I have a desire to address unequal representation not just in media, but also in real life. If you think about it, when we have women as fifty percent of the population, but nowhere near that representation in government, we actually have half the population governed by people who have no first hand knowledge of their constituents’ lives. It is inevitable that this imbalance would lead to inequality, but also inefficient systems of governance. There have already been some experiments testing the effect of having women equally represented on boards of businesses, or even in the government in some countries. It appears that it is beneficial not only for women, it is mutually beneficial for all.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nitzan Mager. Nitzan is an award-winning filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. Recent work includes a short doc on Gloria Steinem featuring an interview with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a screenplay in development that was a finalist for the 2020 Sundance, Middlebury, and Outfest screenwriting labs. She is currently writing/directing a new web series called Quarantine, I Love You — a collection of short, interconnected scenes that take place on Zoom, starring Denis O’Hare, Ali Wentworth, Sarah Steele, and others.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/cb9a17d95fbe58805e783cc3182ec6b9
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
I had three major moves in my childhood — I was born in Israel, lived there until age 6, then moved to Los Angeles, lived there until age 12, and then moved to North Carolina where I lived until 18. So my childhood was sort of split into thirds, with each time period being incredibly different in terms of the world I was immersed in. I was fascinated by these differences. In a way, I was a perpetual outsider, so it brought out this chameleon tendency in me: a desire to understand other cultures, other people. And I think that’s where my love of storytelling was born. At it’s best, storytelling, filmmaking — they are tools to bridge understanding. You can see into a world you know nothing about, and find understanding, compassion, commonality with it. It’a a great empathy tool — and I think empathy is a muscle I was invested in developing growing up. That, and my overactive imagination.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
One of the craziest things I’ve done as a filmmaker was to chronicle my real-life pregnancy on film. I wrote a fiction screenplay with a lead character who was pregnant (and I played that role). We shot several days each month, over the course of my pregnancy. I had a desire to show a real pregnancy on film, since the Hollywood version is usually pretty far off the mark.
There were so many crazy moments on that set. And there was also a lot of… synchronicity, I would call it. Strange coincidences. One in particular was this:
We’re getting ready to start production. In the script there’s a story-line that deals with my character’s work as a scientist, she’s doing this very specific genetic research. I knew a bit about it, but decided to look up the scientist who pioneered the field — and it turns out she’s a woman. So, I was like, cool! How awesome, my character is a woman doing this research, the scientist is a woman in real life.
I get in touch with her, we set up a phone meeting. I introduce myself, then launch into the story of my fictional script: It’s about a young scientist who is widowed, she’s doing this genetic research, and has also made the decision to become pregnant with her deceased husband’s child (via IVF).
I finish telling her the story. Silence on the line. I say, “Hello?”. She responds, “Who did you speak with about me?” I explain that I don’t understand what she means. Finally she blurts out: she was young and widowed while working on this research, she made a plan to have her deceased husband’s child, via IFV. I had no idea. I was speechless. Major elements of the fictional story I created were in fact her real life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I had two feature screenplays I was working on before the pandemic started. One was a finalist for the 2020 Sundance Lab and was slated to have a reading in NYC in April. But of course everything had changed by then.
So I decided to pivot to filmmaking that I could do in the midst of a pandemic. And what evolved out of that is the project I’m working on now, Quarantine, I Love You. It is an anthology series, in the narrative style of it’s namesakes (Paris, I Love You and New York, I Love You) — meaning, it is a series of short, interconnected stories. Except these all take place on… Zoom. The idea is to speak to the moment, in the medium of our times.
So I’m writing, casting, filming, and editing an episode every week — and the story-lines are all very personal and intimate, but they take place against the backdrop of these major events that are taking place. The episodes reference the issues that are coming up on a national scale, in a relatable way.
My hope is that by approaching big, polarizing issues in this way, that the series will help to spark conversation and understanding. Or at the very least use laughter as medicine.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Working on Quarantine, I Love You (QILY) has been an incredible way to work with so many insanely talented actors whom I’ve admired for years: Denis O’Hare, Ali Wentworth, Jay O. Sanders, Jayne Houdyshell, Laura Gomez, Michael Chernus, Sarah Steele, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Geneva Carr… I could go on!
I sent these actors my scripts and they really responded to the project, excited about working in this new format that allows them to stay creative, do their work — even in quarantine.
