‘Pretty Bitch’ dir. Rebecca Coley
Based on true events about one girl’s story of revenge.
Writer: Karla Williams
Director: Rebecca Coley
Producer: Natasha Sparkes
DOP: Tom O’Keefe
Key Cast: Natasha Sparkes, Tamara Camacho & Dwane Walcott
C8: How did you come across the script by Karla Williams and what made you want to direct it?
RC: Karla had written ‘Pretty Bitch’ as a monologue for Writers Avenue Theatre Company for an event called ‘Seven’, based on the Seven Sins. I went to watch the performance, but unfortunately Natasha froze on stage, totally blanked and forgot her lines. She was devastated about it particularly as she had invited agents down that night. Later, she contacted me asking if I could help her develop it into a short film. I had worked with Natasha before (she’s in my last short film, ‘Hard to Say’) so I knew it would be a good experience & I was fascinated by the subject matter.
I had a lot of respect for Natasha trying to turn a negative into a positive, as she is an excellent actor. I then met with Karla and we discussed how to turn it from a monologue written for theatre, into a short film. It needed some adapting, but Karla was great and trusted me once she knew I totally got it. This was the first time I directed someone else’s writing and I was interested in this character and what could have pushed her to commit such a horrific act against another girl. I was curious about the fact that she blamed the other girl and never blamed the man for what he had done to her. Love and obsession can make people do crazy things. I wanted to have some compassion for her, but she is remorseless and it is hard to have empathy with her unless you can connect to her humanity. However she is ultimately a victim of her circumstances and although we don’t condone what she does, we do have some empathy with her. I am also fascinated by the weight we put on appearance in our society and therefore how taking away another girls’ looks was ultimately the way she sought her revenge.
C8: How did you cast the film and what were you looking for?
RC: I had Natasha on board from the beginning and was excited to work with her again. Natasha is a very passionate and talented actor and I always enjoy working with her. We worked together on my last short film ‘Hard to Say’ and have a good working relationship and trust each other. Natasha is very dedicated and I love the rawness of her performance. She always commits 100 per cent.
So for this film we were casting around Natasha. Both Natasha and Karla were involved in the casting process and had suggestions from the theatre casting. Karla works at the National Theatre and they were great letting us use their rooms as casting and rehearsal space. Dwane is an excellent actor and totally dedicated. I knew he was right at the casting because he totally nailed it on his first run-through and I could see in Karla’s face she looked genuinely scared of him. His role was secondary to the main story, so it’s a shame we don’t see more of him. Tamara is smart and intuitive and very talented and she was perfect for this role.
C8: You achieve some great performances. How did you work with the cast before and during the shoot?
RC: With Natasha we know each other really well and we talked about ideas constantly. She was also producing, so my main job was keeping her focused and in character.
We had a rehearsal, mainly for the actors to meet each other and feel comfortable. Particularly as there is a bedroom scene I wanted the actors to be comfortable with each other. We talked through any issues with the script or their characters and any technicalities for shooting.
C8: What advice would you give to filmmakers on working with actors?
I’d say it’s all in the casting. If you cast the right actors it makes your life easier. You want good actors who are right for the role. It’s also about trust and building a relationship and figuring out the best way to communicate, because everyone is different. The actors need to trust you and you have to explain your vision in a way that makes them understand what you’re trying to achieve. This doesn’t have to be complicated, it might just simply mean showing the feeling or mood that you communicate just through talking about the project. But there are times when you need to be very precise about exactly what it is you want too.
C8: From start to finish what was the most difficult aspect of the shoot?
Probably the post-production on this project. Heppie Collins was our editor and she is brilliant, but she was working full time in a post-production house in Soho, so we needed to fit around her schedule.
It was frustrating working in a fragmented way. We just edited odd evenings here and there and it was exasperating as you just want to sit down and focus for a solid block of time and get it done. But as its spread over a long time it feels like you’re not getting anywhere for ages.
C8: What did you shoot on and why did you choose that format?
