Six Questions for Molly McGlynn

Molly McGlynn is a Toronto-based writer and director who was born in Montreal and grew up in the United States. Molly graduated from Queen’s University with a BA(H) in Film Studies and has a graduate certificate from Humber College in Writing & Producing for Television. She is also an alumni of the Norman Jewison Writers’ Lab at the Canadian Film Centre, the Reykjavik International Film Festival Talent Lab, the Samsung TIFF Emerging Director programme and is currently one of twelve writer/directors nationally selected for TIFF Studio. Her first feature film, Mary Goes Round, starring Aya Cash (You’re The Worst) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017 and will be screened at next month’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival.

1. You’re a Queen’s alumna, who has built an impressive resume in the film industry. Tell us about yourself, your work and where you draw your inspiration from.

I was born in Montreal to an Irish family, but then we moved to New Jersey when I was about five. I lived most of my younger life in the States, but then I decided to come back to Canada and go to Queen’s. I loved my time and Queen’s and will always cherish it. Even though I didn’t really know I was going to be a filmmaker when I was in Film Studies, it got the wheels churning in a major way. It took a little while to figure that out, but I learned to think critically and creatively about movies, which is a foundation step in becoming a filmmaker. After Queen’s, I got an internship at TIFF where I worked on and off for a couple of years on various contracts, then I did all sorts of jobs like waitressing, writing trivia questions for Cash Cab and eventually, assisting the great filmmaker Deepa Mehta. In between all the work, I also did a postgraduate degree at Humber College in Writing in Producing for TV. A few years ago, I was accepted to the Canadian Film Centre’s Writing Lab and that was hugely formative in my career and was instrumental in getting my first feature, Mary Goes Round made. I have never been a person who has a long term strategy (though I’m starting too a little bit now that I’m in my 30s!) and in my 20s, I was just trying to figure out how to be an adult which was more draining and time consuming than I though. I just said ‘yes’ to everything and it landed me where I needed to be. In terms of inspiration, I generally draw on emotional themes that I’ve experienced in my life and translate that to a fictional world. I believe Tim Burton said that movies were an expensive form of therapy. I agree! That being said, I’m trying to expand the way I think about narrative and explore ideas that are a little bigger than things I may feel some familiarity with. That being said, everything I do has to be rooted in truth and authenticity.

2. At this year’s KCFF, you’re returning to Kingston with your debut feature Mary Goes Round, which follows a substance abuse counsellor who gets a DUI, then attempts to heal some familial wounds. What inspired you to write/direct this darkly comedic drama?

I was inspired to write Mary Goes Round primarily out of urgency; I had been accepted to the CFC and needed to have a draft of an original script before the programme started! Beyond that, I am inspired by imperfect people who are not seeking perfection, but acceptance. In a lot of ways, though it’s not an autobiographical film, Mary was a darker version of me at some points in my 20s. Thankfully, I have an amazing support network and the people in my life would never let me get so far off the rails. Additionally, I have many sisters (four and a half sister), so naturally the sister dynamic is one I have had a lot of exposure to. The darkly comic tone kind of just comes naturally to me. I have always coped with life’s darkest moments by humour, which is something that is likely very informed by growing up in an Irish Catholic family. Everyone’s crying and yelling and then we’re loving the hell out of each other.

3. Mary Goes Round touches on some pretty heavy topics including strained family relations, substance abuse and troubles with the law. How personal/fictional is the subject matter of this film? How did this screenplay come to be?

If you’re asking me if I’ve been arrested for a DUI, the answer is “no!” Again, the film isn’t a biography, but I drew on some emotional truths and experiences and made deliberate choices to heighten the drama (Mary’s DUI, Walt’s alcoholism and illness, etc.) I developed it at the CFC, I remember re-writing it from a garage in Los Angeles and totally hating my life. I felt like I was writing into the void and no one would ever see it and it sucked. Funny the difference a year can make. I hate writing. It’s miserable. But I have to do it.

4. Before Mary Goes Round, you worked on numerous shorts (I Am Not a Weird Person, Given Your History and 3-Way (Not Calling). What were the biggest adjustment you had to make when tackling your first feature film? Were any elements of the filmmaking process actually made easier due to the larger scale/lengthier timeline?

Making shorts are obviously great practice, but shooting a feature is not like making ten shorts back to back. Mentally, I think it helps to break a feature down into manageable pieces, but it’s such a larger process to wrap your head around. The biggest adjustment was just stamina. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn in a crappy motel in Niagara right in the middle of the shoot and my feet were still broken from the night before and being like “ok, get up, repeat, do it again.” As the director, you can’t really show that you are tired or you can’t feel your feet. How the hell else will anyone else want to keep going ? That being said, getting a chance to make a feature is such a massive opportunity you can’t really think about how hard it is. I reminded myself that many other people would jump at the opportunity. What I liked and what was maybe easier about a feature is you can really get into a groove with your actors and crew. It’s really amazing to see relationships develop and see everyone get more confident at their job. Including me. I loved that and it’s hard to do that when you’re shooting a short over a weekend.

5. You were recently selected to direct the CBC Digital Series, How to Buy A Baby, and also directed episodes of Workin Moms and Little Do, which premiere on CBC in March. How have such opportunities affected your resolve to pursue and a career in the arts?

I think getting hired to direct other people’s work is so exciting! I feel honoured that I am being entrusted with someone else’s writing and vision for a show. That, of course, brings a new set of challenges, but I love it. I am grateful to have had a great few years with work and I’m hesitant to talk more about it! I hope I’m able to keep doing it. Nothing in this business is guaranteed. You have to constantly be proving yourself to people to get jobs. You have to be a good director, but I think not being an asshole helps too.

6. Looking ahead to this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival, what are your expectations for this year’s festival? Aside from the festival, what’s on your bucket list while you’re in town?

KCFF is one of my favourite film festivals and I am so excited to see how the audience here responds to it. I remember watching Canadian movies at the Screening Room when I was an undergrad and the gap between those days and where I am not seems enormous. My time and experiences in Kingston, looking back, where subconsciously shaping me into the person and filmmaker I am today.

In addition to being excited for the film festival, I cannot wait to get a Pan Chancho brunch in and a pint of Guinness at the Toucan!
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Photo credit to Dane Clark

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