Naked Nancy Interview: Marni Van Dyk
“In a lot of ways this project is a love letter to misfits. It’s a hero’s journey for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong.”
I know I’ve said this before but I’m going to say it again and there’s nothing you can do about it: the best part about MUFF has been getting to highlight all of these incredible filmmakers and get to see them grow in the industry. Sort of like a way less weird and creepy Professor Slughorn—minus the “collecting” part but if I had the money definitely with the dinner parties part.
Marni Van Dyk is one such rad filmmaker. We screened her equally rad short I Am Not A Weird Person ahead of a screening of Drop Dead Gorgeous (something I can take ZERO credit for; our incredible mini MUFF producers sought and programmed all of our incredible shorts) and then last year got to re-introduce it to even more people via CPFF’s screening of Amelie.
And now. Now… cats!!!!! I mean: Marni has written and directed a web series called Naked Nancy that is up for IPF funding and it co-stars a kitty. Not that a web series needs a cat to be the best but you know what? Yeah, it does.
We chatted with Marni again about the web series, which you can read below! And be sure to check out the trailer for Naked Nancy.
Marni’s first short film I Am Not A Weird Person (dir. Molly McGlynn) was featured on HelloGiggles, programmed by Jill Soloway on wifey.tv, and described by Lena Dunham as “a haunting little short.” She has served as Head Writer on WE Day 2017 (CBS), hosted by Selena Gomez, and WE Day 2018 (ABC), hosted by John Stamos, as Writer of the original comedy pilot Rogue Bridal (Makeful), as Associate Producer on Match Game (Comedy), and most recently as Field and Story Producer for The Beaverton (CTV). Her original screenplay Learn to Swim (dir. Thyrone Tommy) is a recent recipient of the Telefilm Talent to Watch Fund.
We last talked in 2015 about I Am Not A Weird Person*. Can you catch us up since then?
Marni van Dyk: I Am Not A Weird Person is the little unlikely film that could. We’re a long way from me sleeping in the gear van so that nothing would get stolen! That aside, I’m pleased to see it still resonates with audiences several years later. In fact, this past summer the Toronto Outdoor Picture Show screened it at The Christie Pitts Film Festival ahead of Amelie to close out the season. There were over a thousand people there, which was incredible to see. That festival is wonderful. Short films don’t usually reach those sorts of audiences offline. [Editor’s note: you can read it here.]
Tell us about Naked Nancy. Where did the idea come from?
MvD: The themes I’m tackling in this are a continuation of those I was exploring in I Am Not A Weird Person. But, if I’m honest, I think the story initially came from a bit of an embattled place. I’ve been coming up against a lot of “No”s and worse — a lot of disinterest, for a long time. There are only so many rabbits you can pull out of your hat before your “fuck it all” takes over and you start to fantasize about closing your door to the world and just making the stuff that moves you. That is the point of departure for Naked Nancy — she has done just that. In a lot of ways this project is a love letter to misfits. It’s a hero’s journey for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong. Also, for anyone who has ever had the thought, “Why is the world trying to screw me ALL THE TIME??”
What attracts you to the web/digital series format?
MvD: There is so much flexibility in web/digital formats. You can lean into niche characters and worlds, and still tell exciting multi-part binge-worthy stories. You don’t need to try to play to a broad audience. In digital you can also use the language of the internet as a storytelling device. Viewers who are savvy online understand how people speak and interact in the digital space. We can use those nuances to tell this story.
So, who is the best famous internet cat?
MvD: Grumpy forever.
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this film?
