An Interview with Marcella Forster

Somehow, Marcella Forster manages to combine teaching in the school with award-winning film making.

Her latest short film The Lamb and Flag was shortlisted for the Best New Talent prize in the RTS Midlands Awards in September. “Daddy’s Girl” was written and directed by Marcella and was shot in 2007 in various locations in Lincolnshire. It won the Best UK Short award at the 2009 British Film Festival Los Angeles Gala Awards Ceremony in May.

In conversation with Radica Wright, Marcella talks about her passion for short film making:

What is “Daddy’s Girl” about?

Daddy's Girl (courtesy of Rea Mulligan)

Daddy's Girl (courtesy of Rea Mulligan)

Daddy’s Girl follows a 10-year-old girl on a day at the beach, where she gets scolded by her mother and grandma for falling in the sea and frightening her brother by driving a dodgem with her eyes shut. Later we find out that her father has just been blinded in a rugby accident.

I wanted to explore the way that children process their problems through play and at how this is often misinterpreted as “bad” behaviour by adults.

The film was funded by the UK Film Council DV Shorts scheme and shot in 2007 in Lincoln, Mablethorpe and Skegness on a budget of £10,000. Most of the crew were women, which is very unusual (in fact, in 2007 only 6% of fictional films in Hollywood were directed by women). This was the first film I’d directed. It’s played at festivals all over the world, including Rhode Island, Palm Springs, Detmold in Germany, CamboFest in Cambodia, and South Africa. This year it won Best UK Short at the British Film Festival Los Angeles.

What got you into script writing and film making?

I’ve always written. I was one of those annoying children who wrote plays and forced their siblings to take part and their parents to pay to watch. When I left school at 17, I was a junior reporter on a newspaper, and later, after university, I worked for a publisher as an editor and also wrote a few nonfiction books for them. When I moved to California, I had a story idea that I felt would work as a film, so I wrote my first screenplay.

As far as filmmaking goes, I’ve always been drawn to colour and design; when I worked in publishing I commissioned designs, illustrations and photos and always had strong ideas about what I wanted. I originally submitted Daddy’s Girl as a writer, imagining someone else would direct, but then I was asked to take on this role too – which was a great opportunity.

What is the relationship between writing and directing?

For me, they’re tightly interwoven because when I write a script I’m imagining what I’ll see on screen, so the images, composition and direction are already in my head. That’s not true for all writers, though. Writing is the hardest bit for me because I don’t like sitting still for long periods of time. The big-shot directors might not agree with me, but directing feels like playing with dolls when you’re a kid – choosing personalities, outfits, scenarios, locations. It’s great fun.

What/who has/had inspired you?

I admire directors and writers who are fearless. Antonia Bird, who directed Priest, Ravenous, Face, etc., has been a big influence. She optioned my first script. Darren Aranofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler etc.) is someone whose work I admire hugely. Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) is a fantastic writer.

Who were/are your mentors?

Antonia is a mentor. I also have a circle of friends who directed DV Shorts through EM Media at the same time as me and we all keep in touch and ask each other’s advice.

Why are you passionate about making short films?

Short films are where it’s at in filmmaking at the moment. Years ago no one was interested in them, but internet viewing has changed that. They’re not just a stepping stone to features now, they’re an art form in themselves.

What were the pros and cons of working with staff and students on this short?

Usually when you work on a short, it’s a brief, intense experience and you all say goodbye at the end and may never see each other again, which is quite sad, so it was good to work with people I could discuss the project with afterwards.

Working with students puts you in a potentially vulnerable position. As tutors we are used to being in a position where we are in control and offer advice, but having students watch us work put us in a more vulnerable position because they were witnessing us making decisions and potential mistakes. However, this was the strength of the experience for the students; when they are involved in their own productions, they’ll know that it’s normal for things to go wrong on set and they’ll have strategies for dealing with this because they’ve seen what we did. That’s an invaluable experience that they couldn’t get any other way.

The Lamb and Flag (courtesy Nancy Roach)

The Lamb and Flag (courtesy Nancy Roach)

What did you lose sleep over when making the Lamb & Flag?

So many things! One of the actors and the sound recordist had to pull out a couple of days before filming because shooting on their BBC projects was rescheduled, so they had to be replaced at the last minute. Luckily we got some great people to step in. Also, the film is set in 1977 and we were shooting in a pub that fitted the period and that was going to be renovated immediately after our shoot. However, between the rehearsal and the shoot, a modern laminate floor had been put down over the seventies carpet!

One challenge you say was making a low budget film, what else did you find a challenge and what happened?

When everyone’s working for nothing, it’s harder to ask them to give you more of their time or energy; you have to accept you might be unpopular, but that just goes with the territory of directing anyway.

One of the biggest challenges for me was that the child actor got stage fright right before his big scene, which involved him dancing in the midst of a crowd. He was really very upset. I won’t make children do something on set that they don’t feel comfortable with, so I talked to him about what he would feel comfortable doing. He said he’d be OK if just me, the cameraman and assistant were there. So we shot him dancing alone the next day, then intercut this with shots of the crowd in the edit. Although it seemed like a disaster at the time, that is my favourite part of the film now.

Poster designed by Adam O'Meara

Poster designed by Adam O'Meara

What did you learn from making the Lamb & Flag?

Go for what you want and don’t compromise.

How do you balance lecturing and script/film production?

With great difficulty. I often work seven days a week and I’m usually up by 6am. I’m a single parent with an 11-year-old son, so I don’t have much free time.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got two shorts in the pipeline. One is Mother’s Little Helper, which I’ve submitted to this year’s round of DV Shorts. The other is a project I’d like to shoot with students as crew; I’m in the process of applying for funding for that.

An excerpt from the script of The Lamb and Flag

An excerpt from the script of The Lamb and Flag

Download an excerpt of this script (pdf)

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