The Spotlight: Nikkia Moulterie
“Know that you don’t have to have all the answers to be worthy of sitting at the table”: Producer Nikkia Moulterie on working in Indie film and the road to Sundance with the award-winning “Nanny.”
By Daisy Gonzalez, Content Specialist for FREE THE WORK.
The Spotlight is an interview series in which we follow under-the-radar contenders as they break ground in the festival and awards space.
For film producer Nikkia Moulterie, asking questions and admitting you don’t have the answers to everything is essential to becoming a good producer. After all, what is an artist without a little curiosity? Moulterie has enjoyed a decade-long career producing shorts, serving as a UPM on various features as well as producing commercials and music videos. With Nanny, she reunited with director and long-time FREE THE WORK community member Nikyatu Jusu after producing 2019 hit Sundance short Suicide by Sunlight (which you can read more about here).
One of Nikkia’s favorite film experiences occurred at a film festival. Watching Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed Che at the New York Film Festival was meditative and distinctive for her, an experience not unfamiliar to anyone who watched Nanny at Sundance this year. Nanny follows the story of Senegalese immigrant Aisha played expertly by Anna Diop (Titans), as she navigates frighteningly surreal visions in the days leading to her son’s arrival to America. Comprised of a mostly female filmmaking team with several women working as department heads, the Nanny crew committed to remaining authentic to the female-centric story at its core.
Nanny took Sundance by storm eventually landing a historic win as the first horror film to take home the Grand Jury prize with director and longtime collaborator Nikyatu Jusu as only the second Black woman to win, after “Clemency” director Chinonye Chukwu in 2019. We caught up with Nikkia to talk shop and share her experience at this year’s second virtual Sundance.
You’ve talked about being a creative producer on the projects you’ve been attached to. What does your collaboration process look like?
My collaboration process starts with listening. Listening to my collaborators, albeit the writers/directors. Reading and listening to the script and what it calls for. Learning about the vision, process, and figuring out what I also want from the experience and process. Listening to what is exciting for me, and making sure to feed that as well.
You’ve worked across television, branded content, and film and across various genres. What’s your favorite format/genre to work in? Or what would your dream project look like?
My favorite projects are the ones I am working on with my friends and favorite creatives. I love when we all are on the same wavelength, and enjoy the high of bringing the vision to life. I just shot a commercial with a brilliant director Sonia Malfa and Director of Photography Tehillah de Castro, and the harmony was so joyful. But to date, my most rewarding collaboration has been with writer/director Nikyatu Jusu — she creates the worlds I want to explore and have longed to see on a big screen.
You’ve collaborated with Nikyatu on several projects now and built this incredible relationship. What do you look for in a project/collaborator when signing on?
Honestly, the main thing is someone who is open to listening and truly hearing me out. If we can’t communicate, it won’t work.
Filmmakers can often spend too much time thinking about getting into Sundance and maybe not enough time preparing what they need to get their films seen. What advice can you give to creators on how to get their projects seen by the right people?
You know that’s a tough question to answer — because if there was a buttoned-up answer, we’d all be seen. It starts with waiting until your project is actually ready to “take out”. Not rushing and doing the work to fortify the foundation of a strong script and shaping your film family first. Find your partners and then push at every angle that will get you where you want your film to be.
You’ve been around the indie scene for some time. Can you talk a little bit about your journey getting “Nanny” made and into Sundance?
Nikyatu had this narrative in mind for many years. Ultimately we just felt it was right for our first feature. Of the various scripts at hand, it was the one that kept tugging at our hearts and also felt more feasible production-wise. We were lucky to have been able to develop the script within the Sundance Producers, Screenwriting, and Director’s lab. So when we finally went out to investors, we were able to quickly cement our partners and ran right into Production. We then charged through Post and completed the film this past January right before the Sundance premiere.
As to “how it got into Sundance” — that 100% rested on the end product. I believe we ended up with a great film that the programmers felt deserved a spot at the festival. The institute and the festival are like church and state, and they really do not influence each other.
Challenge yourself to listen and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know that you don’t have to have all the answers to be worthy of sitting at the table.
How involved are you in a project’s marketing strategy during a festival? Is there anything you’d recommend creators to know beforehand?
Well, when you are coming to the festival market with a feature, and looking to sell, you actually don’t create materials. You select a still and that’s it. But our publicist Ryan Werner, and his team did a great job of getting out ahead of the festival to shape the narrative and introduce our film to our audience. There is so much to watch at a festival, so it helps to announce your presence, and shed light on what the film is about beyond the synopsis on a website.
Since its premiere, “Nanny” has been praised for its beautiful photography and for its hauntingly unflinching portrayal of the immigrant experience in the United States. Can you talk to us a little bit about what it has been like seeing all of the reactions pour in and what advice you have for creators managing reactions for the first time?
I am like a proud mom. I can take it all, the good and the bad, but when someone gets what you were trying to do, it’s really rewarding. Nothing beats the reaction of our intended audience, and then the addition of an audience beyond that. I don’t know that I was fully prepared for Amy Taubin to even watch the film, let alone react so warmly to the material. As a New Yorker, I’d say Amy’s reception, and Manohla Dargis’ as well, was a welcomed surprise.
The advice I’d give to anyone maneuvering any part of this process for the first time is to throw out all preconceived notions and take things as they come. Challenge yourself to listen and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know that you don’t have to have all the answers to be worthy of sitting at the table.
In “Nanny,” we see Anna Diop’s Aisha surrounded by a community that supports her along her journey in the film. How have you built a community for yourself throughout your career and what advice do you have for those just starting out?
I’ve said this quite a bit to those around me, but Community is invaluable. It’s as good, if not better than currency. And this is true for all stages of your career, but particularly in the beginning, community goes much further when budgets and resources are lean. Don’t be afraid to ask your people for support, but be present and thoughtful when asking and putting your hand out. It may not always be what you asked for, but when given in the spirit of love, most things when given fully go a long way.
What’s next for you after Sundance?
Right now I am building with a few creative partners. Nikyatu and I are continuing to build together. I have also linked arms with Gabrielle Shirdan, as Executive Producer at The Kitchen Table, a boutique marketing creative agency for the culture. There are so many burgeoning creatives of color anxiously and readily awaiting the opportunity to take that leap up to the next level — so whether it’s long-form or short-form I am always actively striving to be that bridge or at the very least be a guide along that nebulous path. Demystifying this industry is half the battle — so I’d like to shed light as I move forward.
Lastly, what is your favorite movie/show?
Oh, girl, that’s tough. I can only speak to what I am watching at a given time.
I found myself watching the first season of True Detective during the pandemic. I’ve turned to a lot of oldies but goodies, and a lot of nostalgic favorites from back in the day. But for some reason, I just keep watching this show.
And ironically the first film I saw in a movie theater since the pandemic hit, outside of post screenings of Nanny, was the recent 007, No Time To Die. And I mistakenly looked for twists in the film that mirrored the director’s work on True Detective — which never happened. No spoilers on [No Time To Die]. But ultimately, I ended up balling my eyes out in the end, for obvious reasons if you’ve seen the film — and ended up resenting this ending more than Titanic. It did NOT have to go down like that!