Spotlight on Female Directors Making it Happen

Spotlight on Female Directors Making it Happen

With there being a big focus right now on women in the industry, the new F-rating on IMDb, and on it being both a fair, and safe industry for women to work, we want to take a look at a selection of British talent who are taking the industry by storm – creating work that is powerful and exciting – and female lead. And not that being a female should ever stand in the way of doing incredible work, or getting the chance to, but we did want to find out, if it ever does.

Here we talk to directors Fenella Greenfield, Chryssanthi Kouri and Louise Cooke, about all things female director related.

Meet Fenella Greenfield…

Fenella GreenfieldFenella co-founded Euroscript (a screenwriters’ training organisation) and runs its annual Story competition. Her first short film Networked was produced in 1993 by the London Production Fund and the BBC. Starring Clive Rowe and Jenny Jules, it was the very first time the BBC built a 3D digital set for a live action drama! Most recently, Fenella has written and directed PILL a short comedy sci-fi film released in 2017. She’s also written two radio dramas for LBC, comedy for BBC radio (Weekending and Newsjack) and episodes for BBC dramas (Doctors). As script doctor and lecturer for Euroscript, Fenella reads and edits hundreds of scripts a year as well as freelancing as a TV and film trailer maker where she has won gold Promax awards in both the UK and US for her work.

 

Casting Networks: Can you tell us firstly about your recent short film, Pill, and how this piece came about?

Fenella Greenfield: People who work on film sets all their lives get good at the craft of filmmaking because, like any craft, the only way to learn is by doing.

The problem with working in an industry in which girls and women don’t get given jobs, is that they don’t get hands-on experience to develop this craft over their lives.

I realised I had to make some short films to get my filmmaking hands dirty. I also realised they had to be cheap as chips as I’m broke and I’d be paying for everything.

I was sitting in my kitchen thinking about an amazing film I saw ages ago – LAST NIGHT – and this gave me the idea for PILL. I looked down at my scuffed old kitchen floor and realised:

a) it would make a great prop for my film, and

b) it would be FREE.

So that’s how the idea came to me. Two girls (cheap). One pill (very cheap). One dirty old kitchen floor.

The plot beats came quickly once I had the idea and I wrote the script in a day – then did lots of rewrites, but mainly around trying to improve the dialogue. This included spending a day with the two actresses MAIA WATKINS and ROISIN KEOGH to make sure the script used words and phrases they’d use in real life. They’re a lot younger than me so this was important, as I believe the way we use language shifts as we move through our lives.

CNI: As a female director and writer, what motivates you to keep going even when it gets really challenging in the industry?

FG: If you think too much about how difficult it is to make it as a woman director you’d want to slit your wrists. I surround myself with women who are hungry to make films. I have lots of projects on the go all the time (a great way to meet even more women you can work with). And I go to festivals, talks, conferences – zoning in on women who I think might be useful to me in the future or vice versa. I also write lots of parts for women in my scripts – especially the extras – cops, security guards, dentists – you name it.

CNI: Can you tell us about any recent successes that Pill has had while hitting the festival circuit? And in terms of press and media, if it’s had any for you and/or your cast/crew?

FG: We finished the film in June 2107. From BAFTA I got the list of qualifying film festivals (if those festivals show your film you can enter it for a BAFTA and OSCAR). I entered it for a couple of the top ones (very expensive) and it didn’t get through. I quickly realised that my sweet, but quite silly little film isn’t really the kind of thing that’s going to win the big, so-called ‘important’ awards so I’ve chosen only to only put it in for festivals in London. This way, I can go and see it with my mates if it’s shown. It’s early days, but I think it’ll do well in these smaller, more local festivals. I absolutely love my little film, but it’s quite, well, little.

CNI: How do you think females are represented in the UK right now in terms of writing, directing and/or acting? And what do you think we need to do to make a change for the better long term?

FG: I don’t like to think about this at all because it makes me feel so angry. I’ve suffered quite horrendous and blatant discrimination all my career – I could tell you stories! What do we all need to do? Make films. Keep them small and cheap so we don’t lose control. Work with other women so we all build up our skills and our craft. Then, maybe, one day, we’ll all be more employable in that great big dirty (bloke’s) world out there.

PILL - Poster PILL_POSTER

 

Meet Chryssanthi Kouri…

chryssanthi kouri directorChryssanthi Kouri is an Athens-born director and writer who lives and works in London. She studied media, culture and acting and cut her teeth in filmmaking by watching 1000s of films, working as a crew member on many productions and picking up a camera of her own. Chryssanthi directs both film and theatre. In theatre she specialises in new writing and has directed many long and short plays in various fringe venues in London. She has a passion for character driven stories that express and explore human emotions. Her aim is to make films that are relatable, visually engaging and make people feel something. Her previous short ‘Unrequited’, has been described as “simple and complex, lyrical and accessible and beautifully executed”. Chryssanthi’s work can be seen on her website.

 

Casting Networks: Can you tell us firstly about your recent short film, Loft, and how this piece came about?

Chryssanthi Kouri: THE LOFT is a relationship drama about baggage and karma. It follows a young couple during the viewing of a perfect loft apartment, when a surprise from the past comes to threaten their relationship to breaking point. The idea came from the location itself which I’d found before I wrote the script. I had been looking to do a short film in one location shot in pretty much “real time” and once I found this location it all came together rather quickly. Relationships and their complexities is a running theme in my work and I knew I would be writing something along those lines so it didn’t long for the story to flesh out.

CNI: As a female director and writer, what motivates you to keep going even when it gets really challenging in the industry?

