Best Girl Grip
#110: Ashley Connor, Cinematographer

#110: Ashley Connor, Cinematographer

April 4, 2022

I lied and said that last week was the last episode for a while and then I got a very exciting email about interviewing this week’s guest and here we are.

That is guest is New York based cinematographer Ashley Connor, someone whose work I have been a big fan of for quite some time. She has lensed some of my favourite independent films, including Tramps, First Match and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and is a regular collaborator with Josephine Decker, having shot Butter on the Latch, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely and Madeline’s Madeline. 

Ashley has also shot music videos for Angel Olsen, Beach House and MGMT, plus worked on TV shows like Broad City, Ramy and High Maintenance, so I think it’s safe to say that Ashley is probably the coolest DP working today, and certainly someone whose work I am just always in awe of.

She came on the podcast to talk about her career thus far, but also shooting a new movie called True Things, directed by Harry Wootliff, who was on the podcast many, many episodes ago talking about her directorial debut Only You. True Things is her second feature and stars Ruth Wilson as a dissatisfied woman who gets into a passionate and slightly toxic relationship with Tom Burke and must sort of find her way back to herself. I think it’s a fearless and visceral and feverish piece of cinema about female sexuality and desire, and I think Harry is fast becoming one of our most exciting filmmakers in the UK and I think Ashley’s cinematography - which has always been very muscular and balletic and dynamic - is a perfect match for depicting this tempestuous relationship.

We also talk about how Ashley got her start in indie films, as well as the work she did to support herself, how she has developed this movement and emotion-based cinematography practice, shooting sex scenes and finding a new language for the depiction of women’s pleasure, working with and responding to actors, and why cinematography is often like being another actor in the room, working with Lena Dunham on her latest film, Sharp Stick, as well as power structures on film sets and how Ashley prioritises radical vulnerability to change that dynamic.

It was a really special conversation. I think Ashley is a very talented artist and filmmaker and proved also to be a very genuine and compassionate person and just someone I think we’re very lucky to have making movies and putting women’s feelings and desires at the forefront of cinema. 

True Things is out in UK cinemas now. If you go to www.truethings.film you can find showings near you and I highly recommend that you do.

This is episode 110 of Best Girl Grip. 

#109: Katie Sinclair, Development Exec & Independent Producer

#109: Katie Sinclair, Development Exec & Independent Producer

March 29, 2022

I am very excited to introduce this week’s guest, as she is both a friend of the podcast and a someone I consider to be a friend full stop. 

And that person is Katie Sinclair. 

Katie is an independent producer and development executive, currently working at Blueprint Pictures, whose credits include Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, In Bruges, The Last Letter From Your Lover, The Riot Club and Emma, where she sources and develops projects for the production company’s slate. She has worked in production and development for BBC Film, BBC Studios, Disney and Lionsgate.

As producer, Katie recently completed The Last Days (wri/dir. Dipo Baruwa-Etti) which was filmed during the pandemic and was funded by BFI NETWORK and BBC Drama commissioning, while her previous short film Signs (wri/dir Yero Timi-Biu) won the Youth Jury Prize at the Academy Award-qualifying Encounters Film Festival. She produces under the banner Tannahill Productions and is committed to developing and championing new talent. 

We talk about how she pursued a career in development, what she learnt from working at BBC Film, our shared love of the Anna Paquin film Fly Away Home, why relationships are the key to pretty much everything, how she has built her confidence in her taste and opinion, the difference between working in development for a production company as opposed to a public funder, the art of giving feedback and why the key is asking questions rather than supplying solutions and her producing ethic and storytelling sensibilities and why it comes down to empathy and care. 

Enjoy!

#108: Renee Zhan, Director & Animator

#108: Renee Zhan, Director & Animator

March 22, 2022

My guest this week is Renee Zhan, a Chinese-American director and animator from Houston, Texas now based in London. She graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a BA in visual and environmental studies and the National Film and Television School in 2020 with a degree in Directing Animation.

Her short films, which include 2016’s Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw), 2018’s Reneepotosis, 2020’s O Black Hole and 2021’s Soft Animals have screened and won awards internationally including Locarno TIFF, and the Jury Prize for Best Animated Short at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. 

We talk about her path into the world of animation, how she started making films and why she gravitated towards the more tactile techniques displayed in her work. We also discuss why animation can sometimes be lonely and how she has evolved her process along the way. 

It was a treat to chat to Renee, I think her filmmaking style is really special and beguiling and so I urge to seek out her short films if you haven’t already seen them. I’ve popped some links to that which is available online in the show notes. 

This is episode 108 of Best Girl Grip.

