Interview with director Mika Orr

Mika Orr started her career as a film director at the age of 15. She was the documentary DP for award winning feature films (“Chronicle of a kidnap”, “Stains”) and the director of a 20-minutes documentary BTS of Academy Award winner Natalie Portman’s directorial debut. In May 2017, she earned a master’s degree with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her short film “Professional Cuddler”, was selected for over 35 film festivals and won 9 awards.
In 2008 she established her own production company, Mikooka Productions, and directed hundreds of marketing videos and commercials for clients like Google, Coca Cola, Spin Master, Yad Vashem, The European Union. She made over 40 educational films for Yad Vashem in the course of 6 years. Mika’s latest documentary project #AMiNORMAL is currently in post-production. A co-production of French/German channel “Arte” and “Kan”, the Israeli Public Channel. In addition, these days Mika is working on her first feature-length documentary, which is being shot in Germany, Uganda and Colombia. 
photo credit: Refael Shachari 

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I was 14 and something, and very much interested in photography, when I had a sudden realization that my real passion is actually MOVING images. I wanted to deal with life better, and life, to me, is all about motion. 

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I’m self tough, I never went to film school. Later in life I got accepted to a Master’s program in the School of Visual Arts in NYC; they accepted me without a BA, based on my portfolio. I’m certain that film schools are not necessary for making films, but the one thing you find in film school, beyond the education and experience, is a loyal crew. I was always jealous of those filmmakers that worked 4 decades with comrades they met during film school. I will never have that. To some extent, “no film school” is pretty lonely, at least in the first few years, until you get the chance to prove yourself.  

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Oh I can start 398 things at the same time, keep going is the hard part. Viktor Hugo said that perseverance is the secret of all triumphs. 

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

It took me years to go out there and finally shoot my own film again. I think I became a perfectionist, in the bad sense of the word. What DUET taught me is that compromise comes with doingness – my films can only be 100% if they stay inside my head, but I prefer to be moving, learning, making mistakes and then share it with people. 

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Sometime I think I should have people around me that will be able to stop me while I’m going into on of those the stupid adventures of self-financing a challenging script. Then I think — nah — why should I? haha. I was investing in this film as if it was my film school. I worked hard for this money and I was happy to invest it in something that had no sense… yet made me happy. We had many financial challenges, and we went through them all with patience and silliness. 

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

I’ve decided that I’d like the older version of my main character to look back at that day in which the story happened, but instead of having her narrate it with a voice over, I made her a rock star and decided to write an original song that will accompany the whole film. We ended up casting Alex Moshe to be our actress, we produced a live show for her amazing band Folly Tree, and made them study the beautiful 14 minutes original piece that was written by the composer Adam Ben Amitai. 

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I was lucky enough to have the most loyal and supportive team for DUET. They followed me even when I had no idea what I was doing and they were patient with my experiments. Some crew members go with me for years – Shimon Spector the editor and Adam Ben Amitai the music composer work with me on all of my films since I’m 15 years old. Some other team members I worked with for years, like Ofer Ben Yehuda the DP and cinematographers Daniel Miran and Dudu Itzhaki, as well as Amit Shamir my AD (who’s a talented writer&director on her own), all are good friends for years. I was lucky to meet some other brilliant people along the way – like the producer Hila Ben Shoushan and DP Daniella Nowitz. I can’t thank them enough for the love and soul they poured into this film. 

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Overall I think they want to escape their realities, to change their perspective and to feel something (happiness, sadness, fear…). I think that my role as a filmmaker is to choose carefully which emotion each project/scene/frame should arouse, and then follow these truths as if I made a promise to my audience. When I was younger I thought I should make my films “for myself only, and some might follow”. Now I know that while I should obviously work on a story that I’m passionate and obsessed about, I want to communicate to my audience, I want to provide the escape, and deliver my promise. I care about what they want. And – I want to make people laugh.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I make films because I want them to be shown and film festivals are the best outlet for short films. Without them, my shorts would sit somewhere in the dark without an audience – what a nightmare!

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style? 

Original and fresh is always a goal. I love to challenge and throw myself into unfamiliar situations so I’d get to enjoy the spontaneity of filmmaking, that “unknown”stuff which hopefully will lead to some originality or at least some magic.