In the first installment of the Movie Talk blog we take a look at an award-winning filmmaker named Cam McHarg.
Cameron McHarg grew up in the rainy, blue-collar suburbs of the Pacific Northwest. After a brief stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, he went on to study at the now bygone Lee Strasberg Actors Workshop and was active on stage in theatre in Seattle before moving to Los Angeles to work and observe at The Actor's Studio and pursue his career.
His first short film, Kicking Sand in Your Face went on to success on the international festival circuit, and was later sold to cable networks in the US, Canada, Russia, and Ukraine. Cam was recently featured in Volume 2 of, The Top 100 Independent Filmmakers in the World, now available on Amazon.
I had the pleasure in interviewing Cam and ask him some questions on his tremendous film-making career. Take an interesting look into Cam's life and read some of his answers to my questions. Below is one of his short film's called 'The End' which is a favorite of mine.
"What made you go into filmmaking? Is this something you wanted to do at an early age?"
Movies were always a big deal to me, and they always been a big part of my memories and my life. I remember when I was really little, there were these small pamphlets that Showtime sent out as TV guides with color photos and all of these grown up movies inside that fascinated me. Stuff like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Carrie", and "Rocky". I remember pointing at the write up for "Enter the Dragon", and my dad told me how impressive Bruce Lee was, but that it was too violent for me to see. Of course, that just made me even more fascinated. Rocky was the first movie I remember watching, and it made my cry. I watched it countless times, and that heroism sunk deeply into my consciousness. It became part of me. A lot of movies that I would see later did the same thing. They were very powerful to me. My dad would introduce me to a lot of things, like "Seven Samurai", "The Bridge over the River Kwai", and even Woody Allen comedies. He's take me to the drive-in to see kung fu movies, raunchy comedies... everything. After my folks divorced, I have memories of my mom taking my sister and I for coffee and pie after movies to talk about them. I feel like that's how it should be. I really value that theatrical experience. I hope that never goes away. Anyway, after seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" at this huge 70mm theater with the curtains opening at the beginning and everything... that was the big one for me as a kid. I wasn't even in a movie theater. I was gone. I was transported into magic, and I've been in love with movies and their power and magic ever since. My folks were pretty protective of me seeing rated R stuff, so I remember seeing "The Deer Hunter" either on cable or VHS late at night while staying over at a friend's. My mind was blown. I couldn't believe my eyes. I've never seen acting like that. I'd never seen anything so emotionally powerful and real. This was the beginning of my love and respect for actors. I thought they were the most impressive and intelligent people on Earth. "Dog Day Afternoon" was another one that did that for me. I ended up doing theater in school plays as a kid, and then lost my way when I got into high school. That wasn't the cool thing to do anymore. I'd make little funny movies on VHS with friends and my love of movies never faded, but I was a little lost for a while. I was a lost, clueless, and angry teenager in a working class environment without a lot of good options for me.
You did a brief stint in the Marine Corps. Was it difficult making the transition from the Marine Corps into the film industry?
Well, I went into that because I was lost and angry and wanted to go through an ordeal and do something challenging and difficult. I got what I wanted to that extent, but it's not what anyone really thinks it is. I wanted to prove myself by seeing if I could make it into a certain unit, and when I did, I felt like my personal and private little quest was over and I wanted out. Once out, I was still lost but now had an incredible all or nothing discipline that I've reigned in and balanced since then, but it is helpful to get things done. It's just not a great way to have good relationships and to live a happy life. I threw this crazy intensity into a competitive sport for a few years, and it appeared that I was becoming a looming up and comer in it, but I was just totally miserable inside. I was a mess. I had a real moment of desperation and truth where I had to take an honest look at who I was and what I was all about no matter what, and ended up diving into studying acting at a Lee Strasberg Workshop in Seattle, which is no longer there. It was run by a man named Douglas Dirkson, who taught for Strasberg in LA for thirteen years in the 70's and 80's. He saw something in me and took me under his wing. He changed and probably saved my life. I was like a monk. I was in there for 25 hours a week, and that's not counting the work I did on my own. I became probably too internalized and introspective for years as a result, and that made things ironically more difficult for me when I came to LA and started as an actor, but I needed that for a while to a large degree. It was a hard transition and a transformation as well. I finally began to know who I was.
Your first short film ‘Kicking Sand in Your Face’ went on to be an international success. Even though it was a short film can you let people know the difficulties of making shorts films?
Jesus... yes. I didn't have parents or anyone to throw a bunch of money behind me, so everything I did was based on creativity and getting great people on board with whatever my vision was. That was my first short film that I did while I was at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. A lot of things went wrong. We actually didn't have the camera for half of the first night. We missed a lot of shots and locations and had to replace them with some clunky stuff that's still hard for me to look at to this day. It's part of the game, though. Things will always go wrong. It's to be expected. As a director, you have to be nimble and be a huge creative problem solver on your feet. I think it's fair to say that most films are not what they fully intended to be. You just have to roll with it. I learned more from doing that thing than I did from anything at school. I think the one thing that they don't teach and that people don't realize until you get there is the importance of leadership as a director. You sort of get thrown into the deep end of the pool and sink or swim. The other thing I learned about short films is that the effort and energy required to make one is not far from that required to make a feature, in my opinion. It's way more work than some people might expect, I think. I have huge respect for anyone that just gets a movie made. Even if it's bad, it really is an accomplishment.
How was it being featured in top 100 indie filmmakers in the world?
Well, that's obviously really cool and flattering, and I feel like I kind of need to use it to pimp myself a little for now, but at the same time it's honestly a little embarrassing. I don't feel like I've earned that yet. I feel like I should have at least made a feature first before getting into that convention, but I'd be lying if I said I that didn't make me ridiculously happy.
Do you have any new projects coming up in the future?
I have a couple right now, yes. I've got two features written and in the works. One is called Sitiado. It's basically a western, but set in 1971 Mexico. It's a road movie/thriller about some Vietnam vets who are trying to start a new life and get caught up in a mistaken identity hunt down by the cartel. That's been on and off for a few years, but it's in the works again now. I'm set to both direct and act in a small part in that one. The other one is a smaller more personal movie called, "Monroe Log". It's semi-autobiographical and it's set in the working class suburbs and mountains of the Pacific Northwest in the 90's. It's sort of a "Deliverance" meets "Stand by Me" flick if you want to describe it in a Hollywood cliche. I'd just be directing that one. That one is really my passion project. It means a lot to me.
What message do you have for your younger self. What advice would you give him?
Man, that's a big one. I was really idealistic and stubborn to a fault... probably naive, too. I put all of my stock in being good. That works sometimes, but not when you completely shun all the other aspects and realities of the business. I was pretty self-destructive and out of balance in a lot of ways, too. To be honest, I think I needed go through what I went through and suffer what I needed to suffer, because I'm not sure that there was anything that anybody (even my future self) could have told me when I was younger that would have changed anything. I think the main messages would be to seek more balance and take more responsibility to make more things happen rather than somehow wait to be seen and awarded something without just doing it myself. I think my laser focus and single pointed drive ironically limited me for many years. I had side blinders on, which is helpful, but only to a certain extent. I guess it goes back to balance. Keep things balanced and in perspective.
You can contact Cam social media.
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/cammcharg/
twitter - https://twitter.com/cammcharg
website - www.cam-mcharg.com