MUFFProfile: Sarah Quan and Sarah Simone
“I choose to only hire individuals with forward thinking, feminist views towards how the industry needs to change.”
One of the coolest things about being a part of The MUFF Society is getting to meet incredible local young filmmakers. I’m not really old enough to be saying, “ YOUTHS ARE THE FUTURE,” but you know what? They are the future!
It makes us at MUFF feel super confident about the future of the film industry when we encounter badass filmmakers like Sarah Quan and Sarah Simone. They both attended Ryerson for Film Studies and collaborated together on their thesis project, Margoland.
In their words: Margoland is a comedy about Margo, a badass, zero-shits-giving old lady who’s trying to escape her old folks home in order to get her late wife’s ashes to The Big Nickel in Sudbury in time to celebrate their anniversary.
And if that doesn’t sound like the most amazing short film ever, we don’t know what will. We were able to sneak a peek of the film in edit and it is truly incredible, trust. But if you need more convincing: it recently screened at RUFF (Ryerson University Film Festival) and won the Audience Award for the night it screened.
If you missed it at RUFF, never fear! Quan and Simone plan on submitting Margoland to more festivals, so keep an eye out for it.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH FILMMAKING.
Sarah Quan: I’m a filmmaker based out of Toronto. I’ve produced a number of short films that have gone on to be featured at various film festivals in the US and Canada, and I also production coordinate for companies like CBC, Myriad Pictures, Freeform, and the Canadian Film Centre. I started working in the film industry while I was in film school, so I’ve been working in between school for the last 2 years!
Sarah Simone: In high school I always had a passion for acting and directing. I directed my first play in grade 12 which competed in the SEARS Ontario Drama Festival. I was struggling to decide where to move forward with school so I decided to combine my passion for the theatre with my love for movies. I had never made a film but I loved watching them! I did an extra semester of high school so I could gain co-op experience with Rogers TV and then decided to apply to Ryerson for their Film Studies program. Somehow I got in and since then I just went with the flow, and tried to get on as many sets as I could. Meanwhile in classes I continued directing each year but also pushed myself to try every department: art, assistant directing, audio and finally into camera department and cinematography. I fell in love with camera and now when I’m not directing I work as a 1st or 2nd Assistant Camera!
TELL US ABOUT MARGOLAND.
SQ: Margoland is about a 75-year-old badass old lady who tries to escape her old folks home in order to get her late wife’s ashes to the Nickel in Sudbury in time for their anniversary. Sarah came to me with the idea last summer and I immediately loved it. We know we wanted to work together for our thesis film for our last year at Ryerson University, and it worked out that I wanted to produce and she wanted to direct, and we both wanted to write!
SS: Margo was a character I had created in a 2nd year writing class. Sarah and I were struggling to make a previous idea work and during that time my brain kept going back to this spunky old lady. The more and more I thought about her the more I wanted to tell her story. I approached Sarah about a week before we started school to completely change our idea to that of Margo. I think I scared her a bit when I suggested it but she liked the character and from there we created Margoland together!
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF WORKING ON THIS PROJECT?
SQ: My personal highlight working on this project was getting to make something that truly felt like my own. Up until that point I had only produced projects written by other people, and while I loved doing that and getting to produce these great stories, they weren’t mine. Margoland was something I poured a lot of my heart into and the first project that I could claim as my own (alongside Sarah of course) and it felt really really good. (Especially with all of the feedback we’ve been getting!)
SS: I think the best part about working on the project was getting to work with the most incredible crew ever. Working with Sarah was amazing from the moment I had approached her with some ideas and she agreed to collaborate with me — we just really clicked and had similar ideas. I’m not the strongest writer so I knew I needed someone who believed in the project as much as I did to be a co-worker. The entire film was a huge collaboration and it was so amazing to see every department head truly invested in the project. Our DP and Production Designer both worked incredibly hard to make every little detail work for the vision of the film. It never felt like “my” film, it was always “our” film. To me that was the greatest feeling, I wouldn’t have been able to make it what it was without them.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WORKING ON MARGOLAND?
SQ: Our biggest challenge with Margoland was getting the comedy just right. Sarah and I wrote this script together, and the writing was pretty specific in our minds. Obviously, when a number of people get involved and other people inherit the script it’s going to change. So I think the hardest part was adjusting to that and realizing that having more people involved ultimately made it better.
SS: No set goes perfectly as planned. The biggest challenge I found was that sometimes what you had pictured in your head just doesn’t turn out how you wanted, for various crazy reasons that set life brings about. For me it was a personal challenge in post production, having to change certain elements in order to make things work and flow better for what you were able to capture. Post production is my weakness but luckily I had an amazing editor who was able to work through a lot of challenges and get the film to a really solid place.
