Author: filmicthepage

Be Honest: The Ben Elton Interview

Be Honest: The Ben Elton Interview

BY JON MEYERS — As you, my readers, know well, my favorite film of this summer was Ben Elton’s Three Summers, which I saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June.   After posting my review online, Ben’s wife, musician Sophie Gare, made Ben read my review (usually, he notoriously avoids reviews at all costs).  Ben sent me an extremely gracious Thank You letter — and after I responded, he even more graciously agreed to the interview you are about to read.

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Ben Elton is a film, theatre, and television writer/director.  He is also a best-selling novelist, a stand-up comedian, an actor. Born in Catford South East London in 1959, Ben became an Australian citizen in 2004. He and Sophie have three children and live in Fremantle Western Australia.

Best known in the US for The Young Ones (BBC 1982/4, MTV 1985) Writer (with Rik Mayall and Lisa Meyer), Blackadder 2 (1983) Co-writer with Richard Curtis, Blackadder The Third (1987) Co-writer with Richard Curtis, Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) Co-writer with Richard Curtis — and currently Upstart Crow (2016/17/18) Writer.  Ben also wrote Mr Bean’s “exam” episode.  As far as feature films go, he has worked on at least a dozen, but is best known for Maybe Baby (2000) Writer/Director — and of course now, Three Summers (2017) Writer/Director.

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THE BEN ELTON INTERVIEW

JON MEYERS:  Thank you so much, Ben Elton for giving me this interview.  Before we get to Three Summers, a rare gem of a film, for certain, I’d like to ask about your process, the nuts-and-bolts of your screenwriting regimen.  Tell me about your typical sequence from initial thought to logline to first draft to shooting script.

BEN ELTON:  Just to start I should say that I am very much a ‘writer’ as opposed to a ‘screenwriter’. Some writers specialize in screen I know, particularly in America where you have such a massive and vibrant industry. Such a selective decision would be more problematic in the UK (or Australia) where we don’t really have a movie industry as such but just make some films sometimes. I started in TV and moved on to theatre and novels before I had a chance at making a movie and then it was seventeen years before I made another!

JM:  How detailed is your initial outline?

BE:  Not very at all, be it for a TV show, novel, play or screenplay. I begin with an idea perhaps with the big broad scope of where it might take me vaguely in my head. Then I begin. Just trying to get stuff down. Pushing ahead, making notes as I go along as to where it might go (and new places it might start). Only when I have wrestled my way into it by simply writing to I begin to consider the detail of the plot. My process of writing is like that EM Forster quote. How can I know what I’m writing until I can see at least something of what I’ve written.

JM:  Do you notecard?

BE:  I don’t know what note card is. I scrawl notes on bits of paper and open numerous hopeful ‘word’ documents to try and collate my thoughts. Once when writing a series of a sit com with multiple plots I did write bits on different coloured cards and blue tack them across the book shelves, but only once.

JM:  Does it start longhand then at some point you start typing, or is it typing all along?

BE:  Teaching myself to type was the best think I ever did. All my early work was in long hand. I actually built up a horrible callus on my pen finger that got infected (too much information?) and then nobody could read it anyway. Then when I could type I got an electronic type writer and within a year on the suggestion of Stephen Fry I bought a Mac Classic that was in 1985. I started word processing and have scarcely written a word in long hand since. Word processing has been incredible for me. All my scripts prior to that were covered in stuck on additions and pasted instructions to see attached rewrite.

JM:  Do you use Final Draft or something else?

BE:  I use Final Draft and have done since the late 90’s. I wish they wouldn’t upgrade it, I really only need what they had at the beginning but I guess they have to create product to sell. It’s quite brilliant and I should like to say thank you to whoever designed it. For prose (novels and stand up routines) I use Word.

JM:  Now that we know your typical process, did Three Summers vary in anyway?

BE:  No all my writing is the same. An idea occs to me and I begin to improvise with it on the page. When I have something I think worthy of sharing I bring in the relevant colleagues, Producer for a movie or TV or Publisher for a novel, get their notes and keep working.

 

JM:  Realizing you knew all along you’d be directing yourself, does that affect the number of drafts?

BE:  No I don’t think so. A movie always takes more drafts because the stakes are so high, even a little movie like mine was 3.5 million dollars, that’s a lot of money which means a lot of stake holders so a lot of notes. But I don’t mind, I’ve never had a note I didn’t like (after swallowing my initial anger!) even the ones you think are wrong tell you something and are a spur to further thought.

JM:  Your answer to my very first question at the start of this interview, that you are a ‘writer,’ as opposed to a ‘screenwriter,’ reminded me of something Neil Gaiman said recently.  As you know, Gaiman writes for multiple platform just as you do.   I was at a Q&A with him, and someone asked him if his initial story idea is usually immediately coupled with its eventual platform, or does the idea have to develop a bit, before he decides “This would make a great novel,” or “This would make a great film script?”

His answer was that usually the story immediately dictates the platform.  He has had a story end more hopeful than expected, causing him to rewrite it as a children’s or YA book — but other than that, he usually sees the shape of the work simultaneously with the idea.

