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BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Interview

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Nick
Willis
Speak for Herself

In a world where artificial intelligence plays an integral role in everyday life, a young and debt-ridden technophobe chooses to take part in a social experiment for the much needed money. However, in order to receive the cash, she must speak live to the entire planet for one minute…

 

Hi Nick, it’s great to to talk with you, how has everything been going?

 

Hello, thanks so much for having me! It’s all been good thank you, pretty busy juggling lots of projects but it’s all very exciting!

 

What has it meant to you to be commissioned by BBC Arts and Arts Council England to write and direct your debut short film?

 

It was the most surreal thing! BBC New Creatives was a talent development scheme, aiming to help get young people into the film industry from around the UK. So to have that experience aged 18/19 meant the world to me as it definitely solidified my determination to enter this immensely exciting yet fickle old business! I had never done anything like that before, so to have the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes and learn was truly invaluable.

 

Congratulations on having Speak for Herself, part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?

 

Thank you! I feel incredibly honoured - there is such a diverse, breath-taking selection of films from all over the world and so, to have my film in their company is unbelievable. And I can’t wait to meet all of the filmmakers and selfishly rack their brains for all their knowledge and talent!

 

As someone with such a fantastic link to BFI via being a BFI Film Academy Young Programmer, how vital are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?

 

They’re crucial. The sad truth is that shorts don’t nearly get the same exposure as features, and so dedicated platforms to showcase exciting, and often more accessible, short form content is really important. I know a festival like BFI Future Future Film Festival is like gold dust as not only does it display the work, it focuses on bringing the up-and-coming filmmakers behind them together to help nurture important connections that can form the basis of future collaborations.

 

Can you tell me how Speak for Herself came about, what was the inspiration for your short film?

 

It’s a bit of a funny one. The BBC New Creatives brief was for films that expressed what it was like to live in modern England today. And as a then 18 year old first time filmmaker, I thought: “What value could I possibly put out there into the world?” And maybe I took that fairly literally.. What would I say if I could speak to the entire planet? From there all the themes of technology and social media, which were especially prevalent at the time I was writing the script in 2020, were then added over a pretty lengthy scriptwriting process!

What was the biggest challenges you faced making Speak for Herself?

 

Time and the pandemic, for sure. We only had one day to shoot the film, which with four locations, was kind of insane! With all the covid protocol that we needed to follow on top. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing producer Emma Willatts who always supported my vision and moved mountains to ensure the shoot ran as smoothly as possible. The whole cast and crew were sensational, and we definitely wouldn’t have done it without all of their passion and determination.

Where you able to be flexible with your script once you got into production?

 

Not really during production. The script itself was greenlit at Christmas 2020 and then we shot at the very beginning of March 2021, so our pre-production time was pretty short, and the script stayed as it was. However, during the edit was where things were surprisingly more flexible. We had to get the runtime down and so playing around with cutting and editing the script during post ended up being fairly instrumental!

 

Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from this experience?

 

I definitely learnt to trust my gut and stand my ground when needed. Filmmaking is full of compromises, and that is just how it is (especially in low budget filmmaking), but that doesn’t mean you have to trade off on absolutely everything. I got better at picking my battles and knowing which situations were fine leaving and which I needed to fight for. If you push for only the most critical things and don’t become hyper fixated on every tiny detail, then those around you are far more likely to find ways to make it happen. At the end of the day, people are your biggest resource, so appreciate and trust them!

 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

 

I have always loved film, but my first passion was actually acting and art. I did them both right the way through school and it wasn’t until I decided to watch all the Best Picture nominated films in 2016, that I properly saw filmmaking as a potential path to take. I began to experiment with some ropey, experimental films during my GCSE and A Level Art, and really fell in love with film as a medium. From there, I just watched and read as much as I could until now where I am truly obsessed!

 

How much has your background as a Production Designer helped in how you approached directing Speak for Herself?

 

It was vital! I’m an extremely visual person, and so the imagery always comes first to me. I want the shots to tell the story just as much, if not more so than the words on the page. I love playing with colour and set design to represent or juxtapose a character. I think production design is often overlooked within film, despite it being so essential, so I can’t help but wear my designer and directing hat at the same time!

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"Nowadays, anyone can have a platform - whether you think they should be allowed one or not."

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

 

Of course! Without them doing that, films will just become repetitive and boring. Film is an art medium and so therefore it should be used to challenge and explore.

 

What top 3 tips would you offer fellow filmmakers and Production Designers?

 

To be honest these three are applicable to both!

1.) Research is key. Whether it's visual moodboards or text sources, it is vital that your work is grounded in some kind of realism. Even if it is some fantasy/sci-fi film. You need your audience to find ways of relating to the film.

2.) You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback. Feedback isn’t always meant to be taken at face value, just because someone thinks it should be done a certain way, it doesn’t mean they’re right. Your job is to decipher what problem the feedback is really pointing to and then work out your own creative solution.

3.) Document your work online. It can be a bit of a scary one but it is pretty important to do so in this day and age, so many opportunities are found online so it is great to have a portfolio ready to show at the click of a button!

 

And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from Speak for Herself


I want people to watch the film and realise just how important each and every word you say is… words can quite literally change the world. Nowadays, anyone can have a platform - whether you think they should be allowed one or not. So when we use ours, whilst it is incredibly difficult, we must trust the authenticity of our morals and have courage in our convictions when we are inevitably faced with the ‘noise’.

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