Hey Wonderful adds directors Emily McDonald and River Gallo

(Courtesy Hey Wonderful)

Hey Wonderful welcomes Emily McDonald (She/Her) and River Gallo (They/Them) to its roster, two award-winning filmmakers who stand apart for work that moves the culture.

McDonald is known for powerful brand documentaries for the likes of Nike, Vogue and Facebook, along with a wide range of commercials driven by authentic, moving performances and grounded storytelling.

Gallo wrote, directed and starred in their breakthrough short film Ponyboi. Ponyboi premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and is the first film in cinema history created by and starring an out Intersex person. Gallo has also directed empowering campaigns of gender identity self-discovery for Facebook and dating site Badoo.  

 “As a gay man and founder of Hey Wonderful, we are excited to represent a new generation of emerging Queer and Trans talent in commercials,” commented Michael Di Girolamo, Founder/Managing Partner, Hey Wonderful. “We’re passionate about bringing them great opportunities and continuing to develop their significant artistry and impact. Boosting the visibility of Queer and Trans talent is an important goal of ours because work still needs to be done to achieve equitable representation in commercials and advertising.”

Emily McDonald

McDonald, based in London, began her career at Wieden+Kennedy where she became an editor at the agency. She took that understanding of how a story comes together to the director’s chair where today her work revolves around giving a voice to the marginalized. “No matter who I’m directing or interviewing, we’re collaborators,” she explained. “If you can look at someone and see all the ways you’re similar then it’s much easier to connect with their story and tell it in a sensitive way.”

“Emily’s work stops you in your tracks,” commented Sarah McMurray, Partner/Executive Producer, Hey Wonderful. “She is able to capture something essential about each of her subjects that immediately draws you in. With a palpable emotion and energy in her storytelling and a unique cinematic perspective, her real people work feels innovative and so current.”

“Documentary is my passion and ultimately it informs everything else I do because it’s real,” McDonald added. “I like helping big brands tell the little stories that humanize them. I think that’s the best type of advertising.” 

McDonald’s acclaimed 2021 “Looking Back with Pride” campaign for Vogue features septuagenarians shedding their guard to share their coming out stories, and the remarkable change they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes. Writer and performer Kai Isaiah Jamal gives a mesmerizing performance reciting two of their poems in McDonald’s 2020 brand film for Browns Fashion.

The beautifully composed and choreographed film combines movement and words, exploring themes of Queer identity, creativity and vulnerability, and portraying freedom through poetry and dance.  

McDonald is currently shooting a feature-length documentary that shines a light on progressive initiatives around the urban opioid crisis. 

“As soon as I got on Zoom with Michael and Sarah, they were warm and honest,” McDonald said. “I could tell they genuinely liked my work and shared a lot of the same values. It’s my first time with a production company in the US and I’m really excited to take that step with Hey Wonderful.”

River Gallo

A first-generation Salvadoran American who grew up in New Jersey, Gallo today calls Los Angeles home. After graduating from NYT’s Tisch School of the Arts Experimental Theatre Wing, they received an MFA in Film and Television Production from USC and developed Ponyboi as their master’s thesis. Wearing all three hats of writer/director/star in the film was a joy, Gallo explained, and “comes from a place of not wanting to control the story but to authentically represent my perspective as an Intersex and Non-binary and Trans person. 

“Everyone at Hey Wonderful has a very unique perspective, very cutting edge and authentic,” Gallo said. “For me it’s really important to know that Michael and Sarah curate their director roster with people they know have something unique to say that’s not being said. It’s so important for me to know there are advocates on my side who want to protect my vision and celebrate it.”

“When I first saw River’s short film play at the Tribeca Film Festival I was blown away that they directed, wrote and acted in the film,” Di Girolamo recalled. “My takeaway after watching it was that being different is OK, that you must follow your heart and that you’re worthy of good things. It’s a strong message to the Queer and Trans community and one that carried through on River’s Facebook Pride campaign.”

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Directing the “National Coming Out Day” campaign for Facebook allowed Gallo to deliver that message from their vantage point behind the camera. “The process of interviews and filming was in the middle of Covid,” Gallo said. “I had these long and beautiful Zoom interviews and directed most of them remotely, except for ‘Chad,’ who I flew to Portland to shoot which was really special. It was my first time dipping my toes into the documentary world. Documentary allows you to step into people’s lives and people give you permission to tap into their vulnerabilities in a really intimate and spiritual way. “

 Among their inspirations, Michaela Coel, the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning actress/writer/producer. “I love people who have turned their trauma into something that people can metabolize and be sustained by and a lot of her work did that for me,” Gallo said. “My parents have also inspired me so much. They came to the country from El Salvador in the ‘80s to escape the Civil War there and have literally pulled themselves up by their bootstraps for me, my brother and sister and supported me throughout my whole journey being Intersex.”

Gallo, who won a GLADD Rising Star Grant, is an activist for Intersex rights; they work closely with InterACT, the foremost Intersex advocacy group, supporting legislation banning cosmetic surgeries on children, and doing social media campaigns for the group. 

Gallo has been a model for Crocs and Abercrombie, and last Fall, during Fashion Week in New York, hit the runway for Chromat. Up next, they will be acting in their first Shakespearian project: A production of King Lear at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, May 10 – June 5. Outside commercials, they are repped by CAA and Management 360. 

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Reel 360 wishes Emily and River the best of luck at Hey Wonderful.