Premiering her new comedy 3–Way (No Calling) is something of a homecoming for Molly McGlynn, whose first job in the business was working for TIFF in the Communication and Program Administration departments. She went onto work as a researcher in fact-based programming and was the executive assistant to director Deepa Mehta. All this before embracing her love for directing and starting her career with the short I’m Not a Weird Person, which played festivals and premiered online to 10,000 views on the website HelloGiggles. She also got the attention of fellow writer-directors Jill Soloway and Lena Dunham who praised the film. She was nominated for the best short film at the Female Eye Film Festival for Shoes and her 2012 film Given Your History premiered on the CBC and played in-flight on Air Canada. Before she goes into production on her feature debut, Mary Goes Round, she premieres her short 3-Way (No Calling), September 9th at TIFF, a modern take on the classic sex-comedy genre starring Emma Hunter, Kristian Bruun, and Emily Coutts. She discussed filming her goodhearted comedy about a low-key couple in search of threesome excitement.
I love the John Water’s quote (“my idea of an interesting person is someone who is quite proud of their seemingly abnormal life and turns their disadvantage into a career”) you use on your website. What made you pick that as the statement to kind of represent your work?
Not all my work is autobiographical, but there is an absurdness to being a filmmaker. And I’m really drawn to and inspired in my work by the absurdness of everyday life. You’re taking your or someone else’s experiences in the world and essentially commodifying it. So that’s why I picked that John Waters’ quote.
Where did the premise for the film come from?
I was listening to a podcast where someone was talking about having a threesome, and it made me think what the morning after must be like. And it got me thinking about the experience, the moment after you have sex when you want to eat chips without your pants off, but now you have another person to think about. There can be excitement and relief, but for women especially but not exclusively, there can be this anxiety about how that step could affect their relationship. So that was what I was trying to do, have a personal perspective on a scenario we’ve all heard about, but often in the abstract. And also look at things from the female perspective usually told in the form of male fantasy. It’s not the male partner convincing or tricking his girlfriend into a threesome, in this case she’s the one initiating it. And I think, I hope, we portray a more honest image of a man experiencing this for the first time as well. He of course wants to try as many sexual experiences as possible, but it’s also overwhelming for him to experience this new situation and feel the pressure to satisfy his girlfriend’s desire to have a threesome. There’s as much insecurity from him as there is from her.
With a short you have very little time for character development. What were the primary characteristics you wanted the audience to know about the audience from the beginning?
For me, Emma’s character was sort of the recovered wild child, who had found someone that was right for her. I think they have a loving relationship. He’s agreeing to do this to make his girlfriend happy. But often, when someone gets away from their wild child ways, you can have moments which is like an outbreak or a flare up. Moments when you think, “Who am I?” She’s fallen into normalcy and she’s having a bit of an existential crisis. I just turned 30 last year and I find myself facing a similar identity crisis.
You have the line in the film, “I’m sober but I still vape” which speak a lot to that idea that she doesn’t do the same things she used to, but she isn’t completely comfortable putting that part of her life behind her either.
There are so many women in my life, including myself, who aren’t alcoholics, but are changing their relationship to alcohol and partying. Women who aren’t in their 20s anymore who are suddenly looking for ways to transgress, but their old ways aren’t available anymore. So you vape in the corner of a coffee shop thinking you’re a rebel.
It’s interesting that while the partner they bring into the relationship is clearly at a different stage of her life, we don’t know how old she is, and she might be a peer who just isn’t in a relationship and still leading the carefree lifestyle. She could even be older than them, but has held onto her wild child ways a little longer. Age and so-called maturity aren’t as connected as we used to think they are.
I had written that the barista was in her 20s originally, but I know Emily and like her as an actress. And thought there was something more interesting about a woman being the same age who is the foil of the protagonist. I thought of her as a filmmaker/barista who has simply taken a different path, and just like Emma, has to confront some of her own life choices. Both of these women are realizing they aren’t just becoming that kind of person, they are that person at the point we meet them.
