BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Bet Fredrica follows Mary, a single mother with a gambling addiction, betting on a 100/1 horse in the 2009 Grand National on behalf of her young daughter Millie. Chaos soon breaks out as Gaz, a hot heels stock broker and loanshark, looks around for money he is owed.
Hi Daylen, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?
Hello thank you very much for talking with me it’s exciting to be featured amongst such a library of great interviews. Things are going very good, I’ve just finished university so I’m excited to use the skills I’ve learnt in the “real” world.
Congratulations on having Bet Frederica part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
It’s a really great feeling to be featured amongst such a broad selection of films and very humbling to be admitted amongst them, I’m very excited to see the screenings and be able to celebrate all the voices that’ll hopefully be defining the next generation of film.
Bet Frederica is also nominated for Best Film at FFF, what does it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your work?
When we make films you can only hope that people will watch and enjoy them but to take that a step further and be nominated for an award by such a prestigious and respected institution like the BFI is real stamp of honour for both me and the crew that will always be there attached to our names.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
So extremely important, we live in a world now where content is so rapidly released that it can be a fear that your film may just pass by and the world may not notice but for BET FREDRICA there’s some guaranteed shelf life thanks to the Future Film Festival and I couldn’t be happier that the BFI is the one hosting us.
Can you tell me how Bet Frederica, came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
I finished my second year of University having made a film A Most Uncivil War which was focusing on Thatcher's Britain, the loss of community and the demonisation of the working class that was beginning to take place. Looking towards what was next I felt compelled to revisit a lot of those themes 25 years later. I also was very interested in the way we’re conditioned to addiction from a young age with sticker books, trading cards, happy meals etc along with gambling being such a mainstay in the culture especially when it comes to sport. I was 9 at the time the film takes place and I have very fond memories of putting a 50 pence bet on a horse every year. My Mam would ask me which horse I wanted to pick and obviously being a child I wouldn’t look at the odds or statistics but rather the names, colours and just a general feeling of what might be a lucky pick. So I would say this mishmash of my childhood and the general topics I seem to be interested in.
Where does your passion for exploring and telling stories from a working class perspective come from?
It’s undeniable that my passion for the subject comes from my family and being northern. My Dad’s side of the family had been miners, craftsman and bar workers which I think made me really interested in how those industries declined, especially how the miners had been treated by the government. I find it really fascinating and horrifying that my Mum and Dad lived in a time where those industries fell and now I look around and can see the fossils of them. So much culture, unity and community has been lost and after my generation they perhaps won’t be remembered for much longer. I grew up in Leeds which is now a epicentre of Business and services much like many of the other big cities in the UK. Surrounding it are towns lost to the lack of industry and prosperity. Not only all of that but it feels as though growing up I have seen the working class be both demonised and weaponised against each other and there is serious loss of community that was such a touchstone in British culture.
Why do you think it is such a challenge to see genuine, lived, working class narratives and experiences in mainstream film and television?
I think it’s both a matter of inexperience within the industry and a fear on how to tackle those stories. There are filmmakers like Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach who have managed to really understand both the struggle and absurdly funny aspects that come with working class life and I think audiences still have a lot of taste for those stories because they’re very true to many of our lives. It seems a lot of the industry likes to paint Britain with the Americanised brush and focus on stories that make the UK look like a place where everyone speaks with a certain vernacular all whilst living in either grandiose or cottage looking house’s but that’s not the experience I’ve had so it all so it seems very foreign to me. I must say that when watching the films made by filmmakers my age it seems there are many more perspectives coming through so I’m hoping that the industry really have the ‘umph’ to back those stories in the future.
How close do you like to stick to your screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow for much flexibility?
Oh absolutely! I love to write but I also love to direct and I think that for me that means getting my actors in a place where they know everything they need to about that character to run with it. It was a goal of mine in the film to just let actors riff off of one another as I think that if I’ve done my job right they’ll still be able to hit the same point I intended as a writer but in a way that feels natural to the characters. So yes BET FREDRICA was a very messy improv session at times but I can only thank my amazing cast for being able to facilitate that all while staying true to their characters and the themes of the film.
