Connect is a feature film by Marilyn Edmond with an almost entirely female creative team (Camera,Producer, Editor and Director).
Marilyn discusses the film, production and her process here.
TF: Tell us a little about your filmmaking background. Your previous experience is as a crew member, working on fairly big productions. How did you get into this?
ME: I originally studied Business Studies at university and ended up working as an Outsourcing Consultant. It was so boring, went back and studied TV Production and loved it. I got my first job on River City and continued to work on many films including Sunshine on Leith, The Legend of Barney Thomson and TV shows such as ITV’s Benidorm, BBC’s The Replacement and Lovesick on Netflix.
TF: What made you decide to not just make your own short, but your own feature?
I have never been a fan of short films and all my ideas were for features or TV pilots, so I decided to make a feature.
TF: What sort of response did you get from your film crew colleagues? Were they supportive? Often, as film crews are so hierarchical it can be difficult for them to separate this from somebody choosing to do their own projects, in a different role.
I was overwhelmed by the support from cast and crew within the Scottish Film industry, mostly they admired the guts it takes to do it yourself. Also, crew offered their services and companies that facilitate the industry offered to help with equipment and services. It was the opposite of what I thought people would say, I expected people to tell me I couldn’t do it because I was only an AD.
TF: What's Connect about? Where did the idea come from?
The film works incredibly well in being a story and not feeling like a mental health advert. How did you manage this?
Connect is about a young man, Brian, struggling with his mental health and like all men he appears ‘normal’ in public but in private is unhappy. Brian attempts to take his own life and is saved by a stranger who encourages him to live his life and he does, he meets a girl and falls for her, all while battling his dark secret.
I had the idea after I learned of the death of a young man who I had hired as an Extra for a show I was working on. The last thing I remember about him was him posting on FB how happy he was then a few months later he killed himself. I couldn’t get my head around it someone who had been so happy and he is gone. But what shocked me the most was his age, he was only 23. I think it’s important to encourage men to talk about their feelings and help break the stigma. I focused on this story as it was a current topic and one I think deserves attention, if by making a film I can help men talk about their feelings then surely that’s is a good thing? I started the script in November 2017 and finished it in February 2018. I am a quick writer. I start by forcing myself to write from start to finish, then I add a layer of drama, then a layer of comedy and then I place every scene out and juggle the order, then I repeat that till I am happy. My only approach was to make sure the film reflected reality. Normally people depict depression as someone sat in a dark room alone and crying but that’s not reality, so I wanted to avoid that and I think that makes the characters more relatable to the audience.
TF: After deciding to make your first feature, and after writing the script what was was your first move? Did you decide to fund it in the traditional way? If not why not? Who did you talk to?
Unfortunately, I fall into a grey area, regarding funding. Most people need you to have made a couple of shorts first to prove yourself before get funding for a feature. This is understandable as you are essentially gambling when you make a film and investors want as little risk as possible so they get their money back. I am high risk and my years of working on film sets counts for nothing. If you had £1 million would you give it to me to make a film? Probably not. I spoke with every funding body, local funding, national funding but they all point you to Creative Scotland but they don’t support films under £750,000. SFTN do help people get funding to develop your first feature but not fund the entire project. What I find most amazing is none of these funding bodies take the script into consideration? It all depends on you. I could be sat with an Oscar winning script and Colin Firth booked to play the lead but I would still get nothing because I have no previous work as a Director. It makes sense to start small and work your way up but it wasn’t for me.
TF: What made you decide to do it on your own, and on a micro-budget? Did anybody’s reaction change? Was there scepticism and if so, how did you deal with that?
I have always wanted to Produce and Direct and I knew no one would ever ask me to Produce or Direct their films so I decide to make my own. I am glad I did. As an Assistant Director I was always working on other people’s ideas but it was great to be creating my own and having full creative control. Most people were very supportive and the people I didn’t know who worked with us took part because they loved the script, so that helped. I didn’t experience much scepticism but I am rather resilient to other people thoughts. I did what I wanted to do regardless of what people thought.
TF: How did you go about scheduling and budgeting? What was your required budget and how many days did you think it would need?
The schedule was dictated by time of day and location. The budget was stupidly low and the cost a lot more than I expected but I look back at what we had and realise I have been super lucky to make a film for so little.
The plan was to shoot in 12 days but we shot it in 15.
TF: You did a lot of self funding and also crowd funding. How was this process and what was your final budget from this?
I did two crowd funders one pre-production and one post. Both were equally painful but now I know how the process works I would definitely do it again and I will happily donate to other peoples in future. It is a very time consuming process so if you are going to do one you better free up a month of your life to sit on social media. Crowdfunding was only a tiny portion of the budget the rest was privately funded.
TF: Where did you shoot? Who were your crew? How did you pick them? Where did you get equipment from?
We shot in North Berwick, East Lothian. A lovely little seaside village east of Edinburgh. The crew were mostly from Glasgow and some from London. The HODs were Laura Dinnit (DOP), Nadine Powell (Costume), Fred McMillan (Production Designer), Carol Fairfield (MakeUp) and Graham McCormack (Sound). Each brought their own people. We were very lucky to get equipment from a London Based company call Pixie Pixel and our second camera days were supplied by Progressive Broadcast and Media Dog Glasgow.
TF: And what about your cast. You have put together a fantastic team. How did you find them and how did you convince them to work on your film?
