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Meet Mischa Marcus

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mischa Marcus.

Hi Mischa, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I am an award-winning writer/director best known for my first feature film ‘I Am Still Here.’ The film aims to take the audience inside the dark underworld of child trafficking and show them what it is like to walk in a trafficked child’s shoes. It is a gritty, gut-punch of a film that aims to make people uncomfortable so they can understand the realities of what is going on right in their own backyards. I was inspired to write ‘I Am Still Here’ over ten years ago, there was a trafficking bust near where I was going to college in Orange County, CA. I was horrified to learn that the youngest trafficked survivor rescued was only nine years old! The news shook me to my very core. I couldn’t even fathom that children were being exploited in such terrible ways here in America. And so, I started to research child trafficking and was horrified to learn just how prevalent it is in California and across the country.

Writing the script took a year’s worth of research, which included my sitting down and interviewing trafficking survivors about their experiences. The youngest I interviewed was an eleven-year-old girl and the oldest was thirty-two. These courageous, resilient survivors shaped the story that became ‘I Am Still Here.’ I knew I wanted to make this film as realistic and gritty as possible, most of the films that centered around shining a light on trafficking did it in a very roundabout way, à la Liam Neeson in ‘Taken,’ but those films don’t show the realities of what trafficked children are forced to endure: the grooming, the mental and physical abuse, the manipulation, etc. So many production companies told me I would never get this film made with casting children. All the companies I pitched loved the script but wanted me to age the girls up to make audiences more comfortable with the subject matter. My response was always the same, “I am not making this movie for the audience’s comfort.” The truth is, as Americans we are often too comfortable. We don’t like to think about the problems plaguing our society and so more often than not many will bury their heads in the sand and ignore the issues. I knew that this story was an important one to tell and there was no way to sugarcoat it. When I was connected to producer Stephanie Bell, she loved the script and agreed to tell this story the way I wanted to. I was so relieved to find a producer who believed in this project as much as I did.

When we were casting the film, we made sure to let the parents of the young actors know we wanted to make a film that raised awareness about child trafficking and left it up to the parents to decide whether they revealed what the film was really about to their kids. Many of the child actors believed they were just portraying kids who were kidnapped. We were very careful to protect the child actors and their safety was always our top priority. Our antagonist Ricky (played by Johnny Rey Diaz) was so patient while working with the kids, he even let little Aliyah Conley put makeup on him in between takes. The actors we had were amazing and our young Layla played by Aliyah Conley didn’t even know what she was portraying until she saw the finished film. From concept to the finished film, ‘I Am Still Here’ took seven years to make and definitely had its challenges, but I am proud of the film we were able to make with the limited resources and budget we had. The film went to over forty film festivals all over the world and won over thirty festival awards. The film is now even being used by non-profits and universities all over the country to raise awareness about child trafficking in America.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Making ‘I Am Still Here’ was anything but smooth. We definitely had our hurdles with the budget and keeping things on schedule, but we made it work. My mom was my cheerleader through all the rough patches and told me, ‘when we struggle we appreciate our successes more.’ I absolutely found that to be true with making this movie. It took seven years of my life, blood, sweat, and tears but it was well worth it to know we made a movie that has inspired so many. We were even told our film inspired the opening of a safe house for rescued sex-trafficked youth in Oklahoma.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As a writer, I gravitate to telling stories with important issues attached to them, such as stories centered around human rights, mental health, and subjects that a lot of major studios typically shy away from. I have a script right now that I am pitching to producers that deals with gun violence in America’s schools. It is a drama and traces the aftermath of a school shooting and how it affects the survivors. Many people believe once the shooter is stopped that that’s the end of it, but that’s just not the case. Many survivors can suffer from PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt in the aftermath of a mass shooting and it can really impact their daily lives. I want to bring attention to that. But I don’t only write dark dramas. I also write comedies and horrors with my co-writer Katherine Botts who co-produced ‘I Am Still Here’ with me. We typically try to write in a variety of genres so we can continue to challenge ourselves as writers. Together, Katherine and I have written: an animated children’s coming-of-age adventure script, two horrors, a romantic comedy, two dramas, and an adult animated comedy series. I am also a singer/songwriter and co-wrote and sing the closing song from ‘I Am Still Here.’ (co-written with songwriter Tamara Silvera).

What are your plans for the future?
Now that there is a vaccine rollout, it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Pandemic, I am hopeful that filming will pick back up and allow independent filmmakers the opportunity to get back out there and start making their films. I plan to be one of them!


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