickey Sumner: Isolation, loss, motherhood and technology. The story is about Alex whose partner had just left her at the beginning of the pandemic, leaving her with her small child in complete isolation, and in her anxiety and loneliness SIRI becomes more and more important in her life. I was most interested in how the story played on the edges of Sci-Fi and comedy throughout but wanted to leave the audience with an uneasy feeling about how much we rely on technology and how pervasive it has become in our lives. I loved that I could also incorporate the incredible beauty and nature of British Columbia, which heightened a sense of isolation but also extraordinary privilege during an airborne pandemic.

JM: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

MS: We switched the aspect ratio back and forth from vertical to horizontal. The vertical format for all of the close ups which are Siri’s POV and the horizontal format for all the static wide shots. Adam Van Steinburg (my amazing DP) and I experimented before we started filming, testing if a film could easily switch back and forth without losing the story, the emotion, or making the audience nauseous! I wanted the look to be simple, but it was vital for the story to ensure the character of SIRI was just as real as the mother and the son and the relationship was grounded in some sort of reality.

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

MS: My mother (and producer) Trudie Styler had a great idea for a story about a woman and her relationship with Siri, which we brainstormed and then was turned into a beautiful gem of a script written by Portia Alen-Buckley and Mike Lindely. It was wonderful working with them, shaping the story to my specific quarantine circumstances and location and also what was realistic to shoot in 4 days, with a two man crew, and toddler and limited equipment.

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

MS: I loved being part of every aspect of the process of filmmaking, something as an actor I usually have very little access to. It was incredible to work with the pre-production team, via zoom, who helped and guided me. It felt like a crash course in film making. I especially loved working with Saska Simpson, my editor, who taught me so much about editing and storytelling. And then getting to work with Will Bates from Fall on Your Sword was incredible – his score elevated the sci-fi aspect of the film and I especially loved learning you can turn the tone of a film in a second with the use of music. I found every stage of filmmaking humbling and thrilling.

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

MS: Directing myself !

JM: Can you single out a fundamental character trait that drives you personally and professionally? What is it and why does it move you?

MS: Perfectionism. I dont think it’s necessarily a positive trait personally, but it certainly drives me in my career – I’m rarely satisfied – and find myself trying to prove myself wrong, push past my fears, be better, work harder, focus more, learn more, try harder.

JM: What are your plans for the future?

MS: I’m currently shooting season 3 of Snowpiercer and writing a feature script I am writing about motherhood, which I would like to direct next year.

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

MS: Specifically for this project I was inspired by Miranda July, Noah Baumbach and Spike Jonze’s “Her”. I also took inspiration from many different photographs that explored loneliness in the frame, I wanted the absence of the father to be visceral.

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

MS: Don’t wait for permission.

ABOUT MICKEY SUMNER

Mickey Sumner’s film credits include Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, Tim Blake Nelson’s Anesthesia, John Magary’s The Mend, and James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, among others. Mickey had a cameo role as iconic rocker Patti Smith in CBGB with the late Alan Rickman, the lead roles in Missed Connections and Girl Most Likely. Television includes her series regular role as Bess Till in TNT’s Snowpiercer and recurring roles in AMC’s Low Winter Sun and in Showtime’s The Borgias. Mickey directed her first project, a short film she also stars in for Maven Screen Media called WITH/IN, a collection of short films focused on issues during the pandemic. Born and raised in England, she currently lives in Los Angeles, having graduated with a B.F.A. from Parsons School of Design in 2007.

Mickey Sumner’s Program Notes for I’m Listening

During a period of collective anxiety, grief and isolation the opportunity to collaborate and make something, during the pandemic, felt like a creative lifeboat. Being in lockdown on a remote island in British Columbia I jumped at the concept of making a movie written, produced, prepped and edited all via zoom over several time zones. My mother (and producer) Trudie Styler had a great idea for a story about this woman and her relationship with Siri, which was then turned into a beautiful script written by Portia Alen-Buckley and Mike Lindely. It was wonderful working with them, tailoring the story to my specific quarantine circumstances and location. I was most interested in how the script played on the edges of Sci-Fi and comedy throughout but leaves us with an uneasy feeling about how much we rely on technology and how pervasive it has become in our lives. Adam Van Steinburg and I experimented with the Siri point of view shots from my phone, testing if a film could easily switch from horizontal to vertical without losing the story, or making the audience nauseous! It was a thrill getting to direct and act with my mother, and my sister Fuschia, especially as there was a continent and ocean between us. I loved that I could incorporate the incredible beauty and nature of Cortes Island, which heightened a sense of isolation but also extraordinary privilege during an airborne pandemic. I have always wanted to direct, and although directing my first short with a two man crew, two iPhones and my 3 year old son would never have been what I imagined – I learned so much, felt very supported by all the supervising experts and I found the creative “restraints” somehow liberating. I feel incredibly grateful to Maven Screen Media for inviting me to be part of this project with all the other families – it not only captured a very unique moment in global history but also is a perfect example of how art truly brings us together.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×
explore: | | | | | | |