British favourite, actor Jessica Hynes was on the podcast this week – such a treat! She shared her experience of screenwriting, something that she has always done, and what it was like making her debut film, as a director.
Jessica said that because they had a very short timeframe, they had to use a micro-budget model. “That whole micro-movie, micro-budget, quick-movie thing was really pioneered by Jamie Adams, who was just absolutely passionate about trying to make movies with no money in a very small amount of time – a five or six days shoot with a very clever, agile cinematographer and camera operator, AKA Ryan Eddleston.”
She went on to say that Jamie gets his funding and support “by attaching a star that was amicable enough, at least for the very small outlay for the budget. The investors were comforted by the presence of these American stars who were happy to fly over and do these films on the hoof because they were only a week commitment.”
She worked with Jamie on Songbird and was “very curious as to how Jamie was making these films”. While working on the film she met Jamie’s financier Maggie Monteith.
Maggie asked Jessica whether she had any ideas. “I had one, kind of percolating that I thought would be really good for the micro-budget model.”
The film was set in her hometown, with walkable locations. Everything could be localised, and done quickly. “Jamie was really keen to be involved and support that. He’s the most generous collaborator; he genuinely, enthusiastically wants other people to make films that they want to make.”
From Writing to Directing
CJ asked Jessica if any part of the script was changed, once she started directing it.
“We were coming towards the end of the third day and this scene was coming up and we had Rhona (Mitra) for one day only. She was flying over from LA for one day.
Obviously, I would’ve liked more time. There was a particular scene that I hadn’t had time to really consider, and when I knew that we only had her for one day, and I was thinking about the day’s shoot, and how realistically we were going to do it. This scene was vital. It was a pivotal, important, dogleg, emotional moment that needed to happen.”
This scene involved Tina, Jordan and Amanda. “So I sat down and said, we need to re-imagine this and just talked it through.”
“I knew the location because it was local to me. I’d walked around the location to understand the physicality and where cameras could go and where lighting would be. The nature of the locations was really useful. It’s multi-layered, so we could get some beautiful long shots – think Curaçao through the forest, sort of Yojimbo through the leaves.”
That was the only scene that was changed. “At the river, where Tina comes across Jordan and Amanda arguing through the trees. It’s a moment of change and reconciliation for Tina. It’s a moment where she can reflect and move through something – which is what the film needed at that point, and why that scene was so important and why we needed Amanda to be part of it. The only thing I didn’t get, was a moment of reconciliation between Amanda and Jordan. I wanted a shot where they were silently reconciled.”
Being a Writer/ Director
Jessica has “had lots of ideas, but this was different. I was sort of electrified and excited that I was going to also direct it.”
She said she “can’t explain the bliss and joy of that, and having a freedom to say that I was going to be behind the camera – when everything was going to happen, to know what I was trying to explain, and to express that.”
“I was going to be able to play through, on-screen, that freedom and opportunity. It was electrifying and different from how I felt when I was just writing, because it feels like so much of what I learned when I was filming, the key thing that everybody tells you but you don’t really learn until you do, is a story in pictures.”
Filmmaking is “telling the story in pictures and I felt that my confidence in that notion grew immeasurably in the days that I was filming. I look at the film and the areas that I engage with and I’m most pleased with are those areas where you don’t need words. You’re telling the story in pictures.”
She said that as a writer “it’s much harder to tell that story in pictures on the page. And when you get a chance to be a writer/ director, you can really make those decisions and make those calls when you’re on set, in a way that you can’t really when you’re a writer.”
Her writing style is very “shot driven. I think in terms of shots, I write in terms of how things are going to look on screen, which I think is perhaps why I have ended up directing. Because I think instinctively I’ve always written like that.”
“I remember working with a producer called Ruth Caleb, who was an amazing BBC producer and has made some incredible films. One of her sayings was ‘No is just a delayed yes’. Not a maybe, it’s going to be a yes. Just give it some time. If there’s something you want, just keep going for it.”
Ruth “was also fantastic on script and storytelling, and so many notes that she would give me when I was writing are the ones I remember. When you work with a really good producer on a script, you begin to second guess their notes.
You think, ‘I know what they’re going to say. So I might as well do it now. And they’re right.’ Or you go, ‘I know what they’re going to say. And actually, there’s a good reason why I’m not going to do what I think they’re going to say.’ ”
Jessica says that because of her brilliant notes, she now approaches things stage by stage “remembering all the great notes I’ve ever been given by producers. And trying to keep a forward momentum narrative with characters that are constantly folding back in on each other.”
Moving Forward – What Have You Learnt?
The key thing that Jessica learnt about making The Fight? “Image. Telling it in pictures. You don’t need words, they get in the way most times. Once you understand your world and your characters and the emotional story you’re going to tell, you can tell that on screen, you can tell that story in pictures. You don’t have to spell anything out because everything comes across if you know what you’re trying to explore.”
To hear more of Jessica Hynes’ brilliant podcast, have a listen here.