By Ayesha Nizhoni
Megan Griffiths is a writer/director whose recent works The Night Stalker and Lucky Them have found her working with the likes of Toni Collette, Johnny Depp and Lou Diamond Phillips. Griffiths has worked steadily since graduating from the Film program at OU, as an Assistant Director, Producer and Writer and Director, among other film-related positions. Her latest film, Sadie, is in post-production.
Since her graduation from the Film program at OU, Megan Griffiths has been a woman on a mission. Over the years, she has taken what she learned here and built up an impressive resume and career in Hollywood. OU Film Underground recently talked with Megan to find out the secret of her success (hint: it's called hard work) and what advice she'd give to current film school students.
1. Since your time at OU, what would you say has been the biggest surprise, in terms of expectation vs reality in your career?
I’m a pragmatist, so I don’t think I expected success to come easily or quickly, but I don’t know that I ever considered that I’d still be struggling to gain traction and security in it in my forties. Even so, however, I’m grateful for the challenges that have come along with the dogged pursuit of this career. When I advance, it feels earned. I value each milestone and never take anything for granted. Gaining things without struggle can be devastating to growth.
2. What was the best part of your film school experience, and how has that impacted your life afterward?
During my time at OU I was surrounded by smart, funny, creative people who were really excited and passionate about what they were doing. That kind of energy and enthusiasm can be rare, and experiencing it during that time made me expect nothing less from the “real world.” It has made me seek it out ever since and not settle for anything less. Because of making this a priority with my collaborators, I’ve been able to stay inspired, humbled and entertained by those around me all these years, which I truly feel has made my work better.
3. Now that you’re in the world of filmmaking, do you tend to look for work, or does work tend to find you?
The majority of my work is still self-generated. I work primarily in independent film, and it is a very challenging environment. Getting each project is like pushing a boulder up a tall, steep mountain. You spend years pushing the boulder up the mountain, and you can never let up for fear of losing hard-won ground. And when you reach the top, and the bounder goes over, you are racing to keep up with it and not let it get away from you. Both are exhausting in different ways, and it’s a special kind of sadism that keeps me coming back with a new boulder each time. But I love the work, and I find it rewarding enough to offset the discouraging times. Occasionally, I have been able to join a project already in motion—a boulder already up near the peak, so to speak. Those opportunities tend to result from relationships built over the course of the twenty years I’ve been at this, via film festivals or my work on other people’s films.
4. How did OU prepare you in terms of the working world of filmmaking?
I think the most important skill I gained in film school was inviting feedback at every stage of the process. I started at OU with a different mindset. I’d edit with the door closed and get very worried about inviting anyone in. I believe it was when Lew Hunter came to host his weeklong screenwriting workshop at OU in 1998 that I first began to really understand the value of feedback, and the proper ways to seek it out. He had rules: The writer presenting his/her work was not allowed to defend anything or ask any questions. Every note was to be taken gracefully, and questions were thrown back out to the group, because if the script itself didn’t answer the question, no explanation from the writer would make a difference. We were encouraged to use the group to find consensus—was that note specific to one person, or does the majority of the room agree? I’ve used these guidelines with every film I’ve made, hosting 4-5 screenings per film to root out the solvable problems and learn what works and what doesn’t. It isn’t an enjoyable process, but I’ve come to realize that it’s preferable to invite these criticisms privately, while I can still work to fix them, rather than protecting my ego in the short term and then having to read the criticisms in a review down the road when it’s too late to do anything about it.
5. How has your point of view or creative vision evolved since film school?
I don’t know that it has evolved in any major way aside from the general deepening from life experience, but I think I’ve grown more attuned to who I am as a filmmaker, and what I bring to the table. There is technical skill in filmmaking, and there is natural aptitude, but the single most important element is that you understand your own point of view. It is what will guide the many choices you make, and it is what will get you the jobs that you are right for. Without it, your work will lack richness, character, and specificity.
6. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on your time at OU, what’s one piece of advice you’d give someone currently in film school?
Learn the technical, but also make sure to spend time learning about human nature—through yourself and other people. You have to like being with others to enjoy this work, and you have to understand people in order to build characters and performances that feel authentic. Forge connections with others, and pay attention to why people do the things they do. Directing is finding out what people need, be it actors, crew members, investors, etc, and then giving it to them so that ultimately you can get what you need. It’s creating a win-win from every scenario, so that everyone leaves feeling ready to come back and collaborate again.