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18th BFI Future Film Festival, 2024

"I started looking into what exactly was in these different drugs and no one really knows. For example one pill could have deadly levels in it but another could have nothing in it, the only way to know is to test your drugs."

Three best friends go on a drug fuelled night out in their small seaside university town, but after arriving home together one friend doesn’t want the night to end. 


Hi Amber, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be screening Tipsy Sugar Flipping at the 18th BFI Future Film Festival?


It feels super exciting! I’ve known about the Future Film Festival for a few years now and every year keep my eye on the programme hoping one day to be selected, so I’m super happy to be screening this year! 


You’ve just graduated from Falmouth Film School. What was this experience for you like and how much did your time at Falmouth help guide you as you now start to make your mark in the film industry?


I started uni in 2020 so honestly it was really hard for the first year as we were learning online. Once second year started though I was able to experiment with a lot more. For example we did a cinematography module and I learnt so much about lighting, colour, composition etc and this was all super new to me. I think that Falmouth do really try and give you the skills and knowledge to be able to enter the industry after, I feel confident in what I learnt and am ready to jump in. 


What did winning the Audience Choice: Best Film' Award at NAHEMI 2023 mean to you?


It was really special honestly, it was hosted at the BFI Southbank so this felt like a massive privilege to be screening in such a prestigious place. This was also the first time I had shown the film publicly, so it was even more special to win something, especially among such fantastic shorts screening. So much hard work went into this project so it also felt very affirming that this was recognised. 


Will there be any nerves ahead of the festival or are you just excited and eager for your screening? 


Yes 100% I always get butterflies when I screen any of my films publicly, but more than anything I am just super excited to have it screened and be able to show this story that is really important to me. 


How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films and emerging filmmakers?


I think that they’re vital as they are a place that young filmmakers can be recognised for their work within a space that also acknowledges that at this stage in our careers our work is far from perfect as we are all still learning. 


What more can be done on a local/national level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?


I would love to see more collections of short films in cinemas UK wide, as I think short films can sometimes be even more poignant than features but don’t get the acknowledgment and exposure they deserve. 


Can you tell me how Tipsy Sugar Flipping came about, what inspired your screenplay?


It was loosely inspired by a night out I had when I was 18 years old, although the storyline isn’t exactly the same, the themes are inspired by true events. When trying to generate ideas for my final year film I was reminded about that time in my life that was particularly hard, and I decided that I wanted to use my experience to show how the best night of your life could easily turn into the worst.


Growing up in my local area of Herefordshire drug abuse and addiction was very apparent  and I noticed my peers push their limits to an extreme. I started looking into what exactly was in these different drugs and no one really knows. For example one pill could have deadly levels in it but another could have nothing in it, the only way to know is to test your drugs. Although this isn’t explicitly discussed within the film I really hope this is something that people may take away from the film. I don’t intend for this film to be an anti drug campaign but instead to spread awareness about the importance of safety within drug culture, especially within my generation. 


Not only is this film about drug misuse, but at its core its a film about female friendship, and how beautiful but complex this can be sometimes. We are watching these three girls experience a night out all together, with the highs and the messiness. There is also an underlying storyline of one of the characters exploring her sexuality. This was important to me as a bisexual woman myself as I want to see more bi-visibility on screen. 


"I find it so fascinating that we all have our own lives, experiences, families, relationships, worries, etc in life and they are so individual but also can be so similar."

What was the biggest challenges you faced bringing Tipsy Sugar Flipping to the big screen?


Honestly we didn’t have a solid producer for most of the production which was incredibly challenging. We had people help out with different parts of the production which was massively helpful, but a lot of the producing responsibilities fell to me which I found difficult to balance being a director and producer. However with the help of the crew we made it work and I’m personally super proud of how it came out, especially with all the difficulties. 


What was the experience like co-writing Tipsy Sugar Flipping with Conor Clarke-McGrath?


Conor is an actor and writer but also my brother. I had never collaborated with him before this but I found it a great way to bounce ideas off each other. I would definitely collaborate with him again as I think we bring different ideas and viewpoints to the table. 


When working on a screenplay like this how important was the creative collaboration  between you both?


