Alumni Spotlight: Maureen Grant
Posted: Aug 1, 2023
Posted: Aug 1, 2023
With a career spanning a little over a decade, visual artist and film editor Maureen Grant has captured the eyes of the Canadian screen industry with her talent and charisma. Maureen is no stranger to success and has the accolades to prove it! As a six-time Canadian Cinema Editors Awards nominee and the recent winner of the 2022 Directors Guild of Canada Award for Best Editing, Movies for Television and Mini-Series for her work on Stolen By Their Father. Maureen has stood out by actively seeking stories that challenge current on-screen representation. Her work allows for complex and distinct narratives to be portrayed on-screen and gives a voice to those who are not always heard or seen.
Since completing the Norman Jewison Film Program Editors’ Lab in 2013, Maureen has worked on numerous feature films, television web series and short films as well as music videos. Of these projects, the horror film PYEWACKET premiered at TIFF 2017 and was ranked as one of the top films of its genre internationally that year. In addition, the feature film This Place, directed by fellow alum V.T. Nayani premiered to much praise at TIFF 2022, and is set to screen at the first-ever CFC Outdoor Film Festival on August 17, 2023.
We recently caught up with Maureen to discuss her career journey and what’s next for the talented editor. Read more in the spotlight below.
Going back to where it first started, do you remember the very first project you ever edited? Did you envision the future strides you would make as an editor?
To go way back, I’d say it was my university film project. I had just transferred to Film Production from Studio Art, having discovered experimental film and video. I made a collage film, sort of knowing a theme but not exactly sure how the elements would work together. I was using a Bolex to shoot text and imagery, and the optical printer to scale up vintage Super 8. Using the Steenbeck I would juxtapose the imagery with sound recordings and some droney music I made and find the structure there. There was a feeling in the sound mix where it all came together, the words, the imagery flickering and it was like something magic transpired.
How would you describe your editing process? What’s your favourite part about editing a project?
I would describe my process as intuitive. I like to rely on my own emotional instincts as I watch and assemble material, to see what I find there, before going back to the script or paperwork. I like to prepare alternate versions of moments and scenes, to have in the process. Sculptural might be another way to describe the process. There’s that additive / subtractive part of working with story where it’s more clear onscreen which elements might have felt necessary on the page but aren’t anymore, and then moments that need to be intensified or clarified. I love the problem-solving nature of editing – problem-solving is the nature of creativity. When a scene doesn’t quite work, the pace is off, or an ending is missing something. That process of coming up with solutions can be agonizing at times but is ultimately so rewarding.
How did your residency at the CFC’s Editors Lab guide your creative process? What were some of your most memorable moments and how has the CFC impacted your career?
The Editors Lab was this kind of once in a career experience to learn at a level beyond university, but where the stakes are all about growth, and you’re pushed to succeed. It’s really unique. This is where I learned to trust myself as the first audience for the material and to identify what moments resonate. I reflect on the experience often. For instance, how David Ostry taught us to think about the shape of a scene, and the power dynamics within it when structuring a scene. There’s not many opportunities to learn from professionals in this way unless you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, which I never had until I went to the CFC. I’m eternally grateful for that.
The impact it has had on my career is immeasurable. It’s this ultimate preparation for real world scenarios such as job interviews, finding an agent, script analysis. It fast-forwards you years beyond where you were. It’s also an environment to build an immediate network of creatives, which continually expands each year as new talents emerge.
The year I graduated, I was lucky enough to edit two films for the Short Dramatic Film Program with fantastic directors Mark Ratzlaff and Slater Jewell-Kemker. Each film had a festival run. The film STILL played at TIFF and the Canada’s Top Ten film festival, and that really kick-started things for me.
As inclusion and representation continues to be a vital shift in the screen industry, you shine through with your work on films such as This Place. How do you think your continued efforts impact your peers around you and other film editors to challenge inclusion and push for more visibility for underrepresented groups?
I’m definitely not the only editor pushing for diversity in our industry, thankfully there’s a lot of energy and momentum in our community. Post production is often overlooked in terms of diversity and inclusion but post is so critically important. The edit is where the story gets rewritten and it makes sense to hire creatives that understand and reflect the subject matter. This extends beyond just the key creatives as well, but to the entire post workflow, and to creating safe and inclusive environments for diverse 2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC creatives to work in.
There is still a lack of queer representation in post, so I recently launched Queer in Post (QUIP) with sound designer, mixer, and composer Michelle Irving. QUIP’s goal is to bring together queer talent in all aspects of post production including picture, sound, post supervision, and composers, to showcase talent and advocate for inclusion in these roles. We started with an Instagram account, and now we have a core committee and so much interest. Our launch party is on September 6th, hosted by the incredibly generous and supportive team at Rolling Picture Company. Follow us on Instagram at @queerinpost or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Were there any challenges you’ve faced while working on This Place? If so, what were they and how have they helped you improve as a film editor?
