Atlantic Filmmaker Focus: Harmony Wagner

PEI filmmaker Harmony Wagner with producer Jason Rogerson at the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival where her short film QUEEN OF THE CROWS played in Telefilm Canada's Not Short on Talent showcase.

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we profile some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry today. This month, we look at PEI filmmaker Harmony Wagner.

Harmony Wagner

Birthday: November 29th

Where are you from? Prince Edward Edward Island. I was born in Summerside and I am currently based in Charlottetown.
What are you currently working on? My production company Periscope Pictures has recently been chosen for Telefilm Canada’s Microbudget Production Fund with our comedy feature, KUPERMAN. We are in pre-production right now and are hoping to starting shooting in the fall, right after the 34th Atlantic Film Festival.
What got you first interested in film? I have a long history with film, starting with my parents who were performers. I grew up experiencing their performances and live puppetry, and hanging out in places like the sets of Fraggle Rock in Toronto, where I got to watch it unfold from the art department to production. I really inhaled the whole experience and began to understand the “making-of” process.  I did some acting as a kid, and then worked as a TV writer and in theatre and sketch comedy. I got to know the industry in many different capacities. It made sense that directing would be the next thing I would try out.
When did you first decide filmmaking would be a career path for you?
I loved it instantly. It felt natural, and I knew exactly what I wanted visually. I like to write the scripts that I direct, and I love the teamwork that goes into the collaborative process – people put their love, talent, and expertise into a project, and it can be chaotic but very satisfying in the end.
What, in your opinion, makes a good film?
First and foremost, the story and the casting. From there, it needs to fully immerse the audience in terms of visuals and sound. People enjoy storytelling for the escape it gives them, and it’s important that they are never fully pulled from it.
What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker?
Don’t be afraid to share and be vulnerable. People often get too enclosed, and don’t put themselves out there. Additionally, I would also suggest that filmmakers try acting, or being a producer or director of photography on set to give them an understanding of what each role is like.
Your short film QUEEN OF THE CROWS was selected for Telefilm Canada’s Perspective Canada showcase at the Cannes International Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out about the selection?
I was thrilled. It was unbelievable! I thought I had been turned down. As a filmmaker, I apply to lots of things and get used to rejection. When I got the email, I first thought it may have been a mistake – so when it turned out to be real, it was a very pleasant surprise.
What was your first introduction to the Cannes festival like? What did you learn or accomplish in your experience?
I would highly encourage other filmmakers to enter, especially since there is no cost, which is unlike most other festivals. The organizers did a wonderful job of ingratiating us to Cannes. The showcase gave us a place to be among peers and mentors, which turned the horror of intimidation down a notch. We were able to ask questions and engage with other emerging filmmakers. It was one of the most excellent places to get to know potential future collaborators, not only from Canada but also international ones as well. I also loved experiencing the whole spectacle of being on the red carpet. It was really incredible.
What was the inspiration for QUEEN OF THE CROWS?
The crows in Charlottetown fly over Victoria Park in the morning and at night, filling the trees with beauty and blackness. It is really an epic scene. Additionally, I wanted to focus on mental illness, which is pervasive but not discussed enough in films and stories. I wanted to tie that in as well and start a conversation through storytelling. Initially I had written a script for a longer, bigger budget film. When I didn’t receive funding, I reined the project in with the intention of making it smaller and thus easier to successfully produce.
When and where can we expect to catch your current and upcoming projects?
QUEEN OF THE CROWS has been selected as a finalist for the CBC Short Film Face Off, which premieres on September 13th. We are hoping to submit KUPERMAN to the 2015 Atlantic Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival as well. As previously mentioned, we will begin shooting it this fall right after the 34th annual Atlantic Film Festival.
QUEEN OF THE CROWS screened at the 33rd Atlantic Film Festival’s CBC Atlantic Shorts Gala and the 13th annual ViewFinders: Atlantic Film Festival for Youth. What does that experience and the Atlantic Film Festival mean to you?
It was the highest honour to be selected for the Atlantic Shorts gala along with so many other great regional filmmakers. There is so much interest in the festival that being there furthers our careers by giving us recognition and helping us to accelerate to other film festivals as well. The beauty of the Atlantic Film Festival is that it’s within reach, but we get so much out of being there. I am very grateful for it.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Harmony. We look forward to enjoying your upcoming work!