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Bowen filmmaker bringing original screenplay to life

Molly Cole's film Sludge will begin filming in Toronto this month
A preliminary poster for Molly Cole's film Sludge.

Molly Cole is combining several of her passions in the creation of her upcoming short film Sludge.

Cole is currently in the final year of her film program at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). Born and raised on Bowen, her own story with film began back in high school at Rockridge Secondary.

“I had a really great writing teacher... and I started writing creative, short stories. At the same time, I was super nerdy into film, and I would be looking up behind the scenes photos or all the fun facts of film,” says Cole. “Then my writing teacher was actually a director, and she sort of steered me into writing screenplays. And then once I got into that, that was kind of where it took off for me,” she explains.

Cole followed this newfound love to Toronto and TMU’s film program, where she found a whole team of students who shared her interests as she began to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Studies. “Just being surrounded by so many other nerds and other film kids has been such a delight,” she says.

But it was a unique transition into college life. Cole graduated high school in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, and most classes were far from returning to regular in-person learning by that September. Her first year was fully online, learning about the history of the filmmaking medium. A highlight was the opportunity to use 16 mm Bolex cameras, which were a popular filming device for much of the 20th century.

Molly’s second year was spent focusing on documentaries, where she produced a piece about motherhood (including her own Mom). Cole’s third year saw her head off to Denmark where she explored new technology in the virtual reality realm. Now in her fourth and final year, Molly is tackling her thesis project – directing a film based on her own screenplay.

Molly Cole (left) on the set of her documentary film in second year. / Submitted

“As a writer I decided that I wanted to write something,” says Cole, pointing out that there was also an option to provide your skills on other films for the thesis project. Along with her love of writing, some of Bowen’s landscape inspired her as well. “I got this idea to do this 80s horror camp swamp monster thing,” she said, envisioning the creature emerging from some of the island’s more murky areas.

Molly began writing the script, titled Sludge, last summer. It was then time for a rigorous review process from filmmakers, which included a four-minute pitch, to see which 14 of the 30 scripts would be chosen to be made. When the decisions were in, Sludge was among those selected. “It was an interesting process, it kind of almost makes you feel insecure… Why am I writing this?... But then to get that approval, it made it all feel worth it. So that was really exciting.”

Sludge actually began as a short story prior to its leap into the screenplay realm. As the name suggests, we find the main character stuck dealing with numerous struggles. “It’s the story of this girl who is feeling very, very insecure and depressed. The origin of the story is there’s this woman and something is following her and haunting her. And it’s revealed that it’s actually her inner demon that has been manifested in reality,” says Cole of the story’s background.

“I really like the idea that, I think a lot of us can relate to the fact where on the outside we can look perfectly fine, but then on the inside there can be this gross, junky feeling, like something’s wrong with you or everything you touch might get dirty or ruined in some way. So I really wanted to play with that idea of this inner and outer world.”

Cole says that even when dealing with serious issues, there is always room for comedy to strengthen the script. “In my writing I usually tend to stick to darker themes, but I think that the addition of comedy to darkness can actually really highlight the darkness itself… I was really inspired by Fleabag (TV show) and this Norwegian movie, The Worst Person in the World, to sort of merge this really scary looking monster and this witty, dry woman who would react to this like anybody else would react to this… It’s terrifying and scary but it’s also a part of her so it’s sort of familiar to her,” she explains.

“We all have this inner demon, or this fear of something, the thing that we think we need to work on. One of the things I want to say with this story is that you’re never going to be able to just get rid of what scares you, or your fears. But you still have to meet them and see them.”

“What I want to portray in this is that as much as our fears and our inner demons might scare us, when we actually look at them and give them attention we can understand them and then feel, within that, acknowledgement of them... It’s relatable because everybody is like ‘I don’t want to face those things.' But once you actually do, you realize they don’t have as much power over you as you once thought,” says Molly.

Molly Cole will graduate from TMU's film program this year. / Submitted

Sludge’s crew of 20, with Cole as director, is currently in the pre-production stage of the film. This involves location scouting, finding actors, scheduling filming dates, and, as Molly puts it, lots of paperwork.

The team recently finalized their shooting locations and selecting actors for the different roles. Filming will begin in the Greater Toronto area starting later this month.

Part of this planning stage also involves design of the Mud Monster, which plays a central role in the story. The Monster will be portrayed by a human-scale puppet, but discussion is still ongoing regarding the details, such as how slimy it will be or whether it will resemble a human, animal, or other being entirely. Molly says her monster-related search history has skyrocketed in recent weeks, with inspirations including Asteroid City, Pokémon, and Spirited Away.

Once filming is wrapped, it’s off to the editing room to put the final pieces of the puzzle together. The team will also work with a composer to build a musical score, and record foley sounds to create the many sound effects in a film. Finally, on May 4, the finished product (about 10 minutes in length) will debut.

The completed film will represent an entire year of hard work, even more years of study, and the finale of Cole’s time at TMU. Whether there’s more filmmaking in her future is something she’s not sure of just yet.

“I want to make art and films because I think they have stories to tell, and I don’t need to be in an industry making money to tell those stories. But if this goes well and I get another idea for a story, then I’d love to keep directing,” she says.

Mental health is a primary theme in Sludge, and also one Molly says she’s considered exploring in her career. “I think that psychology is another form of storytelling, and in a way very similar to writing and directing. You have to empathize with your character, even if they’re flawed, and I think having that storytelling background and bringing that to psychology would be interesting.”

Cole and the crew have been fundraising for Sludge in order to make sure they’re prepared for the intense stretch of months ahead. They’re nearly at the halfway mark of their $6,000 goal. “Having that is so helpful to make sure that our crew is safe and fed and everything kind of goes as planned. That’s the goal of the fundraiser, to just make sure that we are as prepared as possible for any problems that might arise,” says Molly.

The Sludge fundraiser can be found on the GoFundMe website.

As she enjoys winter break back home, Molly notes it’s the talent in the community which launched her interest in the arts.

“It’s such an inspiring and connected community of artists, and growing up here has definitely given me the ability to follow through on my dreams and things that I think a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by people who support the arts, and a big thank you to the community,” says Cole.