International film festivals give documentaries, shorts, and feature-length films a worldwide stage, and director and writer, Katie Micay is no stranger to them. Her latest short film, The Firefly Girls has gained more traction and exposure thanks to the Sonoma International Film Festival, which ran from March 30 to April 3. Micay’s work has spanned over the course of her entire life, hitting milestones as early as age 14.
We spoke with Micay to learn more about her latest work, how writing has helped her cope with loss of a loved one, and the reason she credits Friends for her career.
The Firefly Girls centers around a grief-stricken man named Will (Mario Schugel), who is coping with the loss of his daughter. As he develops a dependence on alcohol in the shelter of his home, a young neighbor named Gracie (Savannah Paige Rae) makes it her mission to sell Will the last of her Firefly Girl cookies. The story, which runs at 11 minutes 18 seconds, quickly develops into an inspiring piece on coping with loss, and maintaining determination at any age.
Writing a story that shares serious and sweet tones is difficult for many writers, Micay included. The young director says, “We had a lot of rewrites! We really walk the line between moving and melodramatic.” Micay also acknowledged while she wanted the story to be spirited and insightful, she was concerned audiences would find it inauthentic.
“It was frustrating at times,” Micay says. “Some of the earlier drafts had a much longer wrap up that became way too sappy. The ending didn’t really fall into place until we landed on the issue of [Gracie] not understanding. That was really the key.”
The short story’s origination started like any other project for Micay. “I generally start with concepts and go from there,” the seasoned writer states. Micay’s inspiration for this particular story was sparked by her admiration of children’s abilities to do what most character-types can’t.
“I loved the idea of an outsider who is pushed off by society being befriended by an innocent child. I absolutely love a child’s ability to bridge gaps that adults won’t.”
In the past, Micay has also been inspired by moments in her own life. In a comedy she created called My So Called Family, Micay drew inspiration from her great aunt’s passing. And while aspects of her latest film fall in line with her personal story, writing The Firefly Girls evolved into a therapeutic process. The story allowed Micay to cope with the loss of a close relative in ways she didn’t anticipate.
“[It] evolved as we were writing it, into a very personal journey for Kyle [Bown] and me,” she says. “I’m still processing the passing of my Aunt Karin. I often forget she is gone and have to constantly remind myself. Just comprehending the idea is something that I often think about. All of the things she will miss. Death is such an odd concept and one that is really hard for me to wrap my head around.”
As the film’s creative process helped Micay, it also shed new light on a rising young star. Micay and her writing partner, Kyle Bown, found inspiration in young actress, Savannah Paige Rae. Micay and Bown watched episodes of NBC’s Parenthood during the writing process, which ultimately assisted them in developing the character of Gracie.
“Originally Gracie was six years old, but as the story developed into something deeper, we needed someone who was older to be able to grasp the character and her story.” Micay says Rae was an instant hit among the two writers as Gracie’s character morphed into a role fit for Rae. Not only did the starlet instantly take to the character, she actually helped push Micay and Bown into creating a more complex story.
“From watching her character, Sydney, on Parenthood, it was very clear that Savannah has a great range and would be able to handle the subject matter. [She] was the first child I’ve worked with who really delved into the motivation behind the character actions,” says the multi-talented director. “She had intelligent questions from day one. We actually kept changing the script even after she signed on because we knew that we could throw anything at her and she would take the challenge. She pushed us to really take the opportunity to make this the best that it could be.”
Before booking Rae for the role, Micay recalls a moment when writing with Bown where she pegged the growing actress for their leading role.
“I don’t remember exactly when it was but one day Kyle and I just said ‘Why don’t we try to get her?’ It seemed like a crazy, impossible idea at the time, but look who stars in my movie!”
It’s no surprise that Micay’s talent for creating complex characters as these started at an early age. At just 14 years old, Micay created her first short film titled, For Love, at New York Film Academy’s summer program. Her ability to write strong female characters at across all ages is an organic aspect of her writing process.
“I think that honestly just comes naturally! I don’t write a lot of passive women characters,” she states. Micay’s strong vision and talents have lead her to create incredibly strong-willed female characters. “I gravitate towards writing for women, many of whom I have something in common with. While I am different than Gracie in a lot of ways, she and I are both very determined!”
Not only has Micay’s determination helped shape her career, she also credits a fan-favorite sitcom for it as well.
“Friends was what convinced me to get into the industry. I still have the poster in my living room to remind me every day,” Micay reminisces. However, she also gives credit to her directorial heroes for their parts in making her dreams a reality.
“Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron are big [influences]. My taste is all across the board. I love everything from romantic comedies to murder mysteries.”
Despite her work primarily finding itself in short film formats, audiences can expect to see her work morph into feature films and television in the future.
“I am actually working on adapting The Firefly Girls into a feature format at the moment,” says the Women’s International Film Festival Award of Merit recipient. “It is my ultimate dream to work in television so I am finishing up writing my first pilot.”
For any young women interested in breaking into the film industry, listen up: Micay gives her best advice, and a few warnings, to you.
“If you love it, decide to really go for it. This industry is an all-in situation. It’s not a 9-5, half-time position, so you’re either really working for it or you’re not. So many people are scared to even try but I figure I’d rather try than always wonder, ‘What if?’. If you really want it, go for it!”
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