Interview with Meghan Ross, Director and Producer of Comedy “A Father’s Newfound Feminism..”

If You Ever Hurt My Daughter, I Swear to God I’ll Let Her Navigate Her Own Emotional Growth is a short film adapted from the hilarious and heartwarming humor essay written by Toronto-based comedian Sophie Kohn (CBC Comedy), which was featured in The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts column. It features a monologue from a man who appears first as a stereotypical, overprotective patriarchal figure, but through clever turn of phrase, is quickly revealed to be a progressive, boundary-respecting father of a teenage daughter named Raina. Shot in Montclair, New Jersey, the short film features voiceover narration from actor Jon Hamm, alongside performances from lead actors David Afflick (Father), Alani Waters (Raina), and James Denzer (Jaxsen). New Jersey-based production company Brave Makers produced the short, led by a team including company founder and executive producer Justin Ross (Girls Leadership #MyVoiceMyPower), and director, producer, and Austin-based comedian Meghan Ross (An Uncomfortable Woman), who also moonlights as Justin’s sister.

Here is an interview Q&A with Director and Producer Meghan Ross!

Joanna: When did you first read “If You Ever Hurt My Daughter, I Swear to God I’ll Let Her Navigate Her Own Emotional Growth”, and what inspired you (besides the fact that it’s obviously funny) to adapt it into a short film? 

Meghan Ross: My brother Justin read it last summer (about a year after it was published) when an organization he produced videos for, Girls Leadership, shared it on Facebook. While he was reading it, he kept visualizing every line in the monologue because of how vivid and hilarious Sophie Kohn’s writing is. He texted it to me saying how he thinks the piece would be perfect as a video adaptation. Once I read it (as someone who’s constantly pushing my own feminist agenda into my comedy all the time), I told him that I had to direct it — I loved it so much.

When did you get news that New Yorker’s daily shouts column was going to show it? How did that come together? 

MR: After we reached out to Sophie Kohn (the writer of the piece) to get her approval to adapt it, we needed to get the licensing rights from The New Yorker, who were kind enough to grant it to us. The Shouts & Murmurs editor, Emma Allen, told us to share it with them once we finished post-production (which was a little less than a year from when we first reached out to ask to adapt it to video) and luckily they loved it and agreed to premiere it!

Meghan Ross, Jon Hamm, and Justin Ross

How did it originally all come together? 

MR: Once we got all the approvals we needed, Justin and I worked together to build out the world as we interpreted it through Sophie’s writing. Justin is based in NJ, where he runs his production company, Brave Makers, and I’m currently based in Austin, so it was a lot of long-distance production calls, first getting Sophie’s blessing on how we envisioned the storyboard and sound design elements, then connecting with our amazing production designer, Jess Arena, to source wardrobe and set design pieces, followed by talking through the shot list with our talented DP Steve Mastorelli, and even doing our casting through video submissions and video calls.

Pre-production ran from August 2019 up until mid-October 2019, when I came up from Austin for our 2-day shoot in Montclair, NJ. By that time, we had booked a stacked cast and crew (most of us working together for the first time) and we had such a great experience on that set over those 2 very long production days. Everyone was so talented and incredibly kind and respectful (which does not always happen on shoots) — it’s how I aim to run all of my projects. I think when the material you’re working with has a strong, progressive message, you often end up with a cast and crew that reflects that.

We continued the long-distance working relationship when I brought the footage down to Austin for post-production through the winter, working alongside my co-workers/friends at local production company Revelator, where I was employed pre-pandemic. We did virtual edit sessions with Justin calling in, along with him visiting for an in-person edit session. The final piece was Jon Hamm’s brilliant voiceover, which Justin and I flew out to LA to direct at Bell Sound Studios back in February 2020. We wrapped up post in the spring and submitted it to The New Yorker in early May. It’s been quite the journey but the most fun project and team I’ve gotten to work alongside.

Were there any funny or surprising behind the scenes moments that you can share? 

