CPFF Interview: Rebekah Miskin
“Women supporting other women is vital to truly shifting how women are treated and represented both on-screen and off. And one would think that in a post “me too” world, this would be obvious.”
Where can you go in the early hours of the morning when sleep alludes you? For Jessie Barr, the safest place she can think of is the quiet 24-hour grocery store minutes from her house.
NIGHT OWL begins with awkward encounters with the quirky staff, overheard conversations with other late night visitors and random roaming through the aisles in search of that perfect cookie and frosting combination.
As the show progresses, and Jessie becomes a frequent 3 am visitor, relationships blossom and real friendships are made.
This wonderful digital series, shot in a real grocery store in Toronto, exposes a sweeter side of those long restless nights. The cast is charming and relatable, and will make you want to wander through your local supermarket at 3 am.
Night Owl demands snacks, before sitting down to binge this candy-coated series make sure you are fully stocked for maximum enjoyment.
Rebekah Miskin is an actress, writer, director and producer who splits her time between Toronto and Los Angeles. Night Owl, co-directed with Gillian Muller and staring Miskin as Jessie, had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2018 and won the Alan Sawyer Award for Excellence Across Multiple Screen Platforms. You can watch Miskin on Kim’s Convenience, Murdoch Mysteries, Long Story Short and A Subsequent Life (which she co-directed with Katie Boland).
You can see NIGHT OWL at the 2018 Christie Pits Film Festival screening of Before Sunrise and other short, The Foreigner, on Sunday August 12th.
This interview was conducted just before the horrific shooting in the Danforth in Toronto. As this city is a huge part of this film and Rebekah’s life, she wanted to add this brief statement of support:
I want to extend all my love and support to the victims of The Danforth Shooting and express my most heartfelt condolences to the families that so tragically lost their daughters. I grew up steps from where the shooting took place and was heartbroken by the news of this tragic event. But in the face of so many heinous, cowardly acts of gun violence in Toronto this summer, courage is the common thread that unites all the diverse and vibrant communities that make up this great city. The courage displayed by our First Responders and fellow citizens in response to the Danforth Shooting embodied the true spirit of Toronto The Good. THAT is the kind of courage that drives out darkness. Because he said it far better than I ever could: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with filmmaking.
Rebekah Miskin: Well my introduction to “Showbiz” [Lol] really started with dance at age three. But it wasn’t until age 12 that I took my first acting class and realized there was this other thing I could love in equal measure. The realization that a love of storytelling is what lies at the heart of my love of performance didn’t come until a little bit later. I didn’t know producing and directing were real jobs that young. But ultimately, I think my pure love of storytelling is what propelled me to start writing, producing, and creating my own projects.
I was raised on many of the classic “Golden Era” Hollywood movies. Most of which were introduced to me at a very young age by my Grandma. If ever I was too sick to go to school, I’d get to go to my Grandma’s house so I didn’t infect other kids at daycare. She introduced me to so many of the classics — including ‘Singin In The Rain’ and ‘An American in Paris’ — both of which had a particular impact on me. The first time I saw Fred Astaire tap dance is forever burned in my brain. I was maybe 5 or 6, but I’ll never forget the feeling — of seeing ALL the things I loved so much converging all at once (dance, acting, music, movies), all working together in perfect harmony to create such a masterfully orchestrated piece of art. And maybe that sounds schlocky, but for those who have seen those films, it’s really not. They are astounding feats in filmmaking. Needless to say, I tried to fake sick as much as possible so I could hang with my Grandma who exposed me to all kinds of art. On these “sick” days, we’d often go on secret dates to art galleries, museums and the movies of course! It was the best.
Tell us about Night Owl. Where did the idea come from?
RM: Night Owl is a web series about the weird night time events that take place at a 24 hour grocery store from the perspective of late night shopper Jessie — a lonely girl who can’t sleep. The store kind of becomes her unexpected portal to silly adventures and new friendship… But you’ll just have to watch it to find out more! …
Night Owl is a fairly self-aware series. In a time of nothing but supposedly ‘edgy’, ‘racy’ comedies targeting Mellenials, I was sick of it. I felt the most provocative comedy I could make for my generation would be the exact opposite, quite deliberately.
