Monday, 14 March 2011

Deborah Haywood and 'Sis'

I was lucky enough recently to see Deborah Haywood's short film 'Sis' and I implore you to try and do the same. It really is a very well made, thoughtful and enjoyable film and I can't wait to see some of her other work as Deborah is certainly a talent to watch out for. The film is both funny and dark with impressive performances, especially from the very young cast members and a premise that cleverly hides the film's true message.

I recently chatted to Deborah about the film.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I did creative writing as part of my degree and wanted to be a writer. Then I saw a call out for short scripts for EM Media's DV shorts scheme and sent in a script.  I assumed that if I got a commission I'd be paired with a director but they said I was going to direct it too. I said I had no idea what a director did and they said 'you're about to find out.'  That was Lady Margaret, my first short.  (you can see it here

So what is ‘Sis’ about?  
It's about five year old Lauren, who hears there's a man who 'likes children' living in the area, so she and her little friend decide to track him down to show him their handstands.

What themes does it explore?  
Childhood innocence mostly, but there are a couple of other themes in there if you look hard enough. So I'm told anyway...

How did the idea come about?  
I was in the cinema and suddenly these images came to me.  I scrambled about for some paper and sat there in the dark, scribbling them out.  It tumbled out fully formed and I didn't make that many changes to it
in development.  I wish that would happen again!

Describe your writing process?   
Sis was an exception.  Usually I have an idea, usually an image or a character, and then I build a story around it.  I write an outline, then leave it.  Then I rewrite and leave it again.  Then I do a step outline, and leave that, and repeat until it works.  Then I write the script. I find the 'leaving' it bit really valuable.

How do you prepare to direct a film?   
I make notes on every scene, and hang out with the actors as much as possible.  I do a shot list that often isn't very articulate.  I talk to the crew as much as I can, and try and get everyone to understand what I'm trying to achieve. I've not mastered prep (or any of it) yet but I reckon the more you prep you do the less stressed you are, even if you throw everything away on the shoot.

The film was funded by the UK Film Council, which was recently closed
down. Could you describe how they came to be involved and a little about the process of working with them?   
A company called Lifesize based in Sheffield represented the Film Council on the shorts so the Film Council themselves weren't really directly involved. Lifesize commission the scripts along with your regional screen agency, and both feedback on the script and also on the edit.  This put me on the Film Council's radar and I was lucky enough to get onto the Film Council's First Feature Development Scheme.  They are hugely passionate about film and script and so supportive of the creative process. I've leant a lot from them.

What format was the film shot on and was this a creative or financial choice?
It was shot on the Red.  We were able to shoot on that because our cinematographer Gabi Norland was able to get us an amazing deal.

What was the film’s budget? 

Describe the casting process?
We put fliers in peoples doors and I put a call out on facebook.  At first I was looking for 6-9 year olds but when I met some of them I realised they knew too much, so we went younger and cast a five and three year old.  In the end they turned out to be my best friend's relatives, which was lucky because it meant the family was comfortable with me because they sort of knew me.

Are you a director who likes to rehearse a lot before shooting and what
approaches do you employ when working with actors? Did you change and adapt your methods to accommodate the two young leads?
I did a lot of game playing and impro's with the girls. They are too
young to read a script so I fed them the lines as we shot, and then we
took them out in post.  I don't really rehearse with actors. We'll
go through the script and talk about motivations and subtext and
stuff.   I find it more valuable to hang out with them so we feel
comfortable with each other.

Did you storyboard/shot list every shot in pre-production?  
I did a shot list that sometimes we forgot to look at.

How and why did you decide on the visual style you employed for your film? 
I sort of think the script shows you how to shoot it. I wanted it to be from the girls pov so I shot at their height and often had grown ups cut off at the waist etc.A bit like you get in Tom and Jerry.

How long was the shoot?
Six days.

Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?  
The shoot, although the last time I was that knackered when I went potato picking, aged 14.

What lessons, if any, did you learn?   
To listen to my belly.  There were a couple of things that I knew weren't right on the shoot but I let them go because I was either too tired/stressed/time pressured. When I got in the edit those
were the things I regretted.

Where has the film been screened so far? 
We've been really lucky with festival screenings.  The full list is on the website, here  I'm very grateful to those two little girls!

Future plans for the film? 
It has more festival screenings coming up and has just been picked up by a NITV distributors, so I'm hoping it will have a life after it festival run too.

What’s next for you
I've just finished a new short called Biatch, and I'm working on two feature scripts.

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