How about you?  Working in so many mediums, does the initial idea usually end up on the platform you expected?  Was that the case with Three Summers?  There are so many stories and themes so expertly woven together in that film.  Was each component always a part of the whole from the start, or were any of the characters/storylines originally part of a separate work?

BE:  I can’t think of a time when I started writing a story in one genre and switched as it developed. If I start a novel for instance it stays a novel. The same for a play or a sit com. I think it’s possible that with the novels some of them might have been started as screenplays if I lived in a world where I had a better than average chance of getting one green lit. But no such world exists we all know that Movies are so hard to get going, you have to absolutely focus on them and keep pushing sometimes for many years. I am impatient so I I have a good idea for a big sweeping story I’ll write a novel because I know I can get it published. Three Summers always had to be a movie, it was inspired by a specific event in a specific environment and I never thought of doing it as a comic novel. I absolutely wanted to make that film from the moment the idea occurred to me and so I went through that long and tough process of development to get it made. It was a mission for me. The multi character/story element are crucial because it’s set at a music festival over three years and the whole point of the various narratives is how they interconnect and affect each other. Most of the characters and components were with me from very early on because they were inspired by a real place and real experiences (not that any of it is based directly on anyone). So no, I didn’t cherry pick from previous ideas, the screenplay was very much a specific endeavour entirely of itself. I’m pretty practical in my approach to my writing, if I decide to write a sit com then it’ll be a sit com, same for a play, a stand up routine or a musical. With Three Summers it had to be a movie, that was it’s reason for being in my head and I was so excited at the idea that I decided it was worth going through the ordeal of development Hell to try and get it made.

JM:  Interesting viewpoint, and practical indeed.  You seem to be such a positive person, so I can see why the story had to be worth going through the ordeal of development in order to pursue it.  I personally appreciate that you did so — because Three Summers is outstanding.  The way you interwove so many storylines, and tied them all up by the end was masterful.  (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, so bear with my vagueness.)  And the concept of watching these people over the course of three summers was a brilliant way to compare and contrast their personal development as characters.  Brilliant.

You mentioned that most of the characters and components in Three Summers were there from the beginning, which is the perfect lead-in to my next question.  I write ensembles as well, and I once wrote an entire feature filled with a dozen disparate characters so I could tell a reoccurring joke about picking a safe.  In my case, my joke was there in the beginning.

In your case, however, even though Three Summers has its fair share of reoccurring jokes (the theramin/Tannerin/Beach Boys thing, to name just one), unlike my safe cracking jokes, your jokes are expertly woven into the characters.  The jokes aren’t just the frosting; they are baked into the cake.  Every line spoken matters.  Share a little about that process.  I’m familiar with your comedic tone (A reoccurring joke in The Young Ones played a small part in one of the ways I craft my own writing actually — a story for another time.), but everyone in Three Summers has their own identifiable comedic tone.  Each character’s humour is organic to themselves.  Please share a little bit about how those pieces fall into place.

BE: I’m glad you feel the humour is organic to the characters because I certainly don’t think jokes are ever just frosting (or if they are they will not on the whole be very good jokes). For me comedy comes from truth and in the case of characters that means the jokes develop from within. I did have a broad idea of many of my characters at the start but as I already mentioned, for me everything is an improvisation, things grow as you write. The characters develop through successive drafts and with them the humour, sometimes you have to discard good gags because they are no longer true to who the characters have become – which of course means they are no longer good jokes! It’s painful but you have to let stuff go if it’s no longer honest. In the case of one story thread in Three Summers the truth only finally emerged in the edit! The two VW campers couples were actually written as much less cheerful people, my idea had been that they were in deep denial about the stalled nature of their lives and that their good spirits were forced and slightly desperate and that their wine-soaked dinners were punctuated by slightly grim silences. But working with the actors on the day (I cast them from tapes, met them all that morning and we did every single one of their scenes in a single day) I improvised the parking scene with the traffic cones. It turned out so funny and and their characters so lovable that in the edit I decided to use the more upbeat and cheery takes of their dinners, cutting the sad sighs and empty moments and making them less downbeat, still stuck in a rut but not so downhearted about it. Drinking more out of gentle boredom than actual desperation. They turned out so lovable and it made for much gentler and more positive feeling comedy. I was actually only originally going to use the ‘cone’ parking in the first year but I ended up using it for all three, you’ll notice they are wearing exactly the same clothes across three years! That’s because they’re all the same scene, I just stretched my luck in the edit.

JM:  I did notice the VW campers had the same clothes on, but I just thought that was part of their yearly sameness in-rut-stuck deal — the way certain people wear the same rock t-shirt every time they go see their favorite band.  I mentioned your positivity earlier in the interview, so I love that you shifted the tone of these four in the edit.  Had they remained downbeat, it would have stuck out as less Ben Elton-y (which is odd because you were the one who wrote them in that original way.)  I love that you were able to save their upbeat gentleness in the edit.  There can be comfort in routine.