CK: The success of other female directors and writers is definitely a motivating factor. It’s great to see all these amazing filmmakers create their own work and breaking into “the boys’ club”. People talk about Patty Jenkins (the Wonder Woman director) like she’s just got successful, but she’s been directing for decades. For her to finally land a huge blockbuster is a great win for female directors because it says “you can trust us with your big budget movies”. But filmmaking is tough as a career in general and needs masses of resilience, so I think you also need to be a little insane to keep on going! For me, it’s just something I have to do because I see sparks of films everywhere in my daily life. I get pictures and dialogue lines in my head and I think if I didn’t have this outlet I’d be certifiably insane!

CNI: Can you tell us about any recent successes that Loft has had while hitting the festival circuit? And in terms of press and media, if it’s had any for you and/or your cast/crew?

CK: It’s still early days for THE LOFT as it only started its festival journey a month ago and I’ll be finding out if it’s been selected to festivals from January onwards. It has had one offer to screen at a London festival in spring as a result of a private industry screening I had recently. I can’t tell you which as it has not been officially announced yet!

CNI: How do you think females are represented in the UK right now in terms of writing, directing and/or acting? And what do you think we need to do to make a change for the better long term?

CK: The representation of females in the UK industry is still pretty dire, which is not only my opinion but also a fact backed by recent research. The most telling of all is the Director’s UK report entitled Cut Out of The Picture. It shows that women represent only 13.6% of working film directors in recent years, which is a ridiculously low number. There have been some positive steps, like the BFI’s commitment to spread its funding equally between male & female directors but there’s still a lot to be done.

I think the most important thing is a shift in mentality at the top. Women directors and writers need not only to be encouraged, but also trusted, that they can do as good a job as their male counterparts and that the stories they have to tell are just as worthy and can be just as successful. I don’t think there’s that trust yet. Gender parity in decision maker positions will also help the UK industry become less of a boys’ club. Oh and yeah, we need to paid the same as men for the same job thank you.

170728_Poster_The_Loft_A3_LR

 

Meet Louise Cooke…

Louise Cooke is a writer and director making films with complex female characters at the centre of the narrative. Her previous short films have screened both at home in the UK and internationally at renowned festivals including LSFF, Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival and InsideOut Toronto. In 2017 Louise was selected for BAFTA Crew and the Film London ‘London Calling’ scheme. Her fifth short, PILLOW TALK, is currently playing at festivals and she has recently completed her sixth short film BREATHE.

 

Casting Networks: Can you tell us firstly about your recent short film, Breathe, and how this piece came about?

Louise Cooke: Breathe is my sixth short film but fifth fiction short and it was funded via the Eastern Edge Film Fund which is part of Film London’s ‘London Calling’ short film fund for Walthamstow and Redbridge filmmakers. Film London funded 23 short films as part of this years fund and it was a long process which began with me putting the first draft of the script together last summer. I applied at the end of October and found out November that Breathe was one of six Eastern Edge scripts short listed and was invited to a script day along with all shortlisted filmmakers who had been shortlisted for the fund. We then had to redraft and we had our final interview in January and got the call two days later to say we had got the funding.

Breathe is about what happens after a tragic accident and how it affects both a stranger and a close family member. During the script development however, this changed somewhat from what my initial vision for the script was. The script development was the biggest struggle for me when making the film because you are not necessarily working with a script editor that reflects your style of filmmaking or understands the story you’re trying to tell and for me I found it very difficult to pick out the wheat from the chaff from their notes.

Having made both funded films and self-funded films with more creative control I absolutely think it’s an important learning experience for writers and directors. The best advice I would give is to go into it prepared to fight for your vision because only you can fight for it, just be prepared not to win every battle.

CNI: As a female director and writer, what motivates you to keep going even when it gets really challenging in the industry?

LC: What motivates me is the continual need and thirst to keep creating, I don’t know what else to do with my life in all honesty! It’s the need to create stories that you don’t often see in mainstream cinema, one film that has particularly inspired me this year is French coming of age film Raw. I believe a writer’s role is to share their world with others, and this is the same for female writers, it’s just that our world is not often seen in mainstream cinema. This is changing though and the current system is being challenged but there is still a long way to go when it comes to equal representation for not just to crew, but on screen female representation as well.

When I made my first non-student short, First Bite (also Film London funded) I turned up to look at a location which my female production manager had arranged with the owner. And when we turned up she introduced me to the female owner as the director, who promptly replied ‘oh, I thought you’d be a man’. I was shocked and taken back and I think I remember just awkwardly laughing (we used a different location in the end).

CNI: Can you tell us about any recent successes that Breathe has had while hitting the festival circuit? Or if it hasn’t, where it is at? And in terms of press and media, if it’s had any for you and/or your cast/crew?

LC: Breathe was only recently completed at the end of September so I’m currently submitting it to festivals but my previous short film Pillow Talk which I made last September is doing well at festivals. Its an LGBT coming of age film set in 1993 and most recently it was nominated for Best British Short at the Iris Prize and Best Production Design at Underwire Festival. Underwire is a great festival that’s been going since 2010 that champions female talent and representation and its an honour to keep having my films selected. First Bite, which won Best Composer in 2011 for Victoria Wijeratne and Siren in 2014, nominated for Best Cinematography by Laura Bellingham.

CNI: How do you think females are represented in the UK right now in terms of writing, directing and/or acting? And what do you think we need to do to make a change for the better long term?

LC: As I said, I think things are being shaken up for the better but there is still some way to go before we achieve equal representation. Directors UK and ERA are both doing great things to help achieve equal representation. I think we need to have more female executives, more women in positions of power when it comes to television and feature film funding because it’s all well and good to have 50-50 gender split in directors on short film schemes but it’s the next step up where the gender disparity really shows. Ultimately I want women to be seen as ‘directors’ not as the token ‘female director’, because we do the same job (when we get the opportunity to!)

Breath Still

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