There’s no one way to write; I struggled with writing, thinking there are specific methods I should follow to complete a script. It took me years to find out it’s a very subjective process. Especially for directors.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mika Orr.
Mika Orr is an award-winning Brooklyn-based filmmaker, writer, director and producer of fiction and documentary projects under Mikooka Projects, which she founded in 2008. Her work focuses on the intersections of identity, migration, fantasy and intercultural convergence. Making films since the age of 15, Orr began her career as an independent film director when she was 18. She was the lead Cinematographer on award-winning feature documentaries (Chronicle of a Kidnap and Stains). She has had numerous documentaries broadcast on Israeli National Television and was the Cinematographer / Director of a BTS documentary of Academy Award winner Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness. Her production company, Mikooka Projects, has made over 80 marketing videos and branded content for Google and other major international brands. She earned her master’s degree with honors from School of Visual Arts in 2017.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
When I was 14, I was going through a rough time. I was a real rebel and nothing made sense. I got kicked out of school for skipping so many classes, and I was basically wandering around the streets.
My only comfort was writing stories in my notebook and my 35mm film camera. One day in the darkroom while developing my compositions, I suddenly had a vision — more like an epiphany — about these frames in motion. Instantly, I knew that my mission in life was to tell stories with pictures in motion.
After that moment I pulled myself out of the hole. My mom likes to say filmmaking saved my life. I then enrolled in a new high school that had a good film program.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was 15, I wanted to make my first film so badly, but my teacher told me that only 12th graders were allowed to make shorts. I begged him to give me access to filmmaking gear and eventually he agreed to lend me a camera. So I wrote a silent film. He didn’t have time to teach me, but he gave me a booklet that explained the steps of filmmaking. That little booklet was more suitable for professionals in Hollywood than for a teenager in a high school program, but I followed its steps to the letter. I even drew up 120 pages of a storyboard because it said so.
I raised money, got sponsors, recruited dozens of background actors, and assembled a devoted team and group of actors. For the lead actress, I cast the most beautiful girl in school, who also wanted to be a professional actress. I admired her and she was perfect for the role.
In those days, she had run away from her dormitory and was living on the rooftop of some older woman’s apartment downtown. She was having a rough time. It was summertime, so she could sleep on the roof under the open skies…
My actress was a mess. She was chronically late, bullying the team and her peer actors, and sometimes even forgot to show up for the shoot. It was a nightmare. I used to run around looking for her, and sometimes I would find her with different hair colors. On the most important day of the shoot, she didn’t show up. The team went to search for her. For hours, dozens of extras are waiting on location — essentially, a bunch of sweaty kids who had come voluntarily to support my film and were supposed to walk with colorful umbrellas back and forth for countless hours.
She was lost. I decided to go to her “home” myself. But she and the older woman weren’t responding to our desperate knocks. I finally found someone who had keys to the roof of the building next door. I climbed to that roof and jumped to the other roof. My actress wasn’t there.
Later that day, the older lady, the landlord, heard the story and went to the police to file a trespassing report against me. My mom called her and begged her to let it go because I was just a kid. Eventually there was no claim, the actress was found, and I was forced to change the script a few times to accommodate her changing hair color and other continually shifting circumstances. I finished the film. My team and teachers were happy.
My actress eventually recovered and became a famous and successful actress and also my best friend. The lesson I learned from this is never to give up on the perfect person for the job. (And no more roof jumping).
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
It was Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France. I don’t know if it counts as “interacted with,” but in 2007, I was shooting a scene in the Élysée Palace in Paris for a documentary about the wife of a kidnaped Israeli soldier. The wife had a meeting with Sarkozy, and although I wasn’t allowed to go with her into his office, I left a lavalier microphone on her body. We were so rushed that I don’t think she was aware of what I had done: I’d planted a microphone for her to record the president. He, like each and every one of the other politicians she met, would go on to express empty promises about trying to get her husband released by pressuring the United Nations and Hezbollah, the militant group who had kidnapped him. That scene ended up being a great moment in the film. The broadcaster was afraid to show it but a version of the film with that scene did screen at festivals.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Bjork, for being a pioneer, innovative, fearless and artistically adventurous.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez who opened so many doors in my imagination.
Gena Rowlands who made me realize actors can change the world.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
I recently finished my last short film DUET, which is a tale about bullying in elementary school that eventually turns into a story about lifelong friendship and love. It won two awards in November 2022 — Best Drama Short in New York Short Film festival and Best Film in the 16th edition of CHINH INDIA KIDS FILM FESTIVAL (New Delhi).
#AMiNORMAL is the series I launched earlier this year at Arte France and Kan public broadcaster. It’s a docu-animation, light hearted series that questions the over-labeling of mental disorders in our society.
I’m currently shooting an ambitious verite project — a feature documentary that focuses on displaced and refugee children currently living in Uganda, Colombia and Germany.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
It’s hard to say there’s one “aha moment”.
My projects, especially in recent years but really always, are pretty challenging to execute. My latest series was an international co-production, shot in 6 languages. We cast over 70 people from around the world and worked with 43 different animators.
I want to believe that there have been so many aha moments for me, all leading to the decision to execute my current, long term project. My visits to Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps in Jordan in 2014 certainly provided me with many. My current project is an international co-production, being shot over multiple years on 3 different continents, focused on displaced and refugee children
At the same time, there is a certain truth that features as a common thread in everything I do.
Abbas Kiarostami said it better: “Someone once said that every filmmaker basically makes only one film in his lifetime, but he cuts it down and offers it in cinematic installments to his audience over a period of time.”
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I can’t think of one audience member in particular, but I was thrilled to hear that my recent short DUET was chosen for Best Short Film in a New Delhi film festival earlier this month. I love the fact that the jury was made up of children. The film tells a love story about bullying, and I’m so happy it inspired them.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
The film I’m working on these days is an effort to raise awareness about the worldwide crisis of displacement, particularly its impact on children. About 36.5 million children have been displaced as a consequence of conflict, violence, and natural disasters (as of the end of 2021).
That number has been rapidly getting worse: between 2005 and 2021, the global number of child refugees more than doubled from four million to more than 10 million.
I think it’s really crucial that we raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by displaced children. It’s hard enough for all of us to find our places in the world as young people, and that much harder for these children.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Focus: I have the tendency to do a few things at once. I think that if I focused on one project at a time I could have finished more films by now. People around me did tell me that when I was younger — they were right.
- There’s no one way to write; I struggled with writing, thinking there are specific methods I should follow to complete a script. It took me years to find out it’s a very subjective process. Especially for directors.
- One needs to compromise in order to succeed: it’s easy to keep ideas “perfect” if they stay in one’s mind. I think I wasted some years being a “perfectionist” — I kept developing without executing. I wish I hadn’t.
- Enjoy the way: when I was younger I subconsciously thought that if I want to do something good, create a good piece of art, I must suffer in the process. No pain no gain. I now see it differently — I look for ways to enjoy the process even if it’s very challenging.
- Do a skipper license. Man I always wanted to sail boats but as an adult it’s just so hard to find the time, you know?
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to collaborate with filmmakers who change perspectives and raise awareness about topics I care about. To name a few that had been on my mind this past month: Laura Poitras, Ari Folman, Waad Al-Kateab, Alex Gibney and Ondi Timoner.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The best way out is always through” by Robert Frost. I like it because it’s a good reminder to jump on adventures, start a new project that I dreamt of for a while, take a risk… Making a film is a long process that requires a lot of persistence and resistance. When I feel lost or if it seems there’s no way out — I remind myself that the only way out is the way through.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Mika Orr Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.