was a blackbird at three-and-a-half. I don’t remember much about
it but what I do remember is that if I peeked through the curtains before
the dance and waved at all the enthusiastic, eager mums and dads then
I got a laugh. This, I suppose, was my first experience of a captive
audience. For years after this I was involved with the stage. I always
seemed to be so busy with performing; it was most definitely my passion.
Then on days off my best friend (who is now a dancer) and I were always
putting on shows. I remember one summer laying out deck chairs in the
garden and inviting lots of kids from our street to come and watch our
latest show. We charged them all an entrance fee (if any of them are
reading this, I am sorry about that!) and then in return, they got our
show and snacks in the break. Only looking back now I realise how this
passion and need to tell a story to people was so deep in me.
My dad has always been a keen and talented photographer and for my
eighteenth birthday I was bought my first proper camera. He has always
encouraged me not to just take a photograph but to really look into
it. I therefore found photography gave me something very similar to
performance. It allowed me to tell a story, but through an image. The
camera seemed so intimate and I could get close to my subject. The wrinkles
on the face, the depth in their eyes told me so much. I ended up studying
photography and I think the people who I was surrounded by opened up
my mind. They wanted that one image to have an effect on people. However,
I realised that it wasn’t enough for me to have the one image
and this is really when my performance background and love for images
seemed to naturally move together and form my curiosity for film. After
going to film school I was given the opportunity to complete my training
at the Polish National Film School. That was most definitely my most
inspiring time. There I made my short film Seven, which I photographed
and directed. On returning to Britain I was completely out of work but
my batteries were charged. I remember filling in the forms for signing
on. When the woman at the job centre asked me what job I was looking
for, I replied “film director.” She looked at me as if I
was mad and asked me if I could do anything else. My mind went blank,
there was a short silence and then she reluctantly wrote down film director.
Around this time Seven started doing well on the festival circuit;
it went on to win the Best British short at the British Short Film Festival
and because of this I then found myself spending the next six years
Dear Frankie came to me as a short script by Andrea
Gibb. I was looking for a writer to collaborate with for an idea I had
for a feature. The story of this short had such a big effect on me.
I showed my husband who commented what a fantastic feature it would
make. He was right, I couldn’t get it out of my head and I found
myself bubbling with excitement about this idea. Thankfully Andrea wrote
it into an inspiring screenplay. Fast forward six years, two children
and lots of commercials later and we are in pre-production of making
My mum is Scottish and when I was ten (around Frankie’s age)
my gran came from Scotland to live with us. I drew a lot on the Scottish
elements I was surrounded with and familiar with whilst growing up.
Also, having three generations in our home gave me an insight to these
relationships, giving me something very concrete to draw on. I became
completely absorbed in the story and found I really did care for Lizzie.
She has so much on her mind and her love for her son is unconditional.
Something as a mother I recognise. We do our best for our children and
we don’t always get it right. I love Emily Mortimer, who plays
Lizzie. I love the way she plays Lizzie and all the little things about
her: her mannerisms, her eyes, her intensity. She has been very patient
with me. I wanted Frankie to be both spirited and confident while also
having something that he keeps inside him, just for himself. Jack McElhone
is already like this and so very naturally adapted to being Frankie.
Gerry Butler, who plays the stranger, was fantastic. When I met him
for the first time it was unbelievable, it was so strong. Here was the
stranger standing in front of me; immediately I had absolutely no doubt
in my mind. I felt this way about Sharon Small and Mary Riggans too
(Marie and Nell). It has made me realise how important instinct is and
how you must follow your heart.
Although at times it has felt a struggle, I have loved making this
film. I have learnt that directing is not only about having a vision
of the finished film but also not allowing yourself to be distracted
by other people’s visions. People will always have a different
take on things and it is important to remain focused and not have your
vision clouded. I know that what kept me so focused and determined was
my love for the story, the script and working with such fine actors.
It has been an incredible long and winding journey for me. As a first-time
director I think you have to deal with problems tenfold and the optimist
in me tells me it will get easier. So now I feel I am a blackbird at
three and a half again. Dear Frankie will be screened
for the first time. This time it is not at a small stage in a village
hall but at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and again I will nervously
wait in the wings in anticipation of the reaction.