Feature Film (2022)
Role: Writer, Director, Editor
Production Company: Upperstate
A young, transient MMA fighter is forced to choose between court-ordered Equine Therapy and the familiar path of self destruction, after a traumatic brain injury threatens her promising career.
WILD ANIMAL isn’t a boxing movie. It is an intimate portrait of a young woman, Lennon Mackenna, fighting against the world for the right to be herself. It’s a story of recovery set in the flatlands of Eastern Montana about who we become after the rug has been pulled out from beneath our dreams. If there was one word I’d use to describe this film, it would be untamable.
I was introduced to Ireland “Bombshell” Moran in August 2019 while researching female MMA fighters. I was quickly entranced as she shared an emotional depth I wasn’t prepared for. Her story was inspiring and heartbreaking, her fearless resolve undeniably magnetic. After a few meetings I knew I had to cast her as the lead. Even though she had no prior acting experience, I had complete faith that she could bring us into our world and light up the screen.
It was Terrence Malick’s The New World that made me want to make movies. It questioned everything I thought I knew about cinema and yet I felt I inherently understood the cinematic language Malick had presented. It was the experience of it, how it transported me effortlessly into an entirely new emotional world. Films like Paulo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, Pablo Larraín’s Ema, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland all have that wonderful quality of complete transcendence into another realm. These films last with you, their characters continue to question and challenge you long after you’ve exited the theater.
Whereas some directors may go for angles or lighting setups, my main goal with every scene is emotion and intentionality: how do I want the audience to feel? I don’t go for traditional coverage or time-consuming lighting repo’s. Especially since we’re working largely with non-actors, it’s important to give them room to experiment. After exhaustive preparation, I find it’s in the creative unknown where magic is found.
My goal as a director is to give every single person on set the best platform to bring their best work. I’ve spent countless hours working with our cinematographer, sound designer and editors, composers, and producers to hone in our process: the quality of light we prefer, our focal lengths and color palettes, the emotional implications of a tight handheld versus a slow wide push-in.
My ultimate goal with WILD ANIMAL isn’t to be representative, but rather to remove judgement and present the viewer with truth and nuance as I’ve discovered it over the last three years. Contrary to other movies of the genre, this film gives us access to a world and a point of view we’ve never seen before. It challenges our ideas of mental illness, women and violence and like the films that have inspired me, Lennon Mackenna will live on with your wild heart long after the film is done.
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