What where the challenges you faced making Bet Frederica?
Oof, so many challenges it would take a novel to explain them as it is with every film ever made but there are a few that stick out. The first challenge was creating a space that felt authentic to the time and place the film was set in. We were on a very tight budget and after many months of searching for an empty shop lot it became clear that without more funds it would be impossible, it was at this point that my amazing Production Designer Aidan Ashton began to create 3D sketches of the betting shop within a classroom at our university and we worked together to make sure the room was both workable for my blocking etc but also had that feel of a betting shop in 2009. I’m really proud of the work he did on that space, it took months of searching for cheap slot machines, working with graphic designers and getting enough people on the day before the shoot to build the set.
Another challenge was how was I going to shoot this film? 6-7 people in one room all chatting and bouncing off of one another? It was obvious to me that the camera would have to be kinetic as the actors at times and my Cinematographer Dawid Zegarowicz was just invaluable in making that happen for me. We decided that we wouldn’t storyboard for the film which was really out of our comfort zone as we both like to be very planned for shoots but we decided that we had a vision for the film and that we had talked enough about it that we could trust our gut. I think it’s a testament to our collaboration and Dawid’s set ups that we had all the footage by the end.
Our Producer, AD AND editor Chloe Andrews went through this entire process with me from beginning to end, she took the job of producer out of necessity as we lost ours early in the process of pre production. It’s not only creative challenges that a film will experience, in fact those challenges can sometimes be the easiest to solve, but all of the pre production beforehand really could be turbulent at times whether that be with actor availability, budget, safety, COVID etc and I would be silly not to acknowledge all the hard work she did to make the film exist in the first place.
Finally as a director this was the first film where I had more than 2 actors in the same space so I had to really think about how I was going to block and stage the film all while getting enough coverage in the three days we had to shoot it. I took a lot of time to map out these things but also had the confidence in myself and the great cast of people in the film to be able to both follow the plan but not make us feel stilted in our creativity on set.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making this short?
I think for me making BET FREDRICA I really had to ask myself, what film would I want to watch? It could have been very easy to create this gripping hyper realistic drama about gambling and so on but would I really want to see that again? I’ve made that mistake in the past but I feel like with this one I’ve been able to be more truthful with myself and how I really see the world which is this absurd funny mess of chaos that creates moments that are ‘morally ambiguous.
Where did this passion for filmmaking come from?
It’s hard to pinpoint, my parents and family beyond that are very creative in both in a work and hobbiest environment so I’m lucky to have grown up around that. Since I was around 2 or 3 I’ve always watched films, been engrossed with rewatching and finding out how they were made. When I was around 7 or 8 I began to start making stop motion animation spending a lot of my free time always making something so I feel like it’s always been an inherent part of me.
What was the first film you saw that made you want to try your hand behind the camera?
This question always makes me laugh with embarrassment as it’s such a cliche for Film Students in particular but I have to say Pulp Fiction. I was around 14 or so when I watched it, it was the first time I really understood that someone had made that film and that there were people behind the camera making decisions playing into what they were into.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Absolutely, if we don’t do that what’s the point? I don’t think artists should ever fear pushing boundaries or telling new stories because that’s the only thing that’s kept film alive all these years and really solidified it amongst some of the most prestigious art practices.
"I was around 14 or so when I watched it, it was the first time I really understood that someone had made that film and that there were people behind the camera making decisions playing into what they were into."
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmakers?
First, always stay true to what draws you in both on a personal or creative level as that really is what will get you through a project. You make this thing and it may never be seen by more than a handful of people but you’ll feel fulfilled at the end.
Second, find people you link with creatively and always feed into each other, I think that paves the way for some very interesting outcomes as every film is made with hundreds of random ideas at random times.
Third, watch all types of films. Good, bad, new, old, western, international etc you never know what you might take from a film.
And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from Bet Frederica?
If anything I hope people watch the film and see that behind every character you see on the street or every problem that people face there is story and reason behind it. Mary, our protagonist, would be labelled as a no good gambling addict by our society at face value but ultimately she has a reason to gamble for better or for worse and I think we need to have a long road ahead as a culture in Britain to have conversations about why people are in such desperate situations.