ARTS MUSE MAGAZINE’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH YOUNG DIRECTOR FLORENCE WINTER HILL

We got the change to catch up with this talented new director about her latest film.

Director Florence Winter Hill may only be 19, but she is already making waves in the film world. This must see film was created by a young crew and shares a world where arts subjects are being neglected in the education system. Elle stars Isabelle Allen (Les Miserables) and Byrony Afferson (House of Anubis), and has already been selected for four high profile film festivals including San Francisco International Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.

This is the story of a young girl struggling to pursue her dream of becoming a professional dancer where creativity is forgotten. With a sudden diagnosis of memory loss, she must fight for her dream.

ELLE aims to challenge societies views on young children with big creative dreams. The film highlights the issues in the UK’s education system neglecting arts and cutting it out of the school curriculum, and the increasing number of historically important arts venues and communities forced to be shut or torn down to make room for flats and offices.

Florence Winter-Hill is a British Award-Winning Director who at the tender age of 16, was selected by the National Film & Television School and BFI as one of ‘the most talented filmmakers in the country’. Her debut film Afterlife won multiple awards and screened at BAFTA-qualifying film festivals including ASFF. Her second film My Beloved Monster was praised by Tom Hooper (The Danish Girl) and Rian Johnson (Star Wars VIII, The Last Jedi), and at only 18 she w

orked on Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi as a VFX Production Assistant, Jungle Book and The Nutcracker at Oscar-winning Double Negative. Winter-Hill created Elle to challenge societies views on young children with big creative dreams and a make a film with a young fearless female protagonist.

James Lane and Ed McGovern head Indigo Productions, the production behind Elle. The company was created in 2016 in order to bring together a wide range of young actors, directors, technicians, designers and other creatives looking to move to a professional level of production. Indigo has produced short films, sketch comedy, drama, spoken word poetry, festivals and music events. So far in 2018, they have produced a short film Poppycock shot in South West Scotland with a cast and crew of 19 and produced a 3 day long feminist arts festival with over 30 different performers. The entire crew on this Elle were between 19 and 22.

Elle’s young starlet Isabelle Allen rose to fame when she starred opposite Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway in Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of Les Miserables.

 

What sparked the initial idea for this film?

I started writing Elle when I was completing my A-levels, almost 2 years ago now. I had always been frustrated through my experience in education with the lack of appreciation and encouragement to do arts subjects. They are stigmatised and discouraged throughout the education system, and are being gradually completely cut from curriculums. From my experience, I felt that because of this – children are naturally forgetting what they love.

Most schools now have a system where the subjects are categorised into columns, and you can only choose one subject from each column. Which ultimately means a lot of children have to choose subjects they’re not very interested in, and are restricted in their later choices for A-level. Even Isabelle, our lead actress who played Young Cossette in Tom Hoopers Oscar-nominated film Les Miserables, wasn’t able to choose dance as well as drama at her school. She told me this in her audition and how upset she was about it, and I knew this was something she cared about sharing too.

I wanted to tell a story of what it’s like to go through this. It’s something us young people trying to make our way in the creative industry all have in common – the entire crew on Elle was made up of people between 17-25 who all felt they had been through this and believed in telling the story.  Both me and my producers (James Lane and Ed McGovern) at Indigo Productions are keen most of all in collaborative work between young people – its a tough industry but we are trying to help each other on the way up!

Tell us about the casting.
The casting was incredibly important. I was looking for something very particular, and casting children is never easy. I wanted naturalism, someone that felt very comfortable in the role who in a way may be living Elle’s situation.
What was it about Isabelle Allen that made you decide that she was the perfect candidate for the role?
As soon as Isabelle walked into the room, she had such a level of maturity and elegance to her. She is so determined and intuitive with acting – she really loves it and cared for Elle as a character, and that was important for me. I think when she was performing I saw a bit of myself, she really wants something and she is working so hard to get it – it was quite inspiring. Her audition made us all a bit emotional. She wasn’t professionally trained in dancing but she loved it and had had lessons all her life. For me, the acting was more important to me than the dancing, because I knew we had to connect with her as a character over her dancing. She has learned from some of the best, spending weeks on set with Eddie Redmayne, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe etc, and it has sparked something really special in her to keep doing it. She is about to be in the Netflix series ‘SAFE’ as Dexter star Michael C. Halls daughter.
You have such an impressive resume and you are only 19 years old. Can you remember the time when you fell in love with directing
I fell fully fell in love with directing when I was directing on the National Film & Television School’s BFI Film Academy course, when I was 16. I was selected as ‘one of the most talented filmmakers in the country’ to take part in the course, and direct a short dark comedy. Before then, I had only made films by myself and with a few friends acting for me, but this was the first time I worked with a team – a production designer, two producers, sound designers, editors, writers, etc and it was just incredible. Working with other young people all in our specialisms working together for something we are deeply cared about making great, showed what directing is really about. It’s about bringing together a team and working with other peoples talents to bring your vision to life, it’s such a wonderful and inspiring process. I wouldn’t be talking to you now without that experience.
What was the best advice you were given about entering the film industry?
In terms of working in the industry – you have to have thick skin, especially as a woman in an industry dominated by men. In terms of filmmaking, I think the best advice I was given was to keep making the films I want to make. We all have a unique perspective for what we think is beautiful, or funny etc, and we should use that perspective to make art that is personal to us. I think its very easy to copy someone when you admire their style of filmmaking, but it is a challenge to create and perfect your own. That’s something I truly believe is important.
With reference to the last question, what advice would you give to upcoming directors and filmmakers?
Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Seek opportunities yourself – don’t sit back and wait for them to come to you. And create your own opportunities! I believe that no one is going to hand you success on a plate – you have to work for everything and make things happen for yourself. If you want to make a film – grab a camera, a couple of friends, and go out and make it! The best kind of projects come when people work together and enjoy it.
Pick your specialism and work on that. I find that a lot of young people struggle early on in the industry when they don’t know exactly what they want to be doing – and that is fine, it’s not always easy to work out – but it is an advantage if you have worked out what you are best at early or what you want to be best at, so that you can strive towards working in that area.
What message do you want people, especially young girls to take away from this film?
I really hope it will inspire young girls to keep doing what they love, and not let anything stop them. Don’t let someone telling you won’t make it stop you – let it be more drive to prove them wrong. I want young people to believe in what they want and be free to make that choice for themselves – especially young girls.
Where can people go to see Elle?
The next screening of ELLE will be at the INDIs Film Awards. It takes place on Saturday 15 June at Headrow House in Leeds at 4pm.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a new short film about a mother-daughter relationship. It’s inspired by my own experience. I’m making some music videos in the next coming months and just trying to write and make as much as I can! I’m also in post-production for a dark-comedy short film with Indigo Productions that we shot in January up in Scotland – a trailer will be released soon, so stay tuned!
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