MARGOLAND HAS A LOT OF HUMOUR WRAPPED INTO WHAT IS ULTIMATELY A RATHER SAD STORY. WHAT MADE YOU GRAVITATE TOWARD THIS RATHER THAN A STRAIGHT DRAMA?
SQ: For me, most comedies are sourced from a lot of pain. I don’t think you can really find the humour in a lot of things without it stemming from some sort of sad memory or thought. It’s the idea that although things aren’t perfect, you can still find ways to smile.
SS: I love to laugh. And I love to laugh at my personal pains. Im weird that way, I love self-deprecating humour and I describe myself as a realistic-pessimist. If you can learn to accept the reality of the situation then you can often see the humour in it as well. This story is something that everyone can relate to because we’ve all experienced love and loss in some form. I believe laughter can be healing. If I can help people laugh at a shitty situation, and make their day just a little bit better, then that makes me happy.
IT’S SUPER RAD THAT MARGO IS A QUEER ELDERLY WOMAN. WE DON’T SEE THAT REPRESENTED IN FILM/TV HARDLY AT ALL. CAN YOU SPEAK TO THAT?
SQ: Thank you! For us, Margo just happened to be queer. We didn’t make it a plot point, or necessarily something that truly defined her on purpose because I think stories and characters and people can exist and be interesting without identifying as something specific. I think while we don’t touch upon it much, the fact that she is queer at her age tells us a lot about her character and her as a person. Margo has always been the most honest, loud, wonderfully charming person, and she’s never not known what she wants or who she is.
SS: Old people are hilarious; I’ve known so many spunky elderly people who have the most colourful and interesting personalities. I guess when you get older some people just reach a point where they don’t give a shit… at least that’s what I’m hoping for. I believe in strong female leads in film — there just isn’t enough and it sucks. So Sarah and I knew early on that we would write one. As to her being queer, it just felt right. As we were developing the character further it just kind of felt off for her to be bringing her husband’s ashes to the nickel. It felt off because this woman was so badass that I didn’t think she would give a fuck about society even back in the day. When I approached Sarah with it we were on the same page and that’s how it was from that point on. We weren’t writing a queer love story either, we were just writing a love story. We shot down any suggestions to change their relationship status.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER WOMEN WHO WORKED ON THIS FILM?
SQ: We had quite a few women in key roles on this film — our production designer, editor, and casting director/Kickstarter campaign manager. Kendra Legault, our production designer absolutely killed it in everything she did. Her and Sarah (Simone) went out every weekend to little markets to buy Canadian memorabilia to make sure every piece in Margo’s room was accurate. There’s so much detail in all of the set design that what you see in the cut barely scrapes the surface! Maya Henry, our editor extraordinaire really cut together what I think is the best version of the film. She worked tirelessly with Sarah and I spending hours in the edit room to make sure every second was cut the way we wanted it to. She’s also a really good storyteller and I think that’s one of the most important skills an editor could have. Our casting director Vanessa Agnelli was such a superstar. She found our Margo when we thought she was lost! It took us a good few weeks to work out the casting but I think we found the person Margo and the perfect Jonah.
SS: Some incredible women worked on the film. We had Sarah Quan as producer, Production Designer was Kendra Legault, and Editor Maya Henry. We had female continuity, craft, makeup, costume, graphics. We really tried to have as many females as possible, of course there were several other thesis films being shot at the same time so we unfortunately couldn’t have a female present in every department. My DP and I had discussed early on trying to get females within the camera and grip department however all of our contacts were on other shoots at the time. As a female who works in camera and grip department, I know how underrepresented females are in these fields and I want to support them wherever I can. All of the men who worked on the film are people I personally work with when I’m not directing. I chose them specifically because I know their attitudes towards women on set. I choose to only hire individuals with forward thinking, feminist views towards how the industry needs to change.
WHAT LANDMARK/ATTRACTION WOULD YOU WANT TO TRAVEL TO GO SEE?
SQ: Hmmm. I’m dying to travel back to Spain to see the Sagrada Família again. It sounds super cheesy, but when I first saw it, I started crying. It’s just so beautiful!
SS: Oh my goodness there are so many. I love Canada and my dream is to visit every province and territory at some point. I specifically want to visit the east coast so hopefully I can save up some money to do that soon.
TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU ARE A FEMINIST AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO YOUR FILMMAKING.
