Q&A with filmmaker, Alex Preston from Gretel and Hansel: A New Musical

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Interview conducted by Leeds Beckett University Business School journalism student, Sam Teesdale. The Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett is the official education partner of the 2021 Harrogate Film Festival.

How did you find your passion for filmmaking?

I think my passion started as a kid. I got my first feel for film editing at about age 10, I would just go into your basic Windows Movie Maker and put a clip or a graphic in there. That's where it all started, messing around inside the software. I just thought, ‘Oh, this is so cool - what can I make with this?’

My mom was a dance teacher throughout my entire life and that inspired me in a couple of different ways. Firstly, I started editing at a very young age because I was editing her competition dance routine music. As I was editing regularly, I got used to matching beats, transitions and figuring all that out. The other benefit from that sort of background was that I learned to understand rhythm really well. So, I think having that knowledge benefits me - it’s instinctive.

What was it like creating your film, ‘Gretel and Hansel: A New Musical’?

It was a lot of fun - but every film has its challenges. We began our first weekend of shooting on location at the bridge. We thought ‘Go big or go home, we're gonna get the hard stuff out of the way first!’

This bridge was not a nearby location, it's about two and a half hours north of where we live. We had to arrange housing for our whole crew, which was a logistical feat in itself. We then discovered that while our location was probably one of the best choices we could have made, it was not without its technical challenges. There was no Wi-Fi. There was no cell phone reception. There was no email - we had a generator with only two outlets! So, we were pressed on resources, but it added to the magic of shooting in the woods and shooting completely isolated from civilization.

Alex Preston film 1

Gretel and Hansel: A New Musical

What sources of inspiration did you draw on for the creation of this film?

The works of the Grimm Brothers inspired me a lot. Our film is an adaptation of their Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, so, that's where it all started. I wanted to be very mindful of staying true to that story, so I approached it very methodically. I thought; What do we know about Gretel? What do we know about Hansel? What do they want in their story world?

It was very apparent to me that their family structure in the source material was broken. They didn't have a mom, they didn't know that person. So, I thought that was a very innate drive for a character to have. That's as good a story as any - finding your mom.

How big was the task of writing, directing and producing the film, all at once?

It was a challenge - but I wasn't without help. I did my draft of the script and brought it to our music writers. We took it as a conversation from there, as to which moments we shouldn't musicalise and which should be more dialogue-based. The music and lyrics were written by Brad Bass and Cari Joy. They are responsible for the musicianship of the entire piece.

My production partner, Dany Flores, was an invaluable asset to our production. I could not have done it without Dany. She essentially found most of our crew people - all our man and woman power, our incredible artists and technicians too. She did a lot of the heavy lifting for sure. David Lane wrote the score and arrangements. He took the music and brought the story to life. That was my favourite part of production, placing the music tracks in the final edit.

Alex Preston Film 3

Alex Preston, Filmmaker

How does it feel to be involved in the Harrogate Film Festival?

It's an incredible opportunity, just to see the hard work of my fellow classmates represented and to see it go somewhere. So many of our short films from class never see the light of day because they don’t get that final, last polish. I only wish that we could do this face-to-face, but this is definitely the next best thing - we're so pleased to be involved in any capacity.

What’s next for you in your career?

Right now, I'm working on a new, short horror film. The source material is by Stephen King so it's another adaptation film. We're also taking Gretel and Hansel into feature film, screenplay territory. That's been in the works since the inception of the project. It will be coming out, optimistically within the next five to 10 years.

Sam Teesdale

Sam Teesdale