Local filmmaker embarks on new project
): Cassandra Paige Johnston is part of the creative team behind “Ugly Girl” which received a $10,000 grant through Telus’ STORYHIVE program which offers funding for creators in Alberta and B.C. (Photo supplied)
It’s about how you feel, not how you look.
That’s the message Lacombe native and filmmaker Cassandra Paige Johnston wants to convey through her latest digital short, “Ugly Girl,” which she received a $10,000 grant through Telus’ STORYHIVE program to produce.
The idea for the film was born out of a relatively common theme she’s flipped around in the kind of fresh, genre-bending and boundary-pushing way STORYHIVE likes to see from its creators.
Described as being a light-hearted, “super fun, super funny” tale, it follows a girl with weird facial features. Not feeling good about anything in her life, she ends up entering a talent show, giving it her best and feeling great about it, all in spite of her looks.
“You see a lot of films about male monsters or male characters that have disfigurements and them always being the hero,” said Johnston. “There’s never a female character that’s weird looking so I was like ‘that needs to happen.’”
Johnston’s love of film stems from weekly movie nights with her family growing up. Watching movies, paying attention to the fashion, style and cinematography just naturally became one of her favourite things to do, which then led to attending Red Deer College for the Theatre Performance and Motion Picture Arts program.
She acted in friends’ films, but ended up feeling unsatisfied, and tried quelling her hunger for more by writing and directing a short film of her own, which seemed to, at least in park, do the trick.
“I like that film can tell a story, change people’s perceptions on things and make you feel like someone else out there knows exactly what you’re going through. It brings people together and makes you feel not so alone,” she said.
“I really like the idea of a well done short that has a lot of heart. I like to tell stories that make people feel good.”
It’s precisely what she hopes “Ugly Girl” does when it’s completed for early August. At that time, all 20 finalists from Alberta, and another 20 from B.C., will go through a second round of voting, with the top entry from each province earning an additional $50,000 grant.
It isn’t Johnston’s first time going through the process. Two years ago, she directed “Inconvenient,” which told the story of a girl working at a convenience store, trying to find her identity in a world of constant influence.
The film was produced with the help of the $10,000 grant, but ultimately was not selected the top entry.
A finished version is now on the STORYHIVE website, but Johnston says she wasn’t completely happy with the final product, and is in the process of making tweaks to it now.
“I’m actually re-editing it. It’s going to be a little longer and a little different,” she said. “I’m now working on ‘Ugly Girl’ though, so it’ll be a little longer before I can get to ‘Inconvenient.’”
Part of the draw to STORYHIVE is its accessibility and ease to apply for. It also focuses specifically on giving grants to those in B.C. and Alberta to pursue their own unique brand of storytelling. It has also placed a focus on encouraging women to get involved on the filmmaking side of the industry.
The year she entered and received a grant for “Inconvenient” was a record year for film submissions, and each had to be directed by a female. Now, there’s a rule in place that each team must feature a female key creative.
“The support they give is unreal – STORYHIVE gives out a lot of money to independent filmmakers and female filmmakers. There’s not a lot of other funding like it,” she said. “It’s a really good way to jumpstart careers.”
STORYHIVE has helped other local creators in the area, including Jo-Jo O’ and The Woods who won a $10,000 grant in 2016 to create their music video for their song “Old Friends,” which was shot in the JJ Collett Natural Area and back alleys of the Lacombe.