Genius is a terrible thing.
Interview with Director Kate Cheeseman
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The main actress in Love Somehow, Sally George, originally asked me to direct her in two one-woman shows for the theatre. They were very successful and played at the Dylan Thomas Festival as well as many other venues. We really loved the lyricism of the Caitlyn Thomas play and so when we were offered a small amount of money to adapt it, we leapt at the chance. I then set about raising further finance to make the film which we gained with the proviso that we kept the poetry of the piece as complete as possible but made it more accessible to a wider audience visually. We also felt that in all the films made about Dylan Thomas, Caitlyn’s large part in his life was not fully represented and like many women, who and what she was really like was misrepresented. So that was a second reason for making the film. Finally, as well as the beautiful poetry of the piece, Laugharne in Wales is stunning so it gave me lots of opportunities with the film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The film works on many levels. The poetry gave me a chance to be really imaginative and metaphorical with the film’s images and additionally explore the landscape of Wales in telling the story. Sally George’s performance is amazing; it takes a lot of talent to be able to hold the audience’s attention for 30 minutes and play two parts of one person, yet she always keeps you interested plus she has a lovely voice. Then the central story of a woman having children and supporting her husband but therefore losing her own life resonates with many women who watch the story. We have had quite a few people weeping in the audience.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The main themes in the film are about lost love and where it goes wrong for people. This was told in the context of living with a genius and what that does to the life of their partner. The original play dotted around a lot, so we came up with the idea that the film would be based around an older Caitlyn – like a ghost who can’t sleep, visiting her old home and through her memories trying to work out what their love was all about and how their relationship fell apart. So she is looking for her husband’s love in the words he wrote, the places he wrote about and the landscape they shared through her character remembering her life with her dead husband. There is also the idea that both his words, his work and her jealousy of that destroyed their love, as well as his single mindedness for his career at the expense of caring for his family. These ideas are represented by many of the visual images in the film. We were also able to shoot a scene in the museum shop which was once their home to have the character reflect on how what was her home is now a shrine to his work and think about how what has now been written over writes the reality of what was their life.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
When I first presented the idea to the cinematographer and screenwriter, I didn’t give them the original work as it was a dense 50 minutes of poetry which with the best will in the world was impossible to read and maintain consciousness. I, therefore, invited everyone to a performance in which Sally did a reading of the play for everyone to bring out the emotions of the piece and which we then discussed. I then went with the scriptwriter on a recce to the location and we walked through all the areas we could use and discussed what we could film there. I felt very strongly that the story should have a physical journey which was a representation of a day in the character’s life, which also represented her life as a whole. We also designed the costumes of Caitlyn to similarly reflect her aging and the mood of those different times of her life, from innocence to flamboyancy to a more depressed time.
Initially, the script was just centred around one person, but it still felt splintered and didn’t flow. We therefore came up with the idea of having this older character reflecting and searching for her old love. When we came to actually make the film the weather combined with the tides presented huge challenges and we had to change one of the locations due to heavy rain and wind that day. The following day though we all caught the sun. However, those changes ended up being positive as they gave other things to the story. Finally, in the edit we moved a couple of scenes around which visually made more sense and lost some material where the film felt a bit slow. There are always three stages of writing; the script, the filming and the edit!
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We have had incredibly lovely feedback about the look of the film and Sally’s great performance. Women are particularly moved, though I have also had great things said by young guys who have also loved the film. There are a few people for whom it’s not their type of film, but I think that is completely to be expected with a film like this. The film is showing in festivals all round the world which is really exciting particularly as its very long for short film festivals which makes it more difficult to programme, not to mention that it is in verse and not the normal festival formula. In addition, it has won best director and been nominated for best short, best of genre, best costume, best female director and best performance at forthcoming festivals.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
It’s very difficult to have a sane view about your own film just after having directed it as you have viewed it hundreds of times so you stop being able to see it properly. However, I have been really overwhelmed by some people’s love for it and really happy to have been able to move those people. It’s also great to get it shown at passionate film lovers festivals like last week in Florence, Italy and this in Erie which all have good audiences. It would also be good to get the film into a few more of the top festivals in the hope of getting it more widely seen and seen by people who can help with the next film.
The other thing that is great is being able to show a film about a middle aged woman, I think that we are so used to seeing stories about men and from their perspective that we don’t even question a line-up of 5 or 6 shorts that have 16-18 lead males (I’m counting a recent big London festival) and only 1 or two women, so that when you see a film like this which is different and about the inside of a women’s mind, it feels very different. So, it’s been really nice having people say how refreshing it is, men as well as women.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
The website looks great and has a good following. We all make films to be seen, so the more people hear about Love Somehow and Caitlyn, the bigger the audience it will hopefully grow. It’s such a lot of work making a film and having people say how great it is, is very rewarding, however, you still need to get that word out so that people watch it at both Erie and other festivals want to screen it as well. It would also be fantastic to get a distributor at some point.
Both myself and Sally also want to go on and make more films. I want to direct my next feature which I am developing, hopefully with a slightly bigger budget and so having people see your work and appreciate it, helps with that next step.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We have had a great start to our festival run with a number of good festivals screening the film. It would be fantastic to have more festivals come on board wanting to screen it, as well as sales agents, buyers and distributors. Finally, I’d love to get to know more producers who want to work with me, particularly as we look to the States and Europe for great film makers.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The film was very challenging to make, due to its low budget and the complexity of translating versed content to the screen. It’s amazing getting a great response back and I would love the film to win lots of awards for all the great people involved who made it happen, many who were still students when we made the film. As a film maker, people help you on projects like this, so I would really like to get them awards and employ well on my next project.
Secondly, as women working in the film world we want more films about a more diverse collection of people. There are millions of amazing women whose story has not been told and we need to change that with quality films.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
That’s a difficult one. A lot of people have said it’s made them go and research both Caitlyn and Dylan Thomas, which is fantastic. I, of course, would love people to ask how they can help me make my next film!
Would you like to add anything else?
I’ve got lots of great projects that I am attached to and working on. Filming something like this really opened up visual possibilities for me as well as the great relationship I had with the lead actress that benefited us both and I hope that producers and financiers see that and want to help us with future work.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Myself and the cinematographer are hoping to make a music video for the end song, which the lead actresses daughter composed and sang as she has amazing talent. The producer is working for NBC and is amazing and I hope to work with her again sometime. The screenwriter is writing a feature and developing some television ideas. The camera crew are freelancing around the world and building their careers and I am developing two features and writing a third.
Interview: December 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Genius is a terrible thing.
Director: Kate Cheeseman
Producer: Rachael Cole
Writer: Anna Maloney and Phil Bowen
About the writer, director and producer:
Rachael Cole trained at the National Film and Television School and is now working at NBC and developing her knowledge and talent before making her first feature.
Kate Cheeseman is an award winning director who learnt her craft in television but is now moving into features to direct her own material and scripts that inspire her.
Anna Maloney is a BAFTA winning screenwriter who has written for both television and film and is particularly good at bringing sensitive subjects to the screen.
Key cast: Sally George, Griff Rhys Jones
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
University of Greenwich and private funding
Made in association with:
The University of Greenwich
Where will it screen in December/January?
The film is screening in Idyllwild and Delhi in the near future as well as Wales in the Spring.