Director spotlight: Fiona McGee

Sydney-based Fiona McGee is a master of humor, whether it’s of the absurdist variety or that special kind of comedic timing that can only be found in moments of truth.

She’s harnessed that skill and her own specialized aesthetic on many a campaign, using her background in Fine Art and documentary filmmaking to bolster an innate sense of what makes a story compelling.
Fiona McGee brings that sensibility, a diverse reel showcasing the breadth of storytelling and emotion, and a fantastic wit with her to the Convoy Content roster. We chatted with the director to hear a bit more about her background, what she’s working on, and where she goes for inspiration.

Q: Fill me in on your background and first experiences with film.

I was a total child of the VHS era. The first film that moved me was Mary Poppins. My dad had to rewind it at the end when she flew away because I was beside myself, so by rewinding it, it appeared that Ms. Poppins landed again. I obviously must have wanted a happy ending age 5! I was very much in my own imagination at the time, and seeing that movie felt like my brain had sort of a fireworks moment; between the animation, color, and movement. I’d say if I had to pick three films that shaped me it would be Mary Poppins, then in my later years PT Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.
I was always a bit of a storyteller, making short films in school over writing essays. I got a film-based Fine Arts degree in university, and did a lot of work in school with non-narrative, visual short films, and a bit later with documentaries. After college, I started working for film companies as a runner, making what was probably in retrospect terrible coffee and putting money into parking meters, but it afforded me the chance to work with great directors like Andrew Dominik, to see their process and casting. From there, I worked for a while at an advertising agency, and then I started making documentaries, films, and commercials.

Q: How would you describe your approach to filmmaking, with documentaries and commercials?

Well with documentaries, the approach is totally different because there’s so much less structure. You start with an idea, and with a lot of time and patience, you have to let life and those stories evolve. A lot of the narrative arc comes together in the edit. For instance, I’ve been working on a documentary for the last eight years called Boys Light Up, about the sub culture of car racing enthusiasts that I’ve dipped in and out of commercials to do. But with that, at times you have to sit back and let things happen, and the more time passes the better the project gets. So procrastination sometimes pays off!
With commercials, the timing obviously makes everything very different. In the best of scenarios, you start with a really great idea that you distill down to its core truth. Casting is super important to me and I love the casting process of commercials especially (and if you cast a really great actor, your job becomes that much easier).
I love that film is a really organic matter, it’s always evolving, and you get to go with that process. Little things remind you of that along the way too on every job. For instance you shoot something that you might think is the funniest take on the day, but it doesn’t always translate to the edit. Letting go and trusting the process is a big part of a directors job I believe.

Q: What does good comedy mean to you?

Sometimes the human truths that are familiar are the funniest. Other times that good comedy is found in the unexpected and the absurd.

Q: Where do you go for inspiration?

Travel, travel, art and more travel. And conversations. And the ocean.

Q: Can you take us through one of your projects, like Car Advice?

Car Advice was an incredibly fun project. We didn’t want to get into a big conversation about the comedy in it, because I find that the more you talk about comedy, the less funny it is. The spot is light, something that you can watch and it will bring a smile to your face. It’s a play on the absurdity on focusing on the smallest of details, and I really love that territory. So we just broke everything down to the most banal moments that are both dry and ridiculous. That’s the wonderful thing about playing to a gag; you don’t need to push it too much, and the restraint is something I quite liked from that spot.

Q: What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a black comedy feature script, and Boys Light Up, which is years in the making.

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