Welcome to another installment of Filmmaker Forum, in which we catch up with MNFF alumni filmmakers and special guests. This week we sat down with Margaret Metzger, whose short film Monty won the 2018 Jacob Burns Film Center Creative Culture Award. The Award includes a residency at the renowned Jacob Burns Film Center and access to a rich support network of established filmmakers and a suite of filmmaking and post production tools. Margaret plans to embark on her residency in the spring of 2019.
You made Monty while working a full time job. There’s a parallel there, in that Monty’s working two jobs to make a living while working on his art on the side.
I would schlep my camera gear to work in the morning, then I’d go straight from work to shoot with Monty. Or sometimes Monty and I would shoot at, like 11pm, because that was when he was done with restaurant and delivery work. So we would up with some strange shooting schedules but we made it work.
I think it made it more fun in a way, because Monty and I were doing something similar—working and creating something yourself in your free time—and we respected that about each other. The difference is that I love my job—I’m a documentary editor—whereas Monty was never passionate about the restaurant and delivery work, it was just a way to pay the rent.
It was inspiring to see Monty’s dedication to his art, and then to see it pay off in the end. Is there anywhere that audiences can find his work online?
His work is shown at The Future Perfect gallery in New York. And something I’d note is that his work evolves. I tried to show that in the film: it started off small and developed into large, sometimes crazy pieces. And it’s evolved further since then as well.
This was your first film, is that correct?
This is the first film I’d want other people to see.
What were some challenges you encountered in creating Monty?
Money is a big part. Perhaps because I work in the industry, I don’t like to ask people to work for free. I was really lucky to get to work with the people I did, and I think if I had more money I would have brought in more collaborators. But this was my first time directing, and I hadn’t yet figured out how to get grants, so I was self funding. I think that is a real challenge facing new filmmakers: you also have to figure out the money side of things early in the process, or put it all on a credit card which is obviously risky.
Another challenge was figuring out with Monty what he was comfortable sharing about his life and what he wasn’t, and respecting his boundaries while making sure there was enough there to make a film. As he started to get some recognition, the success made him a little bit uncomfortable. I think for a lot of people, it feels weird to acknowledge that you’re finding success. You don’t want to admit it because you worry it might go away, or that you might seem obnoxious. So there were some things that he didn’t want filmed.
It seems like that would be every artist’s dream, to be able to focus solely on his or her art.
Yes. But his success hasn’t been linear. He has had to, like so many artists, pick up short-term hourly work again in dry spells.
MNFF was your second screening. What’s it like to share Monty with audiences?
Screening Monty for any audience is scary and interesting and exciting. The main question is, will people connect with it? For me, it resonates, but there are a million ways that I connect to Monty and his story because I know him. But have I put enough in this narrow shoot to get people to understand him and care about him?
The screening at MNFF was great! You guys can turn out a crowd and I think a lot of people in the audience did care about him. We had a lively Q&A after, and it was interesting to hear people seeing things in the film I hadn’t thought of.
You were friends with Monty before beginning the film, and I think you could feel that in the film.
Monty was always slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being filmed but he trusted me. I remember showing it to him when it was done, and he said, “that’s me.” And that was pretty amazing to hear.
Our mutual friends have also noted that they wondered if I’d be able to capture the magic of his personality and creativity and commitment. Then they told me they saw it in the film. And so that’s also been really encouraging feedback.
Any words of advice for filmmakers embarking on a project?
With Monty, I felt a great pride when I finished it, when I tied a bow around it and was like, it’s done; I’m not touching it anymore. There are so many film projects that people start and don’t finish, and they just sit on drives for years. I was determined to not let that happen with this. That said, I shot this over the course of 14 months, which might seem like a long time for an 11-minute short, but that timeframe wound up being useful because it allowed for something to happen in Monty’s career. So, certainly don’t rush to finish something just to finish it, because the passage of time can be useful in documentary, but try to commit to finishing what you start.