Writer/Director Carys Watford has had a brilliant few years, from winning the Grand Jury Prize at Oscar-affiliated Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival with her star-gazing short Space Girls to more recently winning BAFTA Rocliffe’s new writing competition with her punk rock feature script Fly in the Ointment.
I am thrilled to be able to bring you this interview with Carys to chat through how she got here to what she’s up to next!
Carys, fantastic you could chat with us. Tell us a bit about who you are for those that may not know.
I’m a writer/director passionate about making comedic films packed with personality and heart. My short films have screened at over 50 festivals worldwide and I’m currently developing multiple TV and feature scripts. I never know whether to say I write dramas with a comedic edge -- or comedies with a dramatic punch! Either way I am always drawn to that combination of comedy and drama.
I loved your short Theatreland really resonated with me, having worked as an usher myself when I graduated acting school. Did you work in a theatre too and how did you manage to film in a West End theatre in London that’s quite feat!?
Thanks so much! Yes, I, along with the majority of the cast, all worked in the West End theatre which we shot the film in -- which the owner really generously allowed us to shoot in between shows.
There can be a strange tension working Front of House when you’re an aspiring actor. As you are in the location of your dreams, surrounded by amazing creative people -- but at the same time you are confronted with the heart wrenching reality of watching other people live out your dreams on stage every night. Whilst you serve ice-creams and show people to their seats. And it was this complexity I wanted most to explore in that film.
I absolutely adored your next short Space Girls so am not surprised that you won the Grand Jury Prize at Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival. Why did you make this film? and have you been pleased/surprised by how well this has done at festivals around the world?
I actually originally made the film to enter NASA’s CineSpace competition -- where you make any genre of film (max 10 minutes) but 10% of its running time must use NASA’s archive space footage. I often find that a specific brief can be really helpful in forcing you to be creative within the context of strict parameters. And the idea for Space Girls came really quickly. I’d seen an image of four girls in orange NASA jumpsuits laughing together at space camp in a google search and that image really stayed with me. I wanted to make a film about the wonders of space and the importance of space travel with four badass 9-year-old girls as the protagonists. It didn’t actually get selected for the NASA short film competition, but we played at lots of other festivals.
And yes, absolutely! I’m always surprised when any of my films get accepted into festivals. As with most filmmakers I’ve talked to, the rejection pile is almost always a lot bigger...and the assumption when you open that email is that it’ll be a no. So, it was definitely nice to be pleasantly surprised with lots of acceptances for Space Girls. And I loved every second of travelling with the film to festivals and sharing it with diverse audiences.
The performances in Space Girls were fantastic and can be quite hard with child performers. What was your process with working with the young actresses and actor?
It was actually my first time working with children. And it is for sure something I’d love to do again. That NASA competition I’d originally made it for, I’d only found out about 6 weeks before the deadline. I wrote it within a week, and we were filming a week or so later. It was all very quick. Hence, there was no time for any workshops or rehearsals and the girls only met each other on the day.
I was amazed at how prepared they were, and each young actor brought so much personality to their characters. As a director, a lot of time on set was spent keeping the energy up and, especially for Evan (who was only 4 years old at the time and plays the part of the younger brother Benji), it was really fun to keep the magic alive. There were moments in the cardboard space rocket I think he actually thought he might be in space!
How important are making short films when you are first starting out as a filmmaker?
For me, they’ve been my film school. They’ve been massively important in letting me experiment with my voice and learn about my creative choices and putting a film together. Telling a story. Other people might be different, but there is no way I would have been able to jump straight into a feature without making short films.
I really want to know about the feature you’re developing Fly in the Ointment which recently won BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition. Huge congrats by the way!
It is a script I’m really excited about. It was actually the first feature script I’d written so it was amazing to win the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition with it last year. It’s a coming-of-age comedy/drama set in Ireland in 1980 which centres around two teenage girls forming a punk band and forging a trail of disruption in their quiet religious coastal town. I love to watch girls on screen ruffling a few feathers!
Do you have any advice for new filmmakers?
I’ve always liked the motto of keeping your head down and letting your work speak for itself. I think there can be so many distractions now (and I’m definitely guilty of that too!) -- but rather than talking about making a film...just go out and do it. And use whatever resources, equipment, locations, etc which you have access to.
During lockdown I’ve just shot a 90 second comedy horror on my iPhone in my bedroom, cajoling my family with bribes to be in it -- I know it won’t be the most technically perfect film but it was actually really freeing and fun to just create something with no money and no pressure. Experiment find your tribe and put your work out there (I know it’s scary) -- and most of all, try and enjoy the journey as it’s a hard slog!
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