Females in Film is a 5 month mentoring programme specifically for up and coming female filmmakers and writers with a production budget. Theresa took part in the programme last year and Eastside asked her a few questions on how she found the experience. Theresa gave an insightful and honest view of her time on Females in Film, we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did.
Eastside: Tell us about your connection to Eastside?
Theresa: In 2019 I was sent an opportunity to participate in ‘Females In Film’, a programme run by Eastside. The programme was centred around up and coming female filmmakers and writers and provided the space to receive help from a mentor, gain access to resources, and meet fellow females in film.
“I’m an advocate for setting up your own tables when there isn’t a seat at the larger ones and I got a taste of it through creating my short film.“
Eastside: Tell us about the Female in Film Programme and why you got involved?
Theresa: The current state of the film industry, though evolved, is lacking a necessary female presence, especially behind the camera. As a programme, Females In Film enables the improvement of those odds by equipping prospective female filmmakers with access and experience. The effectiveness of the programme, I believe, is in its women majority participation from the organisation, to mentorship, to participation its almost all women. This is a necessary point to highlight as the industry is male-dominated. The presence of all those women reaffirms that there are space and acceptance for women too. I got involved in the programme because I lacked experience in a non-academic sphere. I had studied creative media production at college and I’m currently studying anthropology and visual practice and whilst I have made films throughout both courses, all of which add to one’s experience, I believe there’s a higher level of experience when producing your own work for yourself. I also joined because it can be difficult to find opportunities and the programme was enabling me to create a film for myself. I’m an advocate for setting up your own tables when there isn’t a seat at the larger ones and I got a taste of it through creating my short film. Lastly, I got involved because I wanted to see if the film is really for me and the experience confirmed that it is.
“It’s so easy to be overwhelmed and overcome by issues of race, discrimination, prejudice and the like. Although I speak about changing your mind, I am in no way saying completely dismiss it, instead, I’m saying don’t let it rob you of the free life that you could live. Find the balance.“
Eastside: What was your story about and why did you want to tell this story?
Theresa: ‘Wherever I Go’ is a story about coping. The protagonist, Wahu, has lost her grandmother and is overwhelmed with emotion. As she embarks on a journey she is unpleasantly scrutinised by a fellow passenger. She is immediately uncomfortable. The story asks what she will do and what can the viewer do in similar situations. Through the film, we see how microaggressions in hindsight may seem small but can become macro through continual exposure and experience in addition to life’s day to day issues.It may sound strange but I didn’t choose the story per se, it chose me. It came to me as a fully formed scene. I was on my way to class, listening to ‘Appreciation’ by Sunny Ade and as I entered the university building I had a vision. Somewhat like Raven Simone haha. I saw a girl on a bus, she was alone, she looked to her right to find that a woman was staring at her. When I saw the girl again, she was surrounded by African masquerade figures in full attire. The type that Phyllis Galembo documents in her book ‘Maske’. Once I had the vision I knew I wanted to explore it and bring it to reality. I decided to tell this story to inject hope into a hopeless culture. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed and overcome by issues of race, discrimination, prejudice and the like. Although I speak about changing your mind, I am in no way saying completely dismiss it, instead, I’m saying don’t let it rob you of the free life that you could live. Find the balance.
Eastside: What role did you have on the project?
Theresa: My primary role in the making of the film was director. I say primary role because the crew was pretty small and onset I doubled up as producer as well as any other role that needed to be filled. The filling of multiple roles is probably what intensified my experience and increased the difficulty levels but despite it, all the experience was worthwhile. I mean when you’ve cried in front of an actress out of complete stress and pressure, pulled yourself together and wrapped up, then, that’s when you know you can do it again. Before ‘Wherever I Go’, my directing experience was limited to school projects and photography shoots. However, film directing is completely different from photography or a music video project. With film you’re trying to embody a particular character, you’re trying to convey a particular message, you’re trying to put a story together. You’re directing the actors in their ability to bring forth emotion and when they’ve gone over the same lines for the 10th time and they’re becoming weary you have to direct the energy right back into their performance. Getting creative with how to draw what you need from them and bring your characters to life as you envision them. It is truly an art form in its own right.
Eastside: How did the production go?
Theresa: Production is always a unique experience. The distinction of this production experience in comparison to others was that I was the vision carrier. This meant that all pre-production, even if delegated elsewhere, had to be scrutinised by myself to ensure it fits the vision. It meant that I was making executive decisions and while I wasn’t afraid to do so, in a film setting of this degree it was quite foreign. Thankfully I had a fantastic producer that was dedicated and able to help fill in the gaps as well as an amazing crew of experienced and patient individuals that helped bring it all to life.