Most of the main cast I had worked with before, Kevin Guthrie, Siobhan Reilly, Conor McCarron, Sara Vickers and Stephen McCole, the rest took part because they liked the script. I struggled with finding the older members and was given recommendations from Anna Dawson, a Casting Director.
TF: Were there non-story related reasons for any scheduling choices (like changing the story to combine locations for ease etc)?
Originally, I wanted to film on a railway bridge then I realised I was more likely to win the lottery so I changed the railway bridge to a cliff top. That was it, otherwise it was as is. In the script Brian worked in a supermarket but we used the local hardware store, just small changes like that.
TF: How did the shoot go? Were there problems? Were you nervous? What were the shooting hours like? What did you learn? What moments were you most proud of?
The shoot went really well, I think because it was organised well and the HODs were amazing. I realised the benefits of a locations team!!! I was so nervous but equally excited and as soon as we turned over the nerves were gone. We did regular shooting hours. Ooft, I learnt an unbelievable amount but mostly I would say learned to spend whatever it takes to make the shoot as efficient as possible and shoot as much as possible to avoid reshoots/pickups/VFX in post etc.
The last day ended with all the cast and a monster 15 pages to shoot and we did it, even now I look back and can’t believe we shot 15 mins the film in one day with all the cast and extras.
TF: How soon did you start cutting? What were your feelings when you started seeing scenes taking shape? Were you happy? Did you feel compromised or should have had more time? Did things work as expected?
We started straight away, we were assembling as we went which was helpful and if we were missing any shots we could pick them up or reshoot. It’s weird, some scenes turned out exactly as you imagined them and some are totally different to what you imagined. Some scenes I love and some I hate for many reasons but it was a very steep learning curve. There is only one thing I would change about my film and it’s to have money. Money buys you time, props, costumes, crew and efficiency. The whole film had to be scaled down to meet the budget and to be shot in 15 days. Things worked really well, I think because it was well planned.
TF: You've managed to pull a fantastic film together and should be incredibly proud of it. What sort of reaction do you think you are going to get from people who see it? What sort of reactions have you been getting from those who have seen it?
Thanks very much. I hope people enjoy it and leave the cinema talking about mental health. We have had positive feedback form the people that have seen it and I hope this is also the reaction of the audience. I think people may be sceptical cause it’s a film about male suicide and that doesn’t sound very entertaining but I can assure you it’s not a grime film about a depressed man, there is actually a lot of singing in it lol.
TF: We discussed some of the reasons for you writing the film. Why do you think there is such a problem with male mental health? Do you hope your film will help change some of the stigmas associated?
I think society and our beliefs are very dated. The thinking that men shouldn’t cry and men should be strong or that men aren’t allowed to be weak. Also, society tells you to go to university, get a good job, buy a house, get married and have kids, in that order and when you get to 30 and haven’t done any of these things you feel like a failure and its wrong. It’s your life, do what you want, when you want . Have a child at 20 or have a child at 40, decide your career at 15 or decide at 35, the time at which you do stuff is irrelevant, as long as you are happy, just do what makes you happy. But men they are reluctant to ask for help when they feel down, they feel emasculated. I think the introduction of social media has also changed the social climate and added another way to make you feel lonely or depressed. My film is about connecting with people cause that what makes us happy. Also, men are hiding in plain sight it time to change everyone’s thoughts on depression. I don’t know if my film will help break the stigma but if it gets people taking about mental health and if someone sees it and decides to ask for help then that would be amazing.
TF: From your experiences of being a female crew member in the larger industry you will likely have encountered sexism in varying degrees. Have you seen things changing for the better over the years.?
As a 3rd AD you have to speak with a lot of older males and you are telling them what to do on behalf of the 1st AD but as a younger female this does not go down well. Men don’t quite take you seriously and this happens in roles that have been predominantly male. If you are female and want to be a Costume Designer or a Make Up Designer that is acceptable but if you want to be a Director or a DOP the reaction would be different but that because people are not used it, things are slowly changing. However, there are a lot of women that work in the industry but less likely to work as a DOP or Director and not because we are not accepted but because we are less likely to take risks. Men are natural gamblers and are more willing to take a chance, where are women are more likely to over think stuff and decide against it. The more women that take risks and do it the more the industry will balance out.
TF : Do you think female led films like this will help change the representation of females in film?
No, maybe if my story was a female empowering story it would make more of an impact. But for the females that took part I am glad to have offered them an opportunity to showcase their talents. Hopefully they get the recognition they deserve and it helps them to be successful in the male dominant roles such as Editor or DOP.
TF: In the last year there seems to have been a noticeable focus on abuse within the film industry. Do you think this is something which has helped you or would you have done this anyway?
I would have done this anyway but I think it is giving females more recognition and women in these roles are being celebrated more, which is awesome.
TF: Do you think making this film will help inspire other female led teams to embark on their own features?
I hope so.
TF : What advice would you give to a female director who is thinking about producing,writing, directing their first feature (or all 3)?
Have no fear. I think it all stems from the script, so if you have a good script people will want to help you make it.
TF: What else would you like to see change in the industry? One of the toughest challenges a mother working in the industry will face is childcare, or being able to work as a mother of a young child, or even as a single mother. The industry does not seem set up for this in anyway. What could you suggest to help this and what advice could you give?
It’s really tough because our jobs are not stable or consistent, its constant balancing act. Being a single mother is a nightmare as the hours are so long that standard child care is not adequate. People have mentioned creches at unit base which I think is ridiculous. The problem is our hours, if we did 9 hours continuous that could help and ban 6-day weeks so you can see your family.