15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Section: Hearts On Fire
This is the graduate film from filmmaker Dhara Wright which she wrote, produced and directed inspired by an Hans Christian Anderson story.
Hey Dhara, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Thank you for having me! Thankfully I've been comparatively fortunate during the pandemic. I was able to return home to visit my family in Canada, and have had great support groups during lockdowns. But like the rest of us, it has been a huge adjustment to get used to!
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
I would love to say that it has. Honestly, though, I found it very difficult to be productive over the last year. That being said, I don't know whether I would have taken to screenwriting if it weren't for all the free time at home.
What does it mean to be screening The Butterfly at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?
I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to be a part of the Future Film Festival this year. Especially as finishing my degree and entering the adult world during the pandemic was quite a discouraging time. Our graduation showcase was moved online and I felt that I didn’t get to share my film with as many people as I wanted to. After all this hard work my result was a bit anti-climatic. However, I must say that this opportunity makes it all feel worth it!
The Butterfly is going to be in the Hearts On Fire section of the festival and is your Graduation film, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
There are a lot of nerves! I've never participated in an event like this, and have never showcased my work on a scale this big so it's been on my mind pretty consistently. They're good nerves though!
Can you tell me a little bit about how The Butterfly came about, what inspired your screenplay?
My initial inspiration was to take a classic fairy tale and adapt it to speak to current issues. Since many of the stories we grew up with are so overtly sexist, I was interested in creating a satire around the theme of gender. For example, common themes in these fairytales include a male savour and a female lead having to change something about herself to become more appealing. I looked at The Princess and the Pea and The Little Mermaid, but it was when I came across The Butterfly, a Hans Christian Anderson story I hadn’t heard before, I knew I had to do it. I was also very inspired by filmmaker George Melies and cinema from the turn of the century. By collaborating silent film with a picture book fairytale I was able to create the unique style of The Butterfly.
How close do you like to keep to the screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow yourself much flexibility?
I was very strict about keeping to the script, but only because once we started shooting we had already completed some of the animations and had a score. In a lot of ways, we had to work backwards, as I wanted the score to be timed perfectly with the performance which meant having the timing of every scene prepared before we even shot. On set, we used stopwatches and had the music playing to ensure that the scene was exactly the right length. Looking back now I realize I was choreographing a dance more so than directing a film.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing The Butterfly to life?
I would say the biggest challenge has been the difficulties that we faced due to Covid. There was a time last January when it looked like we wouldn't be able to shoot at all. When restrictions finally changed and we were able to get on set we still had strict regulations and we even had to shoot our two characters separately and put them together in post! Thankful, due to the incredible productivity of my cinematographer, Kian Bradshaw, you can hardly tell how much we were limited on set. We then ended up with much less time on the edit than we would have liked due to the constant postponement of our shoot. In the end, I think there is very little I would have done differently, but the circumstances made the project a lot more taxing than it could’ve been.
Since making The Butterfly what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?
The most valuable lesson I have taken away from this film has been to trust my team members. I tend to micromanage and therefore have a hard time delegating tasks when working in a team. I was ridiculously lucky that I got to work with the team members I did as they are all incredibly talented at their craft. For example, my special effects artist, Daniel McMahon, did wonders with the final edit and adding all of the animation components together. I had started this process myself and I am beyond thankful I handed it over to him. I have no idea how he did most of it but it was the magic final touch the film needed!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I spent most of my childhood on the stage, with theatre and dance. I always was interested in pursuing the arts although it wasn't until I was about fifteen that I decided I wanted to work behind the camera. I was less interested in performing as I grew older but I knew I still wanted to continue in this world so film seemed like the perfect option. In 2017 I got the opportunity to take part in a filmmaking summer intensive at NYU Tisch and that really solidified my love for film. I can definitely see how much my history in theatre and dance influences my filmmaking today, especially in The Butterfly.
Does your background in Photography help to influence your directing style?
I think it does. I tend to get visual inspiration first, and then find myself uncovering the story second. I also believe that every single frame of your film should be able to stand alone as a photo. If it isn’t visually interesting enough to be its own piece then don’t keep that shot!
"As Mr Butterfly makes his way from one flower to another, we see his sexist tendencies and unfair ideals."
How important to you is the collaborative process of filmmaking to you?
Very very important. I think filmmaking is probably one of the most collaborative industries there is. Not only is it near impossible to fulfil every role on your own, but you gain so much more creatively by collaborating with a team. I know my strengths and weaknesses within my filmmaking abilities so I would be useless without a talented team to help fill in the gaps.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Absolutely! Filmmaking is such an accessible format to tell stories. I really believe it has never been easier to get your work out there especially for our generation. In the current climate everyone's voices need to be heard and if you can share your story in a format that is digestible for a large number of people then do it!
For anyone out there thinking about making their first film or getting into photography do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
Just go out and start making it! Especially now with smartphones and social media, we are visual storytelling every day, and anyone can do it. You don’t need nearly as much equipment as people say you do. All of the animation for The Butterfly was done by my production designer and I sitting on my bedroom floor with a camera and some paint. My best work has been done when I am just enjoying myself and messing around with my camera, it really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Butterfly?
The Butterfly’s original intended moral is; “don’t be picky when choosing a wife”, but I adapted my version to be a satire about misogyny and imposed gender roles. As Mr Butterfly makes his way from one flower to another, we see his sexist tendencies and unfair ideals. It was important to me that the flowers are empowered into action, and the attention is drawn towards the flowers, giving them a voice rather than centring around the misfortune of a misogynistic man.
Although The Butterfly is a satirical comedy, it is important to me that people understand this deeper meaning and are able to reflect on these fairytales we know so well.
The Butterfly is also an ode to the first days of cinema. I have always loved the fact that everything was made by hand, which I find far more impressive than good visual effects. That was one of my main goals when making this film was to carry out that tradition of creating the film from scratch, an art that I think is quite lost in modern day cinema. With the help of my talented Production Designer, Natasha Coleman, we animated the entirety of this film by hand with a mixture of paper cut out and 2D painted animation. What you see on screen is an incredible feat in collaboration and creativity from my whole team.