When people ask filmmaker Megan Griffiths for career advice she has a simple answer, “learn to live frugally.”Especially when you’re based in a non-industry town like Seattle, says the 37-year-old. “It’s not a good way to make a living really but it’s something I really love to do so I try to make it work any way I can.”
Since graduating from Moscow High School in 1993, Griffiths has gone on to produce and direct films with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $5 million. Her latest project, the 2012 independent feature “Eden,” is her greatest success yet.
Directed and co-written by Griffiths, “Eden” is based on the true story of Asian-American teenager Chong Kim, who was kidnapped and forced into the U.S. sex slave trade for two years until she escaped. Critics have applauded Griffiths for handling a difficult subject matter in a watchable way and audiences have agreed. At this year’s SXSW Film Festival “Eden” won an audience award and Griffiths won an emergent narrative woman director award. Three more awards came at the Seattle International Film Festival — filmmaking, best actress and the movie rated highest by audiences that was directed by a woman.
“We’re hoping this translates into wider distribution,” Griffiths says of the film, which also stars Beau Bridges. Producers are now seeking a distribution deal.
Texas audiences at SXSW were “baffled” by one thing about “Eden,” she says. As one reviewer put it after seeing the end credits, Griffiths quotes, “unbelievably shot in Washington.”
“People think Washington and think trees,” she says, “but the state is diverse.”
The deserts around Ellensberg and Grand Coulee served as perfect landscape for the film set in Nevada.
“I have sort of a desire to show you can shoot any movie in Washington,” Griffiths says.
That’s now easier because of a state program that offers a cash-rebate of 30 percent of a crew’s expenses for films shot entirely in the state, she says.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law this year reviving the tax incentive program.
Griffiths moved to Moscow when she was 14 and her parents remain there. Her father, Peter, is a retired University of Idaho chemistry professor. Her mother, Marie, is a social worker. After graduating from the UI with a degree in visual communications Griffiths got a master’s degree at the Ohio University School of Film and immediately returned to Moscow to shoot her first feature, “First Aid for Choking.”
She took the movie to various U.S. film festivals then moved to Seattle and started working as an assistant director on other people’s projects.
“There’s really not a better front-row seat if you want to see a lot of different aspects of the process,” she says.
As assistant director she worked on the film “Wrong Turn at Tahoe,” shot in Spokane with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Harvey Keitel. She also co-produced the 2007 Sundance documentary “Zoo,” produced the 2011 absurdist buddy comedy “The Catechism Cataclysm,” and co-produced “Your Sister’s Sister,” now in theaters nationwide.
It was seven years before Griffiths directed her next feature film, “The Off Hours,” which she wrote and set in central Washington. It’s about people working the night shift at a small-town diner who seem to have lost their passion for life. Originally she’d assembled a Hollywood cast but the economy dashed her plans.
A group of Seattle actors volunteered to work for free on the film, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It was inspired by choices she and friends grappled with after film school, she says.
“You really have to be passionate about it to even want to keep going,” she says of the industry.
After the success of “Eden,” Griffiths signed with the William Morris Endeavor talent agency. She’s read 35 scripts from Los Angeles in the last month along with developing her own ideas.
“I think fairly soon I’ll have something new to start talking about,” she says.