A Central Alberta filmmaker is thrilled about tackling a new project that will hold an empowering message.
Cassandra Johnston, who studied both acting and film production at Red Deer College, is directing Ugly Girl along with Alex Adamson. The talented duo also penned the story and, according to the synopsis, the film focuses on Charlie, a girl with odd facial features who enters a talent show to, “Prove that it’s not how you look, it’s how you feel.
“A daunting three days until the performance, she takes the weekend to master her chosen craft. With fearless determination and uncompromising courage, she navigates the gruelling art of tap dance. Feeling great, the takes the stage and gives the audience the performance of her life.”
Johnston also wrote a directed another critically-acclaimed short film a few years back called Mending with Gold, which landed on the festival circuit as well. That experience is part of what spurred her on to further explore this magical means of artistic expression, although of course she has long been immersed in the fascinating craft.
“We film June 10th to the 15th, and we are going to be filming around Lacombe,” she said, adding the film will ultimately have an 80s/90s sensibility to it. She’s also scouting a couple of Red Deer locations as well.
As to the film itself, Johnston is excited to not only launch production on it, but also to see how it will ultimately impact audiences.
She’s also the title character in the project, which will ultimately run about seven minutes in length.
“It can’t be more than 10 minutes,” she said, referring to production guidelines set out by Storyhive, the organization which funds films and supports filmmakers with mentorship from the National Screen Institute.
For Johnston, acting provides that intrinsically fascinating opportunity to interpret a particular character.
“You get to be anybody,” she said. “And that’s what got me into it — telling these stories through really interesting characters.”
She does, however, admit that there are limitations with it in terms of the types of roles that are typically available much of the some.
But with directing, the sky truly is the limit.
The ability to have creative control in an array of areas is endlessly enticing.
“When you act, you go and you do your part and you leave and then what they do with it is up to them,” she explained. “Directing is the exact opposite. You collect all of the these little parts and then you put it together into what you want it to be.”
As to Ugly Girl, Johnston describes it as a ‘feel good’ story. “We want it to be really fun.” she said.
“We don’t want it to be all serious business. We want the filming to be fun, the editing to be fun — and again, it’s going to have those 80s and 90s vibes which I’m really stoked about because I like that style. It’s another reason I like movies so much – you also get to put your style on it.
The idea for the project surfaced a few years back.
“I’ve had the idea for a film called Ugly Girl for about three years now,” she said, adding that the story didn’t immediately flesh out. Conversations led to its growth and development, however, and it ended up being what she describes as a really cool story.
“It’s different and original,” she said.
As to the message, it’s about how people need to feel good about themselves before other experiences can be perceived as feeling good as well.
In the original clip pitched to Storyhive, Paige describes Ugly Girl as a film that, “Explores what it’s like to be a woman with fearless determination who has yet to find her purpose.
“The film is an inspirational underdog story touching on the themes of perseverance, self love, dedication and courage that will resonate with people of all walks of life. This film is for anyone feeling lost or behind, negative about career choices, swamped by perceived failures, or has ever just felt plain ugly. Just remember, it’s not how you look – it’s how you feel.”
Looking ahead, Johnston wants to keep exploring the art of filmmaking and she’s also found shooting music videos to be a fun and thoroughly creative venture as well.
As to Ugly Girl, watch for its release this fall.
For more information, you can find Ugly Girl on facebook.