The creative collaboration is very important to me, when I write I usually find this more difficult on my own, so having my brother be able to send script drafts back and forth and engage in conversations was essential for the creative process. Because my brother is an actor he brought a great insight into how you can use certain exercises during the writing process to help the character realisation. For example, trying to understand what are the needs and wants of the characters, what are their backstories, why are we meeting them here at this point in their lives what was the run up to this. These kinds of exercises were essential in how I directed the actors during production because I really felt I knew who the characters were.


What was the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from making Tipsy Sugar Flipping?


I think for me personally it will be about continuing to expand my skill set on the role of the director and how to balance guiding the crew while also staying true to the overall vision. I think you need to make mistakes to be able to learn from them, and I definitely did, but from that I’m able to take those experiences into the next project. I think the director’s role can sometimes be challenging as there needs to be balance, you shouldn’t be a micro manager, but on the flip side you need to be able to guide your collaborators well so that everyone is working towards the same shared vision. I think when you're starting out this can be a hard balance to get right, as we’re all learning and experiencing these roles for the first times. 


Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?


When I was growing up both my parents were filmmakers, so I think that this probably had an impression on me because this was the normal in our household. But I think as I got older I realised how cathartic it was for me to somehow represent experiences I’d had in life within filmmaking, and I felt that it was the right outlet for me. 


How much has your approach to your films changed since you started out as a filmmaker?


I think initially when I started making films these were experimental images or sequences with music overlayed to give a feeling of something, like a mood film. But once I actually went to film school and learnt how to make films the ‘proper’ way I realised the importance of story, which I was never as focused on before. I focused more on the aesthetic and feeling, but now the key focus is on the story and what is being said through the visual language, rather than just for aesthetic reasons. 


Was there any one film or filmmaker that you saw growing up that inspired you to get into filmmaking?


I think Boyhood by Richard Linklater really made an impression on me. I felt a strong connection to Boyhood because in essence not much ‘happens’ in terms of plot, but instead it depicts key moments in his life that I think many people can relate to. For example his first kiss, first time smoking weed, going to college, his parents separation etc. These are experiences many of us have in life to some extent, and I think the film had such an impression on me because I was always searching for stories that I could relate to. Right now I would say I’m very interested in this style of slice of life films that are not so plot driven, especially right now I’m interested in the coming of age genre, I find that shift between childhood and adolescence fascinating.


What does Tipsy Sugar Flipping say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell in the future?


I am really interested at the moment in female driven narratives and stories about different kinds of relationships between people, either friendships, relationships or parental. I use a lot of my own experiences within my filmmaking and I think I will continue this as I find it really cathartic to be able to express myself through this medium. When someone says that they relate to one of my films or that it’s helped them in any way that is the ultimate goal for me. I want to make films with characters in them that people can see themselves in. I find it so fascinating that we all have our own lives, experiences, families, relationships, worries, etc in life and they are so individual but also can be so similar. I’m also interested in stories that try and break down certain taboo subjects that are stigmatised, especially within the female space, such as body hair, menstruation, sex, drug consumption etc. 


Is there anything you would have done different on this film?


I think in retrospect there’s always things that you wished had gone differently, especially once you see the first edit it can be a bit of a shock, because it was in your head and now its on the screen and it usually looks a bit different from how you imagined. But at this point in time I genuinely don’t think I would do anything differently because I know how much myself the cast and crew put into this film and at the time I don’t think we could have worked any harder. I think next time maybe I could work on trying to condense my shot list as I do tend to try and cover all the possible shots and this sometimes can cause the schedule to be a bit tight and doesn’t leave much room for experimentation. 


Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking and what has been the best advice you’ve been given as you started your own filmmaking journey?


I would say just start making films on your phone, add some music, some visuals, and just create something. I would also suggest programmes that give you on set experience such as the BFI Film Academy, as I did this when I was 16 and it was so useful to see how a real set should run. I think it can feel super daunting the idea of wanting to go into film but not really being sure in what department or even how it’s even possible. For me I would say university really helped me hone in on what direction I wanted to go in, but I understand for some university isn’t the way. So I think if you're able to be involved in a filmmaking programme like the BFI Film Academy its so helpful when you’re in the beginning of your career. 


I think some of the best advice I was given was to just be creative, experiment, mess up, to just make whatever I want rather than what I think people would want to watch. I think its so important to play and experiment and see how things come out without the pressure for it to look perfect or have a solid story yet, to just focus on making something. 


And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from Tipsy Sugar Flipping?


I really hope that people can relate to some of the content within the film and to hopefully bring a greater awareness of the dangers of substance misuse within my generation.

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