What I love about this process is the intimacy of it. There’s no big set, not a bunch of crew running around. I can just focus on connecting with the actors. And they’re all in their homes! So there’s this immediate feeling of getting a sense of folks on a more personal level. We see where each of us lives, our families are around us, our pets. There’s been this amazing feeling that we’re all in it together — walls come down quickly, we get to an intimate rapport.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I’m really inspired by the women filmmakers who came before me. From the very first, Alice Guy-Blaché, to the women who came after her. It is so challenging to get a film made as a woman even today, that I am truly in awe of women who were so passionate about this craft, about telling their own stories, that they overcame unimaginable hurdles to get their films made.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
This is a great way to continue from the previous question. Films are a powerful form of storytelling. They are incredibly immersive, sensory-loaded vehicles of story. They not only reflect the world back to us, they actually contribute to creating in our real world, and they shape the way we understand the world in which we live.
So, you can imagine that if only one segment of the population is telling the story — not only do we have important stories going untold, there is an actual erasure of these untold experiences in society itself. We don’t get a vehicle for processing them in the public arena. For sharing them with others. So it is almost as if they don’t exist, because they are unacknowledged.
I remember when I first realized that all of the films I grew up watching were written and directed by men — and the moment I suddenly understood that implication. They may even be telling stories of women, stories that seem like they are similar to my lived experiences. But they are not explored from the perspective of women. So then women, their stories, become a vehicle for the man to tell his story. Of his mother, of his lover, of his daughter. But it is still his story.
I think, as I said before, that storytelling can be a powerful tool for creating empathy. So I feel like we have a lot of reserves of empathy for men as a society, both women and men. For their coming-of-age story, their war stories, their love stories. We’ve been steeped in them.
But imagine if this was also true in the reverse. Imagine men having a deep understanding of the lived experiences of women — how that could impact our world, and how it could lead to growth for our society, men included.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I suppose I’m on a continuous train of thought now, so I’ll keep going with it! I have a desire to address unequal representation not just in media, but also in real life.
If you think about it, when we have women as fifty percent of the population, but nowhere near that representation in government, we actually have half the population governed by people who have no first hand knowledge of their constituents’ lives.
It is inevitable that this imbalance would lead to inequality, but also inefficient systems of governance.
There have already been some experiments testing the effect of having women equally represented on boards of businesses, or even in the government in some countries. It appears that it is beneficial not only for women, it is mutually beneficial for all.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You don’t need to ask permission. I made my first film when I was 19, I hadn’t studied filmmaking at all at that point. And I had a pretty big vision for my film. If I would have asked someone, “Should I do this?” The answer would probably have been “No!”.
- What you don’t know can help you. Along the same line, when you’re doing something new, crazy, adventurous, one of the benefits is that you can’t anticipate all the issues that will come up. When I made my first feature, a friend with more filmmaking experience said — you’re lucky because you don’t know what you’re getting into. And that’s true, sometimes taking big risks, making bold choices is benefitted by a naiveté to all the possible complications. But that’s the way to learn and grow.
- Network horizontally. Network with you peers, not only with people much farther above you career-wise. This type of networking is more naturally genuine because it’s more of a balanced give and take. You can support your peers in their work, and they can support you. And who knows how you’ll be able to help one another as you do progress up in your careers.
- Journal. I don’t always do my daily journaling, but when I do it consistently, it makes a big difference. Whether we are in the arts or in some other field, we are all creative beings. We are all intuitive beings. But it is hard to receive all the information that our subconscious is sending us — let alone process it into something useful — without taking a moment to write down what’s happening. Writing slows us down, forces us to dialogue clearly with ourselves — and not that frantic, repetitive internal monologue way — but in a focused, insightful way.
- It’s supposed to be fun. Yes, we all have to work really hard to achieve big dreams. And there are plenty of disappointments and challenges along the way. I think that for a while I equated success and hard work with pain and frustration. But if you’re not having fun, then why do it? Fun is not negligible and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not doing your job (something that maybe gets drilled into us at school). Fun means: being creative, staying curious, figuring things out, and enjoying the process.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Joey Soloway. I am fascinated by their work. When I first saw Transparent, I felt like I was seen by a television show for the first time. I am not trans or binary. But I am a woman (and a Jewish woman) who is actively thinking about what gender means, what love means, what my culture means to me.
I feel like I could speak with Soloway for hours about anything and everything — not even necessarily the industry we’re both a part of. Just about art, identity, the future.
The story of humanity is always the story of change. And it seems to me that Soloway is actively thinking about what change can look like, which informs her storytelling — rather than recycling stories we all have heard before.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…” -Viktor Frankl
I read Mr. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning” when I was around 12 years old and it profoundly impacted my way of looking at life. The realization that we always have a choice brings with it great responsibility, but also great opportunity. The flip side of this is that we can’t control everything. Like success. We can’t will it into being. We just can do our work, in pursuit of a purpose larger than success.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for these excellent insights!