Hallo Jen! You’ve been exceptionally busy recently with a new short film, a number of commercials, and editing the latest series of League of Gentlemen. But tell us what you are doing right this minute…
Hello! I’m halfway through cutting Cuckoo Series 4 for the BBC. Also, I’m in development on a sci-fi web series with a company in New York. It’s based on a short film I made last year called ‘The Super Recogniser’ starring Jacob Anderson (Game of Thrones). I’m also shooting a few commercials, developing a number of television projects and gearing up to shoot my horror feature so you know… takin’ things easy!
What was the main reason for making the film?
I made Set Adrift for two major reasons; the first is that I’m lucky enough to own an extremely talented and beautiful little dog called Bowie. I really wanted to write a script that would stretch him as an actor and test myself as a filmmaker. The second reason was that I wanted to tell a story that focussed on grief and loss, but from a non-human perspective. I experienced the loss of my father at a relatively young age and so it was a subject I felt I needed to express somehow. The question was, could I tell a human story through the eyes of a dog? I really hope that’s what I achieved with this film.
What draws you to making short films?
Short films have an enticing level of complexity. When your trying to captivate an audience with a short, you have to hook them in really fast. So setting-up a character and getting people to care about them in around ten minutes, is a great challenge and one I really enjoy. I kind of cheated using my dog for Set Adrift though, because people instantly warm to those big brown eyes. I can’t get on a tube with him, without getting at least one smile from someone. He just stares at people until they crack, it’s very fun to watch.
When you sent SET ADRIFT to us for consideration, it completely sucker punched me in the gut. As a dog-owner it gets you right in the feels, I was wondering if you found it emotionally hard to shoot being both dog-owner and filmmaker?
The shoot wasn’t as emotional as it was stressful, but when I saw the first cut from my editor (Phil Lepherd), I really felt the emotion of it! I wasn’t expecting that to happen as I knew all the strings being pulled, but I was so relieved that what I’d made connected on an emotional level. You never know if you’ve pulled it off till you see the cut, that’s the power of editing.
And they say never work with spouses, children or animals – this short covers two out of three. Is it as bad as people presume?
The shoot would have been impossible without having my husband Matthew there. When filming with animals their eye line is really important. If they are looking up at a trainer or in the opposite direction to the actor, you’ll lose the illusion really quickly. Bowie is a loyal, very loving dog, so it’s hard for him to stay in a place where he can’t see us. We worked as a team, so that he always felt supported and secure and if he didn’t want to do something, we’d come up with a new solution for the scene. It was a great way to learn how to think on your feet. I couldn’t have predicted what we would eventually get from him. Bowie would do something incredible and I would turn to our DOP Woody James and say, ‘you got that right?’ and he’d say ‘yep’ and we’d all just look at each other in awe of this little dog.
There was a moment on the third day of filming, I was stood in the sea in jeans and socks holding a sodden piece of chicken out to Bowie and begging him to bark, but he’d had enough. He didn’t want to bark and he didn’t want my cold slightly salty chicken either. I remember thinking ‘I might have to just give up on this, it’s not going to happen’ but then just as I was giving up, he saw a dog on the beach, had a play, came back and we got the shot. You definitely need a lot of patience, even when it’s your own dog. You have to find a way to make it a game and keep it fun, otherwise they lose interest. Spouse wise, I’ve made quite a few shorts with Matthew and even though I’m now directing a lot more on my own, he’s always my creative sound board. I really respect his opinion and love working with him.
Tell us a bit about the location you chose to shoot the film.
We shot the film in Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall. I’ve spent a few family holidays there and it’s such an incredibly beautiful place. The light is just amazing, we shot in April and had really lovely weather the whole time… we got lucky.
How was the response on the festival circuit?
It was great, the film premiered at Heartland Film Festival, which is an incredible festival I highly recommend it. We got in to the London Short Film Festival, The Smalls, DC Shorts and quite a few others ( I won’t list them all). The producer Adam and I went to the Oxford International Film Festival in Mississippi, where Southern hospitality is very real! They were so nice. We even got Bowie a passport and drove him to Germany for the International Film festival Emden – Norderney. He was invited to the screening, parties and even the awards ceremony where they honoured him with a Best Actor award. It also played at Cannes Lions with the Voice of a Woman Festival and got us a D&AD nomination for Best New Director.
Any favourite festivals that you want to give a shout out to?
Oh blimey, all of the ones that said yes! I think I’ll have to say the International Film festival Emden – Norderney. They were so accommodating of us and Bowie, they had a wonderful selection of films and the award was a wonderful addition.
What’s your advice for female filmmakers?
Don’t feel dictated to. You can tell whatever stories you want, they don’t have to be about ‘female’ subjects. Also, don’t take no for an answer. This is a difficult career whatever gender you are and the ones that grow thick skin, keep honing their craft and never give up are the ones that will make it in my opinion. I realised a long time ago that I couldn’t switch off this desire to tell stories and for a long time editing was the way that I fed that need. But now I’ve got too much to say to only tell other peoples’ stories, I’ve discovered my voice and it feels pretty amazing… scary, but amazing!
What’s your favourite biscuit?