Six Questions for Mickayla Pyke

Mickayla Pyke
On the set of Muerte Es Vida (Death is Life), a feature documentary directed by Ali Alvarez, in which Mickayla and her family are featured. This film is currently being considered to appear in festivals across Europe and North America.

 
Mickayla Pyke is a 4th year student graduating from Queen’s University this spring with her B.A. in Stage and Screen studies. She is an award-winning short film director and currently has two short films being screened in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival this month. She was recently married to Mason Pyke of Wolfe Island in the fall and changed her last name from Pike to Pyke (which could be confusing when watching the credits of her films). She is currently working as a server at Casa in downtown Kingston and plans to pursue her career as a local filmmaker.

1. Tell us about yourself and your artistic work.  What sparked your interest in filmmaking?

I am a student in my fourth year at Queen’s University. I grew up just outside of Gananoque on the Thousand Islands Parkway and took the hour-long bus ride (each way) to attend Regiopolis Notre Dame Catholic High School. Since then I have moved to Kingston to pursue my studies and my social life. After taking 4 years off between high school and university to travel and gain some life experience, I decided to make my life about two things: my relationship(s) here in Kingston and my passion; film. I figured the best way to make both of my goals succeed was to pursue film in Kingston. This is when I decided to go to Queen’s in the fall of 2012.

My work seems to have really taken off in the past year. For the most part, I have gravitated to working on light-hearted short films, usually comedies. I make a point of producing films that are feasible/realistic to create on a very small budget and ones that can be quickly and easily understood by an audience.

I have had a passion for film as long as I can remember. Growing up I would watch bonus features on DVD’s and quote movie lines with my two sisters, to the point where we developed our own language (that we still use today). My grandmother and great-grandmother acted in films in England in the early 1920s through to the 1980’s. My great grandmother actually played as an extra with screen time in the film Gandhi (1982). So I guess you could say that it’s in my blood.

2. As a student in the Stage and Screen program at Queen’s, which instructors and filmmakers do you feel have influenced your early work?  Who do you look up to and who/what inspires you?

I have tremendous respect for Clarke Mackey, a professor at Queen’s University in the Queen’s Film and Media department. He is a very experienced and talented filmmaker/director/producer who has a strong passion for teaching. Not only is he gifted in the art of film, but he is also very humble in his work. The film Invaluable, which has been chosen for this year’s KCFF, was created as a result from Clarke’s FILM 365 narrative film class. His input was very influential in the entire filmmaking process and our team was so grateful to have had him as our mentor.

To be quite honest, I am not familiar with many filmmakers in the Kingston area. It is for this reason that I would like to pursue a career in film locally. I am inspired to make films about Kingston/Canadian life and hopefully put Kingston on the map in the cinematic world (apart from the KCFF of course).

3. Last year, your directorial debut, Hopeless Romantic, was picked up as an official selection at KCFF.  This heartwarming short also earned a slew of awards at the 2015 Focus Film Festival, including best screenplay and people’s choice.  What was that experience like?

Being a part of the Focus Film Festival last year was such an amazing experience for me. The object of the festival is to create a film from concept to finished product in 72 hours. Focus welcomes students from all disciplines; so many of the groups have students who don’t know anything technically about film- such as was the case for my group last year. I was blessed with a very talented cinematographer, Even Wu, who was in her 4th year in Film and Media. The other members of the group came from areas like theatre, politics, global development studies and nursing. As the only other film student, I became the director by default. Even though the students came from such different disciplines, everyone pulled together and we created something we can all be truly proud of. Creating Hopeless Romantic showed me that I really enjoyed directing and I sort of had a knack for it.

Leading up to the first screening of Hopeless Romantic at the festival gala, I told my group members not to get their hopes up, as we were an inexperienced group and we were competing against students who had much more experience. Little did we know how well received the film would be. When it screened for the first time, I was surprised and overwhelmed with the reaction. People were cheering and screaming! Everyone in the group was so excited and humbled by the response. To this day I feel so blessed to have been placed with such a talented group of people.

You can imagine our surprise when Hopeless Romantic was chosen to open the KCFF last year at Kingston’s town hall. We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were and how popular the film became, seemingly overnight. The whole experience was incredible. It taught me to have more confidence in myself and in my ability to take on a leadership role in film.

4. At this year’s KCFF, your following up in big way with two/three shorts being screened: Invaluable (Director) and Androktone (A/Director and A/Editor). Tell us more about both of these films. What can audiences expect, and do you plan on screening them elsewhere?

Invaluable is the result of a class I took in my third year of university. From inception to production, together with a producer, cinematographer and sound technician, we produced the film in 6 months. Shooting took place over 2 weekends, which was difficult as one of our actors, Charlotte, was only 18 months old at the time. The other main actress and Charlotte’s mother, Cathy, was a dream to work with and did an amazing job of sticking to Charlotte’s routine. I guess this would be a good time to discuss the plot. Invaluable is about a mother who has lost something very valuable and she must struggle to find the item while trying to complete her daily tasks. Even though the themes are quite tense, the film is actually quite slow in its nature. We wanted to focus on the reality of life and didn’t want to dramatize a situation that could happen to anyone.

