15 February 2015

Micah Magee, Director of ‘Petting Zoo’ on her debut feature and how film school shaped her career.

By Danny Kelly | Categorised in Film Festivals, Industry Interviews

Petting Zoo was a standout hit in this year’s Berlinale, taking the audience to San Antonio in Texas to introduce us to Layla (Devon Keller), a 17 year old high school student who is expecting a baby.  A tender portrait of a generation who struggle to find their own paths in life, Petting Zoo is a must-see for it’s honest and evoking portrayal of the every day struggles to hold on to your own identity.

We spoke to Micha Magee, Writer and Director of the film, to find out more about the making of this feature and of her break-out from short film to feature.

  • How long had you had the idea for this film in mind and what was the process of setting it down on paper?

Sometimes you’ll find yourself saying a story over and over again- you’ll meet random people whom you know you’ll never see again and you’ll find yourself telling that story.  This story was that for me, so I knew that I had to tell it.

We had an assignment at film school, and I wrote it down.  After writing it I realised that even though it was only a page and a half, that it pretty much could be a full-length film.  It did take a long time from actually writing it to getting it made because its not the kind of story that you necessary sell easily.  I was very lucky that I had the team I did behind me, including my husband who co-produced the project.

  • It’s obviously a very female-centric film.  How are you finding being a female filmmaker and voice in today’s industry?

Well first off, people have this view of ‘feminists’ being angry women, but it fact it’s not like that at all and some of the very best feminists that I know are guys.  As for women in film, I think that it comes down to women having to make choices between their work and family and luckily I don’t have to do that because my husband helps me with my films, and I help him with his.  That makes it very possible in a big, big way.  One of my original tutors from film school helped me a lot in life and I think that if I’m in the position to do that in the future with someone then that will keep it going.

  • The film uses three non-actors at it’s core.  What was the casting process for this movie?

Well we actually did do a lot of street castings for the film, and we saw over 1000 girls for the part of Layla.  I actually spotted Devon at at my old high school in Texas in a fashion show.  When I first saw her I knew she was the one! It was in the way that she was walking, the way that everybody looked at her.  She’s so fantastically beautiful on the screen, but there was something else about her.  She just had this way about her, and I knew that she would understand the story.

I had a lot of convincing to do to have a non-actor in the lead role as there were concerns over whether she would be able to carry it, not having been on screen before.  And the other actors that I was looking at were really great and very talented but they wouldn’t have understood the sense of place and that sense of place is very important to the story.  Devlon is from San Antonio and that’s her environment.  She is one with it, and that’s so important to the story.

  • You teach filmmaking and have attended several film schools.  What importance do you put on film education, and what have they allowed you to do within your career?

Well, I see it very much as literacy,  We live in an age where pretty much everyone can make a movie, but film school gives you that safe environment to self-express.   I find that as a teacher, the best thing that you can do is to ask questions about where the students are going, and guiding them through that process.

I’m not trying to tell them what to do, its about helping them explore as far they they possible can.  Trust, when working with actors or students, is really important because they have to feel like they can try things out and are allowed to fail.


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