As a producer, Meghan L. O’Hara’s credits include the award-winning features “Sicko,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling For Columbine.” She began her career directing, writing and producing the documentary “Roe vs. Roe” for HBO/Cinemax. Her awards include a 2008 Academy Award nomination for Best Feature Documentary, a Producers Guild Award for Producer of the Year for a Documentary Feature and the 2007 Gotham Award for Best Documentary. (Press materials)
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
MLO: “The C Word” is a rock ‘n’ roll documentary on cancer! For too long we’ve been playing defense with this disease — and with pretty crappy results. This is the film that will have cancer running scared. We are calling out society’s crazy approach, which is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns, and we are defining a new way to finally gain the upper hand in this fight.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MLO: I didn’t know anything about cancer until I got it! I was inexorably pulled in when I came to realize there is so much information out there that can help people from ever having to go down the crazy cancer road, but it’s never discussed!
I am always drawn to secrets and exposing anything unjust when I see it — and this film is loaded with amazing insight into why we are sick — and getting sicker! But we can so easily turn the tide, and once you realize that this is all hiding in plain sight, you can’t help but want to share it. We are so excited to get this out to the world — and to see the reaction from the forces we take on is going to be a blast!
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MLO: I wasn’t ever going to make some big, weepy bummer of a film, but cancer is not exactly a laugh riot! I mean, it is if you’ve gone through it — we all know the really dark humor inherent in this fight. But to the general public — which is absolutely the audience for this film — it’s a leap of faith to think that it can be an entertaining ride. It was a lot of meetings and phone calls saying, “Trust us — This is nuts!” or “This is funny!” And thank god we were right.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
MLO: I want them to be smiling, laughing, entertained, energized and empowered. One of the things that we’ve found over and over again — every single screening we’ve ever had — is people saying how many other people they want to see the film. Everyone is focused on how to get this to the widest audience possible — so clearly we are on to something.
Cancer is a tricky subject, but unfortunately it’s a universal one, and people are so eager and ready to be looking at it and dealing with it in a different and better way.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
MLO: Find your voice, trust your gut, have confidence in your choices and fight like hell for what you believe in. Maybe the most important thing is to support, nurture and hire other women.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
MLO: The biggest misconception about “The C Word” is that it’s a film about a disease — it is so much more. I made my first documentary at 25, and earlier in my career, I think I suffered and benefited from the misperceptions that usually go along with being a young woman in a field largely populated by men.
I made several films with Michael Moore (“Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko”), and he used to call me his secret weapon — getting us into places where we would never have gotten access because people made assumptions. I’m part of a big Irish family from upstate New York, and we were raised to be nice, respectful and generous. And that’s my core — but that should never be mistaken for being a pushover.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MLO: It was a challenging and winding path. We started the film with our own money and then were fortunate enough to bring in some great partners as production built momentum.
Perhaps the most unique thing about funding this film is how much investment we were able to get from people who had never had anything to do with a film before — private individuals and organizations that simply believed in the message of the film. To make that kind of investment more attractive, we set up a fiscal sponsorship that allowed people to contribute to the film as a tax-free donation.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MLO: I have a few and for different reasons. Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour” because she is a fearless rockstar who made a really elegant doc that also had a strong message.
Jane Campion’s “The Piano” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful movies ever. And Penny Marshall’s “Big” — she gets points because she’s such a phenomenal actress, and I grew up idolizing “Laverne & Shirley.” But also because “Big” captures everything I love about kids — they’re honest, straightforward, they still dream and they are hilarious.