MR: One that sticks out is when our own father came to deliver food for craft services (which my mom and sister Nicole, who was an associate producer and casting director, helped prepare — it truly was a family-fueled project). We were filming the princess shots against green screen in a room right next to the kitchen, and luckily we weren’t recording audio, because our talkative, Brooklyn born-and-raised dad was leaning into the father trope of bragging about all of his children, loudly and unapologetically, to the wonderful David Afflick, who played the father.

The scene inside the movie theater was a last-minute decision, as we were supposed to film Raina and Jaxsen (played perfectly by Alani Waters and James Denzer) walking out of a real movie theater (the one with the “MOVIE WHERE DOG IS PROTAGONIST” marquee). It rained a lot that day and the sidewalk of that theater was flooded, but when our producer, Danny Monico (who attended the school we filmed in) was looking for another option, he remembered the school’s auditorium. Our brilliant G&E team were able to make it look exactly like a movie theater, and we added that shot of Raina consoling Jaxsen (while I’m the one shushing him from crying, with my VO for the line that you hear in the movie, “Turns out dogs can’t drive!”).

Meghan and Justin Ross

When did you start going into the direction of comedy and content with a greater purpose? 

MR: While I was figuring out my comedy voice in my early 20s in New York, I was strongly influenced by the lack of racial and gender diversity on show lineups and on improv/sketch teams, which motivated me to start my own show along with my friend, Liisa Murray, called That Time of the Month, featuring an all-women lineup. I moved to Austin right before the 2016 election, and after that, knew I had to use my comedy to address the social injustices that have always existed, but were worsened and brought to the forefront by the new administration.

I spent the last four years applying inclusion riders to my projects while bringing activists and experts on my shows to shine light on these issues and give audiences the resources to take action themselves. To me, my comedy and activism go hand-in-hand: I can make heavy or complicated topics more accessible to an audience of comedy fans, and at the same time, find humor in dark moments in front of an audience of activists and volunteers.

Since you do comedy and production; both of which were industries that had to just stop, how have you gotten by during the Covid-19 outbreak? 

MR: That Time of the Month had celebrated its 5-year anniversary with our last stage show, literally the exact day before Fallout Theater had to close down in mid-March, so I turned our Earth Day Show and Mother’s Day Show (featuring an all-mom lineup) into livestreams through the theater’s Twitch channel, before I put the show on hiatus. I’ve performed on a couple comedy livestream shows, and also have been hosting and producing events for Swing Left Austin that combine comedy, music, and civic engagement.

On the production side, I was laid off alongside my co-workers from the production company I worked for early on in the pandemic, but was grateful to land freelance roles with two companies whose work I really admire: Seed&Spark and VICE’s agency VIRTUE. 

Since all of my comedy shows and video projects are on hold, I’ve been using my side hustle time to work on script writing, humor essays, and host a weekly Instagram Live series called No One Asked For This, interviewing women and non-binary experts, activists, and leaders about social injustices in our world that no one asked for, while completing activities at an average-to-below-average skill level that no one asked for.

Meghan Ross. Photo by Bonica Ayala

What’s ahead for you? 

MR: Justin and I are in talks to adapt another New Yorker Daily Shouts article to video, and we’re hoping to continue working on projects like this together, while adjusting to production limitations in a pandemic. I’m also writing a comedy pilot that I’m excited about (which has been a nice distraction from our current reality), continuing to host weekly IG Live conversations with people who inspire the hell out of me, and reminding people to vote like our lives depend on it (because they pretty much do) through various livestream volunteer events.

If you were able to do any project right now, what would it be? 

MR: I started and finished the entire Schitt’s Creek series in quarantine, and it’s been a long time (if ever) that I felt so invested in and delighted by characters’ journeys while being filled with such unbridled joy throughout every single episode (I’m also a huge fan of Christopher Guest movies, so I bow down at the thrones of Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy). If I could create anything that evoked the same feelings I had while watching that show, it would definitely make up for the many years in my early 20s I spent performing improv in NYC bar basements for free to audiences that were mostly the other people in the lineup.

Joanna: Thanks to Meghan for the interview! You can watch it on the NewYorker.com at https://www.newyorker.com/video/watch/shorts-murmurs-a-fathers-newfound-feminism

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