I came up with the idea when I first moved to LA and knew pretty much no one. I was super lonely and bored and had awful writer’s block. When I couldn’t sleep or write (which was often), I’d get in my shitty rental car and drive to the 24 hour grocery store near my place; basically just to go for a walk in a relatively safe place and clear my head.
What was it like shooting in an actual supermarket? Were there any restrictions or rules about what you could and couldn’t do?
RM: It couldn’t have been better! HUGE shoutout to Fiesta Farms because it’s undoubtedly the greatest grocery store in Toronto; as well as being independently owned by an awesome family. They were beyond accommodating to us. The only (totally fair!) stipulation they had about what we couldn’t do was turn off the fridges. The very least we could do was be 100% respectful of Fiesta’s request; despite the fact that our sound guy wasn’t exactly thrilled by buzzing fridges. But necessity being the mother of invention rings especially true when it comes to filmmaking. It seems the most creative solutions come from the most challenging obstacles. So we came up with some creative ways to work around the fridge buzz… but now you know that the fridge buzz you hear in the show is 100% authentic! Lol
There are so many great characters in the series, how did you come up with each of them?
RM: A lot of the characters are based on real life. On these late night trips to the grocery store, I started to see the same people repeatedly: a super handsome doctor who worked nights at the hospital around the corner and would do his full blown grocery shop in the middle of the night. (I never worked up the courage to talk to him in real life! Hahaha), an overnight security guard who’d tease me about how often I’d come in. And my favorite cashier — a young woman putting herself through school, working the graveyard shift. We forged a sort of unusual friendship — the automatic intimacy of being one of the few awake in the wee hours of the night seems to break down social barriers a bit faster than usual.
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this film?
RM :It would be my honour! I’m thrilled to tell ya that Night Owl was written, directed, produced, edited & art directed by a team of all women. I just hired the best people for the job! They happened to be badass women. Gillian Muller who Story Edited & Directed all the Night Owl episodes with me is such an incredibly talented writer, director, creative mind and one of my most trusted collaborators and advisors; her feedback, input, critical eye, talent and support is like no other. We really push each other to be our best and I hope to work together again on many future projects. Producer, Miriam Levin-Gold was a true lifesaver — she makes the hardest parts of producing look easy and does everything, (even the most grueling of tasks on no sleep) with a smile. Her boundless energy is unstoppable and I can’t wait to collaborate with her lots more in future as well.
Our Editor, Christine Armstrong is so ridiculously talented, it kind of boggles my mind. We have a real special… synergy? [Is it possible to use that word without sounding douchey?] wherein, it feels like she can read my mind. So many times, Christine knew what my notes would be on a cut before I gave them. During the edit, there were a few episodes where we hardly had notes because Christine’s rough cuts were so unbelievably close to what ended up being the final locked cuts. If that doesn’t speak to her talent and ability to capture the essence/heart of a project so perfectly, I don’t know what would.
I got to work with some of the most talented actresses I’ve ever known — Daiva Johnston (who plays Mel) and Marcia Bennett (who plays Sheila). Not to mention Katie Boland (Natalie) and Tara Joshi (Chris) who absolutely killed it. Final shoutouts to our First A.D., Olivia Barr, Production Manager Courtney McAllister, Second A.D. Amy Bowman, First A.C. Janelle Body, Production Designer Elisia Mirabelli — these women embody the kind of positivity, creativity, work ethic and true collaborative spirit that filmmaking is all about. I realize the question was about women but I want to quickly shout out ALL of the incredibly talented and supportive men who worked on Night Owl — because all of the guys we worked with were truly top notch!
