Films and fisticuffs with Francesca Louise White
We speak with Actress Francesca Louise White, star of films such as Dead Meet, Enter the Cage, Slasher House 2, Fractured Minds and the soon to be released Treble Clef – oh and a whole lot more - about doing her own stunts, training for combat and what makes a great fight scene.
Hi Francesca, thanks for talking to us. I guess the best place to start, like all good stories, would be back at the beginning – when did you decide that you wanted to act?
Difficult question for me to actually pinpoint: I’ve always performed in some manner, whether that was acting in school plays, playing piano at concerts, ballet shows or putting on private gigs when I still believed I could sing for my friends and family members (sorry!) when I was little. But I studied Drama at Exeter University rather than a straight Acting course at the time as I knew I loved it but I also loved the whole industry and liked that it covered a little bit of writing, editing, producing, etc, in the course so I could see where I fit. I decided to pursue acting professionally and undertake further training after I left University and realised it was the only thing I truly and wholeheartedly enjoyed. I didn’t want to be focusing on enjoying my weekends or holidays – though, of course, that’s a valid lifestyle for many – I had to love my everyday work too.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?
Independent films have been very good to me! I’ve worked on around 25-30 shorts, webseries, TV pilots and features in the Indie world to date as well as commercial, corporate and voiceover work. I’ve been fortunate to play a real variety of roles and work across all the genres, which I credit to student films having given me the opportunity to play more out-of-my-casting-type roles and gaining a showreel early on from that work.
I recently watched Dead Meet, which, for a short is unusual in the fact that it’s action packed – full of gun play and hand-to-hand fighting. Did you have to train specifically for this role (you also did your own stunts in Slasher House 2) or is it something you already had training in?
I already had a fair amount of inconsistent training but I certainly upped my game after Daniel J. Brant the Director got in touch! My dad was a Jujitsu teacher for a long while and got me into martial arts from an early age, and I’ve dabbled in Judo, Karate, Kickboxing and BJJ since. I’m a firm believer in self-defence training! I think it should be mandatory at schools especially for girls. My main training now is in Jeet Kune Do with Kali/Escrima which I started up just prior to being offered the role of Cleo the assassin-looking-for-love in ‘Dead Meet’ and have certainly continued since! The weaponry work (single stick, double stick, knife, shield, dos manos, staff) involved is a real draw for me, I’m fairly petite and I feel like it gives me a leg up! Plus, it’s great fun and my main instructor Scott Witham is fantastic. I received my BADC Level One qualification in Stage Combat through True Edge in London the summer prior to finding my current Dojo, and wanted to improve my overall training. Daniel found me through searching for Stage Combat skills and watching a clip demonstrating those abilities from the True Edge course on my Casting Call Pro profile. I didn’t have any gun experience so I enrolled on a FireArms in Action course through Stagefight and received training from my friend Devin Roessler from the States who has a LOT of experience and took me to a gun range in LA as soon as possible! Cleo likes her guns.
The fight scene in the bathroom was great, especially in such a tight space – tell us a bit more about the choreography that went into that scene.
Oh thank you that’s lovely to hear. Yes that was a challenge, especially as Dean Williams, the Stunt Choreographer for 'Dead Meet', and Daniel had choreographed and we had prepped it with a bit more space in mind than we actually ended up having. You can view a couple of our rehearsals online actually (here and here). Dean is very experienced. He has been working as a stunt man/stunt choreographer since 2003, and is fortunately very good at adapting, and Daniel has martial arts training and action scene filming experience himself too (you should see his side splits! Crikey) so they had it covered. Luckily no real injuries were incurred although I did throw the soap bottle with a little too much gusto on one shot and came rather close to knocking a few brain cells out of Dean!
Do you think high action fight scenes should appear more in short films?
I would love to see more high action fight scenes in short films! Especially if I’m offered a role in ‘em! That being said I know limited budgets and lack of rehearsal time/access to locations for rehearsal time can be restrictive. I’ve seen a few that look particularly good on the horizon though so fingers crossed we’ll be seeing more!
