Hi Film Folk!
This time something for you short/emerging filmmakers out there.
You started as an actress. When did you first realise that you wanted to go into film or acting and make steps towards it?
I realised quite young that I wanted to go into acting. I remember primary school plays and secondary school as well. I went to drama school but I did go to University first. Mainly because I was very encouraged by teachers and my parents that it would be a terrible idea to apply to drama school and be a miserable, not working actress and maybe I should have a back up plan. I wouldn’t say I always wanted to go into film, although I always loved film. I definitely knew I wanted to be an actor and to tell stories.
Acting on stage was much more accessible. It’s different now with access to iPhones and video cameras but I’m 29 and when I was a teenager it wasn’t so easy to just shoot stuff, whereas it was very easy to put a show together. When I was in my final year of University I knew that I wanted to go to drama school so I applied and did a post-graduate course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. It was a really great course and I was really lucky, I got an agent when I left and I started working. All I did, with the exception of a couple of adverts, was theatre.
Some friends from drama school got together and said ‘let’s make a short’. The reason I wanted to make it was to get on-screen experience. One of my friends wanted to direct, one of my friends wanted to write and I wanted to be in it. Because I was going to be in it, and also because I’m quite organised and quite bossy, I did most of the producing. I really enjoyed that aspect of it.
We were really lucky. A director called Paul Andrew Williams gave us advice and did us lots of favours. He got a friend of his, who’s a sound recordist and has done loads of features, to come and stand in this crappy laundrette for 3 nights and record our sound. He gave us really basic advice like ‘go and read the Guerilla’s Guide to Filmmaking‘. I was just absolutely hooked and what I really loved about it was that everybody pulls together and works hard.
I had a great, great time doing that and from there I got 2 jobs on a couple of features. One as assistant to the same director who’d helped us – Paul Andrew Williams – on a film called Song for Marion and another film with Finola Dwyer. After doing those features back to back, I realised I’d taken a year out from acting – my agent was asking me what I was doing and I didn’t want to throw the towel in with acting.
I started working for a production company doing corporate videos. It was good because I could go to auditions. It did mean that I could start working on another short film and I met the producer of Operator – Rebecca Morgan – at that job. We shot Operator in their office actually.
Then towards the end of 2013/beginning of 2014, I thought I can’t keep temping forever and a friend of mine had done the producing course at the NFTS and said ‘why don’t you just go and see the school and see what you think?’ So I did and then I got an interview and then got onto selection week. At the same time, I was thinking about Operator. I’d talked to Rebecca – the producer – about it, had written it and started raising money. By that point, Kate and Vicky had already signed up to do it. Then I got a place at NFTS and I accepted it because I didn’t know what would happen with Operator; who knows if anybody will see this film, it might be a bloody disaster.
We shot the film 4 weeks before I started at NFTS. At that point I knew I was never going to be as creatively challenged – in all the right ways – by producing as I was by directing. Directing was the most fun ever. It’s the best of every part of the filmmaking process.
So before Operator – what happened with your other shorts?
Operator we raised £7k on Kickstarter and we felt we really had to push it at festivals. I’d had a certain amount of experience making shorts and I thought ‘well, if they’re never going to be seen by anyone then it’s slightly pointless’. You have to get stuff out there.
The first 2, I was definitely learning the ropes.
I was ridiculously lucky. Someone said to me ‘if you could have anybody in it, who would it be?’ and I said Kate Dickie – I’d been picturing her face as I was writing it – and they said ‘why don’t you just send it to her? The worst thing she can say is no’. So I sent it to her, thinking I’m never going to hear back from her, and she sent me an email saying ‘I really love it, when can we shoot?’
It was so so exciting because she’s just the best. It was also really useful as we could then approach somebody like Vicky and say ‘there’s this weird part in this short and you might not be interested but Kate Dickie‘s going to do it and we’d really love it if you’d come on board and play this strange part where you’re never going to be seen’. I think, largely because she loves Kate as well and maybe because it was going to be a weird weekend, she said yes.
Other than the fact we were going to have two wonderful actresses playing these parts, it was really helpful for our Kickstarter campaign as we had people donating who were just fans of theirs.
I met both of them before we started the Kickstarter campaign and met with them later on to talk about the film. They are very, very lovely people as well as being great at what they do.
Tell us a bit about the shoot for Operator.
We actually only shot for one day over a weekend. It got a little complicated. Kate was doing a play in central London – which was great because she was in London – but she had to do that play on Saturday afternoon and evening. Vicky had a heavy schedule with This Is England. So we knew that if we wanted to do it with both of them we’d have to shoot it in a day and have the day before to set everything up and do a massive pre-light.
It was fine because it’s a continuous 10 minutes (which actually turned out to be 5 minutes) where you’re only shooting one of them. Yes we had a certain amount of setups we had to achieve in one day but it really was fine. You’re always going to want more time but I wasn’t kicking myself at the end wishing I’d have had another day.
So what was your festival strategy for Operator?
Rebecca and I didn’t know much about festivals so it was a case of asking people. Obviously you know about the big ones but when I say big ones I only mean in the UK actually because I didn’t really know about the ones in America really.
We decided after a certain point, when we’d run out of money, that we’d just have to stop applying. We didn’t apply to nearly as many as we’d have liked to which I think is a lesson for me next time – and something for filmmakers to think about. Have money in reserve (I mean real money in reserve) for festival submissions.
We got in to some we didn’t think we would and didn’t get into some we thought we would. It’s completely dependent on the person who’s watched it – and, of course, dependent on the programme – so it’s out of your control really. It’s down to the person who is watching it and their taste.
I’d really hoped to get into Encounters as I’d gone to University at Bristol but we didn’t. What I learned though is some people are going to like your film and some people aren’t and that’s OK.
It’s luck of the draw to a certain extent.
And are we right in thinking you screened at a few festivals but didn’t win and your BAFTA is your first actual win for Operator?
Yes, we didn’t win anywhere else. That’s what made it so surprising.
So what’s next for you?
I’m trying to get another short together. I’m not sure I’ll have time this year, we’ll see how it goes – I need to raise money to do it. I want to direct more stuff. I’m writing that short and working on things at NFTS with a few talented people.
The BAFTA win was very unexpected for us. To go from just thinking ‘I’m going to direct this short because I really want to give it a go’ and people saying to me ‘are you sure you want to do that? Don’t you want to give it to somebody else who knows what they’re doing?’ and then to get to this point is amazing. It’s such proof that you don’t know what’s going to happen.