Ending up in Los Angeles wasn’t exactly what Lindsay MacKay had planned. “If you had asked me two weeks before I got into the AFI Conservatory if I would move to Los Angeles, the answer would have been, ‘No way.’” The St. Mary’s, Ontario native also didn’t plan to stay beyond her two-year graduate program at the school. “But, as life does, time passed quickly and now I’ve been there six years,” MacKay says.
Returning to Toronto last year to shoot her first feature film, however, was an easy decision for MacKay. Wet Bum premiered at TIFF this past week to strong reviews, calling it a sympathetic outcast story with a strong, poetic voice. A personal film for MacKay, Wet Bum is about a 14-year-old lifeguard-in-training who is struggling with bullies, boys, and changing in the locker room when her mother forces her to take a part-time job as a cleaner in a retirement home.
We spoke to MacKay to find out more about her.
She typically writes male lead characters.
“Sam was the first female lead I’d ever written,” MacKay says over the phone, on the first day of TIFF. “It’s a really exciting step for me as a director to take a [female] character like that on a journey. It’s a very personal project.” And the feedback has been equally as pleasing. “The first two reviews of Wet Bum were written by male reviewers and they were both glowing. I was shocked, like, ‘Oh my God, you like that?’ It’s a story about a young girl but so far it has connected with both genders and lots of ages.”
“I grew up with parents that run and own a retirement home in St. Mary’s,” she says. “I was a cleaning lady one summer there.” Just like Sam in Wet Bum, MacKay bonded with the elderly clientele while she cleaned around them. “I have an affinity for old people. I’m a bit of an old soul myself,” MacKay states, affirming that working with the elderly at a young age matured her and allowed her to sympathize in a way that strengthened her skills as a director. “I was confronted with people at a very different stage in their life and it kind of put things in a different perspective and made me grow up. It made think of things outside of myself, think about things outside of being a selfish teenager.”
The girls’ locker room is her own personal version of hell.
“There’s that point in your life where changing in front of other people isn’t ok anymore. I remember distinctly being in a change room, probably around age 7 or 8, and women openly and freely changing in front of me,” she says. “I was blown away by their confidence and kind of jealous of it in a way.” Much like her lead character, however, there’s still a sense of discomfort in locker rooms, which surfaced when she was location scouting at community pools for her award-winning short film Clear Blue, which is coincidentally also about a young lifeguard who develops a close relationship with an elderly woman. “The locker room is still my personal hell!” MacKay jokes.
MacKay is not the only person that is making moves with Wet Bum. Lead actor Julia Sarah Stone was selected as a TIFF Rising Star and The Hollywood Reporter recently named producer Lauren Grant as someone to follow in their Next Gen Canada issue. “Julia has the drive and the professionalism but she also has passion and talent. Her success is all on her. I was just lucky to find her,” MacKay says. She remains modest when it comes to talking about her own success with the film. “I still don’t know what we have on our hands here. I’m too close to the project to really understand it.”
She makes movies to get over things.
“Still to this day, I think there’s something freeing about the fact that we are who we are. We’re all different and that’s ok.” MacKay says. But that realization didn’t necessarily come easy for her. “You write what you want,” MacKay states. “I sometimes think I make movies to help me get over things.”