What do you think makes a good fight/action scene?
In terms of performing them, I’d say trust in those with whom you’re fighting, whether that’s stunt men and women, or another actor with training - a lot, some or even none! I have so much respect for qualified stunt professionals, they’re utterly incredible - give ‘em an award at the Oscars already, people! The transfer from martial arts to stage combat can be a little tricky in certain ways, for example, in terms of where you’re targeting – some people like you to always aim on target and trust your partner will block, others prefer to cheat every angle and shot. Trust is SO important either way – that your partner can block it and you won’t hurt someone, or that your aim will be correct in missing them. In terms of watching a good fight/action scene I’d say speed plays a HUGE factor, plus camera angles and shot choices. A great score always helps get the adrenaline pumping in the viewers too. Films are all about the teamwork – so many contributing factors!
I thought the corridor fight scene in Netflix’s Daredevil was brilliantly done (and everything in John Wick) - what’s the best fight scene you’ve seen recently?
100% with you on both of those choices! Brilliant scenes indeed. Recently I really enjoyed the scenes involving Sam Rockwell in Mr Right  which is actually in a similar vein to ‘Dead Meet’! There’s a fluidity and almost dancer-like-quality to the stunt work in that movie that’s just fantastic. Jaylah played by Sofia Boutella in Star Trek Beyond  is a particular favourite of mine too. Her fight scenes are incredible, especially when you take into consideration all the make-up/prosthetics/thick contact lenses.
You’ve done many different genres, is the action genre your favourite?
I love to watch action and obviously do enjoy working on it, but sci-fi & fantasy are actually my main addictions both work and watching-wise, whether that’s Film, TV, Play or Book. Escapism at its finest! You can lose yourself in a completely different Universe for a while and let your imagination run wild.
Exit 6 is very much about showcasing short films created by emerging talent. With your back catalogue in shorts, do you think this is a great way to start as an actor?
Without a doubt. Shorts are becoming a lot better known & more widely enjoyed in this World of social media, Netflix/Amazon binge-watching and YouTube surfing. Plus we all have shorter attention spans so voila! Perfect for today’s society. There’s such a variety in scale of production, genres, and roles for actors to play in them. Actors getting a chance to play a role that Directors Producers/Casting Directors wouldn’t necessarily give them a shot at playing in a feature (due to needing to make money back/requiring evidence that people will watch & pay to watch these actors in these roles or whatever the circumstance). I’d say similar for Crew too. And, I see a lot of Shorts being made Feature length too or being used as ‘Proof of Concept’. You never know who will watch your film and they’re more-often-than-not an enjoyable experience to work on. Well done Exit 6 for showcasing them!
You have a couple of associate producer credits to your name, so going forward, do you think you would like to work behind the camera as well as in front – directing or writing perhaps?
Yes I am aiming to delve into directing in the future and I have dabbled in writing (hasn’t every actor these days!). There are a few book adaptations for which I’d want to have more of a say in how they turn out… they can be a bit hit or miss. I want to gain more experience on larger sets and knowledge in cinematography first. I’m very happy acting for the foreseeable future.
Can you tell us what we will see you in soon?
I’m working on a few different shorts right now: one psychological thriller called ‘Between The Divide’, one sci-fi called ‘A Town of Others’ and an upcoming lighthearted dramedy called ‘The Adventurer’s Diary’. I’m also working on two features: an action/drama film called ‘Made Ordinary’ by Christian Kotey starring Bruce Payne and Sean Cronin and a sci-fi called ‘The Rendlesham Tapes’ by Adam J Morgan. I’m in talks with a talented Scriptwriter & Director about an action role for which I’ll be filming the trailer in the near future too. Fingers crossed I get to play the role in the film!
Keep an eye out for thriller feature film ‘Milk and Hon£y’ by the fantastic team of Director Matt Gambell, writers Peter and Linda Dunscombe, and James Welling starring Claire King and Mark Wingett. It also features Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendon.
You can find out more about Francesca and her work at her website.
You can follow her on Twitter: @FrancescaLWhite