Multi-award-winning writer/director/ producer Catriona McKenzie has announced that she is setting up her own production company, Dark Horse. The first Indigenous Australian woman to direct series television in the US (Shadowhunters for Freeform), Catriona spent time as a director’s attachment on the television series Prison Break (Fox) and she interned at Ridley Scott’s production company and as a director’s attachment on his film Alien: Covenant.
Premiering at LA Film Festival, Kiki and Kitty, based on an original concept from and written by Nakkiah Lui and produced by Porchlight Films’ Liz Watts and Sylvia Warmer, is a 6 x 12-minute series about the adventures of a young, black woman in a big, white world, where her vagina is a big, black woman and her best friend. The series won two prizes at Series Mania in Paris.
We had a chat with Catriona, here are the excerpts:
What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this project, Kiki and Kitty?
It was a low budget, single camera production with not a lot of time so I had to be efficient and smart about constructing it. We used every cinematic tool - colour palette in locations, costumes. Kitty wears bright red dress, (of course because she is a vagina). Music, editing etc
The rewards were working with such great creatives people. Nakkiah and Elaine are fearless actors. Any Ideas I had for the scenes they completely embraced, (as they tick off their crazy bucket list scenes for example) It gets pretty wacky and they were always up for it.
And the production crew were almost all women. That was great. Sylvia Warmer is a great producer and she was always there for the production. Thats inspiring.
What inspired you to launch DARK HORSE and what are your immediate goals?
I'm the first indigenous director from Australia to direct episodic TV in USA. I studied at NYU Tisch, New York. I understand the US industry and the Australian, and there's opportunities to take our stories to a bigger platform. As storytellers we need to take up the space telling our stories otherwise those spaces will be colonized by others. Thats a big part of it. And I'm a huge fan of genre. Ridley Scott selected me to shadow him on Alien Covenant. I have a slate of genre projects across the board that come from my 'diverse' community and its the right time to tell those stories. (I don't like the word 'diverse' but we all understand what it means but I think it minimizes everything we are about)
Who are your favorite filmmakers/storytellers? What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese are big influences for me. Denis Villeneuve' Incendies was a powerful film. The Dead Girl by Karen Moncrieff is such a great film. And then there's TV and the rest. The Wire is always a go to for me. Shameless, Breaking Bad. Chewing Gum. We have such an increasing opportunity now to watch programs that reflect who we are. I'm hopeful for the future of telling our stories.
What Australian movies or TV shows, you'll recommend American audiences to watch?
Peter Weir is another favorite filmmaker and he's Australian. From Gallipoli to Witness to The Truman Show he is a master storyteller with an instinct for the emotional heartbeat of the film. He's definitly an inspiration for me.
Based on your own experiences, what are 3 things you would like to tell other aspiring storytellers?
If you want to be a story teller then tell stories. It sounds simple but there's so many barriers, (although its cheaper to tell stories now that technology has opened up) you just have to do it.
Don't wait for permission just do it. Just do it!
You have to be stubborn and inspired at the same time. Write, read books, study people. re write. Interrogate the characters you've written. We are all colonized by the powers that be and we are part of it. Don't let your characters roll onto the page without deeply 'scratching their surface'.
Do good work.
Be Patient with yourself. There's so much joy to be had from a creative life and it can be frustrating too. There's ups and downs but beyond it all be inspired by doing good work.