We shot on a Red Epic and we chose that format, partly for budget reasons and partly because it suited the look and feel of the film. We had a tiny budget but we managed to get a Red Epic for the weekend. We had a great cinematographer in Tom O’Keefe and so we just set about doing the best we could in the time we had. I wanted it to feel cinematic, despite mostly having interior locations the Red Epic suited the colour palette of this film and Toby Tomkins also did a great job in the grade.
C8: How did the collaboration with Kate Tempest, who provides the poem for the end credits, come about?
RC: Natasha was a fan of Kate’s and sent me her poems to see what I thought. Kate’s a wordsmith and her poems are very powerful. I thought it was great as it added more depth to the film and meaning to what we were trying to say. Steph O’Driscoll, who was our first AD, and also an actor in the improvisation scene, knew Kate and approached her on our behalf. Kate agreed thankfully. I was particularly keen that although the film could have an impact in a shocking way, people would also think a bit deeper about it. What would drive someone to do something so extreme? Why does she take revenge in this particular way? I don’t want to pose all the questions, but I like it if the audience goes away with questions in their mind.
C8: Which are your favourite shorts and why?
‘Peel’ by Jane Campion for how brilliantly she can create an atmosphere and recreate feelings we can all identify with.
‘Wasp’ by Andrea Arnold is brilliant and I always return to it because it’s such an accomplished short in terms of story and performance. There’s a short film written by Irvine Welsh, called ‘The Granton Star Cause’, which inspired me to make shorts. It’s about a man who’s transformed into a fly by God as a punishment for wasting his life. I love it mostly for its brilliant execution, particularly the shots where the fly is flying around the estate. Its very original and I also love the bit where he meets God and it’s just this old drunk man in the pub. That’s from what I remember, I haven’t seen it in a long time. But all of that Acid House series was brilliant. ‘Talking with Angels’ by Yousuf Ali Khan is one of my favourite short films ever. I first saw it at the Salford Film Festival and was blown away by it. It’s about these kids living with a mother who has mental health problems and being dragged around by her and it is so very beautiful and yet so very tragic. That’s the beauty of what film can capture, the ambiguities, complexities and contradictions of every day life, the pain and the joy. ‘About a Girl’, where a young girl is singing a Britney Spears song walking by a canal and then throws her baby into the water, that was very powerful the first time I saw it. That is an example of really saying something with a brilliant simple idea. It says so much in short space of time and that is what a great short film can do when done well. There are lots of short films I could mention – I do believe in short film as its own art form. I think it is very hard to do well.
C8: What do you think are the most common pitfalls for emerging filmmakers?
RC: I think the fact you have to compromise to get your film made, especially when you’re starting out, but if you compromise too much then you don’t achieve what you set out to do. This is hard because you always have to compromise to an extent, but building a good team of people you can trust, who are good and who you want to collaborate with is really important. Making a good short with a great idea, but no money is the key at the beginning. Also preparation is everything as there is never any time on set so you need to be well prepared and have back-up plans so if there are major problems you’re no on your back foot.
C8: This was your fifth short film. Why do you continue to return to shorts?
RC: I love making short films. On the way to making features you have to keep scratching the itch and experimenting and learning, so making shorts is the way to do that. I get the urge to make something constantly. It’s hard if you feel you can’t execute your vision on the budget, but you have to keep making something. I get the impulse I have to make something. Making and doing is the only way to learn really in filmmaking and I’d like to think that even when I make features, I’d still make the occasional short as I love the process so much.
C8: What, in your opinion, is the essence of a good collaboration?
RC: I’d say cooperation. Everyone brings something to the table so it’s good to be open and listen to people, but also not to get side tracked from your vision. All good collaborations come when there’s mutual respect and understanding, so you are on the same page and share a vision and you’re all working towards that same vision. That’s when the best collaborations happen.
C8: What is next for Rebecca Coley? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m working on a surf documentary feature film called ‘Dark Side of Paradise’, which is about the first group of surfers to discover a perfect wave in the ‘70s in Indonesia. They thought they’d found paradise, but of course there is always a yin and a yang. I am working with archive footage and some very talented artists and animators to realise this film. I have a couple of short film scripts ready I would love to shoot next year and a drama feature film I’m developing. Those are the ones I know about right now.