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“I Think We All Want to Know What the New Normal Looks Like…” Director and DP Rachel Morrison on Pausing Her Feature Directorial Debut

Rachel Morrison

Over the past three years, cinematographer Rachel Morrison shot three features — Mudbound, Black Panther, and Seberg — along with commercials and shorts. She also directed the pilot and second episode of Hightown, a television series set in Cape Cod that premieres May 17 on Starz. This year Morrison started directing her first feature, Flint Strong, a biopic about Claressa Shields starring Ryan Destiny and Ice Cube, from a script by Barry Jenkins.

On March 13, Morrison posted the following on Instagram:

I started this morning scouting an amazing set by @keenkenzie that we were due to shoot next week. Then as we walked a stage space, @sk.buell told us in a bit of a panic that all of us with families in the US needed to get out now. I raced to my apartment to pack and am now at the airport digesting the shock and despair. We have two incredible days in the can and a beautiful cast and crew with the most amazing energy and spirit. I have been working tirelessly on this film for better part of a year. I am proud of all we have accomplished already. I am gutted by this turn of events. I am bolstered by thought of being with my family and the knowledge that health is more important than any film. And I can’t wait to get through this ‘showpocalypse’ and back to my other family, team Flint Strong/T-Rex.

Shortly thereafter, Morrison elaborated by email from her home in Los Angeles.

Filmmaker: How far along were you when the lockdown started?

Morrison: We shot two days of principal photography.

Filmmaker: Do you have a date to resume production? 

Morrison: No date yet.

Filmmaker: Can you hold the cast and crew together?

Morrison: Hopefully. It feels like everyone pushed the pause button at same time

Filmmaker: Are you shooting anything for yourself while you’re waiting to resume?

Morrison: Mostly just pix of my kids. Plan to dust off the film cameras at least.

Filmmaker: Where do you turn for inspiration when you’re in lockdown?

Morrison: Finally watching some of the shows and/or films I’ve missed because I’ve always been so busy working. Listening to music. Also trying to read again

Filmmaker: Is there a community you can reach out to for support?

Morrison: Mostly talking to friends but also checking in with fellow filmmakers from time to time.

Filmmaker: Are you okay financially?

Morrison: It’s a struggle for us like everyone else.  We’re a single-income family so when I don’t work there’s no money coming in.  Fortunately Universal was generous enough to pay everyone for three weeks, so that’s what we’re all living on for now.

Filmmaker: Is there an area or topic or concern that you feel is not being addressed in the media?  

Morrison: I think we all want to know what the new normal looks like. Whether we will ever be able to gather in large groups again — to make films, to watch movies, etc. This topic and so many others are being covered in media but it’s all so speculative at this point.

I have found it challenging to be productive during this time because I have two children under five who demand constant attention. Also because I feel so emotionally depleted right now.  It’s hard to engage with anything as if it will all be okay again when right now it’s so far from that. Since I was in production on my first feature as director I’m not sure that I’m the right person to speak to if this is a piece specific to DP, although I will forever be a DP and do plan to shoot again.

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