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Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers #50: Mo Ogrodnik Recounts a Dangerous Personal Memoir in ‘Deep Powder’

Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers #50: Mo Ogrodnik Recounts a Dangerous Personal Memoir in 'Deep Powder'

What it’s about: New England, 1983. Wild, troubled boarding school girl falls for working
class boy and brings him to South America to score coke. Then reality
hits. Hard. Inspired by true events.

About the filmmaker: I began writing this project when I was in grad school. I picked it up
again with the help of my husband, Matt Bardin, and we worked to weave
together our personal stories within the limits of a cinematic genre.
We wanted to explore the contrast between the dismal prospects of the
local young people in a faded industrial New England town and the
entirely different privileges and pressures at the elite school in their
midst. I’ll never forget how the harsh spotlight of getting caught
introduced me to the darker side of human nature as a close group of
friends scrambled to preserve college admissions and family reputations.

I grew up in Williamstown, Mass and when I decided to attend an
all-girls boarding school for my last two years of high school, I found
myself in a very different landscape. My mother comes from an old
monied family and grew up on the upper east side and my father was the
son of a tailor and grew up on the lower east side. My mother’s family
is filled with legacies at St. Paul’s and Yale and no one even went to
college on my father’s side. I’m a product of this union and am
sympathetic to these two world views.

What else do you want audiences to know? In the spring of 1984, a New York Times headline announced, “14 Choate
Students Expelled In Inquiry Into Cocaine Arrest.” Two seniors from the
prestigious boarding school were randomly searched in the JFK airport
upon their return from South America and were found with $300,000 worth
of cocaine. A week later, The New York Times ran another story, “Girls’
School In Connecticut Expels Six For Cocaine Use.” The New York Times
covered the story extensively that spring, and in the fall, “60 Minutes”
produced a segment entitled, The Preppy Connection, that revealed that
the trip to South America was the seventh in the last two years and had
been financed by fellow schoolmates in what essentially had become an
underground drug ring for prep school kids.

The six girls expelled from Ethel Walkers were my closest friends and,
had I not had a boyfriend from the local town who took me away from
campus, I could have easily been the seventh expulsion.

What was your biggest challenge? On a practical front, getting the movie financed. This was a four year
process with multiple versions of budgets and production plans and
different cast attached, but this is the journey for most films. Every
project, no matter what business you’re in, has a journey regarding
vision, budget, and execution.

Personally, the biggest challenge has been the life-work balance. Being
a working mother who did not want to spend more time away from my
family, I asked my kids to perform in the film. They are Danny’s
(Shiloh Fernandez) younger siblings. This has been tricky to navigate
given the nature of the material and the fact that it’s inspired by true
events. The process of working together on set and talking through the
storyline has been complicated and not as easy to address as the subway
ads and graffiti we talk about on our way to school.

Profound loss and serious consequences resulted from kids feeling
entitled and untouchable and sharing this experience with my children
has made us closer as a family.

What would you like audiences to come away with? “Deep Powder” is a cautionary tale primarily inspired by these events, my
two young children and growing up with a mother and father from opposite
sides of the tracks. It is a passionate love story, not unlike Romeo
and Juliet, with elements of a suspenseful, narcotics thriller. But at
its heart, it is a story about the brutal pressures that face young
people as they search to define themselves and how one family survives
this process and another does not.

Despite the large canvas of the drug ring narrative – a trip down to
South America, interrogations and prison – thebulk of the film takes
place in the intimate places young people go to be alone – the woods, a
home-made ice rink, Danny’s bobhouse, a car. Danny’s home and his life
with his family are populated with the things that make our lives real –
worn dress-up clothes, a hockey stick, piles of mail, old dolls, and a
box of old albums.

What do you have in the works?

‘ve been working on creating the Arts
program for NYU in Abu Dhabi. NYUAD is an International Honors College
with film, music, theater, and visual arts as part of its liberal arts

As a result of spending so much time in the Middle East, I’ve started
The Houwi Project: a digital culture initiative that explores the
translation of memories and archives across different platforms by
artists and citizens. Abu Dhabi feels like a modern day Casablanca and
my curiosity about the transnational community and its vernacular
heritage has led to a rich partnership between NYUAD, The Sheikha Salama
Foundation, twofour54, and the National Center for Documentation and

My years of teaching visual storytelling at Tisch School of the Arts and
my belief in the power of personal narrative have coincided with my
need to be more of a global citizen. Somehow my background in
documentary filmmaking and experience in fiction have resulted in a
project that I’m so passionate about and challenged by. The lines
between the arts are becoming more porous and I’m fortunate to be able
to explore issues of digital culture across different platforms from
community, artistic, and intellectual perspectives.

Matt Bardin (my co-writer and husband) and I are also beginning to
develop an idea for a television series based on life in the Arabian

Where did you learn how to make films? When Pam Koffler and Christine Vachon of Killer Films signed on, the
project was conceived as a theatrical feature. As the landscape of indie
financing changed and new distribution platforms emerged, I became very
open to new ways to get my story told. Killer met with Kristin Jones at
Vuguru and pitched Deep Powder. Vuguru’s mission is to make quality
content that will be distributed across multiple platforms. Given the
potential for an exciting young cast and the mix of genres we were
playing with in the storytelling, it was a great match for Vuguru.
Within months of that initial meeting, we were green lit, scouting
locations in Hudson, NY and praying for snow.

I originally wanted to be a journalist and when I was 19, I left college
and went to Washington, DC where I found a job working for Jim
Ridgeway. He was working on a documentary with Kevin Rafferty about the
emergence of the New Right and the KKK and they asked me to get
involved as an AC. I learned how to change magazines and lenses on an
Aaton 16mm camera in a basement on MacDougal Street and then spent time
traveling across the Mid-West with the crew shooting interviews and
cross burnings. It was an eye-opening experience and I was blown away
by how a camera could give you access to all these different worlds.

I went to Harvard and was a VES (Visual Environmental Studies) major and
I predominantly focused on documentary filmmaking. After I graduated, I
bounced around working as a freelancer on docs in NY and then worked
for Michael Moore and National Geographic Television. Eventually, I
started getting interested in narrative filmmaking and decided to go to
Columbia for my MFA. It’s a wonderful program that emphasizes
storytelling and working with actors and I learned a tremendous amount
from Lenore DeKoven and a screenwriting class I took with Paul Schrader.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my students and colleagues at NYU.
It’s a culture of constantly making and reflecting and that is so
special because once you get out into the world, the “making” can take
such a long time.

My biggest mentors lately are the people I made Deep Powder with. My
collaborations with cast and crew members led to learning more about the
craft of filmmaking. There’s nothing better than being in the process
of making and collaborating with other people. I love it.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about
their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and
what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up
to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on April 17 for the latest profiles.

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