Welcome to the first Female Filmmaker Friday on here. On one Friday every month, I’ll be celebrating the work of a woman I admire. This month, that person is writer/director Deborah Haywood.
She began by studying writing and then quickly got into writing short films, one of which she submitted to Creative England iShorts (then EM Media). It was selected and went into development. It was there that she was pushed into the deep end of directing.
This is where I really start admiring Deborah. Anyone can write a short and get it selected for development when that’s their craft. But to then be told you’re going to direct it, when you’ve never directed before and don’t even know what the job entails? That’s hard. To actually do it is even harder, but she did it! Despite being terrified, she did it anyway. And it was actually a success, even though she was frozen with fear. I think if you can do something well whilst being terrified, that’s a sign that you’re good at it.
Afterwards though, and fairly understandably, she didn’t want to direct again. She was happy and comfortable writing. But then she started hearing about the extremely low rates of female directors in the industry and decided that if she passed up the opportunity to direct again, she wasn’t doing anything to help those rates. I’m inspired by her not taking the easy way, and doing it for her daughter and all the other girls wanting to be directors.
Recently she made her first feature film, Pin Cushion, which was the Venice Critics’ Week opener. It’s been getting rave reviews from many major publications, and has an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And all this from being told by Creative England iShorts that, despite her terror, she was going to be a director.
One thing that really strikes me about her career is how, when talking about it, she talks so much more about her feelings at the time rather than her job title, or which company she’s with, or any of the stuff you’re meant to have on your CV and I like that. It’s refreshing, and it’s honest. Nobody looks back on their career and just puts it into stages of ‘this is when I was a short film writer’ or ‘this is when I was a runner’. It’s just not how we measure it, or remember it. You remember that feeling of abject horror when you slightly messed up one job and thought the director was going to kill you. You remember the feeling of extreme tiredness after working on a 15 hour shoot. And honestly, after 15 hours I wouldn’t be surprised if you forgot your own job title. I love how she digs into how she was truly feeling, and just talks about it.
In this industry I find that a lot of talk is censored, or manipulated. Actors on press junkets get given packs of information – key words to say, key words not to say, things to talk about (and not to talk about) – it’s not plain truth. When pitching a film to an investor I don’t tell them the plain truth either. Can you imagine?! ‘Well obviously it’s a short film so you won’t see any return on your investment, but the director is super keen and it might do well at festivals or online or something’. No. I don’t say that. It has to be told in a certain way that sounds positive, interesting, and above all, in a way that makes people want to help you make your film. In all the interviews I’ve seen or read, Deborah breaks from the ‘info pack speech’ and I like it.
Honesty is one of the things I’ve come to value most in filmmaking, because it’s not our go-to. Even when we talk about our work to other filmmakers (even when they’re just friends) we can find ourselves almost pitching the film to them, telling them about all its awards and accolades, instead of being honest and saying ‘well this one scene was a total nightmare and when it came to the edit, it only ended up being ten seconds of the overall film’ or some other typical annoyance of making a film. Whilst Deborah doesn’t automatically talk about all the annoying parts, she does talk truthfully about all of her career. She doesn’t sugarcoat it, she admits to being utterly afraid to direct, and continuing to be afraid to direct but doing it anyway.
One other things she said that struck me was, when asked about how rare female-centred films directed by women are, she said she was most scared of how few women get to make a second feature because she wanted to keep doing it. Imagine having that in your head whilst making a feature. It must feel like so much pressure to make this film as good as it could be because there might not even another one. And once again, despite seeming afraid, she did it anyway. That’s why she is this month’s female filmmaker.
If you’re quick, you can catch Pin Cushion at the Institute of Contemporary Arts this Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.