How Lauren McCann made Girl Boxer an award-winning film

A Case Study
Narrative | Dramatic Features
Film Name: Girl Boxer
Genre: Drama, Crime
Date: October 2019
Director: Lauren McCann
Producer: Phil Newsom
Writer: Lauren McCann
Cinematographer: Dominick Sivilli
Editor: Name
Composer: Name
Production Company: Giant Hunter Media
Budget: 30k
Financing: crowdfunding and personal finance
Shooting Format: Epic Red
Screening Format: 2:40:1
World Premiere: Garden State Film Festival
Awards: Nominations for the Pilot: New Faces New Voices festival, Lonely Wolf Festival (Best Action Film: 3rd Place), Long Island International Film Expo, Soho International Film Festival, Chelsea Film Festival, Mom Film Fest, Golden Door International Film Festival, New Jersey Webfest, Garden State Film Festival, The Trailer Film Festival, NYC TV Film Festival, Cannes Shorts, London International Motion Picture Awards,
Awards for Pilot: New Hollywood Directors (Honorable mention), Series Fest (Jury Prize), The Voice to Watch/Stage 32 Short Film Contest (Quarter Finalist), Fade in Pilot Awards (Semi-Finalist), New York Cinematography Awards (Winner Best 1st Time Director).
Nominations for the script: Veritas Film Festival, Screenplay Festival/ (Finalist), Oaxaca Film Festival (Finalist), Global Script Competition, Big Apple Film Festival (Semi-Finalist), Manhattan Short, Topanga Film Festival, Glendale International Film Festival, Kiev International Film Festival, Action on Film Festival, Alliance of Women Filmmakers (Finalist), Boston Film Collective (Finalist), Twister Alley Film Festival (Screenplay Finalist), The Southern California Screenplay Competition (Semi-Finalist), Seattle Film Festival (Finalist), Best Web Series
Awards for the script: LAL’s Femfest (Honorable Mention)

Girl Boxer Poster

indieactivity: Tell us about “who you are”?
Lauren McCann (LM): 
I am an award-winning actor, a 7-time marathon runner, mother of 2 with a Ph.D. in Education who has found a new love…filmmaking. I’m a first-time filmmaker and screenplay writer who has jumped on this train and is not looking back. During this year’s SeriesFest, I was named The Voice to Watch. The story of Girl Boxer played in my mind for over a year. Soon after my son was born, I sat down to write and in a few hours, a first draft was created.

The screenplay has appeared in over 18 festivals locally and internationally, gathering accolades and building momentum. I love bringing people together and pulling their best work from them. I believe that being an actor myself helps me understand the actors’ process on set and I trust them in their craft and their choices. Lauren has a natural ability to bring people together on set and pull the best out of every actor and crew. I am someone who works, someone who puts her whole heart and mind into what I believe in. This is round one for Girl Boxer – the fight has just started.

Introduce your film?
Lauren McCann (LM): 
Girl Boxer is a dark, quick-paced, heartfelt action drama from a female perspective. It is an exploration of the underworld and the decisions one must make for the betterment of the family. Laura, a former lightweight champion boxer, is making the best life she can for her daughter now that her husband, Matty, has found himself, in prison yet again.

The fight for the family is regularly explored as moral dilemmas and life-changing decisions are continuously presented to all involved: the established Russian family who operates the monthly boxing matches gaining capital and power; the Irish family, in hiding and new to North America, looking to plant roots and build a strong foundation; and Laura, navigating her way in this dark world, fighting for her daughter, her husband, and her life. Girl Boxer holds nothing back during this inquiry into what is right and wrong when the love of family is concerned.

