Interview with Filmmaker Macy Mae Cowart (WHY WE PROTEST)

WHY WE PROTEST played to rave reviews at the November 2020 DIVERSTIY Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The day the protests started for George Floyd, I was driving home from out of town and listening to the news. That drive allowed me to process the reality of what was happening in our country. As it sunk in, a wide range of emotions started to fill my body. I wanted to both sit in silence alone, and express my anger and disappointment. My response was to send a message in a New Student Facebook group for an arts college I had been accepted to. I felt pulled to create something and knew there were plenty of artists feeling the same way. Within 24 hours, I had a team of seventeen student animators, actors, writers, producers, musicians, and dancers from around the world. All seventeen of us had the motivation to make “Why We Protest,” but I was just the one who drafted the Facebook message and pressed send!

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Three weeks. May 29th is when the Facebook message was sent and June 19th was the release date.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Two?! I got it down to three words for the title!
Itsupto – You. Pretend like “its up to” is actually one word. We’re creatives here!

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Creating an animated film virtually in itself was very challenging. There was no way we could create it in three weeks with Zoom and Facebook messenger as our only form of communication without diligent attention to deadlines and a team of skilled animators and composers. The size of the team was an obstacle. The team was so big, I assigned “team leaders” to each department. We would check in every morning to give updates and assign people to new tasks. The animation and music teams hold this project on their shoulders. I have to acknowledge them: Jonah Linz, Drew Shapiro, Eva Liebovitz, Sadeen Owis, Anant Shah, James Fall, and Paula, Tha Balla. You guys are seriously the realest.

I wanted each artist to feel freedom to express their point of view and story through their avenue of art. It was really important to me that this freedom was maintained, but in return consistency and unity became a big obstacle. I would receive vastly different animation clips throughout the day from different artists. It was challenging, but proved that choosing one style of animation was too controlled and took away from the point of the film. Each animator expressed their story in various styles, colors, shapes, and movements. Anant, our composer, received individual tracks from James and Paula to mix together, creating this incredible score. Not being able to be together and having never worked with each other before demanded this intense and intune collaboration. It was difficult to tie the individuality of the project together to create an ensemble piece. I let them run free and tied it together in week three, aka editing week.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Since it was released on Youtube, I never had the chance to watch people watch it and get their feedback until now. Hearing the feedback for this film was different from getting feedback for films I’ve directed in the past because this film was truly (I know I keep using this word) an ensemble piece. It’s nice to hear people acknowledge the little things that took a long time. For example, the layering. Days of collecting footage and audio, then days editing it together. Hearing people see and appreciate the individuality of the film was definitely the best. We didn’t know how audiences would receive the use of so many different forms of media. Knowing that it was received how we intended it feels really good.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I didn’t have an idea when I started the process. Ha! Not at all. My experience with racist America is very very limited. None of it personal, all observation. I tried to create a whole story board idea going into it but I can’t. Again I say collaboration, ensemble, and individuality. I wanted to include every story and perspective given in the virtual artistic space. It kinda made itself in that sense. Directing a piece on a topic I don’t have personal experience with requires a lot of listening, reading, and openness to other people’s ideas and directions for the project. By staying open and giving space for every artist to express what they wanted to tell through the film, the concept was created.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The Matrix. I’m a big editing nerd, all thanks to The Matrix.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

God bless FilmFreeway. It feels like online shopping but for my film. I browse the festivals and choose the ones I feel are the best fit for my film, add them to the cart, choose the film I want to submit, and then throw a dance party because it is that easy. FilmFreeway, I love you.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Just a Girl by No Doubt.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Hope so! I’m always writing and revising. I’m at Southern Methodist University studying Theatre, so there is not as much free time to write and direct films at the moment. However, “Why We Protest” showed me that there are no limits to creating. We made a film in three weeks virtually, and we can do it again. A few fellow student artists from “WWP” and I have been working on a project for a few months. We are thinking really big and want to address the subject in the most effective way possible. It’s taking a lot of time and patience, especially since we are all full time students in arts colleges. Hopefully that will be the next project to release.

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