This Place is a queer love story but also so much more. It’s about two young people living in Toronto, a diverse multi-ethnic city on Indigenous land. It’s a coming-of-adulthood story about two women figuring out their respective identities and unravelling their family’s stories.
I felt an incredible responsibility working on the film as a queer person and I brought that aspect of representation to the project, but I’m also a white person and settler on this land. My experience relates in some ways, and in other ways I needed to ask a lot of questions and really understand the characters’ situations and motivations. I worked closely with director V.T. Nayani throughout the process, to simmer the story down to its essence. Authenticity was critical in the telling of this film. It was co-written by V.T. Nayani, Devery Jacobs, and Golshan Abdmoulaie for this very reason, so we regularly asked for feedback from the team. Because the dialogue was multi-lingual- English, Tamil, Farsi, and Mohawk- it was important to have native speakers of the languages give us feedback as well. I also try to hire LGBTQ+ and BIPOC 1st Assistant Editors to bring another point of view to projects as well. The challenge was to really balance the storytelling with these silences, pauses and memory, and discerning when to elaborate and when to let characters hold back.
You recently won a DGC Award for Best Picture Editing for your work on the mini-series Stolen by Their Father. Congratulations! How was your experience working on that series? What were some key elements you learned throughout that experience? Any favourite moment(s)?
This was a fun one, and with it being a Canada-Greece co-production, I had a feeling it would be visually stunning. And of course, director Simone Stock delivered gorgeous material and performances to work with. It takes a lot of heart and sensitivity to tell the story of someone else’s lived experience, especially those of women who have survived abuse; and this team navigated that so carefully. That sensitivity needs to continue in the editing process it’s the smallest details that resonate- and to balance this with the intrigue and suspense of the plot. It’s one of those stories where you just need to know how it ends, and you want to see the lead character win, and overcome the obstacles she’s facing.
Aside from that, this was my only in-person job during the pandemic, and it was so strange to return to a mostly empty downtown core and empty office – full of remotely operated edit suites!
Your most recent feature film Bloody Hell tackles some heavy topics; how do you prepare to work on very intense projects?
There’s preparation to be done in order to have that initial conversation with a director. With Bloody Hell, it was quite organic. I connected with the script immediately and drew parallels to other films to sort of situate the tone, although this film is so absolutely unique. In my first meeting with wonderful director Molly McGlynn, we clicked immediately and began to delve into the nuances of her story to really build trust. The rest of the preparation process was to continue to talk through where she situated the film in terms of tone and genre and what kinds of music influences she had while writing the script. She shared a Bloody Hell playlist with me at the start of the project, and we sent references back and forth. I remember finding a little book about the film Jennifer’s Body and bought us each a copy. The title of one of the chapters, a quote from Diablo Cody was actually used at the start of the film – “hell is a teenage girl”.
The preparation for this project felt like I had been preparing for it all my life. Oddly it’s the kind of project you dream of because it’s an extension of who you are in the world, and all of your own parallel experiences and influences. As a queer person, queer and feminist art, culture, and community are just part of my own identity and understanding of the world. It was such an important film for me in that sense; to get to help tell this really challenging yet hilarious, beautiful and transformative film that I can’t wait for people to see.
Just to put it out there, are there any specific types of film genres or series that you would like to work on in the future that you haven’t done already?
At this point I’ve been lucky enough to cut comedy, drama, action, and horror and most formats, so I’m open to any genre, or hybrid combination thereof. My next step is to move into hour-long scripted series, and of course more features. So hey there, let’s talk!
Is there any advice that you would like to share with young upcoming film editors?
I have a few strategies that have worked for me in building my career. Ask people for a coffee instead of for a job. You’ll get to expand your network, and you never know what will materialize from it. They might think of you the next time an opportunity comes up. The editing career path is unique and sometimes hard to navigate; getting to know other editors is so helpful in figuring it all out. The editing community is so incredibly supportive, especially amongst CFC alumni.
What are some upcoming projects that are in the works that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on season 3 of Sort Of, which is a show I’ve admired for some time. I recently finished four episodes of I Hate People, People Hate Me, a fabulously dark comedy about two queer outliers in Toronto’s queer community, which premiered at Tribeca, and launches this fall on CBC Gem. I’ve also just finished a short film called Aftercare, with director Anubha Momin and the team at Above The Palace productions, so keep your eyes peeled for those.
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