When Matty gets in with the wrong crowd and money is quickly needed, Laura relies on what she knows best and she is lured by the Irish mob to participate in a Russian operated underground boxing mat

The official clip from Girl Boxer written and directed by Lauren McCann

Tell us why you chose to write, produce, direct, shoot, cut/edit the movie? Was it financial, chance or no-budget reason?
Girl Boxer is the story I want to watch on television. The story of a woman who is hard as nails, can do some damage if needed , but at the flip of a coin can remain calm, collected and soft and loving. I wanted to see a female lead that shows this yin and yang many women have. I had help producing thanks to Phil Newsom, as a first time director I wanted to learn and follow the lead of someone who had the experience I did not. I decided to direct the project because I had such a sure idea of how I wanted it to look. I knew I would be the only one to bring my own words to life in the exact way I wanted. As a mother of 2 full time, and not knowing how to do it… I do not have the time to teach myself a new skill or editing program. Dominick Sivilli our DP edited the film and I sat along (at times with the kids!) to learn and follow.

Introduce your crew?
I loved putting our crew together. Filmmaking is a TEAM sport and If you don’t have the right people around you, your goal may not be achieved. Phil Newsom was a perfect producer for a 1st-time filmmaker. He is patient, very well organized, and to the point. He is a problem solver and kept the machine running on shooting days. Dominick Sivilliis a genius. I saw his work and knew right away this was the aesthetic I wanted in Girl Boxer. He is a master at what he does but continues to play and explore on set. By the last few days, we were able to simply look at each other and understand what the shot was needing or how it was to be done differently. He is the key to what made Girl Boxer feel and look the way it does and I love it. I can’t wait to work on my next project with these talented and giving individuals.

Girl Boxer-Dominick Sivilliis and Lauren McCann_indieactiviy
Dominick Sivilliis with Lauren McCann on the production set for Girl Boxer

What are your personal experiences putting on all these hats/responsibilities (simultaneously)? Tell us about story, writing, and production?
I changed many hats – actor, writer, director, craft haha! and then at the end of the day back to being mom. My past as a teacher helped because I am OCD organized. Thanks to this I was able to prepare and get all the necessary pre-work done before we started our set days. Thanks to doing the work before, we had smooth shooting days. Part of that work was visiting the location where we were filming (I would take the kids with me!). Establishing those relationships is key. We visited with both sound and DP so there are no surprises on filming day.

What is the source of the idea? How did the story develop from the idea? And how did the story evolve into a screenplay? Why do this story? Do you have a writing process?
I have a very basic writing process… I start and I write – Jack Kerouac style. I have since learned that is not always ideal… When you write for bigger projects there is a team and if you are not sharing steps and making a spin to fill in the details etc many people are left in the dark as to where the story is going. The idea came from my love of fighting films, and the love of dark mob type films in a Guy Ritchie Style- I saw a gap in that there are not many such films with a female lead. I wanted to fill that gap.

Let’s talk pre-production: take us through a timeline of how you started and ended it?
The 1st draft was written in an hour and a half during baby’s nap time! Then things were fixed around the edges. I sat with Phil and knew he was the guy to work the books and keep the machine rolling. I saw Dom’s work and knew he was the one to work with. The cast was not auditioned. They were hand-picked as people I had previously worked with. If I did not know their work, I sat and had a coffee with them and came to know them as a person. If the actor had the heart I wanted, I knew they were right for this project. Creating a team of people who were there for the project and for each other made a huge difference. We had a script reading where we all came together, I made a crock-pot of food and the energy could be felt. We knew we were onto something. We took the time to visit all our locations, meet the people, and welcome them into the project.

Girl Boxer-Lauren McCann_indieactivity
Lauren McCann on set for Girl Boxer

What was your rehearsal process and period?
We had a script reading, and then jumped into it on filming day. I took on actors I trusted and knew could do the job-they are masters at their craft and all came prepared.

You shot the film in days. How long were your days?
4 days!  We started early each day and ended on time each day!! I believe we went a tad over our final day at the boxing gym and, I believe it is that’s to the relationship we created with The Women’s World of Boxing in East Harlem that we were able to stay a bit later. It was so worth it and our fight scene is a good one.

Did the tight shooting schedule make it harder or easier? How did it affect performances?
Because we did the legwork and the preparation before – it went well. Every actor brought his/her truth to their roles and the camera captured that. Once I knew we had a take, I knew what I wanted to see… we moved on.