I’m glad you brought up these four, because their inclusion is indicative of the fact that — just as there are no wasted lines in Three Summers — there are no extraneous characters.  You already know about my love for feminist folkie Diamond.  Every single character, no matter how little screentime they get, serves the story.

So, let’s tie those two together, character and story: Three Summer deals with some pretty big issues:  racism, family dynamics, Aboriginal rights, alcoholism, artistic pretension, commercialism, so many more.   And yet the film handles these themes — much like in your answer about its humour — organically within their representative characters.  It is never preachy – not even close.  Were there certain themes you knew you wanted to address prior to the writing – or did these themes come forth, evolving, from the characters as well?

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BE:  Despite my interest in politics and current affairs I try not to be too polemical in my work because I very much want the ideas to feed the story telling and not just use he story as a vehicle for the ideas. Having said that the most important socio political themes were definitely in my mind from the beginning and I knew they must be found a place. That is the story of the refugee story and the issue of Aboriginal title. The stories themselves came later but I absolutely knew I would be including those themes. They are to me the most pressing issues facing Australian society today (leaving aside the global catastrophe of climate change). The last three general elections have been fought with refugees being used as a political football and right wing governments have been returned having shamelessly played the race and refugee card. As to the nightmare imbalance of the Aboriginal experience, there can be no better example in the refusal to accept that European invasion was a genocidal crime and although it can of course never be righted we will never even begin to heal until a settlement is made and the rights of the original Australians acknowledged. All of the other themes you mentioned developed along with the characters as I began my improvisation with the page.

JM:  Finally, there’s one theme, which I don’t even want to name because it will come too close to spoiler territory.  So let me just say that the moment of Roland’s realization, quickly followed by his presentation of that realization to a more-than-uncertain Keevy, quickly followed by the expression of her face when she understands what has transpired – is now one of my favorite sequences, if not my ultimate favorite sequence, in all of movie history.  As a viewer, I viscerally felt it all.  As a screenwriter, I get goosebumps that anyone could have written that and pulled it off.  I wish I could say more, but I did not see that coming.  That turn was so beautifully well done, almost like a volta between an octave and a sestet of a sonnet from the pen of a master poet.  How satisfying was it to direct what you had written and see it unfold in such an impactful way?

BE:  Well it’s very encouraging that you thought it worked so well. I was lucky to have such superb actors. I was certainly very happy with it when I began the edit. At the time of shooting the restrictions of time, budget and weather, made any self congratulation impossible, we were grabbing what we could as most movie makers do. Having said that it was also a joy, when you’re lucky enough to be writing and directing and you see the pieces falling into place it is of course the greatest feeling. I love working with actors and never cease to be amazed at where they find the emotions they are able to summon up on the shout of action. I am so grateful to them and to the crew who facilitate their work which often involves exploring and exposing their own vulnerability

JM:  Your gratitude is genuine and palpable.  This entire interview has been a delight.  Thank you again, Ben Elton.

BE:  And thank you Jon.

JM:  My final question is really up-to-you.  I’ve read all of interviews you’ve done over the last year.  I’d like to use this last question as an opportunity for you to correct the record in a case or two where an interviewer miscast what you meant — or to use this as an opportunity to answer a question that was never asked.  In other words, tell us something — anything — you’ve been dying to say, but haven’t had the chance!

BE:  Well Jon, I’m afraid that having thought quite hard about this there is no great thought that I am burning to share. I think that the reason for this is that I put all my thoughts and passions into my work. My opinions and principles too. That’s where you’ll find what I have to say. I’ve never been an introspective person. I don’t think in the abstract. Of course, I’ll answer questions when asked but I don’t seek out platforms to pontificate. I only do press when I have work to publicize (this interview is a rare exception).

JM:  Believe me, I realize that – and appreciate it so much.

BE:  I could offer one of the few pieces of advice that I feel confident enough to give when asked about writing. And that is the advice Polonius gives his son ‘above all to thine own self be true’. That doesn’t mean be arrogant and always presume you’re right. But be honest. A writer should write to please themselves, not what they think might please others. If they do that then perhaps they will get lucky and please other people too. If they don’t, while they might get some short-term success, in the long run they’ll fail both publicly and personally.

JM:  I love that.  Be honest, is right.  When I teach, I remind my students continually to stay true to their story, because ‘No one can argue with your story.’

As we close out this interview, what’s next for you?  What are you currently working on?

BE:  The third series of Upstart Crow is currently showing on the BBC with a special Christmas episode to come. I am currently working on my sixteenth book which if I can wrestle into shape will be published next year. My last couple have been historical stories, but this one is a return to the more contemporary comic satires of my early work. The times produce the novel!

JM:  More truth.  Thank you, it’s been a pleasure, Ben Elton.

BE:  All the best to you, Jon. Do keep telling people about my movie!

