Mikayla harrison, THANKS FOR THE LETTER (2018)
Weeda: You probably already know — we really, really love your film. We keep talking about the feelings we have whenever we watch it. There’s a hopefulness to it — but that’s not even the right word — because there’s also a melancholic feeling. So, it’s like a mix of those two words for me, personally, and I remember when we saw it on the big screen for the first time at Insomniac... it was such a great way for the festival to come to a close.
Mikayla: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. And ‘melancholy’ or ‘hopeful’ are definitely the emotions I was trying to evoke. ‘Hopeful’ is the direction that [the film] hopefully ended up trumping. I had an alternate ending for the film where after the shot when the person opens the mailbox and gets the letter — it cut to them opening the letter and reading it a little bit, taking out their phone and sending the title of the film: Thanks for the Letter. And that was gonna be the end of it. [Mikayla laughs]. And I thought it was funny! But after I showed people the rough cut they were like: “I’m depressed.” So, I’m still disappointed — but, kill your darlings, I guess it had to go.
Weeda: Well, I mean, I’m glad it turned out the way it is now. I love it.
Adam: Yeah, I can definitely see how the original ending could come off as cynical. But instead, the ending you have now feels more like “I’m missing my friends, I’m longing for something, but I also feel like I can reach out to them.”
Mikayla: I think it’s all about a balance. I mean, just last year I moved to Montreal strangely enough with most of the people from my high school. Like, most of my close friends from high school also moved there.
Adam: Montreal is like an ESA [Etobicoke School of the Arts] part two.
Mikayla: Exactly! We call it that. It’s strange though because in middle school you’re supposed to transition to high school with the people you know, but I left everyone in Oakville and moved to Toronto, went to ESA alone. So that was kind of my fresh start. And I guess I like having that different perspective on things because when you’re so young — leaving grade eight and going into grade nine — maybe you don’t value the elements of communication that you would when leaving to university, longing for those people that you leave behind. In person communication is so different than texting, and those are pretty much the two main forms of communication. I hate texting so much.
Weeda: Yeah, sometimes when I want to have a conversation with someone but my thoughts are too much...I’m just like, “I’ll just call them.”
Mikayla: When you call someone and they don’t answer...and then they text you like ten seconds later asking, “What’s up?” It’s like...Answer the phone!!! If you answer the phone I’ll tell you what’s up!!! I’m like that annoying person — whenever I get a text, I just call the person instead of texting back.
Adam: I’m definitely the other person. I’m like, don’t call me outta the blue, and I just text back instead of picking up.
Mikayla: [Gasps]. Why!
Adam: Why? [Adam laughs]. Cause...I dunno.
Mikayla: I’m not challenging you, I just wanna hear the other side.
Adam: [Dramatically] I feel challenged right now. [He laughs]. I like knowing what’s up. If someone texts me and says “Hey, can I call you?” At least it gives me a moment to prepare for the call. Don’t get me wrong though, I like talking on the phone. But a surprise phone call? I’m always bad with that.
Weeda: The funny thing is, whenever I surprise phone call someone they’re like: [Exaggerated worried voice] “What’s wrong?!”
Adam: Yeah! I always think it’s an emergency.
Mikayla: Yeah, and isn’t that weird? With letters though, there’s always such personality that comes across with someone’s handwritten words, rather than standardized text font.
Adam: It’s easy to just skim over a text and not really dive into each word, even if it’s something really touching. But when you actually have words in a physical form, it forces you to confront the meaning of each individual word.
Mikayla: Yeah and the effort that someone put into the letter, into trying to convey a message to you. We’ve made it so mundane now. There’s nothing special about talking to the people who are closest to you because it’s not a privilege, it’s just at your fingertips and you don’t need to think about it. If I want to tell someone something who’s across the world, it takes me three seconds, and it takes them three seconds to respond. There’s no need to think about it.
Adam: Your film has this longing for an analog form of letter writing, but you also used images that are captured digitally, and you’ve put them on a digital screen. I’m curious about your decision to do that.
