When did your interest in filmmaking start and what were you doing before you became a filmmaker?
I’ve loved cinema since I was wee. I remember being in hospital for a period as I was young and for some reason I became obsessed with the Titanic. So when I heard the film was coming out, I waited and waited. When I got out of hospital, my parents tried to bring me to see Titanic in the cinema, but I was turned away, because I was too young. So I waited and waited and eventually watched it when it came out on DVD. And that’s how I learned about car sex. Thanks James Cameron.
I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, and trained in TV production, working in documentaries for years. I was Assistant Producer on Oscar-longlisted and Emmy-nominated documentary Elián, and Irish box-office smash hit 66 Days, and I directed my first feature documentary Bojayá: Caught In The Crossfire, which premiered at HotDocs in Toronto. I began writing and directing for theatre, and with Michael Patrick, I co-wrote the My Left Nut play and BBC Three mini-series, which won several Royal Television Society awards.
What made you want to apply for Sharp Shorts?
Although I’d worked in producing and directing documentaries and theatre, and writing for TV, I had never professionally directed a script drama. I was keen to take my first step into this world and Sharp Shorts seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn and make mistakes, with support from funders. I really wanted to work with writer Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, so when she told me about the idea for SLAY & PREPARE, I couldn’t wait to direct it!
Tell us a bit about your Sharp Shorts-supported film.
SLAY & PREPARE is a psychological thriller/ horror that tells the story of how when a suburban housewife’s world falls apart, she meticulously plans revenge against her husband. Starring Michelle Duncan and Dougray Scott, it’s an exploration of grief, postpartum psychosis, and how we are capable of horrific acts. The film is produced by Lewis Wardrop for White Stag Films, with Executive Producers Anna Burns, Tony Woods, and Dougray Scott.
What did you learn through taking part in Sharp Shorts? How was your experience working with the Short Circuit team?
Sharp Shorts does not just offer funding to make your film, but also regular detailed feedback on drafts of scripts and an intensive course of masterclasses with guest speakers, ranging from roles and responsibilities to casting, locations and storyboarding. Miriam and Iria were incredibly supportive, encouraged us to experiment and challenged us on our ideas, which really helped us to figure out what kind of film we wanted to make. My biggest takeaway was how Sharp Shorts demystifies the filmmaking process. It’s not inaccessible or unachievable – you don’t have to know everything right away. Filmmakers are just a bunch of talented people figuring out how to tell a story in the best way.
What was your creative process? How did you get ready to make your film?
Preparation. Lots and lots of it. I worked closely with writer Ciara Elizabeth Smyth to think about the world of the film and to refine the script. I managed to get a day shadowing Annie Griffin directing the second series of Annika and we worked with Sharp Shorts to find the right producer in White Stag. I researched locations in the Edinburgh area and went out for location scouting days to find the right setting for key scenes. I worked closely with DoP Steve Cardno to create a shooting script and agree on looks, and along with producer Lewis Wardrop, we made several location recces to troubleshoot and figure out how we wanted to shoot it.
Why do you feel stories like this are important?
The film deals with heavy tragic issues such as miscarriage, postpartum psychosis and emotional abuse, and whereas these are usually dealt with through drama or sensational slasher-horror, we wanted to explore them through the lens of psychological horror. The writer, Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, feels passionately about creating complex female characters who are not anchored by societal norms. Systems that support gender inequality focus on cultural stereotypes that rely upon traditional conceptions of the female role, which portray women as nurturing caregivers and passive gentle souls. But what happens when a caregiver no longer cares? What if they never did? Ciara wanted this film to subvert expectations of what it is to be a woman, a mother, a wife.
When we first meet the protagonist Celeste, she is ostensibly a quiet suburban housewife and mother-to-be buying the dinner. But as horrific things happen to her, she perceives her world falling apart and we begin to see that she is not the traditional submissive female, but neither is she a boisterous blood-thirsty maniac or a terrifying paranormal presence. She is a quiet monster that silently feels internalised rage and meticulously prepares her revenge. The film exposes the mundane monstrosity we humans are capable of, and asks what we think monsters look like.
What are you hoping for audiences to get out of your film?
I hope audiences are engaged and that some people are entertained while others are disturbed. Ultimately, I hope the audience feels something.
What was the greatest hurdle you encountered whilst shooting, can you tell us how you overcame that?
It was a really relaxed and positive shoot and we got everything we were looking for and finished on time every day. However, we had to release some actors at given times, meaning we had to work fast and sometimes make creative calls to ensure we got everything we needed. It would have been great to have more time to experiment with the actors and to generate more interesting options for the edit, but you can only achieve so much on a low budget.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to apply for Sharp Shorts?
Do it. Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t question if you are good enough. Don’t mistrust your own taste. Just pitch what excites you. Make the film you want to see. If you’re passionate about it, it will come across.
Photo credit: Stuart McClay