Interview conducted by Leeds Beckett University Business School journalism student, Emily Carson. The Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett is the official education partner of the 2021 Harrogate Film Festival.
Your films are very Northern soul based, especially Fargate, with classic working-class culture and relatable humour – how does where you live influence how and what you make?
You are kind of only inspired to write about what you know and love. For me, I am from Sheffield and I am very proud to be Northern and passionate about the stories and characters here. I find Northern humour very funny, and it is the humour that I have grown up with, it massively impacts what I am interested in and what I want to write about. The things that I am coming out about is part of my childhood, my life and my current surroundings being here in the North. The main input has been the humour in my house growing up. My dad was always telling us jokes, so even if there was a difficult time for whatever reason as you are growing up, comedy was always a great relief and outlet for me. I think that is one of my main inspirations within my writing - to brighten up somebody else’s day and to hopefully change their state of mind and get some meaningful themes into the script.
Another important reason for me is that there could be a lot more stories like this out there. One of my passions is writing about older women-led characters because in film there is less stories about older women so that is something that I wanted to introduce.
The work you produce centres you as the main character, is this intentional?
I started out on this journey by going to drama school. Then when I was there, I started learning theatre directing and became one. When I wrote this, I did not have any character in mind that I was going to act, it just turned out that way. My thing when I am creating is that I do love acting and I do not have to be acting in everything I am doing but if there is a role and it is easy for me to do in terms of directing on top then I do that.
Where did the idea stem from for Fargate?
Usually how ideas come to me is I will have an idea and that is my idea, and I will write it down. With this one I knew funding was available and I thought about what idea I could write about that showcases my style and what I could do. I remember sitting down in my front room and just thinking about that idea and a bank robbery, a comedy of errors, and, miscommunication came to me and it came to me quite quickly so the bulk of the story came to me and then from there I just filled it out.
What makes a film great for you?
Ultimately it is the story, it always comes down to the story and characters. In comedy specifically, it is the characters in specific circumstances. The comedy comes from those characters, but it is important for me that it is funny as possible, which is also subjective because everybody has got a different sense of humour. One of the things I thrive for is to create a story that has the most believable and authentic characters and then to go for as many laugh out loud moments that I can, which organically come from the characters.
Who is your target audience?
I aim to appeal to a widespread audience from teenagers to pensioners, in terms of the story that I have and comedy in the characters. It is not an intentional but what I end up doing is something quite broad that would appeal to the different age groups. My teenage son has watched my films and I was analysing his positive reactions to then reading feedback from older people.
What feedback have you had on your films?
I have had great feedback. Because of lockdown, a lot of it has been shown online and in festivals. In Manchester there was an opportunity to get feedback and there was a large audience there and people have said how funny they found it, how they loved the story, the characters and the relationships between the characters and family. We won the global film festival awards in LA, we also won the best comedy, best actress and film director in an honourable mention from the school, and we got feedback from them also. At LA’s comedy and screenplay festival, they gave me live audience feedback and it was very similar in that they love the relationship between the family. What was really interesting to me is how much American’s have loved the humour and got the humour because it is so very Northern. This was quite interesting to me because I did not know how that would go but I knew The Full Monty went down really well in America so it was interesting to see that even though the film had strong North English dialect and slang which wouldn’t be familiar to American’s, they still really enjoyed it.
What has it been like for working numerous roles during a pandemic?
Because I am acting, directing, writing, and producing, it means that there is always something happening. I am still carrying on doing self-tapes and acting jobs at various points within the pandemic. Writing wise, I have continued, I have got funding from the British Film Institute development funding for a comedy feature film, so I have been doing that. I have recently done two other shorts, one with the BAFTA crew programme, as I am with them this year, and another one for a comedy competition, so I have continued to carry on doing the work. I have three children, so it’s been very challenging juggling my home and work life as my husband is a key worker so has worked throughout the pandemic. Therefore, I have been home schooling them and doing my own work but that creates more material for a comedy writer so overall it has not had a bad impact on my work. Positively, it has allowed me to continue writing projects even when the industry has temporarily shut down.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you?
When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin which had a huge impact in the comedy that I am writing now. I also used to love the Russ Abbot’s madhouse on a Saturday night which is funny as when I look back, they used some nice sketches and I think that had a big influence on my work.