SQ: I’m a huge advocate for intersectional feminism. I think it’s super important to be able to empower women — especially in the film industry (both in front and behind the camera) because representation matters. I’m Chinese and growing up Mulan was one of the only films I ever really connected to because she looked like me. I want to make sure I’m setting an example for little girls (especially WOC) who watch tv or movies that our stories matter and we are visible and we will be heard. I’m really tired of being the exception in a room full of males — I want to be the norm!
SS: Not gonna lie, when I first moved to Toronto and became more independent I had to educate myself on what feminism meant. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions as to what it is. If you believe in equality for women then you’re a feminist, it’s that simple. I’m okay with my work being viewed from a feminist perspective because obviously it influences what I create, but for me personally I prefer not to be labeled a “female filmmaker.” I am just a filmmaker, and prefer my work to be viewed as such when not being specifically analyzed from a feminist perspective. I understand not all women feel this way and that’s completely cool — by no means do I think this is the correct way of thinking. I think as women it is our choice how we choose to be labeled and that is just my personal preference. Females rock and the female perspective in film is so important to every aspect of filmmaking.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WOMEN WORKING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
SQ: Obviously I adore Sarah Polley as a general human and I think she’s a ridiculously killer filmmaker. I also really admire Constance Wu, Ava DuVernay, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis, to name a few. Most of these women are actresses (aside for Ava) but I am so grateful for their voices right now. Constance Wu especially — speaking out against sexual assault knowing that it may very well affect her career is really admirable. I think the world of these women — they are so incredibly articulate and the best at what they do in their craft.
SS: I get a lot of inspiration from women I meet on set. When I first started getting into camera department work it was because many of my female friends pushed me to. Even though I had male friends always encouraging me to do camera work, I was still always intimidated and never thought I would be able to. I had a female friend recommended me for a 2nd AC position, even though I had no experience. It was on that set that I learned from other females what to do. Even after that though, it wasn’t until my friend asked me to shoot a documentary for her that I started to believe I could actually do it. Ever since then I’ve been working exclusively in the camera department and I love it.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE ABOUT FILMMAKING YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
SQ: Never think you’re above someone else. Especially since I started out in this industry as a production assistant (PA), I know how hard it is to be at the bottom. I never ask any of my PAs or my colleagues to do something that I wouldn’t do myself — and most of the time I’m still doing it! It’s the nature of indie filmmaking. You just have to get it done, no matter what it is.
SS: Get on as many sets as possible when in school or starting out. And if your goal is to be a director then work in every department. It’s important to understand the workings of all departments in order to properly respect the amount of work you are asking of your crew. Whether you’re working with a volunteer crew or a paid crew, the only thing you can make a person do is quit. When I’m directing I want everyone to feel like they are contributing creatively to the film in some way, no matter what position they are in.
AND NOW FOR SOME FUN ONES! IF A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE WAS CREATED, WHO WOULD STAR AND WHAT GENRE WOULD IT BE?
SQ: Ooh. Lucy Liu is seriously #1 for me, but it might not work because our age difference.
SS: Comedy. Deadpan. Not too sure, maybe a combo mix between Aubrey Plaza and Rebel Wilson?
WHAT MALE POP-CULTURE ICON OR MOVIE/TV CHARACTER ARE YOU WOULD YOU LOVE TO SEE GET A GENDER SWAP?
SQ: It’d be interesting to see The Social Network with women. I have a feeling people would not find the humanity in a female Mark Zuckerberg…
SS: James Bond. I’m not a fan of Bond movies because they just bore me. Just a dude, with a dude ego, who needs to get over his dudeness. I think a woman would make a far better secret agent.
IF YOU COULD LIVE IN ANY SITCOM, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE?
SQ: It’s so hard to decide! I love Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine a lot just because of how dynamic the cast is and how hilarious they are together. I also think I’m just dying to do a Jim Halpert face into the camera.
SS: OMG I don’t even know there’s too many. I’d have to name every show in my Netflix list.
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WHAT PROJECT(S) ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW/NEXT?
SQ: I’m working on developing a feature for another short I produced, as well I’m hoping we can do more with Margoland!! I don’t think this is the end of Margo’s story, and I’d really love to see how we can expand her as a character. Other than that, just freelance producing and production coordinating!!
SS: I’m currently booked for 2 features as a 2nd AC. I’m hoping I can freelance for the next little bit and I’ll see how that goes. I’d like to do some small projects of my own, but otherwise I’m just gonna see where things take me.
RECOMMEND ONE #MUFFAPPROVED FILM FOR OUR BLOG READERS!
SQ: 20th Century Women is a movie that I saw recently and loved a lot. I generally don’t like using the word “authentic” but this film really was so lovely and real. The conversations were just so grounded and effortless and did a really great job articulating relationships and experiences between women and about women.