Girl Friday: Michelle Morgan, Filmmaker
Photography by: Jess Ewald
Screenwriter and filmmaker Michelle Morgan is a petite brunette with immensely deep brown eyes–the kind of eyes you can get lost in. Lying behind those dark pools is a fiercely imaginative mind, the mind which wrote and created the feature film, Girl Most Likely, (starring Annette Benning, Kristen Wiig and Matt Dillon). Michelle and I met in high school where we bonded over a shared love for dance. We lost touch over time, as friends often do, then over a decade later, ran into each other at a screening of The Great Gatsby in Hollywood. Our out-of-the-blue encounter was such a treat; even more so was hearing about her recent successes. Michelle’s latest film, K.I.T, , ‘keep in touch,’ (a phrase thoughtlessly penned in the backs of friends’ yearbooks year after year before summer break begins), is being shown at this year’s AFI Fest in Los Angeles, from November 7-14th. Michelle brings a fresh female perspective to the world of film and storytelling with her realistic characters caught up in very real-life dilemnas. I, for one, am particularly excited to follow Michelle’s career and look forward to promising upcoming works.
Tell us a little about your childhood.
Growing up, I wished my family was more normal. As an adult, I’m grateful for their eccentricities. I grew up in Southern California, where it never snowed. Actually, it did once when I was in 5th grade but my mom didn’t let me stay home from school to play in it. We still argue about that. My mom is terrific, though. My father was from Italy and didn’t understand why I needed to have a phone in my room. He cooked a lot and yelled a lot. But he loved movies and books. He had a library of films that looked like something out of Hoarders. And his love of cinema was infectious in our family.
How did you break into screenwriting? Was it always your goal to be a writer/producer?
I always knew I loved telling stories. Whether it be on the page, or acting them out for anyone I could hold captive. After I graduated from college I just sort of followed my instincts. I had majored in screenwriting, but put that on the back burner for a few years as I pursued an acting career. The whole time that I was doing that something kept nagging at me that I should be writing instead. So I stopped acting and focused solely on writing. Now I think I’m more in a space of it doesn’t have to be either-or. If I feel like acting in something, I’ll do that, too. But writing, producing, and directing are my ultimate passion.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Wake up around 8:30. Eat breakfast. Very big on breakfast. I don’t drink coffee so I immediately need some kind of food. My work uniform is usually sweatpants and a t-shirt if I’m not leaving the house, which is often since I pretty much only work from home. If I have a meeting or lunch with a friend I’ll put on a real outfit, but that just feels like so much effort. I really admire those girls that look fantastic when they’re running errands. I think you’re either born with that “I need to look cute all the time” gene or you’re not. I wasn’t born with that gene. I’ll write for an hour or two before lunch, take a break, then resume. If I’m on a deadline then I could write 6 hours or more a day. On a typical day, however, things move at a more leisurely pace.
As a writer, how much control do you have over a script after the film begins production? Do you have to take a back seat to the director, or are you able to be vocal in the choices made on set?
With filmmaking, in general, the writer usually takes a backseat to the director as soon as production starts. If you’re lucky and have a great working relationship with the director,
Seeing your words come to life is a magical thing. But it’s never going to be exactly the way you imagined it in your mind if someone else is directing your work. If you’re a control freak, like me, that part can be very frustrating
you might be on set, which can either be wonderful or horrifying. I’ve found that it’s usually a combination of both. Seeing your words come to life is a magical thing. But it’s never going to be exactly the way you imagined it in your mind if someone else is directing your work. If you’re a control freak, like me, that part can be very frustrating. I think that’s why a lot of writers at some point ultimately want to try directing their own stuff.
What challenges do you encounter as a female in a very male-centric working environment?