 

Show Notes

#107: Chi Thai, Independent Filmmaker & Producer

#107: Chi Thai, Independent Filmmaker & Producer

March 16, 2022

This week my guest is Chi Thai, an independent filmmaker & producer who works across features, documentary, animation & immersive. She has produced over 13 short films, been a Cannes Lion finalist three times, had her work screened at BAFTA & Academy accredited festivals, and exec produced the documentary short Little Miss Sumo, written & directed by Matt Kay, which you can currently watch on Netflix. Chi is also an alumnus of the Guiding Lights scheme and NETWORK@LFF and a ScreenDaily Star of Tomorrow. Her production company Last Conker is also a recipient of the BFI Vision Award and she is currently producing BIFA nominated writer-director Paris Zarcilla’s debut feature Raging Grace. 

We talk about how Chi ‘blagged’ her way into film school (her words not mine), how she has gained confidence as a producer, the ethos and mission behind her production company Last Conker and how the climate crisis and her ambition to work with storytellers from the East & South East Asian diaspora, spearheads her producing and advocacy work.  

We also discuss not getting the BFI Vision Award the first time she applied, what the money has allowed her to do when she was awarded it and why she chose to invest the money in a variety of initiatives and how she’s working towards dismantling the structures that marginalise underrepresented groups in the film industry. 

I hope you enjoy our chat. Chi is someone who has a lot of experience and very clear sense I think of what needs to change in the film industry and how she can help effect that, so it was definitely a galvanising conversation and I was really delighted to be able to speak with her. 

#106: Lizzie Gillett, Director of Feature Docs at Passion Pictures

#106: Lizzie Gillett, Director of Feature Docs at Passion Pictures

March 8, 2022

This week’s interview is with Lizzie Gillet, the Director of the Feature Documentary Department at Passion Pictures, whose credits include the Oscar-winning SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, Bart Layton’s THE IMPOSTER, James Marsh’ PROJECT NIM and more recently THE RESCUE. 

Lizzie recently produced THE TERRITORY, a feature documentary co-produced with an Indigenous community in Brazil about their fight to protect their ancestral land in the Amazon rainforest, which the World Cinema Documentary Award at this year’s Sundance. Lizzie also produced LADY BOSS, a feature documentary directed by Laura Fairrie about trailblazing life of novelist Jackie Collins. 

We talk about her first foray into producing feature docs by making the climate change documentary THE AGE OF STUPID and how that led to the 10:10 global campaign to cut carbon emissions, how crowdfunding played a big part in financing that film before crowdfunding was a thing and whether she felt any pressure to replicate the success of that. We also discuss how she arrived at Passion Pictures, what she’s responsible for and what it means to direct a department, supporting the filmmakers she works with and what she’s learnt along the way. 

Lizzie was brilliant interviewee and someone I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with, so I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation. 

#105: Aisha Bywaters, Casting Director

#105: Aisha Bywaters, Casting Director

February 22, 2022

My guest is Aisha Bywaters, a BIFA-nominated casting director whose credits include independent films such as Body of Water, County Lines, The Last Tree, Dirty God and Mari, as well as the TV series Enterprice and We Are Lady Parts. Most recently, Aisha cast the upcoming TV series adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love, the process for which we talked about a little bit. 

We also discussed Aisha background in theatre, learning the film industry ropes at Shaheen Baig casting, branching out on her own and learning how to put herself out there and also what is she’s looking for in audition and trusting her gut instinct when it comes to casting decisions. 

I always enjoy chatting about casting because it’s such an integral yet still strangely invisible part of making a film and although there has been much more recognition for the work that casting directors do over the past couple of years, I still think there are so many nuances and elements of the role that we (myself included) don’t necessarily grasp. So it was a real privilege to spend some time with Aisha and hear about her perspective on what she does and how she does it.

#104: Ruth Greenberg, Writer & Director

#104: Ruth Greenberg, Writer & Director

February 15, 2022

My guest this week is Ruth Greenberg, an award-winning screenwriter and director whose directorial debut RUN, a short film starring Niamh Algar from CENSOR, is currently showing on Short of the Week. The film was backed by Film4 and BFI NETWORK and was long listed for a BIFA in 2021. 

As a screenwriter, Ruth’s prehistoric horror, THE ORIGIN, is in post-production with Escape Plan Productions - the company who made SAINT MAUD and she’s also working on a medieval horror with director Nora Fingscheidt (SYSTEM CRASHER, THE UNFORGIVABLE) and producer Philippa Tsang at DCM.

Ruth and I had a great chat about completing a PhD in screenwriting, getting an agent and what that relationship is like, how she prepared to direct RUN and collaborated with director of photography and former podcast guest Molly Manning Walker to achieve the subjectivity and kineticism required of the story, what a writing day might look like for her, how she likes to situates herself in the setting or place of a story and how she deals with rejection. 

I think there are some really vital thoughts that Ruth expresses on writing genre and writing in general, and not being hemmed in by how you ought to write. 

**TW: discussions of assault**

There are few housekeeping notes before we get to the interview. The first of those is that there is mild discussion of violence against women in the context of Ruth’s short film Run and we mention the death of Sarah Everard, so if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable listening to that, feel free to skip the episode or rejoin us around the 20-min mark.

