Interview: Sophie Hyde

52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde.

52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde.

Those sort of projects are interesting to me and thrilling as a filmmaker.”

Rules of 52 Tuesdays:
• The film will be shot once a week, every Tuesday (and only on Tuesdays), over a full year (or 52 Tuesdays).
• The film will be shot chronologically; what is shot on a specific Tuesday is what happens on that Tuesday (i.e. no reshoots!).
• Something from each of the fifty-two Tuesdays has to be shown.
• It will be a scripted drama but will allow the script to be heavily influenced during the year, with the writing continuing until the final Tuesday.
• A non-professional cast will be used who can be different but connected to their characters and will influence their story.
• Rather than artificially creating change, allow the subtle but genuine changes over the course of the year to challenge our own expectations of time and change and influence the story we tell.
Presenting such strict rules would have most filmmakers turning to the latest script of Home and Away. Not Sophie Hyde though, the daring and charming director has pulled off a challenging task, successfully making 52 Tuesdays an audacious debut.

Have you always wanted to make a feature film with such a peculiar structure or is this concept unique to this specific project?

Both, I think. It’s unique to this project because it came from the script writer, Matthew Cormack who came with the concept of only shooting on Tuesdays for a year. But to be fair, all of the things that I make and all of us make at Closer Productions, we always look at what we’re making and then choose how we’re going to make it and what sort of team we’re going to have rather than sticking with how things are made normally. That’s something we try to do across everything.

Considering you set yourself such strict rules, what are some of the challenges you faced making 52 Tuesdays?
[Laughs]. Shooting the film was like a marathon. There were times where I would think to myself, ‘if only I could have a break, I would come back feeling really good’. But that’s partly because we were scripting it as we went. So we were rehearsing, scripting, finding locations, doing pre-production and shooting and sometimes doing post-production all of the time which was really intense.
It was much more consuming than I imagined it to be.

Did anyone try to warn you against making your film in this way?
[Laughs]. No. Everyone loved this idea. It was made for a really low budget initiative, Film Lab. Everyone that heard about it got taken with it to the point that it was this huge promise but everyone had different ideas about what would be. It was designed to be ok to take risks in the initiative that we were a part of and that was what we were doing.

Would you do it again?
[Laughs]. No. I would definitely do something with an unusual process again but I wouldn’t shoot one day a week. There’s a Richard Linklater film coming out later in the year called Boyhood which shot over twelve years. So there’s people like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and a boy who starts off as 7 and ends up at 19 towards the end of the film. I think they shot 39 days over 12 years, so less days than us. Those sort of projects are interesting to me and thrilling as a filmmaker.

So had you heard about the Linklater project before you started filming?
No. I have only just seen the first two Before films which was amazing to see them so close together because they’re set years apart. It’s definitely a fascinating way of making films. But I had never heard of Boyhood before we started 52 Tuesdays. The two have been compared a little. Because they’re both doing a similar kind of thing.

Del Herbert-Jane has decided not to take part in any press for the film, which is a shame because their performance is a standout for a non-actor. Can you tell us a bit about Del’s performance and what it was like working with them as a director?
In terms of pronouns for the actor, Del prefers non-gendered pronouns, therefore it is requested that we use Del’s name in the first instance, otherwise the pronouns “they”, “them”, “their”.
That’s such a nice thing to say. Look, Del came on with us as a gender consultant. We were talking to a lot of people during that time. Del’s story is obviously very different to Jane’s story. Actually, they’re probably the most different compared to the other actors and the characters they play in terms of their story lines. So Jane is a trans man who identifies as a man and Del is non-conforming to gender.
There is this common ground I think, which is being treated not the way you feel all the time. We’re all treated very specifically as a gender, then to suddenly be treated not the way you feel is pretty intense I think. So I think that common ground is something that Del brings into her performance and there’s a real subtlety in Del’s performance because of that.
It was a really great experience for me to work with Del who had such a great mind for thinking about this kind of stuff and how gender plays out in the world and how we could work with that as filmmakers. Del was really up for making this a bigger conversation in the world, but then doesn’t necessarily want to be the one out there talking about it which I totally understand. Most of the performance comes from an understanding of the character.

