Close-up: An Interview With Mariah Owen

Actress, producer, writer and director Mariah Owen stops by on Close-up Culture to talk about her upcoming projects and much more.

Q: ‘Daddy’s Playground’ looks dark and sordid, like something plucked from the mind of Nicolas Winding Refn. What can viewers expect when this short film premieres on NoBudge this October?

A: It definitely is something dark and twisty! It’s an aesthetically driven, female vigilante thriller about two unique sugar babies who attempt to overthrow the patriarchy by avenging their sugar mama’s and daddies. Viewers can expect an exciting adventure and downward spiral of these two young women as they grapple with the blurred lines of justice, power, femininity and their sexuality.

I hope viewers enjoy it! We are stoked to be premiering on NoBudge after having premiering at HollyShorts and playing Mammoth Film Festival!

Q: This looks like a nocturnal film with, I imagine, a few night shoots. How was your experience producing ‘Daddy’s Playground’ and working with director Mitch deQuilettes?

A: This film was shot on a LOT of favours and the quick thinking of Ashley Morgan and Boni Mata (the films stars and co-writers and producers). I was in Canada on another project for most of pre-production so it was amazing to see how quickly they were able to navigate certain situations and problem solve. We didn’t know each other really well in the beginning so it was nerve-wrecking for all of us.

There were lots of night shoots which were imperative for telling the story, so much of sugar baby culture and activity occurs at night so we needed to be cognizant of that. Overall, it was a pretty fantastic experience working with them and I’m stoked that we are developing the feature together. 

Additionally, Mitch is an awesome director who has a TON of music video experience. I think this was such an asset for the short film as we had a lot of unique elements that felt like a music video which drove the story in a cool direction. I’m grateful that these peeps brought me on and trusted me! 

Q: Another of your upcoming projects, the feature film ‘Dance Together’, is tonally very different to ‘Daddy’s Playground’. How do you typically select the projects you work on? Do you thrive on working across different genres and with a diverse range of creatives?

A: It all goes back to the material. If the story speaks to me or a subject that hasn’t been told or explored, then I want to help tell it! It might sound silly but a lot of the time I read the script and go with my gut feeling, in addition to where the project is at (does it already have funding?), who is currently on the team, etc. I honestly believe that everyone deserves to have their stories told and really get excited when we help tell a story that hasn’t been told before. 

I definitely would say I thrive working with a diverse range of creatives! I love meeting new people with different perspectives than mine and being able to work together and have open minds to come together and collaborate. I honestly grew up at The Second City so thought I’d be producing comedy and so far, most of the films and TV I’ve produced have been a lot of dark and twisty, murder mayhem, female vigilante thrillers – and I am not mad about it, haha!

I definitely feel like I am expanding my genres and reach so look forward to trying something new! Maybe a comedic, sci-fi? Is that a thing? I don’t know… maybe I will make it one? 

Q: I’m admittedly a sucker for dance films. As someone with an extensive cheerleading background, what drew you to ‘Dance Together’ and what does Kira Murphy’s story bring to this genre? 

A: I’m a sucker for dance and cheer films too! I think being a national team member and competing at world championships for years really solidified a strong understanding and need for team environments. I love the saying “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”. I loved the aspect of people coming together to help each other with their own unique challenges and goals. The world needs more of that! 

In addition to the current teen and family programming on now, with shows such as 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale, I thought it was imperative to have a feature film for the same demographic that focused on issue that real teens have versus the glorified high school experience and hyper sexualization of the characters. I definitely am a fan of both of those shows, however wasn’t watching them in high school… I think they would’ve really changed my experience for sure.

Kira was a teenager when she wrote Dance Together and I think that’s important – she wrote what she knew. That’s always a key ingredient for writing a story that you and your audience will resonate with. 

Q: What is the strangest or most challenging hurdle you’ve had to overcome as a producer?

A: I think the most challenging hurdle has been to navigate taking the next step in my career. There are so many projects I want to be a part of, however, no one has all of the time in the world so I have had to become much more selective and really think about the time I can give a project. It is definitely a good problem to have, but in an industry that is often unstable, it is incredibly bizarre to turn down work and then cross your fingers that more work comes down the road.

I use the mantra “Everything will always work out for me” and that brings me some peace and clarity to help with challenging times. 

Q: One previous project I have to ask about is P.T. Anderson’s music video for Haim’s ‘Little Of Your Love.’ What was it like being on an Anderson set and around the infectiously upbeat Haim vibe?

A: It was SO cool! I am a big PTA fan so it was really great to see him in action. I was in LA and my friend asked me if I would be willing to help her friend on a music video she was producing and I said sure. She said she wasn’t sure who it was for and then I showed up and it was for Haim, who is one of my fave bands, and directed by P.T. Anderson!

This world is so crazy and awesome. I ended up meeting a bunch of great people that day, learned how to sign my name in ASL and danced a lot!! 

Q: I saw you attended TIFF 2019. What did you take away from this year’s festival?

A: I grew up in Toronto so I have been incredibly lucky to have such a phenomenal festival in my backyard for as long as I can remember. I think the biggest thing for me is that the only difference between myself and filmmakers who had a film in the festival this year is that they made their film and I kept rewriting mine.

With each year, I find that I become more connected to my filmmaking community at large which is exciting. I used to walk in rooms and feel like I hadn’t done enough to be in them and now I know I have and that I truly deserve to be there and can’t wait to continue to work harder. I’m always so inspired after the Toronto International Film Festival! 

Q: You have an impressive athletic background. What attributes did the sporting world instil in you that have transferred over in the world of filmmaking?

A: Thank you! Sports will always be a ginormous part of my life. I think the majority of attributes that make me a successful actor and filmmaker can be directly tied to my time as a high performance athlete. Anytime anyone asks me what a producer does – I always relate it back to sports.

I feel like I’m the team manager for my team (aka the film!), so I think because of my athletic background with Team Canada Cheerleading and Skiing at the provincial level, playing Varsity volleyball and other sports, I really learned what it means to be a team player. I want to help my team succeed in any way that I can. I want my teammates (my actors, producers, writers, MUA, grip, gaf, etc) to feel heard, seen and supported.

I think that definitely comes from being an athlete, as well as showing up on time, working hard even when I don’t feel like it, pushing through the pain and stress and ultimately, always trying to be the best that I can be. 

Q: I find it incredible that, even though you keep incredible busy, you still find time to give back to your community and get involved in a number of different causes. Why do you find it important to find time to give back to others?

A: I think we’re all connected in one way or another, so why not just be good to each other? I grew up in a household where volunteering was as natural and expected as brushing your teeth, doing your homework and going to practice.

I’m really grateful to my parents who instilled in me a love, need and appreciation for volunteering as it has given me a unique outlook on life that I think has helped me create an eclectic friend group and bunch of experiences that have shaped me into who I am. I do believe that helping others makes you feel good too, so why wouldn’t you do it? If I can help, I want to! 

Q: What is next for you? Any other upcoming projects or ambitions to share with us?

A: I’m currently writing my last draft of my feature Grace that I’ll produce and act in as well as The Brunch Club that I’ll direct, produce and star in. In addition to developing Daddy’s Playground into a feature film to shoot in 2020. I’m also set to produce the awards show gala for Buffer Festival (YouTube Festival). Something not work related that I’m really excited for is to drive across Canada with one of my longest friends later this Fall!

Leave a Reply