‘Mannequins’ dir. Isabelle Sieb

In this psychological thriller a model’s world rapidly unravels…

Writer-Director: Isabelle Sieb
Executive Producer: Ohna Falby
Producers: Jesús Santaeularia, Isabelle Sieb, Irene Lopez Marco
Cinematographer: Adam Etherington
Key Cast: Nadine Ponce, Natasha Loring, Andy Moss

C8: What inspired Mannequins and how long did it take you to write?

IS: Mannequins was very loosely inspired by my own experiences in the fashion industry when I was younger, as well as those of a close friend of mine who was a very successful professional model. I wrote the script while in my final semester of university, so it took about three months altogether. I now feel that I could have taken more time, but on the other hand, when you’re fresh out of film school, it’s good to just go and make things and learn!

C8: You’ve completed a degree in screenwriting. Did this help you at all in fashioning the script for Mannequins?

IS: It definitely did, mostly because I forced my writing teacher to keep giving me notes and wouldn’t leave his office until he’d answered all my questions, even though he had tons of course work to go through from other students. Thanks Phil!

C8: What was the biggest obstacle during the shoot and how did you overcome it?

IS: The biggest obstacle was probably that it was quite a personal subject matter to a few people involved, including myself, and that definitely felt like an extra weight on my shoulders. It made it even more important for me to get the tone right and say what I have to say without attacking anyone. On top of that, my lead actress had a pretty serious foot injury during the shoot and her role was quite physically demanding at times. So it was extra hard on her and we had to make sure she wouldn’t push herself too far.

C8: How did you go about developing the visual style of Mannequins?

IS: I knew that I wanted Mannequins to look like the world it is set in, so quite glossy and glamorous, but I also wanted there to be a dark edge to it all the way through and have a visible difference in the look between the lead character’s “job world” and her “home world”, a difference in colours and tone between her fantasy and reality. On top of that, it had to be a fast-paced, visual journey in order to for the thriller and horror elements of the film to be effective. So my DP and I planned out the looks and shots very carefully. I must have spammed his inbox with a few hundred reference images ranging from perfume ads to horror films to images of Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” collection in the weeks running up to the shoot.

C8: You often produce or co-produce your short films. Is there something in particular that you enjoy about producing?

IS: I don’t produce any more these days actually. I used to do it out of necessity because I couldn’t really ask anyone to drop everything and spend a few months working for free on my passion projects. I would be the only one mad enough to do that so that’s really why I produced some of my own short films. Plus being German and being extremely efficient and organised, it was something that I felt came quite naturally to me!

C8: You’re adapting Mannequins into a feature. Can you tell us about the challenges that presents?

IS: In a short film you can just touch upon a subject, in a feature you need to dig a lot deeper into the world and your characters and find out what is going to make your audience invest in them for two hours. When your world is an industry that is purely based on people’s looks, that definitely presents its challenges. At the same time, coming from that industry myself, I know that it is a much more complex and fascinating world than people think and a world that offers a wealth of options for visual storytelling. So it’s all about finding the right angle to crack the story.

C8: Who were your filmmaking influences growing up and how have they impacted your work?

IS: I was never really the one to spend all of her time watching films and being influenced by other filmmakers’ work. My biggest filmmaking influence over the last few years has genuinely been my industry peer group here in London. I am fortunate enough to have a group of supremely talented filmmaker friends here who have been very supportive of me and whose brilliant work inspires me to keep working hard and doing better.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

IS: I think having the same work ethic, professional goals and personalities that match and create a comfortable working environment for you is crucial for a good collaboration. And having a passion for the same kind of projects! Choosing who you will be making a feature film with is almost like choosing who you are going to have a child with - you will be spending many years working together and everyone in your core team needs to have the same level of commitment to the project, otherwise things could get very difficult.

C8: What is next for you? What projects are you developing at the moment?

IS: Well, since making Mannequins two years ago, a lot has happened. I got selected for Creative England’s BigTalk’s and Babycow Porductions’ “Funny Girls” scheme, for which I made a short film called Three Women Wait For Death earlier this year. So we will hopefully have a nice festival run next year. On top of that, I’m on two feature film development schemes, “RISE” by Northern Film & Media and Network by Kate Leys and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I am also developing a couple of projects with producers in Germany and Los Angeles for the first time. So you hopefully won’t get rid of me anytime soon!