With the Oscars just a few days away, an all-female and gender-nonconforming film is simultaneously in the works at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, a monumental first in the school’s 90-year history.
“Spit It Out, Margot!,” a senior thesis film for the school’s undergraduate program, is a coming-of-age musical that tells the story of Margot, a teenage girl with a stutter, who ends up falling in love with her gender non-conforming speech therapist. The project, featuring an all-female and gender-nonconforming crew, is one of four films to be funded as part of the school’s CTPR 480 class. The class requires soon-to-be graduating students to pitch their short film ideas to a panel of faculty, responsible for granting the eventual go-ahead. Of the four funded films, “Margot!” is the only one led by a female director.
Screenwriter Miriam Sachs, a senior majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production, is the mastermind behind the film’s idea. She says that most of the scripts she enjoys writing center around a coming-of-age narrative, and that “Spit It Out, Margot!” is no different.
“The script is about Margot learning to accept the stutter, live with the stutter, and kind of find her own way of existing in the world with the stutter,” Sachs said. “I like writing stories about women who are trying to step into their own power. Because obviously, that’s my own journey.”
Ella Harris, the director of this project, is a senior majoring in film production. When she first heard Miriam pitching her story in class, she was instantly drawn to it.
“She [Miriam] started writing for 450 class and pitched it, and it was just this incredible film that instantly every time I heard her talk about it, I was like, ‘This is something I want to be a part of’,” Harris said. “Being the first representation of an all-women, gender non-conforming crew at USC, there’s this need to be successful with that.”
The Academy Awards, to be held on Sunday, recently received criticism for the lack of female representation across various nomination categories, including Best Achievement in Directing. This year was the second in a row where no female directors were nominated in that particular category. While news of the nominations may seem discouraging, the crew of “Margot!” is unphased.
“To be perfectly honest, we haven’t had a ton of production issues; especially none really related to our gender, which is what we expected,” Harris said. “We had really great bonding experiences at the beginning that broke the ice between everybody and everybody felt comfortable asking questions. It was really nice to already start to see that space changing.”
A study released last month by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows that in 2019, there was a significant increase in female directors working on some of the biggest films in Hollywood, up 6.1 percent from the previous year.
Madison Holbrook, a senior majoring in film production, and producer for the project, is very aware of the precedent a project like this can set.
“People always ask us, ‘Do you feel the pressure of everyone watching you?’ And we always just kind of talked about how, in a way, women aren’t allowed to fail, but men are and there can be terrible films made by men, and it’s fine,” Holbrook said. “But if the film was made by a woman, it’s bad. Like, ‘Oh, women can’t make film.’ And, that’s a tangent that I just want to mention, because it ties into this idea that our project is just a way to inspire others to do the same thing.”
Ariana Miyake is also a senior majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production and works as the director of photography for the project. While people in the film industry say it’s time for women to take the forefront, Miyake says it’s not happening quickly enough.
“It has to start at the bottom,” she said. “Because if someone like me went to USC, but didn’t feel like I can see myself being a successful cinematographer, because I never saw any successful female of color cinematographers growing up, then I might have been dissuaded. I’m just hoping that I can be a role model for those younger than me.”
The film is also quite distinctive for its queer representation. Last week, in an interview for The Daily Trojan, Harris mentioned that the film was one of the only pitched in her 480 class that tells a queer story. A study done by the Inclusion Initiative in September of last year indicated that LGBT and queer representation in the top films has not seen significant improvement, with only 1.3 percent of all characters from those communities. Although there has been a slight increase when compared to the previous year, the crew of “Margot!” intends to make the strides toward seeing more inclusivity both in front of and behind the camera.
Development on the film is nearly finished, while principal photography is to take place in February. “Spit It Out, Margot!” premieres May 14 at the Norris Cinema Theatre, one day before commencement.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Madison Holbrook and Margot.