From a directors point of view, did you feel like you had to nurture Del more than the other actors?
Well none of the actors are professional and none of them have been in a film before. In fact we were all on the same page and in a lot of ways that was a really pleasurable thing as a director. I’ve made a lot of documentaries and some short drama so for me it was a really nice thing to be working with actors who were ready to just go where we all felt we needed to go rather than thinking about how things are usually done or how they’ve done it previously.
It’s a big lot of relationships to have during the year and it has to happen in a really genuine way. There was nurturing done between all of us. It’s going to sound really clichéd but it was like being a family. It’s as joyous and dysfunctional as any family I think. [Laughs]. It was a lot of fun.

Considering its subject matter, how do you hope the film will be received by Australian audiences when it officially opens?
So far I’ve been really please with the audience. I didn’t expect it to be as well received as broadly as it has by the audience. For me it has been such a big range of people and I think I had expected it to be slightly more niche than it seems to be. I think people who come and embrace the idea of the film and what we were trying to do really go with it and the characters seem to be well loved by them. We found that young people have really warmed to the film which we were hoping for. We’ve also found this kind of audience that are there for the mother/daughter storyline and to see a filmily that’s presented who are familiar to them, but not one that we see very often. While it seems like it’s challenging content I don’t think audiences have been as challenged watching it as they’ve expected to be.

Your previous films have been a mix of shorts and documentaries. Now that you’ve debuted such a successful feature do you hope to continue the momentum with a feature film followup?Yes, I definitely do. I’ve been travelling so much that I feel like I need to sit down and really write and put down some ideas. Matt, who wrote this with me, is also working on some ideas. I really want to make another feature and I’d love to do some TV drama which I love. Making something like 52 Tuesdays, you get to live with the characters for a while, and I think that’s a really lovely thing to do.

Have you had any offers for other feature film projects?
Well I’ve had a few scripts sent to me but nothing that has really captivated me yet. But I’m reading things. I’m so used to making things as a group and in an intimate kind of way and it seems like a very different thing to go out there and make it somewhere else.

Did you ever expect the awards that came with 52 Tuesdays?
[Laughs]. No, of course not. I think I’ve made this film in a really unusual way as a director and I don’t think I forced my vision on anyone. I always felt like I was balancing the vision of where the film was going with what was new and what was coming from everyone involved. And I think that’s really unusual, so to receive an ward like that is different and something that you really don’t expect on this kind of project.

I guess there’s directors and filmmakers out there who don’t care much for awards so are you happy to receive them and what do they mean to you?
It’s beautiful. To receive a directing award, like I say, for that kind of project was a real shock and also very pleasing. Also the youth jury award, which we received at Berlin, is special. I felt so special to show the audience and be in conversation with all these teenagers. I was so excited they had a youth jury who are so well respected. I don’t think I could have been happier with any other award in the world than that one. Of coarse you love getting awards but what I love the most is genuinely talking to the audience. It makes a huge difference as a filmmaker to speak with your audience.

Have you had any negative reactions to the film during a Q&A session?
Well I get the curly question occasionally. Especially ones to do with teenage sexuality in relation to the actors’ ages. My cast have been with me in a lot of Q&As so it makes it clear to the audience how much a part of the film they were and how in control they are as people that I think any concerns fall away quite quickly. Generally Q&As are quite supportive.

Well I guess people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be there.
Yeah, they usually leave half way through. [Laughs].

Why did you decide to start the film with Once Upon a Time? That line is usually reserved for the opening of a fairy tale.
That is a great question. Well those video pieces towards the beginning weren’t originally written in to that part of the script, we made them later in the film so we filmed a lot more of them then we expected to use. I can’t remember how we wrote that piece but it certainly felt like we wanted to begin the film in a simple way and we wanted some access to Billy at that point in the story because she doesn’t reveal herself for quite a while. Because we could only move forward with the story and couldn’t go back, because we were scripting as we went, there was a bit of a feeling in us that we had not shown their relationship prior to the whole experience all that clearly. That whole piece was probably an attempt to show what came before and ‘once upon a time’ sets that up as a mother/daughter relationship that is quite blissful in some respects.

Sophie, what were your thoughts on David Stratton’s comments that you and your filmmakers claim to have made the film under the restrictions you set yourselves?
I thought it was a strange thing to say because they didn’t really talk much about the process. I actually forgot about that bit. I think it was really strange to say something like that because clearly we did shoot the film the way we did and it’s a really strange thing to present to the biggest film-going audience in Australia. There’s defiantly no need to question the reality of what we did.
People often ask me if we cheated and what the benefit of shooting the way did was but again, no one has questioned the reality of it.

52 Tuesdays is in selected cinemas now.

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Interview: Sophie Hyde

  1. Pingback: Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star in Sophie Hyde’s Animals | Cinema Australia

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