An interview with student film director Maggie Brill


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION Maggie Brill (12) (center) directs film at a Northwestern program.

Jonathan Katz

The Record: How did you get started with filmmaking? 

Maggie Brill: I kind of stumbled upon filmmaking by accident through Horace Mann. Little eighth grade me was deciding what half credits to sign up for in high school, and some friend just mentioned to me, “You should take Video Production 1.” I had never done anything filmmaking-related before – I obviously loved movies – but it never really occurred to me that that was something I could do. 

Then starting that class freshman year with Mr. Taylor, after we made our first film, I was completely hooked. 

TR: Do you think Mr. Taylor has been a mentor? 

MB: One hundred percent. Mr. Taylor has definitely had a huge influence on me, and Mr. Do and Ms. Rathus, who are also film teachers that I’ve had, have really impacted who I am as a filmmaker and have pushed me to grow. There was one instance with Mr. Taylor that I remember. It was sophomore year and he’d already had me for a year and a half at this point, and I brought him this final project I’d made, and he watched it, and he basically said, “This is a complete project, probably at the par of what other people will hand in, but I think you can do better and create a better storyline here.” I think that him pushing me to do that in particular moment really stuck with me, making sure I was putting forward my best work. 

TR: What projects have you worked on for Horace Mann? 

MB:I think the work I’ve done outside of the classroom and for the assemblies really started junior year for me, when I kind of became more comfortable doing more outreach stuff with the community, and that started with doing the Book Day videos with Ms. Bartels. That was the big catalyst moment, those were the big projects I had to do that were later screened at a schoolwide assembly, and I think I learned a lot from those Book Day videos. There were two my junior year – one was focused solely on interviewing faculty about “Between the World and Me,” and then the second one was interviewing solely students. Then, going forward, so many people would come up to me and ask me to do things for various clubs and events, and I was more than happy to do them. I made promotional videos for Relay for Life, the dance concert, and Pippin. Last year I did the “Letting Go” ceremony for the senior class, and this year again I did Book Day trailers – similar vein. And then of course the Alma Mater rap video this year and the sequel to that – I think those have been the big projects I showed at assemblies, and all of them were very rewarding in different ways. 

TR: Do you think filmmaking has given you a special perspective on the school and on the school’s events? 

MB: I definitely think that I’ve met people here and gotten to work with people that I never would have interacted with otherwise. Dr. Amir is a great example, someone I had never met before but then through the Alma Mater rap video I got to know him, and he’s such a fascinating person to talk to. I also think doing the 2018 class music videos pushed me out of my comfort zone to interact with some people in my own so I definitely would say it’s given me a different perspective on the Horace Mann community and pushed me to be more involved and learn more about various things like the Music Tech department or people working in the Art Studio or all these different groups of people. 

TR: Have there been any directors that stood out to you and influenced your work? 

MB: Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarrantino, Steven Spielberg, particularly for me, had a huge impact on me when I was a child. I think directors who have a very distinctive style definitely stand out and I think it makes me question what I want my style to be and how I want to stand out from other filmmakers. 

TR: What is the next step for you? 

MB: Next fall I’ll be attending Northwestern, and I’ll be majoring in radio television film there, which I’m super excited about. I might combine that with some other study in a double major, but I definitely want film to be my primary focus. Anything else would just be adding to what I want to do in film, and I hope to pursue some career in the film industry in the future. 

TR: Any tips for aspiring filmmakers? 

MB: Each film you make should be the best film you’ve made up until that point. I think you always want to be learning from your past projects. An example that sticks out to me was the first Book Day video I made, I tried to do a green screen and it ended up being a disaster – it took hours and hours to get the green screen to look normal- and so going forward I knew that wasn’t the way to go, but definitely don’t be afraid to try things and then learn from those mistakes moving forward.