Gail Harvey has been working as a director in Canada for 26 years; both in TV and film. She brought her latest low budget feature Looking is the Original Sin to the Raindance Film Festival ahead of its upcoming release. She took a break from promotion to share some of her insider knowledge.
I started as a photojournalist in the late 70s. I started doing still photography on a movie set and I realised I loved telling a story with images. I love people; I also have a degree in psychology, so I have always been fascinated with human nature and human experience.
This film I made with 100k of completion funding. The actors and crew are all co-oped and I pulled in a lot of favours from friends. I shot it in my own home and neighbourhood, watching it on the big screen in London I thought ‘wow!’ It was almost surreal. I shot it with a Canon 7D; it’s like being a photojournalist again, going out with the same size camera.
A couple of years ago I thought I’ve had this story in my head for 20 years and I just shot a couple of scenes and I thought if I don’t do these stories now when am I going to do them? This film is inspired by the life of Diane Arbus. It’s an extremely personal story.
The CBC (akin to the BBC in Canada) has just now mandated that 30% of their shows have to be directed by women. It’s unheard of right? There’s a woman there who feels very strongly about that, producers were pushing back a bit but I think it is just great.
You have to write your first film because no one is going to take a chance on you. I got lucky with my first, it went very well, we shot it quickly, it got distribution and it got nominated for 3 Genie awards which are like our academy awards in Canada.
I think I’m getting back to my roots more, sometimes you have to give your head a shake. I’ve just been doing things I wanted to do there’s been a couple of years of personal projects.
When I wanted to make films years ago I had some amazing mentors, Arthur Penn and Wim Wenders. Arthur was so generous and took a real interest in me; he said ‘you know if you want to make a feature film people will put up a brick wall you’ve got to figure out a way to crash through it, go under it, go round it, climb over it, do whatever you need to do to make that movie’
Looking back on my work I often have done mother/ daughter stories that seems to be my theme in some way, mainly mothers going away. I think I could tell other stories but that is probably the story I will always tell. I would love to do a love story about an older woman and a younger man. I will probably always tell women’s stories.
The first film I did was very much considered a character driven female film and then I couldn’t get work so then I did a film that was completely macho and had lots of guns and it still didn’t matter.
A big producer once said to me I would never be a director because I’m too nice, not true; I work from a place of support and love. Maybe I should have been more demanding for myself, I was very grateful for every job but maybe I should have felt they should be glad they have me! Women have a hard time saying that about themselves, finding that confidence.
Sometimes I think my kindness is misinterpreted as weakness but very quickly people find out that isn’t true, I am in charge. Dan Petrie an old mentor of mine said to me, ‘a film set is a very collaborative place but it should never be a democracy’. Women get a reputation for being bitchy, they wouldn’t say that about a man he would be ‘tough’ not ‘bitchy’.
Sometimes I feel I am too busy but it is exhilarating, it doesn’t feel like work. I do try to balance my life; I try to be calm, and calmness is strength. Next I’m making a movie of the webs series Long Story Short which I did with Katie [Boland, her daughter, an actor in the film], a documentary about Rickie Lee Jones, a couple of other projects; one is being announced at the AFM in November. Katie and I have a TV series we’re doing. A lot of work, too much stuff!
I want to do a big Hollywood movie just because it would be nice to have a film with proper distribution that more people could see. It’s about communicating a story. It would be nice to have a post-production supervisor and a big marketing budget so I can concentrate on just making the films.