A year on from the Red Rock Entertainment film competition, we bring you an exclusive interview with the talented Alice Trueman. Alice has written, directed and edited her new short film Jas, which featured at the short film corner at Cannes Film Festival 2017 this year. Produced By @Red Rock Entertainment. Alice won the Red Rock Film Competition last year; she was awarded £5,000 production grant to create her short film. Her winning pitch and screenplay were selected from hundreds of entries by an industry panel which included actress Linda Robinson, Phillip Ilson, Director of the London Short Film Festival and The BFI London Film Festival. Roger Morris, Managing Director of Elstree Studios. Stephen Cookson, Award-winning writer and director and Gary Collins, Managing Director of Red Rock Entertainment.
“I can’t quite believe it was a year ago that I won the Red Rock Entertainment film prize and 5K to make my second short film, Jas. What a year it’s been! Paul DuBois – massive thanks to you for being my filmmaking guardian angel, and of course to the lovely people at Red Rock Entertainment”
The Full Interview with Alice Trueman.
How was the process of making your film JAS and what challenges did you have to overcome to make it?
I have worked on many projects as a writer and script editor, but Jas is only my second directing project, so there were lots to learn. I’m pretty sure you never stop learning as a director though since every project is so different and presents a whole bunch of new challenges. This particular time around one of the greatest challenges involved finding my feet in Hastings where the film is shot and where I had recently relocated. I had trouble finding a local producer, so I accidentally ended up producing the whole picture as well as writing, directing and editing, which retrospectively was a bit nut! However, I otherwise managed to bring together a strong team of passionate and mostly local filmmakers and actors and it was really exciting to find a fantastic, upcoming local actor, Melanie Wilder, to play Jas. I was also able to bring down two fantastic cinematographers from London – Zach Ellams and Tim O’Leary – who captured some really stunning photography. I was lucky enough to buddy up with Apropos Productions, for insurance cover, contracting and guidance and they, along with my cinematographers, helped me source kit: the Sony AS7 allowed us to shoot in insanely low light conditions and aided us in our ambition to use mostly natural light sources. The whole thing was an incredibly steep learning curve, but the best way to learn is definitely by dumping the arm-bands and jumping straight in head-first. I have eventually managed to create something I am proud of and which has taught me a lot.
How has your £5,000 win from the Red Rock Entertainment short film competition, helping you to create ‘JAS’ the film?
It quite simply couldn’t have been made without the funding from Red Rock Entertainment. My first short was made on a very thin shoestring – it was a one-room location, a one-day shoot and with only two actors, whereas Jas was much more ambitious. We had over a dozen locations across a 5-day shoot and with a 7-strong cast. And a car chase. Why oh why did I write a car chase….?! I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself! So the £5,000 was integral in bringing this 15 minute short to live. As well as the financial prize I also found it enormously encouraging to win the competition and the overall support from Red Rock Entertainment that came along with it. Knowing they believed in the project, and in my capacity to pull it off, helped me to focus my efforts and work the idea for the film into a reality. I made the decision early on to pay absolutely everyone involved on the shoot since I think it’s a shame that there is such a culture of not paying people at entry level in the arts. Of course, it’s not always possible, but on this occasion, the funding from Red Rock allowed me to, and I was able to financially respect the time and input of my collaborators. The money also enabled us to pull off all the logistical challenges involved in putting something like this together: transporting people around, feeding everyone, securing locations, and even commissioning two local artists to create some artwork we needed as props for the film. Having a budget allowed all these elements, actors and crew to come together in a concerted manner.
What is the message of the film? / What do you hope audiences will take from the film? I guess I don’t want to impose any specific meaning for the viewer to take away – they will find what they will in the film, and as individuals, they are somewhat involved in the creation of that meaning. So for me, there is no overt ‘meaning’ as such – I tend to shy away from overly considered and ‘neat’ endings. The film is more of a layering of characters with their conflicting motivations, some of which may be picked up on by the viewer, others of which may not, and most probably there is a whole bunch of messages I didn’t even realise the film was communicating! But I will say this: we are obviously living through very fractious times, with a great many differences and disparities within our local communities. Yet, Somehow we are bound together by our common humanity and fallibility, and I suppose the film is in some senses about trying to connect with that. Jas is impelled towards these various forces of conflict; thrown between these various coordinates, on a map not of her making. I’m getting a bit obtuse now. Hopefully, the reader might watch it one day and be able to tell me that they took something completely else from it.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why? I tend to enjoy films that are darkly comic or hit on some symptom of the human condition in a genuine, unflinching way – or ideally some combination of the two. I also have this fascination with films that manage to take a flight from reality to create a visual metaphor, or an arresting, ‘verfremdungseffekt’ mise-en-scene, or to excavate the deep recesses of a character’s psyche. When these flights take place against a backdrop of something very grounded and real, with raw, emotional integrity, and even humour; that fusion is exciting to me. For example, Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire, Paolo Sorrentino’s astounding The Great Beauty, and the work of Lynch, Bergman, Fellini, and many others besides… More recently I have loved Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman for similar reasons. I do love a sense of the surreal, and it is something I am interested in exploring in my work, and I am journeying towards it, particularly in the projects I have been writing most recently.
What made you want to get into film and become a director? First and foremost I am a writer, initially in the theatre, and now in film, and I am still becoming a director. To be honest, it is just a route I am naturally finding myself drawn towards since I write very visually and know quite clearly what I want the viewer to experience and see unfold on screen. Plus I love the process of working with actors having acted a little bit myself, back in the mists of time. I am still starting out in my work as a film director, so I am not quite able to look back on the hows and whys just yet. Although when I was about 8, I started making stop-motion films on my dad’s old camcorder with lego figures I moved a painfully tiny amount, bit by bit…and voiced them in a ridiculous fashion. So I suppose the film-making drive has always been in there from a young age! You could say I made ‘Lego, The Movie’, years before anyone else.
What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?
I’m not sure audiences necessarily always know exactly what they want until they get it. And I do think an audience can feel when a filmmaker is ‘faking it’, trying to anticipate their audience’s taste – such work quickly feels old or cliche. Whereas I strongly believe that those ideas that come from the heart tend to resonate with audiences, however ‘far out’, unusual or even alien the ideas being expressed. So perhaps that’s simply to do with authenticity. I do think audiences crave that true ‘voice’ – an unflinching and brave vision. But there are so many steps and voices from script to screen that can threaten to compromise that vision if we are too concerned about deferring to what has worked in the past.
Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story or not do something else? Why or why not?
I think all art is inherently political in the sense that in some way it reflects the world back at itself. Art imitates life, and then life imitates art again. And I think now more so than ever we might perhaps be mindful of the power that stories can possess to change the very world we live in. But the only responsibility I would really say that filmmakers have, is that we make sure that the stories we tell do actually reflect the world we live in, and I mean that in the sense of proper and proportionate representation of women, BAME, LGBTQ, and disabled characters being up there in central roles along with the white, cis, able-bodied males – because they all together make up the diverse cultures of our planet.
How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?
Being from a theatre background the art certainly came before the Commerce – you don’t go into the theatre to get rich! And to be honest as a filmmaker you shouldn’t either since it is tough going, particularly when you are starting out – when it’s this tough to pull off you’d better make sure it also nourishes you, you’d better make sure you love it! It’s a play between letting yourself dream as you create, but recognising the value in anchoring your ideas within the confines of certain limitations. In the film, you do have to get used to being flexible enough to respond to the needs of the producer while fighting those battles you know you must win in order not to compromise the story you are trying to tell.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming filmmakers?
Just keep on making stuff. Get the Lego out.