It’s 1868, and new factory gal Margaret E. Knight has moved to Boston to give her love of inventing a real shot. However, her city-job is that of “bag folder,” a tedious factory position reserved for women workers. Determined to prove her abilities to both men and women alike, Margaret sets out to build a bag machine in the dead of night. Bag Lady is directed by Max McGillivray and produced by Kinder Labatt.
Hailing from Massachusetts, Max graduated with a degree in film and history from Harvard University. He has worked as a researcher for Errol Morris, James Schamus and Athina Tsangari and has gone on to teach filmmaking at Harvard and Columbia. He is a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Screenplay Grant for Bag Lady. He lives and works in LA. It is our pleasure to interview Max McGillivray.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
I've been obsessed with film since childhood, having the highest number of rentals at my local blockbuster as a teen. I then began making movies in high school. It was an explosion of creative freedom, spending weekends and and weeknights learning to edit little spoof movies and overly-creative school projects (no one asked for a three part epic film on the water cycle). It was an outlet that has luckily become a profession! Please tell us how your film came to life and let us know about the process from pre-production to completion.
Bag Lady began as a feature film script that won the Alfred P. Sloan award in 2020. When Kinder, our producer, got ahold of the script she approached us about turning it into a short - a feat that we, even as the writers, were skeptical about! Executing a short film is hard - but a period film in a factory setting - it seemed out of reach. But Kinder was determined to show us what was possible. So, with her confidence and trust we embarked on this journey together. And much to our surprise we found exceedingly creative ways to pull off this period picture on a budget! Shooting in an LA lamp factory, getting surprisingly lucky with a run down early 1900s boarding house in Long Beach, working with experienced costumers, art directors, and prop designers who were above and beyond talented and filled the frame with their beautiful work… by the time we reached the starting line of principal photography, we knew we had something special on our hands. It was a group effort the whole way through.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this genre?
While there are certainly many challenges when trying to make a period film on a budget, I think discovering the movie’s tone was ultimately the most challenging for us. We had written a feature that really allowed us to explore both the comic and dramatic elements of Margaret’s story. It had a lot of silliness as well as moments of poignancy. But in grafting that feature onto a short, we found ourselves really challenged to tell a fully fleshed out story with genuine characters while still exploring the fun of these dynamics. It took a lot of writing and rewriting to ultimately find a blend of elements we were happy with! What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
Max is currently finishing a passion project short about backyard wrestling. I also have a feature film in development with Point Grey Pictures (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg). Kinder is attached to produce her first feature in March 2020.
What is the most creative part of directing a project for you?
I really love discovering how text can become images and the subtlety of using shot progression to illicit responses from audiences. Working with a Director of Photography to discover a cinematic language and tell the story visually… I could do that all day!
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
All art forms have their own merits, but I love how much film steals from the others. You have a toolbox of mediums to explore. If something isn’t working in the writing, a great performance can save it. If something isn’t working with the edit, you can use score and sound. The intermixing and mingling of these elements can create whole new interpretations of the finished work. Ultimately, it gives you so many more opportunities to make people feel things.
Why do you make films?
Movies are profoundly good at bringing people together and bringing you into another’s perspective. So, while I so much enjoy the art and experience of making movies, I also feel they allow me to do something that has great importance in the world, especially in divisive times like these.