 

 

LINKS

Ben Elton’s IMDb

Three Summers Trailer

Photo Credits:  Three Summers Official Press Kit

 

 

 

 

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NO TAX ON TAMPONS:  Ben Elton’s Amazing THREE SUMMERS

NO TAX ON TAMPONS: Ben Elton’s Amazing THREE SUMMERS

Ben Elton’s superb Three Summers skewers neophobes, reactionaries, chauvinism, social politics, political correctness (yes, there’s a difference), property rights (both national and individual), race relations, academia, pretentious artists, sampling, fame, and ensemble comedies.  Well perhaps skewers is the wrong word.  More like progressively nudges.  At the same time, Three Summers embraces change, personal growth, doing good, doing right (yes, there’s a difference), respecting heritage, opening dialogues, teaching inspirationally, creatives, creator’s parity, and ensemble comedies.  Elton is masterful really.  Really.

I’m not sure why we Americans feel like we have to compare all directors to North American ones; in fact, I find it distasteful when we do.  I prefer to think of it as an exercise of merely who came first.  Based on Three Summers, Ben Elton sits at the head of the short list that includes Christopher Guest (only Elton has a bigger heart) and — dare I say it — Robert Altman (only Elton has a bigger funnybone).

At the core of this story, told over the course of three consecutive summers and set in a fictional but familiar Australian folk festival called Westival, is an attraction story (it’s not really a traditional love story until Act III, and even then it’s a step above) between Keevy (played by Rebecca Breeds, who delights with her authenticity as a humble musical crowdpleaser) and Roland (played by Robert Sheehan, who hits every note — literally — just right as a smug yet talented creative).

Words are precious to Elton.  Take Keevy, for example, Irish (spelled Keavy or Caoimhe) for beautiful meadow.  It also means precious (there’s that word again), graceful, and loved for her humour.  As for Roland, his name no doubt is a nod by Elton to the synthesizer manufacturer, as Elton no doubt knows all about the syhthesizer manufacturer’s D-Beam feature.  The D-Beam allows you to pitch bend to make your synth sound like a theramin, which is the instrument Roland brings to Wesitval and the subject of one of the many (many!) running gags in the film.

“It’s the nature of the line, that there’s somebody on the end of it.”

Not only are there many (many!) multiple gags in Three Summers. there are more great lines than I’ve heard in a long time.  Not just toss-off throwaway lines either, but jokes imbued with meaning that you’ll remember forever (like the tampon line uttered by Diamond–more on her later– at the top of this post).  As a screenwriter myself, I left the theater inspired.

Even the supporting characters have nice arcs.  Elton really does a great job with his supporting characters — and there are many.  Each one, such as Diamond (Adriane Daff)) the angelic-voiced innocent, who twists traditional Australian folk pleasantries (such as “Waltzing Matilda”) into hostile political screeds, is well-written and perfectly cast.  One after another after another (after another), we meet fresh new characters, never before seen on screen, yet we feel like we know them inside and out.

It is hard to believe it has been almost twenty years since Ben Elton has directed a feature.  Let’s hope he doesn’t wait another twenty years to get behind the camera again.

SCORE:  9.5/10

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Jon Meyers saw 22 films at the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival.  Ben Elton’s Three Summers was his favorite.

JON MEYERS’ VIEWING LIST FROM EIFF 2018

JON MEYERS’ VIEWING LIST FROM EIFF 2018

Reviews coming soon to this site.

 

21 June, 2018

George MacKay Interview

 

22 June, 2018

Bao (2018, Domee Shi, United States/Canada)

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Brad Bird, United States)

Three Summers (2017, Ben Elton, Australia)

The Eyes Of Orson Welles (2018, Mark Cousins, United Kingdom)

 

23 July, 2018

Jellyfish (2018, James Gardner, United Kingdom)

Plonger [Diving] (2017, Mélanie Laurent, France)

George Michael Freedom: The Director’s Cut (2018, David Austin, United Kingdom)

 

24 July, 2018

My Friend The Polish Girl (2018, Ewa Banaszkiewicz/Mateusz Dymek, United Kingdom)

Mary Shelley (2017, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Ireland/Luxembourg/United Kingdom)

How Creative Are We? (Panel)

 

25 June, 2018

Dead In A Week Or Your Money Back (2018, Tom Edmunds, United Kingdom)

Several Conversations About A Very Tall Girl (2018, Bogdan Theodor Olteanu, Romania)

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World (2018, Franck Ribière, Belgium/UK/US)

Flammable Children [Swinging Safari] (2018, Stephen Elliot, Australia)

Wild Nights With Emily (2018, Madeleine Olnek, United States)

 

26 June, 2018

Patrick (2018, Mandie Fletcher, United Kingdom)

Songbird (2018, Jamie Adams, United Kingdom)

 

27 June, 2018

Unicorn Store (2017, Brie Larson, United States)

The Gospel According To André (2017, Kate Novak, United States)

Yes You Can Make Animation In Europe (Panel)

Hearts Beat Loud (2018, Brett Haley, United States)

Film’s Final Curtain (2018, Lindsay McIntyre, Canada)

Pig Film (2018, Josh Gibson, United States) with Post Screening Q&A

 

 

POSITIVELY MISTY

POSITIVELY MISTY

Remember back to when you were a child.   There was that one teacher who inspired you to be your best, that one teacher who you wanted to never disappoint, that one teacher who made you feel so proud whenever she told you how proud you made her. That’s a great starting place to begin to understand Misty Leigh Butler, but she is also so much more than that.