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
RM: I’d say I’m a feminist because I’m a human being. As I see it, that’s really all there should be to it — not just for me but for everyone; no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, creed or colour. I often wonder if people who don’t consider themselves feminists are misconstruing the real definition of the word. I mean we all came out of a vagina! I feel that everyone should consider themselves a feminist because throughout history, the globally pervasive hatred of women has ultimately been detrimental for ALL human beings; not just woman identifying kind. I guess misogyny and all prejudice more broadly makes no sense to me. Yet, it seems obvious that we’re living in a time of rapidly increasing prejudice and divisiveness. This disturbs me on every conceivable level. I understand that many people feel disenfranchised, disempowered and afraid for very real reasons right now. But the solution is NOT fearing or hating the “other”. I think fear is often what leads to hatred. But fear and hate only beget more fear and hate and pain.
Which is one of the main reasons why the representation of multi-dimensional, dynamic, diverse, nuanced female characters is an inherent part of my filmmaking and always will be. Misogyny and toxic masculinity exist everywhere, in all industries and walks of life. But I’m glad that the entertainment industry has recently been held up as an example because I feel strongly that as storytellers, we have a particularly special responsibility. A responsibility to tell stories that genuinely represent our audience in a real and honest way. And our audience is made up of a diverse population and the diverse population of Planet Earth is half women, lest we forget! End of rant…
Just kidding! One final thing on this topic: women supporting other women is vital to truly shifting how women are treated and represented both on-screen and off. And one would think that in a post “me too” world, this would be obvious. But being a true ally to other women takes courage; sadly, it’s still not always the easy thing to do. But what’s that saying? ‘What’s right isn’t always easy and what’s easy isn’t always right?’ Or maybe replace the word easy with popular?… can’t remember. Either way — supporting our fellow womankind may not always be convenient — and that’s when it counts the most.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
RM: Oh man… I could go on for days. But in terms of up and coming Canadian women working in the film industry? My top badass womz’z to watch (in no particular order) include: Actress/Creator Grace Glowicki, Writer/Director Chell Stephen, Director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Writer/Director Sherren Lee, Actress/Writer/Creator Hannah Cheeseman, Producer Mackenzie Donaldson, Actress/Producer Paula Brancati, Filmmaker Sasha Henry, Actress Tessa Mossey, Production Designer Erika Lobko, Actress Carleigh Beverly, Producer Simone Zucker, Writer Veronika Paz. I could go on… and on and on! But the talent and work ethic among these women is absolutely mind boggling and anything they touch is worthy of checking out. I hope to work with all of them in any and all capacities in future!
What’s the best advice about filmmaking you’ve ever received?
RM: Wow. This is a tough one. I think that the best “advice” I’ve been given — if you could call it advice — is to keep going. Because when you start trying to actually make stuff, it’s unlikely that your talent will match up with your taste. And that’s because it takes practice! And the best way to practice making movies is to MAKE them! But again, it takes time and experience for your talent to catch up with your taste. So, if you make something and it’s bad, that’s great! Don’t get discouraged! Keep making stuff; keep making bad stuff. Eventually, your talent WILL catch up! But the key is to keep going… and to do so with integrity and kindness. I don’t care how talented someone is — if they don’t treat others with kindness and respect, I don’t want to work with them.
What are you working on now/next?
RM: I just finished shooting an episode of Kim’s Convenience which was so much fun. I feel beyond lucky that I got to work with such an incredibly talented cast and crew. So keep your eyes peeled for my very brief appearance in Season 3 of Kim’s! I’m also writing a one-hour series, a half-hour series and a couple of features — all of which I’m chomping at the bit to make!!!
What are your three favourite smells?
RM: Newborn babies smell so good! How do they do this?! The hint of peat moss and pine needles in the air while camping in Perry Sound, the smell of fresh coffee brewing.
In honour of National Ice Cream Month, if you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavour, what would it be?
RM: Burnt Marshmallow! (Shoutout Ed’s Real Scoop!) I feel strongly about the parallels here cuz… If you burn me I just get better.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved** film for our blog readers!
RM: I just saw Eighth Grade (Dir. Bo Burnham). Elsie Fisher’s performance alone is worth your time! It’s in theatres right now — check it out!
You can see NIGHT OWL at the 2018 Christie Pits Film Festival screening of Before Sunrise and other short, The Foreigner, on Sunday August 12th.