MvD: Oh lord, buckle up, this is a solid and lengthy list. Natalie Urquhart our producer is a rockstar. We met at the Canadian Film Centre and have since made a short, an original pilot that aired, and this is our third collaboration. She is such a strong, exquisite producer. Also, a great gal all around. Kristy Neville and Julie Stifler, two of our Executive Producers are so smart and savvy. With brains and braun they straight up make things happen. They’re both going to take over the world, just wait. Ciara Vernon was our Production Designer who blew me away with how quickly, wholly and truly she understood Nancy’s energy and the details of her environment. She also casually “whipped up” a pet portrait of our hero cat. Like a FULL PAINTING. Gobsmacked. She brought in Cordelia d’Amboise, who is super talented, and a collage artist in her own right. You’ll see her work mixed in on set. Our Wardrobe Designer is the wonderful Jessica Mary Clayton. I actually met her when I was working as an actor on another digital series. She has a great eye for character and aesthetic so I knew it had to be her. She found a perfect shirt that said “World’s Okayest Uncle” across the chest for this, which is my favourite thrift find in recent memory. We had a female gaffer!! Kay Grosper, who ruled. And Sarah Cripps, our makeup artist, who took the “too old for Baby Spice to be her style inspo” note and made magic. Virginia Kilbertus, who is an exceptionally talented composer did us the biggest solid and recorded and edited the voice over while her very sweet dog hid from us in the bathroom. Last but not least, Molly McGlynn, who directed I Am Not A Weird Person, has been working with me in a mentorship capacity, as shockingly, this is my first time directing scripted! Molly is a brilliant director and friend. In my mind we are Thelma and Louise barreling towards — I hope not a cliff — forever.
Also, not a woman AT ALL, but I must say, Matt Code is one of the biggest champions of women in our industry today. He consistently backs, fights for, and helps elevate women in all sorts of roles. He and Kristy are partners in Wildling Pictures, and he is the reason this project is moving forward.
When we asked you last time to tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking you said: “I like complex rich characters in any context. My feminism doesn’t necessarily inform my filmmaking. However, if as a result of telling female-driven stories, which is what I am always apt to do as I want to see more of them, and that makes me a feminist filmmaker…sure, I’ll take it!” Does this still resonate with you?
MvD: What resonates with me all these years later is better grammar. So there is that. But also, I’d say yes, I’m a feminist filmmaker. That to me is a baseline quality we should expect from all filmmakers. From all people.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
MvD: Oh lord. It’s a good time for great work. The list is very long, we can go through it over a drink sometime. But, the short answer is my long time friends and collaborators with whom I’ve grown up and old with: Emma Hunter and Molly McGlynn. This hoe is loyal.
Last time we asked you about the best advice you ever received. Now it’s time to give your own advice. Go!
MvD: Be better. Know what everyone else’s job on set entails and respect their work. If you are a director, take an acting class, learn to close read a text. If you are an actor, talk to an editor — you have no clue how they save you. Ask people questions, give credit where it’s due. Communication and kindness is key. In life and on set. Be a good person and work hard, because people do not forget if you aren’t or you don’t. If something isn’t working, there is a solution that doesn’t involve trying to jam someone into a corner so you get your way and trample others in the process.
Also, can I just say, no one likes it when someone forgets their name. It sucks. So, don’t pretend you “don’t remember” someone. Be appropriately embarrassed when you forget a name, but own it. Ask. Be nice. Move on.
Are you working on anything else aside from Naked Nancy?
MvD: Oh yeah. I’ve been working on the screenplay for Learn to Swim, an original feature based on a short of the same name. It’s produced by Alona Metzer and will be directed by Thyrone Tommy. We received some funding this past year and participated in TIFF’s Pitch This at this past festival. Hopefully that will be going to camera this summer/fall. I’ve been Field Producing on The Beaverton for CTV, and I’ll serve as head writer for WE Day hosted by Neil Patrick Harris on ABC this year. Then, hopefully, more Nancy!
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
MvD: Isadora Duncan, Chavela Vargas, Cardi B. We would eat Hawaiian pizza, carrot cake and drink real champagne. It’s my party, I’ll do what I want.
If you had one extra hour of free time a day, how would you use it?
MvD: READ A BOOK.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved** film for our blog readers!
MvD: If you haven’t seen Houda Benyamina’s The Divines yet, please do so immediately.