In addition to being so inspiring, Misty possesses a commanding insight and embodies a captivating grace.  For her first book, Finally Spoken; Words of Hope, Misty received numerous positive reviews for her gentle uplifting wisdom.  In addition to being an author, Misty teaches piano to over thirty students, tutors children with autism, and assists as a support/respite provider for special needs individuals in community living situations.  She is actively involved in her church, and volunteers in her community.  Misty is eagerly working on her second book.

 

JON MEYERS:  Hi Misty — thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’ve told you before, you are VERY inspiring to me — but to clarify that a bit, the thing that inspires me about you is your ability to inspire others. In so many different ways. You wear so many hats — blogger, poet, songwriter, music teacher…am I forgetting something? Anyway, in all of these roles, you inspire other people in one way or another. Talk a little bit about that. What drives you to want to bring out the best in others?

Misty2MISTY LEIGH BUTLER:  I love seeing people discover something they’re passionate about and watching them become more confident as they throw themselves into it! Especially with the arts, people can develop so much creativity and can influence others through a song, poem, or painting. The world seems like such a cruel place at times; it’s a gift when humans try to add a little more beauty to it by creating art or inspiring others.

JM:  Great answer, Misty, great answer. Talk a little but about the people you come in contact with throughout a typical week. The settings, the interactions, student-aged and adults. And what are the different ways you bring out creativity in different types of people?

MLB:  During a typical week, I teach students ages 5 through adult. One time I taught an 84-year-old man! When I first started teaching, I didn’t realize the bonds I would develop. Both students and their families have become people I get to share life with. I’ve taught kids from a young age until they graduate high school or watched them go from being terrified in front of an audience to being confident. Every student has some areas they’re stronger in musically and some areas they’re weaker—whether it’s ear-training, sight-reading, muscle memory…. I love to find ways to develop a weaker skill and approach concepts from that angle.  Once students lose that fear of whatever their weakness is musically, we can get creative and attempt what they might have resisted before.

JM:  You give the coolest answers!  Cool, cool.  So that’s what makes inspiring your students so fulfilling.  What’s the other side of that relationship? What do the best students bring to the table? Well, that’s probably not the optimal way to phrase that — let’s try this: What traits do the students who excel possess? Are there common denominators?

MLB:  I love seeing students with passion and enthusiasm, students who connect with music and gain joy through making it a part of their lives!  Going even a level beyond that, however, to the most successful students are qualities which are often overlooked because they’re just not as “fun”—carving time to practice into an already busy schedule, drilling scales instead of playing on electronics…Music can be so enjoyable, we sometimes forget that’s not all it is. Certain stages of learning music can be repetitive, tedious, and grueling. Our culture has become so fast-paced, not everyone will persevere through those challenging phases, so I’m always encouraged when I see a student willing to put forth the effort, time, and self-discipline!

JM:  Yes, and you even give prizes!
[Editor’s Note:  Below is an actual reward slip Misty received recently from one of her students after she offered a prize if they would log their weekly practice times.]
JM:  Beyond teaching, another way you inspire is through your writing.  In fact it was through another writer, Monica Spees Ramsey, writing on your blog, that we first connected.  Your book, Finally Spoken: Words of Hope, has some really good reviews on Amazon.  One said, “Misty is an impressive first-time author. (I’m saying this as someone who works professionally as both a writer and an editor.) She has a delightful style, and there is a refreshing breeze coming from her short stories. As another reviewer wrote, I look forward to her second book.”    Do you think about what others liked about the first one, as you write your second one?  What can you tell us about the plans for the next one?

MLB:  I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that readers love hearing stories about my students. Every time I experience a meaningful moment with my students or they say something clever (which is often), I document it, because I know later it could be used to bring someone a smile or laughter.

My second book is in the works! It’s just such a long process! But worth it. The style and format will be similar to my first one—a collection of short pieces that can be read in intervals. Just like with music though, I keep thinking of new little touches to add or things to adjust. I love the creative process! I hope my writing is relatable and brings words of encouragement and joy. I pray that is what my readers leave with after finishing my book or other

JM:  So true.  Thank you so much for your time, Misty.  I’ve really enjoyed hearing you talk about your art and work.  Makes me want to go out and create even more
MLB:  Thank you so much!! Good luck with everything!
……..
misty 3
TO ORDER MISTY L. BUTLER’S BOOK:

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REBEKAH FIESCHI TELLS JON MEYERS SOME THINGS SHE’S NEVER TOLD ANYONE ELSE