Mikayla: Actually, all the footage is shot on film, and is originally meant to be projected but it’s digitized instead. So, it’s kind of similar to letter writing...it can be cut and physically altered, whereas text writing can’t be. I’m sad I couldn’t project it. But on the digital screen it was better with the individual taped words — those words are actually cut-outs of letter submissions. I got maybe a couple hundred letters submitted. I was like, “Please, send me your letters!!!” And I got so many. But yeah, I spent time cutting them out.
Adam: So in the process of the film, you put an open call for the letters — for anyone to send you letters?
Mikayla: Yeah... I’ve never spent so much time reading about the most personal thoughts written by strangers. It was eye-opening to me—what people were willing to send. People I hadn’t spoken to in six years sent me letters written to their family who’d passed away, to friends they weren’t friends with anymore, to exes, to abusers. It was intense. And people around my residence building slipped letters under my door—anonymously. They would black out the names in the letters. It was intense for sure. One of the most important things to me was making sure that the people that sent letters felt safe in the confidentiality. I had a lot of friends asking me to see the letters and I said no.
Weeda: Have you ever thought of showing the film to the people that wrote the letters?
Mikayla: I think the film is up on Youtube! I think! I don’t know most of the people who sent the letters, but I hope they’ve seen the film. I was just the collector, I was never the maker of any of the content, you know? I hope that the film sparked a want to write more. I like how...you can read a letter however many times you want and it will never change in its physicality.
Adam: Do you think the film sparked anything within you?
Mikayla: Definitely. In high school I had relationships with people where we would have conversations through letters that we vowed never to have in person, like they’d only happen through the letters. So I have a little box at home full of really intense writing between me and these other people, and I used to see them in person every day, and what was written in those letters would never be spoken about. I think that’s what sparked wanting to make this film. I think a lot of people make the excuse that they’re too busy to write, you know? We’re too busy to connect. I mean, I do it! I’m guilty of it, too. But it’s like, just sit down and take time, write a letter—and then you are connecting, even if it’s two weeks apart at a time.
Weeda: It seems like you have a very intimate relationship with writing letters.
Mikayla: In a weird way, yes.
Weeda: I’m curious about artistic inspirations. Who inspires you, your style?
Mikayla: I’m such a shit artist. I’m so disconnected from everything in the art world. Watching other people’s art, yes, it moves me. But actually, every day life is what inspires me and makes me want to dive into deeper thought patterns. But stylistically—the people around me, student filmmakers. Big production movies are just too daunting for me. I can’t. Coming from ESA, honestly the people around me were the biggest inspiration.
Weeda: Okay! So! Important question. What’s your favourite Denny’s item?
Mikayla: I have only ever ordered their black coffee...But Joey Phillipson (dir. of The Conch, which played at Insomniac this year!!!) and I went to Denny’s last week! We did it! We’ve been trying for two years to go to Denny’s. After Nuit Blanche, we stayed up all night, but I think we fell asleep in a park. I don’t think we ever made it. And the following morning I was like, I can’t eat food but I’m gonna go to Denny’s and get a coffee.
Weeda: So what did you get this time?
Mikayla: I can tell you what Joey got. Oh god. He got a chicken melt with...peppers on it? And french fries. And we stole all their mugs to make the stay worth it. I got... a “Moon over my Hammy”—the title’s the only reason I ordered it, cause I don’t actually eat meat. Um, it was...fine.
Adam: Yeah. That’s Denny’s. Denny’s is way better in theory.
Weeda: Do you have a shout out? A call out?
Mikayla: Hey Denny’s! I just wanna let you know, Moon over my Hammy... it was mediocre. I’d give it a 5/10. Joey would give his stomach ache a 10/10. But your coffee—your house blend—really fine, really fine. And your mugs are sturdy!
Weeda: Well, I just wanna wrap this up by saying: throughout this entire interview the biggest thought in my head was “I have to write a letter, I have to write a letter, I have to write a letter.”
Mikayla: Oh! I’m glad! Amazon has some very nice postcards... or treat yourself to a Muji pen.
Weeda: Maybe you can send Insomniac a letter?
Mikayla: I’ll send Insomniac a letter!!!! First Insomniac fan letter!
Mikayla can be found just chillin most of the time
and if she's not doing that she's either in an escape room or watching a film. So in day to day life she's pretty useless but happy to be here! ((and usually thats enough ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ))
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