This 15-year-old director’s short film about quarantine is going viral

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“For a minute-long sequence, I cut together 480 clips”: This 15-year-old director’s short film about quarantine is going viral

Liv McNeil is a 15-year-old student at Etobicoke School of the Arts who just released a new three-minute short film called Numb, about the isolation and boredom of Covid lockdown. The impressive film is garnering tons of attention online—including accolades from CanCon icon Sarah Polley. Toronto Life spoke to the quaranteen about how she pulled it off.

You’re only 15 and you’ve already made your own film. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Liv and I’m from Toronto. I’m in Grade 9—well, I just graduated yesterday—at Etobicoke School of the Arts. I like film, art, drawing and painting. I’m in the visual arts stream at school, but I really like film and I make short films outside of school.

What have you been up to since lockdown started?
I was doing school online up until yesterday, so mostly a lot of homework. I’ve also taken up a couple of hobbies, like skateboarding. In my spare time, I’ve been drawing, making art about quarantine—I’ve made two paintings and a couple short films—and keeping in touch with my friends. Just the regular stuff.

So what inspired you to make Numb?
I was making a lot of art in quarantine, and I knew I wanted to do something related to the idea of how isolation affects mental health. My teacher gave us a prompt for an assignment, something like: “I used to be, but now I am, and someday I hope to be.” I just thought, I could go anywhere with this. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make something about the feeling of isolation. I’ve definitely felt numb and sad about quarantine, but I know isolation has been affecting people in different ways. This is just what I know from my experience.

The film uses some sophisticated techniques, especially at the end. How did you pull it off?
The whole thing took about three weeks to make. I started off with the basic clips at the beginning, and the final sequence took the longest. I filmed the whole thing in about a day. Editing took a good two days. I didn’t use a tripod—I propped my digital camera up on a ladder.

For the end sequence, I wanted it to look like a time lapse, but also a little bit like stop-motion. I took a video of myself going through the actions with the song playing in the background. Then I put that recording on my phone and propped it up on my computer. I watched that video and copied the motions to make sure that they lined up each time, and recorded myself doing that 13 times. So I would do the motion, stop, change my clothes and my hair and the background, and repeat. So I had 13 clips of myself in 13 outfits repeating the same motions. I had to do some math to make sure everything looked fluid. For a minute-long sequence, I cut together around 480 clips. It was pretty low-tech. I learned a lot of composition and photography in school, but I figured out the editing part on my own. Even though it took a while, I had the time.

You spent about 21 days making this film. Some feature film shoots are barely longer than that—Moonlight, for example, was 25 days. So do you see an Oscar in your future?
In the future, I’ll try making longer films. I’ve always had a love in my heart for simplicity—most of my films have no dialogue, just interesting music and a powerful message. But I will definitely take an Oscar nomination if I get the chance.

So far, the film has more than 20,000 views on YouTube and Facebook, and Sarah Polley even gave it a shoutout in your comments. How do you feel about all the feedback so far?
I’m extremely excited about it. I make these sorts of things all the time, and I never thought this one would be any different. It was just a little short film for school, but apparently a lot of people like it. I’m super-happy about all the attention it’s getting. Sarah Polley and I have even been chatting a bit on social media.

What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
I’ll definitely be posting more of my films on YouTube. I already had a YouTube account, but I just recently posted all of my favourite films I’ve made. I thought, Well, my teacher liked this film and encouraged me to post it, so I might as well post the others. I’ll probably also make more short films with my brother. Other than that, I’ll just be hanging out at home doing summer things.