REBEKAH FIESCHI TELLS JON MEYERS SOME THINGS SHE’S NEVER TOLD ANYONE ELSE

Last month, I had the opportunity to interview my friend Rebekah Fieschi for the second time in the last year.  A lot — and I mean a lot — has happened since the last time.
Rebekah Fieschi is an award-winning writer/director from a tiny island in the south of France. Her new film, Sylphvania Grove, successfully crowdfunded on Seed&Spark and will debut in film festivals later this year.. Her previous, Mauvaises Têtes, is an award-winning reinvention of classic Hollywood horror films such as Frankenstein; Mauvaises Têtes was well received in film festivals around the world. Her focus is to bring more entertaining, yet layered, character driven gothic horror and fantasy films to the screen.
After studying filmmaking in Paris, Rebekah moved to New York in 2010. She is also an advocate of fair gender representation in cinema, she is known for giving nuanced voices to female characters and is part of a group of filmmakers seeking to transform the industry. Her first feature film, Beast, is currently in development.
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Rebekah Fieschi (center) with other female filmmakers before the first shot of Sylphvania Grove.
JON MEYERS:  Hello Rebekah Fieschi.  Thank you for this, our second interview, in less than a year.  Why don’t we start by getting my readers caught up.  I’ve spoken to you, of course, of and on — but tell everybody else about what’s happened from the last time we’ve spoken publicly until today, the status of Sylphvania Grove, the preparation for your feature, what you had for breakfast this morning…  You know, the usual.
REBEKAH FIESCHI:  Hey Jon Meyers, I’m thrilled to be speaking with you again so soon! Quite a lot has happened since we spoke last: Sylphvania Grove’s crowdfunding campaign went on to get 200% funded (which I still struggle to believe and feel endlessly grateful for), we shot the film, edited it and went through most of the post production process, I’m hoping I’ll be able to finally say “Sylphvania Grove is done” in a few days (I am DYING to share it with our lead Maxine Wanderer who is truly extraordinary in it, and then of course our supporters and the rest of the world!), and I’ve been submitting a work in progress to a handful of festivals. [Editor’s Note:  While preparing this interview, Rebekah did indeed finish Sylphvania Grove.  There’s no trailer yet — but soon.  Meanwhile, you can check out the teaser here:     ]
JM:  I can’t wait to see the rest of it.  I’m so excited for you.  What else is new?
RF:  Well, I completed my first feature script, Beast, in January. Check out the poster for the script:
beast
JM:  Ooooohhh!  Cool.  Beautiful poster. Tell me more.
RF:  It’s a story I’ve been carrying with me for years and was finally able to put on paper, it’s very different from anything seen before and I can’t wait to connect with people through it. It’s a psychological horror film that tells the story of Bobby, who’s disease threatens to take on a monstrous form while mounting her first stage production. I’m planning  to crowd fund part of it’s budget in 2019, I can’t wait to start talking about it more.
JM:   Same!  Except that my cream cheese was half a schmear (and fat free), and my latte was hot. 
          Beast sounds great.   As usual, what an amazing idea.  And I’m sure, like your other work, it will play well at festivals.  Speaking of festivals, I’m going to Edinburgh this year, in June.  I’ll be sure to tell everybody and anybody about Beast. 
RF:  Spreading the word is always a great help!
JM:  By the way, Edinburgh just announced one of its featured theme retrospectives:  American Woman: Female Directors in American Cinema.  That’s right up our alley, isn’t it?  I’ve been meaning to ask you about this, so now is as good a time as any.  Now that #MeToo permeates the news cycle, do you see yourself altering — in any way — how you make movies?  Like me, you have always been pro-woman.  To those late to the party, are you more “It’s about time, y’all” or “Where’ve you’ve been for the last ten years?”

It’s about time, y’all! I don’t think it will alter the way I make movies, but it definitely gives me more confidence in many ways and makes me feel less alone in my battles. I hope it will change the way a lot of movies are made and bring positive change and safer environments throughout industries.

JM:  So true.  Hey, thanks Rebekah Fieschi for giving me some of your valuable time.  As always you’re always welcome here on my page.  Make sure you let my readers know when that Sylphvania Grove trailer is available.

RF:  Will do, Jon Meyers.  Thanks again for all you do.

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BONUS NEWS:

Rebekah just put up a new Patreon page.  If you want to support her efforts to raise the profile of female filmmakers, you can do so here, for as little as $1 a month:
How cool would it be if you could be one of the first 25 people to support her?   Now’s your chance.
Here are Rebekah’s other links as well:
Emma Pullar Is Having An EPIC Year

Emma Pullar Is Having An EPIC Year

Emma Pullar is a writer of both dark fiction and children’s books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, was a national bestseller and named Best Opening Lines by NZ Post. Emma also writes twisted tales under the speculative fiction umbrella.  Her debut novel, Skeletal, was published in Autumn 2017.  It’s part of a duology and Book Two will be published soon, Summer 2018.   As a citizen of both Britain and New Zealand, Emma Pullar has a unique take on the world.  Her uniqueness is evident in the stories she crafts.

