Meet the Filmmaker: Frances McIlvain, “Julia’s New Friend”

Q: Why did you become a filmmaker?
FM: I was one of those kids where you couldn’t get me to talk about anything besides Star Wars. I’d come home and sit in front of this little portable DVD player and, after the fourth or fifth viewing of the movie you start to veer into the bonus features, so there I was at six years old watching these behind the scenes videos learning what film composers and model builders and sound designers do. It was this Wizard of Oz pulling back the curtain moment where I realized regular people made movies. I spent about three years from that point just waiting to get my hands on a camera so I could get a couple of friends together and make it happen. I suppose it was hereditary, too. My uncle was a visual effects artist, and I remember the first time getting to read his name in the credits watching Spider-Man 3. He studied animation in Emeryville, and my dad graduated from the same program. My dad really was the first person who taught me how to storyboard, and he kinda guided my hand as I was figuring out, you know, that movies are shot out of sequence and you shoot from these angles and then you put it all together in the computer afterward. I’ve been very lucky to be a part of a family that was encouraging of that. My mom really wanted to drill into my head that making movies was something you could go to school for. She’d always bring up the South Park creators, because they met at CU Boulder, and Matt Stone grew up right in Littleton, which is where I’m from.

Q: What are we going to see at the EFP? Has it screened elsewhere and what are your plans for it?
FM: Julia’s New Friend is a film I made last spring. It was the final for my sophomore production class at the University of Colorado Denver. It’s a coming-of-age story, I guess you could call it a dramedy. The movie follows this girl, she’s a bit stunted developmentally, and she’s starting her freshman year of high school and she builds this kind of crude mannequin out of tubing and paper mache. She treats the doll, very sincerely, like a real person, which is cute at first, but it causes a rift between her and her mom, and the movie is really about exploring the peculiarities of that mother-daughter relationship. It played at my college’s film festival last year, which was virtual due to COVID, so this will be the first time the film’s screened in front of a live audience, which is exciting. There’s a handful of festivals it’s in contention for right now, but it’s been on YouTube for a year. I don’t really like to be exclusive with my films, or to spend months tinkering around with it after I’ve shot it. The process is very personal to me, on top of being totally consuming- part of it is just about getting to have a life again. So to me, whenever the movie comes out, that’s when it was supposed to come out. I was born two months premature, so I guess that has something to do with it. I will say, I’ve learned a lot about film sound in the last year, but when I was cutting the film I didn’t know a lick of Audition and I just didn’t really have the time to get into the fine details of the audio like that. That’s the one part that I look back at and cringe a little. Maybe for the five-year anniversary or something, I’ll do a whole new sound mix and CGI some snow into the sledding scene, like how George Lucas would do it.

Q: What else are you working on?
FM: I cut a film in March that I think will be finished by the time this is out. It’s called You Can Say It and it was directed by a young actress named Taylor Husser. It was my first time editing a film that wasn’t directed by me, which was a whole new discipline. I’m assuming Taylor wants to do a festival run for that, and I’m really hoping some places pick it up. Taylor has, especially for a first-time filmmaker, a very astute sense of framing, and Porter Hunt, who I go to school with, was director of photography and he did a great job as always. I have a couple of scripts that I’m into, I won’t get into the details of all of them. I had some conversations about a project earlier this year with some producers and cinematographers and production designers, but it didn’t get past the development stage. I’ll be going back to school in the fall, where I’ll be in the junior production class, and I might pitch something there, because it’s generally easier to get movies made with the support of the school. Whatever happens, I’ll surely be bouncing around a few sets, and I think I can convince some of my classmates to let me do some editing or sound effects for them. I’ve really begun to enjoy doing sound design for shorts.

Q: Tell us one weird thing about you and/or your movies?
FM: Well, I like to inject a little surrealism into everything I do, because it’s one of the few languages I understand well. Even with Julia, which I knew from the beginning was going to be a lot more grounded than anything I had done before, I designed Ed like I would design anything else, which is to say he’s a little funny looking. He creeps some people out, but that’s what I like about him. I have a different idea of what beauty is, and I think Julia does too. She’s used to being othered and feeling different from everyone else, so I think she takes comfort in having a friend who’s abnormal. I couldn’t imagine her pulling out a ruler and drawing out a grid on his face and trying to fill in every little line and edge perfectly. Julia’s whole deal is a rejection of that sort of thing.

Q: Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
FM: My website is frannyquacks.myportfolio.com. It has my resume, and there are a few movies that get their own page. I have kind of a miscellaneous section, with some bits that aren’t really narratives, but it’s me toying around with montage and sound design and such. In each page, I put some parts of the scripts I’ve written, and there’s a lot of storyboards.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say about The Emerging Filmmakers Project?
FM: I’d say to any filmmaker who is looking to get their movie in front of an audience that EFP is the first place they should go. They really promote variety in their programming and the whole thing is arranged in a way that places the filmmakers front and center. I came to their March screening this year and I loved the atmosphere and the sense of hospitality they created. I have to shout out, too, they closed the night with Cassidy Blues, which is a brilliant film. It’s the brainchild of two men, Richard Corso and Kareem Kamahl Taylor. They brought the house down, deservedly.

Julia’s New Friend will screen during The Emerging Filmmakers Project 20th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at The Bug Theatre.