Is it harder in a short film to set up the scenario and get to the punchline, without making the characters two dimensional?
It is totally different, and I think writing shorts are even harder. I’m shooting my first feature later this year, but I already wrote the script. And the challenge with a shorts is, the characters have to be so strong and so clear from that first scene. You only have one or two lines to set them up for the audience, whereas in a feature, you have a first act to set the characters up. If this were being made as a feature, I’d probably want to show her at the marketing day job she works or focus on her economic status. So you need to use things like production design to inform the audience of that information instead. Shorts require a director to have specificity in their voice?
Speaking of production design, the house you found is great. Where did you film the movie?
We rented a loft from a young woman, and she asked “what’s the movie about?” And based on our logline, it sounds like it could go a lot of places that someone might not be comfortable using their home for. But we when we told her and she was just like, “it’s okay, we filmed a porn here last weekend.”
The couple seems to be enjoying the process of planning the threesome more than they enjoy the actual act. Their planning seems very playful.
It can be vulnerable, but also exciting. And to their credit they’re doing all that planning together, as a couple. When you don’t have your 22 year old ass, taking nude photos can feel ridiculous. And I made the character of Kevin as insecure about seeing his body as she is. And each of them says, with sincerity, I think you look great. I love your body. I remember reading somewhere, “desire is the actor of wanting and love is the act of having.” And even though they want to try this something new, they clearly love each other, and this is just about them enjoying the act of desire.
Did you have to audition actors for the roles?
No, I knew all of them. Emma Hunter is a comic actress. She’s brilliant, and I just feel like she’s on the cusp of fame. We were in LA together last winter, she lives there part of the time, and being depressed about being Canadians in LA. So we decided we wanted to make something together. Kristian Bruun is of course on the very popular show Orphan Black. He’s very well known in this community, and he and Emma had worked together in the comedy world and we very comfortable with each other. And Emily Coutts iss a friend, great actress, and brave enough to do a full frontal. Which is a lot to ask of someone.
As a director, is it uncomfortable to stage sex scenes?
It’s totally awkward. For Emily, when she’s totally naked, I did a rough storyboard to show her what I was going to do. I think, the best thing you can do in those circumstances is to be clear and go in even more prepared than you would normally be, so they feel safe. And give them the opportunity to tell you when they’re uncomfortable. Someone’s discomfort is not more important than a shot. And that’s especially true for women, who are constantly feeling exploited in films. A lot of actresses probably come into those situations with a lot of bad experiences behind them. So as a female director, I can take that into account and make this the best possible situation it can be for them.
You mentioned your first feature and we are in the midst of the ongoing debate about the lack of female directors and need for improvements. And for female comedy directors, the numbers are even worse. Was it hard to make the move into features after making a few shorts?
I’m one of the lucky few who had some key opportunities come up which happened to launch me rather quickly. I’d only been in the movie and TV business for 10 years, but I’ve only had the lady balls to call myself a writer-director over the past 4 years. And in that time, I’ve have some great opportunities from institutions and some key people have offered me their support. I hesitate to call it luck, because the success I have had comes from that hard work and luck favors the prepared.
What are you looking forward to about premiering at TIFF?
I just hope people laugh. And my family hasn’t seen it, so I’m looking forward to seeing their reactions. They have only a vague idea of what it’s about. And the cast still hasn’t seen it, so I’m looking forward to seeing their reactions. When I told Emma we were playing TIFF, she immediately sent an email back in all caps because she knows what that means, especially as Canadian filmmakers. And their butts are going to be giant on the screen, so I’ll have to give them an alcoholic beverage beforehand. The world’s so heavy these days, we can really use some comedy.
Having started your career at TIFF as an employee, what’s it like to go back now as a filmmaker?
I love the festival and I’ve known some of the people there for years. But having worked in program administration, knowing how much works goes into the scheduling of a film festival of that size and knowing how overwhelming it can be, it’s helped me as a filmmaker when I get rejected. It’s not always on the merit of the work, there are so many factors which go into scheduling and selection. And I know what an honor it is to premiere a film at TIFF.