Working with [my mentor] Onyeka was such a needed encounter. She helped me through it all. From changing film ideas three times to providing resources and also availing herself whenever I had a question or needed advice. The initial film idea was a documentary but due to the availability of the protagonist and the lack of time, I decided to go with the short film. Even with the short film, I was advised to consider changing the format to a shorter story or something more reasonable but my ideas are always quite ambitious and in the end, I decided to stick with the original story. While I know it could have been a lot better I don’t regret it and it’s thanks to Onyeka for adapting with my vision and supporting me all the way through.
I gathered my cast and crew in different ways. Some of them I gained through Mandy.com, a creative professionals job platform, some through social media and others in person. Meeting the protagonist and some of the extra’s was memorable. I met them through Maktub theatre company. I got in touch with the director and we organised that I would come in and see the actors in action. After they practised drills there was a moment where I was put on the spot and had to come up with scenarios. It enabled me to witness all the actors play different roles within the scenarios and I was able to see who would be the best fit for the film. I enjoyed that process a lot. That activity helped me understand casting a little more.
“Something is thrilling about seeing footage and being able to trace it back to a drawing, script, photo or even just the initial vision in your head.“
Eastside: What were your highlights during the project?
Theresa: Other than casting the actors through the theatre company my highlights include seeing my storyboard drawings come to life, location scouting on an empty bus and wrapping up. Something is thrilling about seeing footage and being able to trace it back to a drawing, script, photo or even just the initial vision in your head. It’s rare that the things you think, feel or see are experienced by others and yet right before you lies a representation of it all. I will never forget location scouting with the bus driver on an empty bus and going past each stop and seeing it play out in my head.
Wrapping up was also a highlight because it reinforced my confidence in my ability to complete the project. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be or if I’d even be able to wrap up the film in time. To get to the end of that last scene and tell the cast and crew that it was a wrap was like exhaling after holding in your breath for a long time.
Eastside: Tell us about one or more challenges during the day/ project?
Theresa: There were many challenges during the length of the project. The first challenge was having to find a second DOP almost four days before the shoot day. The second challenge was the absence of my producer on the shoot days. I would not recommend shooting without your producer or any other members of your crew for that matter. It was hard at times to focus on directing because where my producer would have been the point of contact or the one to answer questions I was taking on some of those responsibilities. The third and most notable challenge was almost losing my lead actress on the second day of shooting. I know what to do next time, so I’m grateful for each challenge.
Eastside: What did you learn from this experience?
Theresa: I learned that it’s all about taking steps. No director emerged fully formed. They had to start from somewhere, make mistakes and face challenges. While I knew of this I understood it better through the mentorship programme and the creation of my film. Extracting the internal and producing it externally is always going to be difficult. You have more control, resources and access in the imaginary than you do in reality but through practice, you get closer and closer to accurate representations. You can’t let the inaccuracy hinder you or your lack of skill. I learned that a lack of something doesn’t disqualify you but it can impact how everyone else engages with you and your vision. You have to believe in your ability and vision no matter the level you’re at. I find that particularly difficult at times but the experience helped me get closer to practising that self-belief. I walked away having made a film, providing other people with experiences and jobs and sharpening my skills. I gained more than I lost. What I learned a year on from the experience is the extent to which such an experience can impact your life. Had I not taken the steps that I did, I wouldn’t have discovered more about myself, my strengths nor would I be writing this post. To me, that’s pretty big.
“Organise and manage your time effectively so you get the most of the experience. Allocate plenty of time for pre-production. The more thorough your plans, the better your execution.”
Eastside: Any advice to someone who gets a similar opportunity?
Theresa: Nothing is impossible. Whatever the vision is, Whatever the dream is, it can be realised and if it can be realised, it can be viewed by others. The key is to be fixated on the vision. You can’t lose sight of it or give up on it. Keep working on it. I also learnt that everyone is capable of. What differentiates those that achieve and those that don’t isn’t talent, that can be developed, its endurance, drive and hard work. It’s cliche but maybe what isn’t often told is that these things are attainable and when you love and have a genuine interest in what you’re doing they come as part of the package.Organise and manage your time effectively so you get the most of the experience. Allocate plenty of time for pre production. The more thorough your plans, the better your execution. Having enough time also cuts costs. I spent quite a bit on my project but I didn’t need to. Had I given myself enough time to find and communicate with the right people the project could have been cheaper. That being said don’t be afraid to invest in your project either. Do it wisely. Finally make sure that the people that you work with, have the same vision or can see your vision. A failure to do so results in a subpar version of your vision. There are things that you might think could work but then you’ll realise on the set that it’s not up to scratch. It won’t be too late but it would take a lot to rectify it. Plan thoroughly, organise your time effectively and believe in yourself and your vision.