We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica McGaugh McGaugh and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica McGaugh, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
As a filmmaker and a teacher, risk-taking is a big part of my life. I have always been inspired by punk-rock DIY and cultures, and live as an artist this way. If there is something I want to make, I just go ahead and make it. No need to ask permission. Trying something new and working outside of my comfort zone can lead to failure, but I believe that these risks are essential for growth as an artist and as a human being. All of my successful work has come from taking chances.
My academic career (Associate Professor of Film & Television at University of Colorado Denver) gives me the space and freedom to be a risk-taking filmmaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to collaborate with talented faculty colleagues and motivated students. The university supports and inspires me to continually make new work, experiment with storytelling, and learn new skills.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started my creative journey as a musician (trumpet, piano, guitar). As a trumpeter, I was always in a collaborative ensemble and I really enjoyed being with and working with others. Being a musician allows you to travel, constantly meet new people and express yourself in many ways. I began to take on leadership positions as drum major of my high-school marching band, and leader of a punk band (The Morons). These experiences helped me gain confidence and led me toward filmmaking and a teaching career.
I consider myself an all-encompassing filmmaker, meaning I do a bit of everything: writing, directing, cinematography, editing, producing, etc. I love to learn and experiment, so this creative method works for me. I take on different roles for different projects, which makes each creative experience fresh and unique. One of the lessons I learned from this way of working is that I could only do this in an academic setting, where creative freedom is the norm. If I were to take this lifestyle into the commercial industry, it would be problematic. Hollywood wants everyone to conform to a certain role and define yourself in a limited way (ex. Cinematographer, Assistant Director, Editor, etc.). It works for them, but not for me. Luckily, Colorado is a bit more flexible.
My most recent project is an original short fiction film series titled “Womanhood”: embarrassing moments only a woman could experience. This project originated from my frustration of having to hide a tampon in my sleeve as I walked to the bathroom at work. Half the world bleeds, yet we still shame women for menstruating. I decided to get a group of writers together to explore the everyday experiences of living within a woman’s body through a comedic and accessible form. We filmed three episodes of the series summer 2021, and will be filming more over the years to come. I am very excited about this project and all of the talented collaborators who have contributed their voices.
We also recently released a documentary film titled “Three Worlds, One Stage.” This film is about three Colorado-based dancers, all immigrants from Guinea, India and Spain. We put them on stage together to create a never-before-seen fusion of their three cultures. The film is a collaboration between myself and my long-time film partner, Roma Sur. It is available on most VOD platforms.
I was fortune to grow up with very supportive parents who encouraged me to try new things and express myself. When I wasn’t playing music, I was writing short stories, painting, or making Zines. I hope that I am able to give this life to my children and my students at CU Denver, demonstrating that one can take risks, experiment with art, and use creative projects to learn about the world and its people.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I have two young children, so my itinerary circles around kids and early bedtimes. Ha! First, we would spend a few days at Wellington Lake. They don’t allow motorized boats on the lake, so it is a perfect spot to take out your kayak or paddle board and float around in calm waters. There is plenty of wildlife, hiking, and beautiful rock formations. Then we would spend an afternoon at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, stopping first for lunch at Domo Japanese restaurant. They have a beautiful garden space for outdoor dining. Get the spicy salmon soup. The next day we would spend at the Denver Zoo, which of course is enjoyable for all ages. Next, we would head to the south suburbs to play at Clement Park. There is a new playground that the kids love, and a splash pad if the weather allows. My kids call it the “roller slide park” in honor of the slide. That evening, we would pick up BBQ from Moe’s and enjoy a free concert at Levitt Pavilion.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to recognize my long-time creative partner, Roma Sur. Together we have made two feature length documentary films (The Golden Hour & Three Worlds, One Stage), a number of shorts, and are currently developing a feature length narrative film (The Rock Within). We met in 2010 at a CU Denver faculty meeting. Over coffee, she told me about a project idea she had about roadside fatalities in India and a man who was working to save lives in Indian streets. Six-months later, Roma and I flew to Delhi to film the movie (The Golden Hour). Ever since, Roma and I have worked to tell uplifting stories. We strive to bring positive perspectives on dark subjects though our stories. My work with Roma has helped me develop confidence and helped me grow as a filmmaker and as an artist. She has supported me in every aspect of my personal life and my career. I am grateful for her friendship and deeply respect her as a colleague.
Sofia Shappell, Rae Johnson, Melanie McClean Brooks