Emma Pullar

In fact, if you’re a fan of  horror, dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal, Emma Pullar has a lot of unique stories she wants to share with you.  Her favourite authors are CS Lewis, Roald Dahl, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, Julia Donaldson, Dr Seuss, Phillip K Dick, JK Rowling, George Orwell, L V Hay and GX Todd.   In fact, it was in Lucy V Hay’s online writing group, Bang2Writers, where I first met Emma.  What a pleasure it was to interview her.  I have admired her forthright demeanor and driven work ethic for years.  It’s time for you to admire her along with me.

JON MEYERS:  Hi Emma, thank you so much for granting me this interview.  It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of your straightforward attitude, and unwillingness to ever give up.  Tell me a little about your writing process.  Not the nuts-and-bolts of it — but the emotional component of it.  Describe how you feel ten minutes before you actually sit down to write — and the shift that happens as you write the first word, the first sentence, the first page.

EMMA PULLAR:  Hi Jon, thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.  Well, what an interesting question. To be honest I hadn’t thought about what happens directly before and as I begin to write. After I’ve dropped the kids to school, I come home and make tea and toast. I can’t write anything before that. I have the same breakfast every morning before I write. Tea because I’m British and it’s what we do and NZ Marmite on toast because I’m also a Kiwi and can’t stand UK Marmite. After that I check my emails and then I’m ready to write.

I start by reading back the paragraph I wrote the day before and once I’ve done that I’m in the zone. The real world is forgotten and I’m standing next to my protagonist experiencing everything with her/him. I often feel like a puppet and the words are coming from somewhere else – a separate consciousness or something strange like that.
When I write at night, the process is different and more often than not I can only write longhand. Sun up is for the keyboard, sundown belongs to the notepad. I hope that makes sense.

JM:  Thanks, Emma — THIS is fascinating.  I’ve never heard anything like that.  So cool.  Plus, I was actually going to ask about longhand vs. typing — and you kind of already answered that.  Very cool.

Emma Journal 1
(Above) This is an excerpt from a first draft in Emma Pullar’s longhand writing from a still-unnamed short horror story yet to be published.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JM:  My next question has to do with the “business side” of the business.  Tell us how you feel when you’re talking to your agent (and how you got that agent in the first place), how you feel when you’re in a meeting, etc.  What’s the process you used when you were starting out?  Did you send out ten queries or one hundred?  How did you know where to send them?  Stuff like that.

EP:  I met my agent in a rather unusual way. I had a baptism of fire into the writing industry when my first publisher embezzled my royalties which were meant to go to charity. I was informed that out of the $17K my picture book made, $11K (after publishing expenses) should have gone to my chosen charity but instead the publisher put the money back into her business. She bit off more than she could chew and then folded the publishing house, owing money to authors and printers.

I can forgive a lack of judgement, we’ve all made mistakes in our lives that we wish we had handled differently but she cut communication and sent out a seven page document in which she blamed the authors for the failure of her business and tried to discredit me.

I’d met a few of the other authors at a meeting before the publishing house went bust and we formed an online support group after we found out the horrible truth.

One of the authors caught my attention. He was friendly, talented and had a string of books published already. He’d found himself an agent and kindly put in a good word for me. I’m forever grateful to him, and even though I was not at all ready to be published, Vicki (my agent) saw my potential and took me under her wing.

Finding an agent is tricky. I’ve crossed paths with a few (online and through pitching opportunities) and my work wasn’t right for any of them but when I met with Vicki in London (she lives in New Zealand so our conversations are mostly by email) I instantly liked her. We get on extremely well and have a friendly, laidback working relationship.
Vicki is open to me networking with publishers alongside her efforts to find the right deals for my work. I have a few exciting projects Vicki is passionate about that are currently on submission. Fingers crossed we’ll see a deal for them soon.

JM:  Yes!  Awesome.  I love your answers by the way.  I love interviewing fascinating inspiring women!!!   Talk to my readers about you, Emma Pullar, and your life, pre-Vicki, pre-published, pre-Skeletal  — as compared to Emma Pullar today, post-all-those-things.

EP:  I’ve always been a writer. When I was a little girl, I was often found scribbling stories and I’ve never stopped. I had no desire to have my work published because when I was eleven I was told I would never be good enough and sadly, I believed that as an adult. How wrong they were.
I also spent ten years of my life on stage and wanted to dance for a living. Unfortunately, I developed a knee complaint in my teenage years and needed surgery. Another dream shattered.  After that, I drifted through life working in any jobs I could get: bookshops, toy shops, offices, real estate. I ran theatre companies and enjoyed that, but it wasn’t really for me. I got married and had three children. I’ve always worked part-time alongside motherhood but never really knew what to do with my life.

“At thirty-one, when my youngest daughter was only a few months old, a deadly earthquake devastated our city and killed 185 people. That natural disaster triggered something inside me. “

— Emma Pullar

At thirty-one, when my youngest daughter was only a few months old, a deadly earthquake devastated our city and killed 185 people. That natural disaster triggered something inside me.  The first thing I did was write the event out of my system and it was then I realized … I AM A WRITER. It does not matter that I had little in the way of a formal education, that I can’t spell and my grammar/punctuation is dismal. I must teach myself. People are dead, their journey has ended. I need to do this to honour their memory, otherwise, I don’t deserve to be alive.

