‘Sis’ dir. Deborah Haywood

When lauren and amy hear there is a man who “likes children” living in the area, they decide to track him down to show him their handstands.

Writer-Director: Deborah Haywood
Producer: Tina Pawlik
DOP: Gabi Norland
Key Cast: Demi-Jo & Billie-Lee Parker

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Sis’ come from and how long did it take you to write?

DH: I was in a screening of a Russian film called Everyone Dies But Me, at the London Film Festival.  It’s about three teenagers who want to go to a disco. It got me thinking about my own childhood and then a forgotten image popped into my head from when I was about six.  I’d stuffed newspaper down my top to give me boobs, and smeared bright pink lipstick on my lips, and borrowed a pair of high heels.  I was walking down our street feeling very grown up when my Dad pulled up in the car and gave me a bollocking.  I started remembering other snippets from that time, like all us kids would knock on an old bloke’s door called Sid, and manipulate him into giving us  fags, and matches.

C8: Your next short ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ was born out of the rehearsal process for ‘Sis’. Can you talk a bit about how you worked with Billie and Demi to achieve the performances you desired on ‘Sis’?

DH: I hung out with them a lot, and just really enjoyed their company.  As soon as I met them I was mesmerised, which was a good indicator that they would be very watchable.   I would play with them a lot, and play improvisation games, and ask throw them lines to repeat when the were in back of my car, in their little bumper seats.  To get them used to me doing it on set.

C8: Did you work differently with them the second time around and, if so, how?

DH: They were a lot older the second time, and had the whole crew wrapped around their little fingers!  I can’t think we did it much differently.  We tried not to say “cut” and “action” because they picked up on that very quickly and would shout it themselves!

C8: What has been the best piece of advice you have received about working with children?

DH: I went to a screening of Let the Right One In with a Q+A afterwards with the director, Tomas Alfredson.  I asked him to talk a little bit about working with children and he told me he never shows them the script, and gives them the lines as they’re acting.  I tried it myself on Sis and it worked a treat.  I did it with them on Twinkle, Twinkle, too.   Before that I hadn’t realised I could talk when there was no dialogue. But it’s so useful to throw in a note for them to respond to, rather than wait until the next take to add it.

C8: Has working with children changed your approach to working with adults? 

DH: No, but I think it’s helped me to communicate in a simpler and clearer way.

C8: ‘Sis’ blends dark reality with comedic moments. How did you balance the two?

DH: By having a good editor!  I actually hadn’t realised Sis was going to be that funny until I saw it with an audience.  I thought it might provoke a little internal chuckle, but nothing more.  I was surprised in good way!

C8: Given a second chance, is there anything you would have done differently? 

DH: I’d probably have shot a few days later, if possible. Demi had broken her leg (dancing to Lady Gaga on holiday) and had her plaster off only the day before the shoot.  She was a bit wobbly on her feet for the first couple of days so I felt bad about that.   And I’d have reshot/made a better job of the end ‘dish’ shot. It was supposed to look like a smiley face, but didn’t across.

C8: Where does ‘Sis’ sit in your career? What had you done before it and what have you done since?

DH: Sis was my third short, and I’ve shot two since. And I’ve been writing features along the way.

C8: You write and direct all of your shorts. What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?  

DH: Responding to exec notes in a way that makes your script stronger, and them happy, rather than cause you to lose your way and what you originally wanted to say.  I didn’t write my second short, Tender.  Lovely Roger Hadfield scripted that.

C8: Emerging filmmakers can be daunted at the prospect of working with young children. What advice would you give them?

DH: Enjoy it!  Children are lucky enough not to be self-conscious, which is the enemy of adults.

C8: Since working with children has your idea of what makes a good collaboration changed?

DH: Not really – I still think the best plan is to collaborate with people who are better than you, so you look good.

C8: ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ has just been selected for the 2013 BFI London Film Festival. What is next for Deborah Haywood? Any projects on the horizon?

DH: Yes!  I have three features on the boil, as well as a short I’m gagging to make.  I also have an idea for a fake documentary, that’s set in the future.  But I need more help from my subconscious first before I am able to articulate it!