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Monday, June 17, 2024

Halifax filmmaker Taylor Olson turns the lens on himself with Look At Me

The fictional autobiography delving into the depths of self-love and an eating disorder relapse will premiere at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.

Following the success of his debut feature film Bone Cage, based on the stage play Canadian playwright Catherine Banks, Halifax-based Taylor Olson turns to the stage once again as the basis for his sophomore film Look At Me, based on a play he wrote and last performed in 2018.

Films have the power to be an engine for dialogue, and I hoped that by sharing my own experiences, others would feel seen and find catharsis in the process. – Taylor Olson

A fictional autobiography about a lonely, awkward actor who goes on an unwitting journey of self-love amid an eating disorder relapse, Look At Me introduces many characters not seen in Olson’s solo stage play.

“That’s the difference between the play and the film in that there are many, many characters,” he says. “And in the play, I dealt with timelines by talking about them, whereas with Look At Me, we shot five sequences over jumps in time to see how the character’s eating disorder is progressing.”

Olson emphasized the importance of timing in bringing his play to the silver screen, waiting until he felt emotionally prepared to share such a personal story.

“I had the idea for a number of years, and when I finally decided to put the story on film, I felt like I was in a good place to tell the story and therefore in a place to take care of the rest of the cast and crew properly,” he says.

On the set of Look At Me, in which Taylor Olson wrote, directed and stars.
On the set of Look At Me.

Shot during the pandemic, Look at Me delves into Olson’s personal experiences and emotional truths while also incorporating fictional elements to create a compelling narrative.

“I wanted to create a story that would resonate with audiences and spark conversations,” he says. “Films have the power to be an engine for dialogue, and I hoped that by sharing my own experiences, others would feel seen and find catharsis in the process.”

When asked about the process of adapting his solo play into a film, Olson revealed that while the core themes and ideas remained the same, the content underwent significant changes.

“About 50% of the film is based on my real-life experiences, while the other 50% is fictionalized,” he says. “I wanted to create a better story for the screen, while still maintaining the emotional truths that were present in the original play.”

Reflecting on the decision to label the film as a fictional autobiography, Olson emphasized the importance of transparency.

“I wanted the audience to know exactly what they were getting into,” he says. “By calling it a fictional autobiography, I made it clear that while there are elements of truth, there is also fiction in the storytelling. It was about being honest and not trying to deceive anyone.”

"It's a film where I play a fictional version of myself in this sort of fictional telling of many, many emotional truths and instances from my life." - Taylor Olson (above) in a still from Look At Me.
“It’s a film where I play a fictional version of myself in a fictional telling of many, many emotional truths and instances from my life.” – Taylor Olson (above) in a still from Look At Me.

When asked about the film’s potential impact, Olson expressed his hope that it would resonate with audiences and encourage discussions about important topics.

“I want people to feel seen and find their own catharsis in the film,” he says. “It’s not about providing answers, but rather asking questions and sparking conversations.”

Addressing concerns about how he would be perceived by sharing such a personal story, Olson admitted to initial worries but ultimately decided to embrace the vulnerability and authenticity of his work.

“I had to let go of the fear of judgment and just own my story,” he says. “The goal is to connect with others and create a space for empathy and understanding.”

Look at Me will receive its premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in early 2024. Known for its support of independent films with budgets under 1 million dollars, the Slamdance Film Festival has been home to early films from now-famous directors, including Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer, The Dark Knight, Momento), the Russo Brothers (Captain America & Avengers films), Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer).

“I couldn't be more thrilled to be premiering Look At Me at Slamdance. A lot of my film heroes havepremiered their films there, and they truly do celebrate boundary-pushing filmmaking." - Taylor Olson
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to be premiering Look At Me at Slamdance. A lot of my film heroes have
premiered their films there, and they truly do celebrate boundary-pushing filmmaking.” – Taylor Olson

“I’m pretty excited because it is one of the bigger festivals in the world for independent film,” he says. “We’re contacting distribution folks and sales agents and such to get meetings to hopefully find different platforms for the film to go elsewhere. And really, I hope that it’s just the beginning to get the film out there so more eyes can get on it.”

Olson has also applied to several Canadian film festivals to have the film seen by a wider audience. “Fingers crossed, maybe something like the Atlantic International Film Festival picks it up,” he says.

As for the future, Olson revealed plans for his next feature film, Unseen. Again, drawing from personal experiences, he will write, direct and star in the movie that explores the challenges faced by a young father who coaches swimming while living out of his van.

“What it’s really about his invisible houselessness,” says Olson. “The core of the story is about this young dad trying to keep a relationship with his daughter while he’s houseless at the same time.”

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