To answer the question of how life compares before I became a professional storyteller and now … although seven years on, we’re still struggling to get over the mess that earthquake left our lives in, I’m now doing what I should be doing — what I should have been doing all along. I’m peacefully walking my path, my career unfolding like the petals of a rose. Sunshine and room to grow provided by the amazing people I have met along the way: my agent, publisher, mentor, readers and my writing buddies. I’m grateful to finally be doing what I should be doing, as opposed to doing what others expected of me. As a child, I wanted to be a dancer, a writer and Prime Minister. Having ticked off the first two, I have no interest in doing the last one. I much prefer being ruler of my fictional worlds, though I must admit, I’m not always in control of the story, the characters often surprise me.

JM: I love your answers. They inspire me.  Next question, Prime Minister Pullar: Give us a recent example of how one of your characters really surprised you.
EP:  Interesting question. The character who most surprised me has to be Bunce from Skeletal. Going from his safe and comfortable life to the rough streets of Gale City was a real shock to his system, and yet, he didn’t run home to mummy and daddy after the horrors he experienced, and everything he did was out of admiration and love for someone who really didn’t deserve his attention. He found the courage to carry on and when hope was lost, he made the choice the stop suffering. I was surprised by him every step of the way and he still has a few surprises left for readers in the sequel. It’s not what they’re expecting and certainly not what I expected to happen!
JM:  Great answer!!! I love that. I can tell you connect with your characters so deeply.
Speaking of deep connections, you’ve written a book with your daughter.  Tell us about how this new book came to be. Not just about how you wrote it together, but how you pitched it to your agent, and so on.
beth and mom
Emma, Rupert, and Beth Pullar
EP:  Ah, great question.  My new picture book, Kitty Stuck, never went on submission. I showed it to my agent and she thought it was great but she was in the middle of opening a new agency and extremely busy. At the same time, I was in talks with Amy Stretch-Parker who wrote a delightful picture book called: Peter Digs A Den. Amy had never written a picture book before and one of our mutual friends, Rachael Howard, decided it would be a good idea for us to connect. Having one picture book under my belt which hit number four on the national bestseller list in New Zealand, I knew I could help Amy. I gave her a tips and advice and she was super grateful (there’s more to books written in rhyme than people think, it’s tricky to get the flow just right) and after that I watched with interest as Amy’s book became a reality. Amy sent me an ebook version and I was surprised to see my name mentioned in the acknowledgements. In my mind, I did very little, Amy is a talented writer and Peter Digs A Den is a fun book. I bought a copy for my kids. They loved it. The quality of the book was up there with the bigger publishers and soon many writers wanted to be published by Amy, so she opened her own publishing house called A Spark in the Sand.
kitty-cover_orig
EP:  I had so many projects on the go but I wondered what Amy would think of Kitty Stuck. I asked for her advice and she came back with some tips, as I had done for her, and then she offered to publish the book! You can imagine the shock. I was not expecting her to say that at all! At the same time, I’d asked my eldest (Beth, who spends all her spare time drawing and practicing different art styles) to draw Kitty. She did and I was blown away with the result.
beth
Beth Pullar, Illustrator
EP:  I sent her work to Amy. She also thought Beth was an amazing illustrator and asked if she would be interested in illustrating the book. Beth jumped at the chance. She’s saving up for some professional Copic Sketch Markers and a tablet of her own — at the moment she share’s the family one. I did a small favour for a friend of a friend and ended up with a book deal, an awesome new friend, and an amazing opportunity for my daughter.
JM:  Wow.  What a great story.  Thank you so much for your time, Emma.  As expected, you were great.
EP:  Good luck with it all, Jon. This has been a fab experience.
Want to purchase Emma Pullar’s books?  Go here:   www.emmapullar.com
REBEKAH FIESCHI HAS SOME BIG NEWS FOR YOU

REBEKAH FIESCHI HAS SOME BIG NEWS FOR YOU

***SCOOP***

I can’t reveal the exact date (but soon, very soon); however, director/gender fairness advocate Rebekah Fieschi has some exciting news to share — and she’s letting ME tell YOU, my loyal readers, FIRST!!!

This is an especially sweet moment for us, as some of you were complicit in helping Rebekah get past the 500 follower mark on her Seed & Spark campaign for Sylphvania Grove last year.  Which leads us to our big news…

Sylphvania Grove is out of color correction, and THERE GOING TO BE AN ACTUAL TRAILER!!!  And YOU get to be among the first to see it!!!

Better yet, to add even more excitement to this already exciting event, I am in the middle of another interview with Rebekah and will be releasing it HERE to coincide with the release of the trailer.

If you’re new to this blog, or to Rebekah Fieschi, below are some links to get you up to speed with the wonder that is Sylphvania Grove — including a link to my previous interview with Rebekah which believe it or not was almost a year ago at this point.

Be sure to follow me on all of my social media platforms, as well as Rebekah Fieschi, so you don’t miss when the trailer release date is announced.

 

LINKS