Lauren Musgrove directs first feature film

Lauren Musgrove poses with her "Indie Spirit Special Recognition" award she received from the Boston International Film Festival April 15, 2024. Musgrove was recognized with the award for "Ugly Sweater," a feature-length film where she served as director, co-writer, producer and executive producer. (Photos: submitted)

Lauren Musgrove directs first feature film

April 19, 2024

While Lauren Musgrove is already an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, co-owner of a film production company called Purple Magnet Productions and instructor of courses in production basics and cinematography, she is adding another major career milestone to her resume: director of her first feature film.

Lauren Musgrove on the set of “Ugly Sweater.” In her director’s statement, Musgrove says, “My biggest drive in realizing this film was to make my 17-year-old self proud, to make the movie she wanted to see, the movie I wish she could have seen — one filled with truth, wonder, bisexuality, anxiety, academia and layers of love.”

The film, “Ugly Sweater,” premiered at the Boston International Film Festival on April 13 and received an “Indie Spirit” Special Recognition Award. “Ugly Sweater” has been already accepted to two other film festivals to date: the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival and the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival.

“Ugly Sweater” tells the story of Ruby, a young girl struggling through the transition between high school and college as she internally processes big changes. In the film, Ruby learns how to navigate her ambition and her anxiety about her dreams and her relationships with those closest to her, including her first love and her family.

“I have always been fascinated by memories, dreams, and the inner corners of truth in our minds,” Musgrove, an assistant professor in Entertainment and Media Studies, said of the coming-of-age storyline. “It’s about this symbolism that an ugly sweater brings together all of your feelings and your past. It’s about all these things that sometimes feel really ugly but, also feels comforting when you’re like, ‘no, that’s who I am.’ So, it’s about identity and it’s about accepting yourself.”

While Musgrove stops short of calling this a film that is based on her life, she admits it is a personal film with aspects of the lead character, Ruby, inspired by her own life.

“Ruby could be an alternate version of me,” said Musgrove, who also co-wrote the film along with Gemma Farquhar. “Both of my parents worked at NASA and I have always loved space. At one time, I thought I could be an astrophysicist since I loved math, but that’s one thing I love about filmmaking because you have to kind of know technical stuff, too. Ruby wants to be an astrophysicist. So, there are definitely little pieces of me throughout it, but I wanted the story to go beyond me so I could feel like I could let it go. I wanted the emotions to feel authentic, and it really feels like the story exists outside of me now, which is very, very cool.”

Musgrove, who not only directed and co-wrote the film but also served as a producer and executive producer, was excited to have the film premiere in Boston. The film was classified in the Women in Film category, which is meaningful to Musgrove since her production company, Purple Magnet Productions, focuses on projects that elevate female directors and diverse voices in the film industry.

On the red carpet at the Boston International Film Festival with Gemma Farquhar (co-writer, costume coordinator, intimacy coordinator, supporting actress (role of Hannah)), Deja Monique Cruz (lead actress (role of Ruby), associate producer), Musgrove (director, co-writer, producer, executive producer) and Sara Marković (producer).

“Ugly Sweater” was also classified in the festival as a local film, since much of it was filmed in the Boston area, near where Musgrove earned her MFA in Film & Media Arts at Emerson College. “Ugly Sweater” began as a short 9-minute script that Musgrove submitted for her final thesis in school, and now is a full-length 80-minute feature film complete with professional cast and crew and sophisticated, visual effects, and animation. Several Emerson classmates are involved with the “Ugly Sweater” feature film, as well.

“I have been thinking about this film since I was 17,” Musgrove said. She attended the Sundance Film Festival when she was 21, which inspired her interest in writing this script.  

Musgrove (sitting on bed between scenes with Cruz) was able to weave several lessons from the film into her course curriculum, and invited Rayana Rasamee (pictured in the foreground) to campus to talk with her class.

Musgrove enjoys talking about the film process with her Entertainment and Media Studies students, too. She has been talking with them about how she incorporates production design into her film, how to submit films to film festivals and life as an independent film maker, just to name a few topics. She has also invited some of her creative team to come talk with students, like when Rayana Rasamee, director of photography for the film, came to campus this semester. 

“The students are really excited about my film,” Musgrove said. “I think that sharing this project specifically kind of helps them grasp some of the bigger production concepts, but also connects them to how they can actually apply that in their projects right now.”

“Ugly Sweater” marks the first in-house feature for the women-owned studio, Purple Magnet Productions, which up until now has produced shorter films and music videos. Purple Magnet has two more feature films in production for release in the coming months.

Whether it’s a short music video or a full-length film, Musgrove’s philosophy on directing is simple: “It’s all about projects that are bigger than yourself and exist outside yourself. It’s very cool to have a mission: bringing women and diverse voices together to make independent films.”

Musgrove will be submitting her film to other film festivals throughout the summer and hopes to have a screening of “Ugly Sweater” in Athens in the fall. Follow updates about Ugly Sweater on Instagram @uglysweatermovie.

View the teaser here:

Author: Sarah Freeman,