Sundance Film Festival 2021
Interview

Hazel McKibbin
Doublespeak

hazelmckibbin.com

A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

Hi Hazel thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Thank you so much for having me! I’ve been trying to use this time to focus on writing and developing feature length material as well as working on my thesis short film for my Columbia MFA. I have three short films shooting in 2021 so it’s actually proving to be a very busy time!

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

More than anything, the time has given me the space to delve more deeply into projects that I’ve been working on since before the pandemic. Like for many, it’s been a strange time for idea generation so I have been working to direct my energy into rewriting and finessing ongoing projects.

Congratulations on having Doublespeak selected in the Shorts U.S Fiction section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up of short films?

I’m so grateful to the Sundance Institute for selecting the short and championing female driven stories. By giving a platform to a film exploring sexual harassment in the workplace, we draw attention to an all too common experience that is often swept under the rug. And of course, I feel very privileged to be in the company of so many other amazing filmmakers in the shorts section.

What was the inspiration behind Doublespeak?

Doublespeak is based on my own experience of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, much of the dialogue in the conference room scene is pulled from a recording I made of my own very similar meeting four years ago.

Did you have any apprehensions about writing a screenplay that drew from such a personal perspective?

The opposite actually - the experience of reporting sexual harassment dominated my life for many years, and I felt strongly that I had to make my first film about it in order to exorcise it and move on to other work. When I went to film school, Doublespeak was one of the first scripts that I wrote.

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"Nothing will go perfectly, but if you’ve prepped enough, you’ll be able to pivot and respond to anything that comes up."

How flexible are you with your script, do you prefer to stick to what was planned or do you allow yourself to go in surprising or new directions?

The script went through countless revisions before I shared with the actors, and from there we tweaked the lines together so they felt like their own. We riffed and shifted things around, but I wanted to make sure to capture the weird legalese combined with ineptitude and sympathy that I remember so strongly. The flashbacks, on the other hand, were improvised on set within the parameters of each setup.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced making Doublespeak?

On a script level, one of the biggest challenges of making the film was figuring out how closely to adhere to the truth of my experience. I felt strongly about using the real name of the man who harassed me, but that meant that I couldn’t dramatize any scenes that included him to strengthen the script. Ultimately, I fictionalized scenes that included Emma alone and related to visualizing her internal emotional experience. Practically, we were challenged by the near impossibility of finding office locations to shoot in on a limited budget. We ended up using two separate donated offices and our amazing production designer Julia Payne dressed them to look like one space.

Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

I feel that it’s most important to focus on telling the stories that you want to see on film. Rather than thinking about pushing boundaries, make the films that you aren’t seeing on screen and are deeply interested in and passionate about. If you’re fascinated by a story, other people are bound to be as well.

How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking to you?

Collaboration is the most important part of filmmaking. It’s impossible to make a film on your own, so the partners you have are key. Doublespeak was made by a team comprised of my Columbia classmates and friends who donated their time with a focus on having women in every key crew position. I feel very lucky to have been able to make the film with such a talented group of collaborators.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Growing up I wasn’t allowed to watch television or films outside of our weekly family movie night, so I came to love filmmaking later than most. However, this meant I was an avid reader and completely fell in love with storytelling. When I began working as an editor after university and was introduced to cinema, filmmaking became a natural extension of my passion for stories.

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Has your approach to your films changed much since you started out?

Doublespeak is my first film, so I am very much still starting out! I am currently developing two feature films and a tv pilot, and am in preproduction for three short films shooting in 2021. These projects further elaborate on the themes and tone that I explored in Doublespeak. I am interested in female characters who aren’t able to be active and drive the story overtly, but have a quiet power over their destinies. Ultimately, I feel these smaller, subtextual dramas reveal more about the nuanced ways that humans related to one another.

What is the best piece of advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?

Write what you know. You’ll hear this time and time again, but it has been the most helpful piece of advice for me when approaching a project. I think work is most compelling when it’s rooted in an emotion that you are intimately familiar with. Beyond that: prepare more than you think you need to and then have fun on set and enjoy the process. Nothing will go perfectly, but if you’ve prepped enough, you’ll be able to pivot and respond to anything that comes up.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Doublespeak?

While the inspiration of the film was my own experience, I am most interested in the grey area in these situations: generationally and across gender lines, different people’s attitudes are informed by their own background and experiences. The film deals with the going back to work part of reporting sexual harassment - something that I feel is underrepresented in cinema, but is a very real facet of the experience for many. The law is not necessarily in line with individual morality as the burden of proof is on the victim in very nuanced and difficult to prove situations. I'd like this film to be part of a conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace and serve as a reminder that, even after the #metoo movement, it happens all too often. If someone can watch the film and feel what Emma feels - how I felt - I'd like to think they'd want to be part of changing these practices.