Check the Gate is a new column where we go one-on-one with directors in an effort to uncover the reasoning behind their creative decisions. Why that shot? Why that cast? Why that location? Answers are found within.
Your movie is never your first idea for the movie. The film you set out to write inevitably shifts, alters and transforms before it ever goes before the camera, and after reaching that astonishing finish line, another round of modifications await. The first inkling of Milkwater initially percolated when Morgan Ingari was a sophomore in college. The thought was there, and some versions of the characters thrived, but the resulting film would take years, many revisions, and a whole helluva lot of input from others before becoming what it needed to be.
Would the sophomore recognize the end product? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. The sophomore is gone. The Morgan Ingari of today is all that remains.
Milkwater is a passionate expression from a filmmaker thrilled to be on the long journey of creation. Ingari drops her audience within the constricting walls of a young woman’s world. The movie is about Milo (Molly Bernard), whose friends have paired up and are producing new humans who will have no need for her whatsoever.
She must act fast. She needs something that matters. She needs a baby, or at least, she needs to make a baby — to put something forth that might achieve whatever she was unable to do.
Milo meets Roger (Patrick Breen) in a bar. He’s also childless with an itch to give more than he already has. Milo offers her body as a surrogate to Roger’s seed, and he accepts. The two make fast friends, but as theory inches closer to reality, tensions and fear rise. When the lonely attain friendship, the threat of its loss surpasses everything else.
The exploration of pain surrounding loneliness and aging was not there in the initial drafts. Milkwater began as a lark, a joke rattled off by a friend that offered narrative potential.
“It came out of an ill-conceived college money scheme,” says Ingari. “My roommate, or someone, had been like, ‘I feel you could get fifty grand being a surrogate.’ You know, like, ‘Ha ha ha.’ So, that’s probably why they don’t let 22-year-olds be surrogates very frequently.”
Ingari worked the first script to a point of completion. She gave it all her sophomore self could muster, expurging everything she had to say. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was merely waiting for herself to catch up to the concept.
“Once I put it down for a few years and came back to it as an adult,” she says, “I had spent a lot more time thinking about it as a queer person. How I want to make a family one day, and also having friends go through the process. I thought, ‘I still really like the idea of surrogacy, but I think there’s more room to play in how this could possibly happen, and explore it between people who don’t know each other super well.’ That’s where the rest of it evolved from.”
Evolution does not occur in a vacuum. In widening your circle of creatives, you invite necessary input. With ears open, other voices can lend shape to your story. As you would hope to experience in life, the testament of others strengthens the content of self.
“Luckily, I brought my producer Candice [Kuwahara] on very early in the process,” says Ingari. “She’s very much the other part of my brain, and she pulled absolutely no punches. She was there to tell me, ‘That stuff’s going to cost you this portion of the budget,’ and she would lay it in terms like, ‘Here’s what you’re getting for what you’re spending.’
Knowing what to spend your money on is not something they teach you in film school. The practicalities of creativity are what kills your spirit, and you need a pragmatic mind backing you into every corner you inevitably encounter. It took years for Ingari to uncover her story, but now she had mere weeks to shoot it.
“One of my biggest lessons learned was in terms of location scouting,” she says. “We cold-called so many bars. We probably walked into like fifty bars, just the two of us, driving around with a one-sheet and asking, ‘Can I see your manager? Have them call us back. We can work out a price.’ Once we started going to places and saying, ‘Here’s what our day-rate for the bar is, take it or leave it,’ we started getting yesses and nos much faster.”
We’ve all heard the cliche of “place is character,” but they never bother to tell you how the hell you’re going to be able to nail down the right place. Making a movie is only partially about the dream inside your head. Ingari had to smash her story to fit into our reality.
“If I were teaching a class,” she explains, “I would tell everyone, ‘Literally make a master list of any contact you have.’ The four bars we ended up shooting at, we had personal connections to all of them. If you want to shoot in New York, just laying some groundwork in the community and getting to know a barista somewhere, getting to know a bartender somewhere, it goes so far.”
Be precious up to a point. Get the job done, but don’t fail your story by being a slave to it.
“I had this mentality,” she continues, “There are things I will and will not compromise on. But, ultimately, this movie is getting made, and I’m not as good of a writer as I want to be if I can’t adapt a scene to fit in a location that we have available to us.”
You’re the creator. Create.
Milkwater is screening as part of the Lighthouse International Film Festival from June 16-20th.