By Michalla Bolton
Chantal Massuah is an award-winning director, producer, and writer from south Florida who currently resides in Los Angeles. Her work includes short films, music videos, production design, and more. As a young female in the film industry taking viewers by storm, Chantal stands out as a true inspiration to aspiring artists everywhere. PIM had the honor of speaking with Chantal about her work, what inspires her, how she got her start, and future projects.
PIM: What made you decide to get into the film industry?
Chantal Massuah: As a kid I didn’t really like to play sports or anything. I just liked to watch movies. I liked to watch movies I would say an unhealthy amount. I was always at the video store. I got sucked into these worlds and there are so many different worlds. I’ll never forget when I was 12 years old and podcasts had just started releasing videos. There was an elective at my middle school for this video podcast and it was the first time I had ever heard about something where you wrote what you were going to shoot. It was my first experience with pre-production and learning the behind the scenes stuff with the camera. One day my teacher told me I looked like a director and I was like, “Wow! You can do this for a living and people do this in real life?” Ever since then I wanted to be a director. In high school, I was always a photographer. I loved telling stories through images and actually started the photography elective at my high school. Once I got into film school in Rochester, New York, I was able to combine these passions into something I ultimately fell in love with. What I loved about this film school was that we had the rights to all of our work. I was able to submit to film festivals and that’s actually where one of my films was first recognized by mtvU.
PIM: What inspires you?
Chantal Massuah: It’s extremely different for every film. I think I have similar themes that inspire me that are always interwoven. I like to focus strongly on a lot of female issues. Female sexuality or other issues that I feel don’t get talked about that often. Yet I always try and reinvent the way I look at something with every new project.
PIM: Do you find that it’s easier or harder to be a female in the industry?
Chantal Massuah: I honestly think it’s a complete boys club. It’s very hard to be a female film maker especially a female director. The numbers speak for themselves. I believe an article was just published stating that only 2% of directors are female. There are a lot of females who want to be in the industry and I have to work even harder to prove myself, which I have no problem doing, but it is definitely more of a challenge.
PIM: How do you hope that your films effect people?
Chantal Massuah: I always want viewers to take something away from my films, whether they agreed or disagreed. A lot of people I feel misunderstand my films and that’s because I don’t like to do the obvious. I like to make things that force people to think a little bit. With Excess Baggage a lot of people told me that the characters seemed too stereotypical. I told them that was the point. I wanted to show that people like that really do exist. The absurd is real. I like to layer my films with depths of different interpretations and meanings. As long as people question what they saw I’m happy.
PIM: Do you enjoy the process or the end results more?
Chantal Massuah: They are so different. The process encases you in the world of the film. You eat, dream, and constantly think about the film. You’re not thinking about how it will be reviewed. Your focus is on how the story can come to life. When the film comes out you start thinking about your audience and what kinds of questions they are going to have.
PIM: I feel like that combination of passion and confidence is great. You’re so in love with what you do that the first half of the process becomes your baby and then afterword it’s a reward to see it come to life.
Chantal Massuah: It’s also so great to talk with people after they have seen the film. I love hearing their opinions and perspectives. Sometimes they bring something up that I hadn’t even considered after watching the film a million times myself. Viewers can definitely expand my way of thinking about each project.
PIM: Do you have a creative process you follow for each film?
Chantal Massuah: Not really. I am very repetitive and visual. I have to hear or see things a million times and then I’ll start to get images in my head. I love poetry so I do a lot of free flowing brain storming. I like to get the creative juices flowing and then get encased in what I am doing. I may be a hermit for a week because I am simply listening to the same song over and over again before conducting a music video. After that it’s all about collaboration.
PIM: Do you have a favorite project that you have worked on?
Chantal Massuah: I think that Excess Baggage was one of my favorites. That was the baby, almost thirty minutes long, and I had never shot in such a small space before. I really learned a lot of lessons with that film. I take that to heart. This film really made me jump through some hoops and grow up. I had to learn how to deal with unexpected things that would happen. I put my big girl pants on. Of course all the rewards and success of that film have also allowed this work to be my favorite thus far.
PIM: Do you have a project someone else has done that inspires you or a particular director that has made an impact on your life and work?
Chantal Massuah: Dark Comedy director, Tod Solondz. He has always inspired me because he likes to talk about dark themes like I do. He always puts a quirky twist on things and still makes his films relatable to the audience. I feel Tod does a great job with not alienating the audience completely and still keeping it relatable.
PIM: What would you say to other young woman looking to break into the industry?
Chantal Massuah: I would just tell them to follow their passions. You’re going to hit a brick wall at every turn and you have to remember at the end of the day why you struggle. At the end of the day your passions keep you going. Failure is not something you can avoid in this life, but it is something you can overcome. Keep pushing, keep going. Even if you get one “yes” out of two hundred “no’s” someone will want to work with you and that’s all you need. That propels you.
PIM: How do you feel you have made a positive impact on the world and in communities through your films and talents?
Chantal Massuah: I’ll never forget the 70 year-old woman who came up to me after a screening at the Minneapolis film festival, and she told me she wanted to air the film at a homeless shelter that she ran. She felt that it would help them. I was blown away that someone thought my film could positively impact someone who is not in the best situation. You don’t expect those moments and you realize that your work may actually change people’s lives.
PIM: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
Chantal Massuah: I am currently working on my first feature. Living in Los Angeles, I finally have the resources to make that dream come true. I am in the first stages of the writing process so it’s not in the near future, but I am really excited about this project.
You can view all of Chantal’s current work at: http://chantalmassuh.com/
Chantal loves receiving feedback and messages so feel free to seek her out on the contact page. Stay tuned for when PIM releases more information on her upcoming feature.