The other thing to say in relation to that film is that it’s on Short of the Week and to coincide with that launch, Ruth its raising money via JustGiving for Woman’s Trust who provide mental health and support services to women affected by domestic abuse. I’ve linked to that page in the show notes, so if you’d like to donate, you can do so there. And I would obviously also recommend watching Ruth’s very powerful short film.

This was recorded via zoom and there are occasional background noises, but otherwise I hope you enjoy this conversation.

This episode 104 of Best Girl Grip.

#103: Elhum Shakerifar, Documentary Producer

#103: Elhum Shakerifar, Documentary Producer

February 8, 2022

My guest this week is Elhum Shakerifar, a BAFTA nominated producer and winner of the 2017 Women in Film & TV's BBC Factual Award and one of Screen International’s 2018 #Brit50 Producers on the Rise.

Elhum’s multi-award-winning credits include The Reluctant Revolutionary (Sean McAllister, 2012), The Runner (Saeed Farouky, 2013), multi-award-winning A Syrian Love Story (Sean McAllister, 2015), Even When I Fall (Sky Neal and Kate McLarnon, 2017), BIFA winner for Best Documentary, Almost Heaven (Carol Salter, 2017), ISLAND (Steven Eastwood, 2017), Of Love & Law (Hikaru Toda, 2017) and Ayouni (Yasmin Fedda 2020). Her work has been broadcast internationally and screened at festivals including Berlinale, IDFA, Rotterdam and CPH:DOX. Elhum was also a recipient of the 2016 BFI Vision Award.

I was both excited and nervous to speak to Elhum because she has produced a body of work that is interrogative and curious and empathic and I wanted to come to the conversation with that same energy, knowing that we would likely cover some complex topics.

And we did, we spoke about the vulnerabilities and ethical considerations inherent to making documentary, how she prioritises relationships and intentionality as opposed to access, what a greater level of respect for documentary filmmaking would look like, why and how she distributes her own films through her company Hakawati and also how she persists, to keep telling stories that are meaningful and difficult and heartfelt. 

It was a really gratifying conversation and one that I’m really glad to have had, so I hope you enjoy it just as much. 

#102: Henrietta & Jessica Ashworth, screenwriters & directors

#102: Henrietta & Jessica Ashworth, screenwriters & directors

February 1, 2022

This week's guests are Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth! 

Hen and Jess are screenwriters, directors and twin sisters. Having penned their first script at 15, they went onto write OLIVIA AND JIM which came third on the Brit List in 2011. In 2012, at the age of 24 they were featured on ScreenDaily’s prestigious Stars of Tomorrow list and began writing on TV shows such as FRESH MEAT, DIXI and KILLING EVE..

In 2018 their BFI-backed debut feature as screenwriters - TELL IT TO THE BEES, starring Holliday Grainger and Anna Paquin - premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and they currently have two other adaptations in the works, alongside a TV series for Amazon.

Meanwhile Hen and Jess have branched out into directing and their short film NIGHT BUS, a supernatural horror starring Susan Wokoma is now available to watch on Short of the Week. They are also working with Helen Gladders (who produced NIGHT BUS) on developing their directorial debut.

I had a blast chatting with Hen and Jess who are both very smart and funny and have lots of wise things to share about their experiences as screenwriters since arriving in the industry almost a decade ago. I think the thing that struck me most about our conversation was not only how willing they were to talk about some of the difficulties or disappointments inherent to being a writer, but also how they could frame that in a way that is helpful to other aspiring writers and filmmakers and so I think this conversation is fully of really good nuggets about breaking stories and figuring out characters and moving between or on from projects, as well as what it’s like to write in service of another person’s vision as opposed to being in service of your own imagination.  

I highly recommend that you check out NIGHT BUS and also watch this space for many more exciting projects penned and or helmed by Hen and Jess.

#101: Sandra Hebron, Head of Screen Arts at NFTS

#101: Sandra Hebron, Head of Screen Arts at NFTS

January 26, 2022

My guest this week is Sandra Hebron, the Head of Screen Arts at the National Film and Television School where she leads the course for the MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation. Previously Sandra was Head of Festivals and the Artistic Director of the BFI London Film Festival and Director of Cinemas at Manchester’s Cornerhouse. She is also a qualified Psychotherapist with a counselling business. 

We spoke about how she got her start in film exhibition, her time as artistic director of the LFF and what direction she hoped to push it in. In doing so, we touch on ideas of cultural renewal and not staying in positions of power for too long. We talk about curatorial ethics, mentorship and also how her psychotherapy training plays into how she works in the world of film.

I got a lot out of speaking with Sandra. I cut it out of the final edit, but there was a moment where I had to check it was ok to run over our allotted time and confessed to having a really good time and I think that was a combination of Sandra’s honesty, the perspective and consideration she gave to the questions and the interrogation too and it was just a very invigorating interview, so I hope you have as good a time with it as I did.

This is episode 101 of Best Girl Grip. 

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