I feel like a lot of opportunities I’ve received are partly because I am a female. There’s no question that there are “boy movies” and “girl movies” and boys usually
Most days I don’t feel like a woman working in a man’s field, I just feel like a typical, frustrated writer.
write boy movies and girls usually write girl movies. And there are definitely more boy movies being made than girl movies, but there are fewer women in this field and so I think that actually makes it easier for us to break in and get noticed. Most days I don’t feel like a woman working in a man’s field, I just feel like a typical, frustrated writer.
What obstacles have you overcome to get you where you are in your career today?
The biggest obstacle is confidence in your ability. It’s a scary thing to put something you wrote out into the world for anyone to criticize. I think that’s the thing that
The biggest obstacle is confidence in your ability.
most deters people from trying their hand at writing. But then you do it one day, and someone likes your work and it’s the best feeling in the world. And then someone doesn’t like it and you’re crushed. That’s the hardest part of being any kind of artist, dealing with criticism. Also, working shitty jobs until you’re finally a “professional, paid writer” is probably second on the list.
Do you tend to write more autobiographical stories, or are your characters entirely fictional? From where do you draw inspiration?
There’s definitely a little piece of me in a lot of the characters I write. As I said,I was fortunate enough to have a great, but eccentric family, so there’s always something to mine from there. Also, I try to not have boring people in my life. That way I’ll always have something to write about.
How do you stay focused and inspired when working? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How to do overcome that feeling of being ‘stuck’?
The stuck feeling is like Herpes. You can never really get rid of it, and it always comes back at the most inconvenient of times. But it’s something you learn to deal with. That cheesy saying that writing is 5% inspiration and 95% hard work, or something like that, is actually really true. If you only write when you’re inspired then you’d never write. Occasionally, I’ll see an amazing film or hear a song that really ignites something and then I’ll be really prolific for a few days but usually the process is more mathematical than that. Drafting outlines, moving pieces around, rewriting dialogue… you’re adding things together, hoping the sum of all parts equals something great, or at least something that makes sense.
What excites you most about screenwriting/producing?
The idea that you can have a thought in your mind, and then spend 3 or 4 months writing about it in your pajamas and then see it on a screen somewhere is pretty insane. It’s what keeps me coming back. The next one always has to be better than the last one. It’s a never-ending challenge. If you like that kind of thing, it can be pretty exciting.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with our readers?
Right now I’m in the process of putting together another film, which will be my feature directorial debut. I’m also developing a TV show. I like to have a few logs in the fire.
How and when do you find time to relax? How do you balance your careers to make time for your relationship?
Since our schedules are pretty flexible, finding time to unwind isn’t a terrible challenge, unless one of us is on a crazy deadline. That’s an upside of the job. One of the downsides, though, is that you oftentimes are also working on the weekend or late into the night. For relaxation we like to go to a great restaurant or get massages. Or watch some terrific old movie we’ve told people we’ve seen before even though we never actually have.
How would you describe your style? What pieces in your wardrobe can you not live without?
My style is pretty simple. A great pair or jeans, a white t-shirt, a cashmere sweater. When I get fancy, I usually prefer to wear a dress. Then you don’t have to worry about so many little pieces of an outfit. My favorite store for dresses is definitely Reformation on Melrose. It’s this amazing little boutique where all the clothes look vintage, but are actually new, so it’s not so intimidating for people like me who aren’t good at vintage stores. For jeans and t-shirts I love Rag & Bone. Their jeans are really nice to your body. And their boots are ridiculously comfortable. You can wear them with everything.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned so far?
Listen to your gut. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me something that I knew in my gut wouldn’t be true. The times I’ve listened to myself, I’ve felt so much better about the outcome of things. The times I’ve gone against my instincts usually end in disaster.
Do you have any travel tips for our readers?
Bring a lot of medicine. I’m a neurotic. Also, bring a jacket, even if you’re going someplace warm. Hotels and planes are cold.
How do you see your future?
Gosh… I don’t even know. I am continually surprised by the twists and turns of life. I like the mystery of not always knowing what’s going to happen. I just hope that I’m happy.
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce. If you like this series, click here for more Girl Friday Interviews.