Androktone was quite a different situation. The crew was assembled from the class in which Invaluable was created. We all had so much fun creating our films in the class that we decided we wanted to make a film over the summer in Kingston. The director, Hanna Brynn, also produced the film Invaluable. We discovered after completing Invaluable that we worked really well together and wouldn’t mind directing/editing another film. She wrote Androktone in an evening, and we began production a few months later. This 5 minute short film is about a young woman who is woken up in the middle of the night to the sounds of her screaming roommate. What follows is a test of her emotional, physical and intellectual strength. This was the largest crew I had ever worked with and even consisted of some actors that auditioned and came down from Toronto. We hired a local mixed-martial arts instructor, Chris Wellstood (who did an amazing job), to help with stunt-choreography and the actors did all of their own stunts. We shot the film over a weekend and as the film takes place in a single evening, we only shot at night. It was a really fun and fast-paced weekend that resulted in some strong friendships and the creation of a production group called LEC productions. We are currently looking for our next big idea to shoot for this summer.

As for future screenings, who knows? I think we would like to see how these two films are received by audiences in the KCFF and decide if we would like to submit them to other festivals from there.

5. As the director, you’re primarily focused on visualizing the script and guiding efforts on and off screen.  What lessons learned from Hopeless Romantic were you able to apply to your latest productions?  What were some of the biggest challenges in making these films, and how did you overcome them?

After filming Hopeless Romantic, I discovered that simplicity goes a long way in the telling of a short film. You don’t have to do something really elaborate, or have a big budget, to make an audience laugh. What makes things funny is when they are true, and I believe our actress, Chloe VanLandschoot, captured that beautifully. She was relatable and believable, which is very important to me when dealing with a character driven story.

The importance of truth is relevant in most genres, but most specifically in realism (films that are based in realistic settings, cultures, and situations). I love the emotional impact that realism can have on an audience. The camera has an amazing way of letting you look at life from a different perspective and can quite literally put you in someone else’s shoes. I believe that realism can have this exact ability. Even though Invaluable is a drama and Androktone is an action film, they both share the responsibility of conveying a truthful and realistic premise to the audience, in order to convey a stronger message. Finding this truth and making it come alive on screen was our goal in creating these films.

Both of these films challenged me in a variety of ways. As discussed above, the first is a drama and the second is an action film, both of which I had little experience. I was forced to think differently in terms of emotion, pace and structure, all of this made easier by working with a strong team. One of biggest challenges we overcame in Invaluable, was working with choreographed long takes. As you will notice, the style of the film is a little different. There are not a lot of cuts from one shot to the next and the details of the story must be told with inserts. This was challenging on set, as we would have to organize the exact movements of the actors beforehand so that we could do the whole scene in one take. The last scene (which I won’t spoil for you) is quite taxing on our main character and had to be accomplished in one take. It was the last shoot for the entire production period. Cathy was so tired and we had to reshoot the scene multiple times because of technical issues. The car we were filming in died at one point as well, so we had to ask a stranger to help boost the vehicle in the middle of filming. Needless to say it had been a long day and we just wanted to film the scene and go home. There is this balance and responsibility as the director to make sure the actress and crew aren’t over-worked or discouraged and you get the right take to finish shooting. It was a tricky situation as the emotions from Cathy needed to be high and we all needed to be patient in the freezing cold weather. We ended up improvising the scene and going a bit off book in the end, in order to adhere to Cathy’s needs at the time. As a result, I believe this decision improved the final scene and really adds to the aesthetic of the film. I believe we are all very pleased with the final product.

6.  Looking beyond KCFF and graduation this Spring, do you plan on pursuing a career in the film industry?   How does Kingston factor into plans and what can we expect from you next?

After graduation, I do anticipate pursuing a career in the film industry here in Kingston. It is my belief that you can work in film almost anywhere, because of the technology we have today. I love Kingston and what it has to offer. I believe it has the potential to be a great art capital of the country, and it is already setting a beautiful example of that with the KCFF. I am so proud to have my films showcased in the festival and feel really blessed to have this amazing outlet right here at home. I hope to get involved with KCFF at some point and be apart of this thriving cinematic community.

A goal of mine after working with Focus is to create a similar sort of guerilla-style film festival for Kingstonians. The experience of working in this fast paced environment forced me to take on a leadership role and as a result, gave me the confidence to pursue directing- a position I didn’t know I was capable of. I would like to make this medium more accessible and available to more people in the Kingston community, because I think there are a lot of people like me who would love to make a film, but who don’t really know how or where to begin.

As for what is yet to come on a personal level? I would like to be able to balance my work/passion with family life. I would like to be a freelance editor from home in order to be able to financially support and actively raise a family. On the side, I would like to pursue my passion of making short films as a hobby and hopefully be fortunate enough to create a feature film some day. The possibilities really are endless. All I have to do is pick up a camera.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

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