During the film production, what scene (that made the cut) was the hardest to shoot? And why?
The fighting scene without a doubt. This is what was rehearsed in advance! We were so lucky to have Nora Sommerkamp, a dedicated actor and martial artist who took the role seriously and was willing to learn and rehearse. Our stunt coordinator and choreographer Randall Trang has a tone of experience in orchestrating fights for the camera – and our DP knew how to pick it all up. It was a dance and I think we did a great job. This was a day where we also had a tone of extras, which we did not have in any other scene. We made sure to keep the day fun, we had giveaways and I’m sure they could feel the positive vibes created that day. I am still in touch with some of the extras that supported us that day- they continue to support the project.

Girl Boxer-Lauren McCann_indieactivity
Lauren McCann with cast for Girl Boxer

What worked better in this latest production that mightn’t have worked so well in the last one you did?
This is the first! I have set the bar high. I can only learn and take it now to the next level.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of the way you worked?
LM: An advantage is that I am a people person, I love bringing people together and placing them in positions of power and excellence. Bringing out an actor’s best, letting the crew know how appreciated they are, and ensuring that everyone feels welcome and part of something. When this is accomplished, people want to give their best work, they want to help and they see the bigger picture. I can see this as being a disadvantage if there is a person on set who does not want to work with the team- in my “older age” I have become better at facing conflict and when there is only one in the group who does not support what you have created, you would find a team who has your back.

What was the experience like of working with a small shooting crew?
I loved it. I believe we had the best of the best in the NYC indie films scene. Dom put an amazing group together with David Ospina Camargo as Gaffer ( Everyone was an absolute professional and helped emit positive vibes.

The film looks stunning. How did you get such a good look when shooting so fast?
Dominick Sivilli!

When did you form your production company – and what was the original motivation for its formation?
I did in fact form Dornalai Productions (Girl Boxers’ original title Dornalai Cailin –Gaelic for Girl Boxer) after the filming of Girl Boxer, unfortunately since the pandemic, I have been on mommy/school duty 24/7 and have not had the opportunity to work on my next projects- but I will.

Lauren McCann BTS

What was the first project out of the gate?
This one – Girl Boxer

What about independent filmmaking and the business do you still struggle with?
Finding the time – juggling being a mother, wife, keeping the family in check during these times while still maintaining my sanity haha. I have many things I want to do, but finding the time now is often a struggle. When the world heals .. the world needs to be ready!

Where do you think your strengths lie as a filmmaker?
My ability to bring people together, and see the strengths each person has as an individual and allow that to shine- it’s the past teacher in me. I can create a space where people feel free, welcome, and willing to take chances, ask questions, and play.

Let’s talk about finance, how did you finance the film?
¾ through crowdfunding, which I did independently and struggled with every minute of it! But I knew that if I didn’t do it, someone else would be funding their films and I would be left out. The rest of the money came from family savings. We decided to use our family tax returns and some savings. I am Canadian, my husband is Polish and for a year we did not go and visit our families. Because of the support, our families showed us in understanding that we were taking this leap of faith, we were able to bring this project to life.

How much did you go over budget? How did you manage it?
A few thousand – when you consider the film festival entries etc after. My kids did not take part in many extracurricular activities – camp mommy all summer – when you see the prices of these camps in NYC you would be amazed!

How important is marketing? Talk about the festival tour? Do you think a project can make a dent without it nowadays?
I think it is important, but I also think the project needs to have merit. In the end, if the product cannot stand as something of quality you are not doing yourself a service promoting it.

Cast for Girl Boxer

Tell us about marketing activities or efforts on this project – and how it worked or didn’t work?
We had a wonderful private screening for all those involved with the project and some industry guests. We have been involved in many festivals and have received many awards which help in marketing. Unfortunately, the team can’t get out there at festivals and work the room of sorts – so this is a perfect example of how Girl Boxer can hold its own on the screen.

What do you hope audiences will get from the presentation of your film?
They will want more!! This is just the start of a larger story. There is so much more.

What else have you got in the works?
Looking to possibly make this pilot into a script for a feature.. and another series led by a strong powerful woman who can change the world!

Tell us what you think of the Case Study for Girl Boxer What do you think of it? Genre? More genre? Let’s have your comments below and/or on Facebook or Instagram! Or join me on Twitter

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