Rebekah Fortune, award winning director, producer, co-founder of Seahorse Films. Her directing credits include; Wuthering Heights, Broken Blossoms, Macbeth. In film, Deadly Intent, Squidge, Sex, Love, Other and of course the hit feature Just Charlie which is making huge waves on festival circuit now. The Film premieres on Sky Cinema on Monday 16th April.We at Those London Chicks are pleased as punch Rebekah has taken the time out to chat with us.
Rebekah, you trained as an Actor, then went onto theatre directing and now film. What has been your journey thus far?
As an actor I always felt a little helpless, there were so few roles for women and far more female actors competing for them, but I had always had the Directing string to my bow. Even as a child I would always direct shows and started my own youth theatre when I was 17 so it felt natural for me to set up my own company. I had my daughter Elinor immediately after leaving Drama School and the industry is not kind to young mums, my own company allowed me to fit theatre around elinor. The company was very successful for about 10 years but then I decided I had enough of generating my own work and needed a break. I went to Central and studied for a Masters in Shakespeare which had always been my passion, this was an amazing year working with actors like Riz Ahmed and really re focused me. After leaving I did a stint in Holby and started directed physical versions of classical texts. Then I hit my 40’s and realised trying to act as a woman of a certain age was almost impossible. I had always been told I directed Theatre like film so making a short seemed a natural progression, I shot Something Blue in my back garden (this was to be the short form of Just charlie) I had no idea about the technical aspects of film but new what I wanted and how to get the best out of actors. There was no budget and I was literally cooking lunch between takes. The film was picked up by Channel 4 and won awards all round the world. I loved the whole process so much, I couldn’t wait to get up at 5am and didn’t want a day off. I cried and cried at the end of the shoot and that was that, film making was going to be my life.
Was it an easy transition?
As a Theatre Director I was constantly told “You direct theatre like film” I can only assume my use of underscoring, movement sequences (montages) to move the story along and attention to small details in design etc are what led to this observation. Now I direct film I get told “You direct Film like Theatre” maybe because I insist on making the complicity of the actors my primary focus, rather than using them as props (as I have often heard crews refer to them).
Ultimately, despite the belief of many, I don’t think there are any fundamental differences between the crafts of directing film and theatre. The key to both is communication. The Director always has a vision regardless of the medium, it is our job to communicate that vision to everyone from the runner to the producer from the writer to the actors and utilise their expertise to bring that to life.
The one key difference is that When you direct a play you are giving your best work to the cast and crew hoping they will create magic out of it, when you direct a film everyone working on it gives you, their best work in the hope that you will create magic out of it.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
You teamed up with Karen Newman (producer) to form Seahorse Films. How did that collaboration come about?
Karen and I met when I was working as an agent, she was an actress and had expressed she was interested in producing. We met for a drink and got on like a house on fire. I was about to start shooting a short and told her she could shadow The Producer, as it was she pretty much produced it and a marriage was born. We get on perfectly as a team, and have also become best friends. When we first met neither of us liked networking, we had both grown up in a culture where pushing yourself forward was frowned upon and often resulted in being bullied. I still don’t like networking but Karen has pushed herself out there and can network with the best of them, for which I am very proud of her.
Seahorse is described as “UK film production company making narrative Features and TV with a strong female presence”. With Frances McDermotts Oscar speech causing a stir because of the phrase “Inclusive Rider” for actors. Is this the type of values or ethos you try to implement with your projects?
Yes, we try to involve 50/50 in all aspects of our work, both in front and behind the camera. We managed to achieve this on Just Charlie and it seemed to work extremely well. My next feature The Plough has a female writer along with Karen and myself and I always work with Erline O Donovan my editor. I have a great relationship with my DP Karl Clarke but would definitely insist some of the camera team are female. Obviously I always want to work with the best people regardless of gender but it is vital that women are given opportunities. We like to tell stories that show a true reflection of society which is indeed 50/50.
Just Charlie (Seahorse Films) is making huge waves on festival circuit now. Did you ever anticipate the film would enjoy such success?
The response to Just Charlie has been a little overwhelming, I don’t think we ever expected a film made for little more than 50p and a bag of chips was going to have the impact it has. Myself and other members of the cast and team have been mobbed at festivals by people thanking us for making such an important film, on several occasions members of the audience who have identified as Trans or parents of trans children have stood up and openly wept during Q and A sessions. When we screened the film in London one brave Trans lady stood up to talk to us, she tried so hard to hold her emotions in, but as she explained this could have been her story on screen, and thanked us for being her voice, the tears began to flow, not only from her but us too. She held her emotions in just long enough to praise our decision to have a happy ending, an ending that she felt gave the trans community hope, and showed audiences there can be a positive outcome if we learn to be more accepting. She then sat and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
For those who may not know about Just Charlie, give us a brief synopsis of the story?
Soccer star Charlie has the world at his feet. With a top club desperate to sign him, his future is seemingly mapped out. But the teenager sees only a nightmare. Trapped in the body of a boy, Charlie is torn between wanting to live up to her father’s expectations and shedding this ill-fitting skin. Charlie’s next move will tear the family apart and threaten everything they hold dear.
Just Charlie is no ordinary coming-of-age tale. Charlie is a girl divided between the wish to live up to her Father’s expectations and the overwhelming need to be true to herself. An all- consuming desire to embrace her true identity gives Charlie the inner strength to stand up for what she knows to be right.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with you on Just Charlie staring the incredible Harry Gilby. I know you tried to cast trans talent for the title role. Tell us about your search?
The casting of JUST CHARLIE was a meticulous yet fun-fuelled adventure that consisted of workshops, auditions and self tapes.
Ben Cogan our Casting Director scoured the Midlands in our search for ‘Charlie’ holding open workshops advertised in both industry and local press, visiting drama schools and youth clubs, and utilising our contacts at the Trans charities we had been working with, in order to open up the opportunity to as many Trans actors as possible.’Charlie’ was always going to take some finding – but the search and process was so thorough and extensive that at the end not only did we have three possible options … but we’d also found our surrounding younger cast!
With Charlie being so young, we struggled to find many Trans actors who were emotionally ready to tackle not only their own journeys but those of Charlie in front of a large cast, crew and potentially the world.
Though we met trans actors in our workshops and recalled them – we felt that ‘Charlie’s’ story was that of a child facing up to an unknown journey and that blissful naivety to the struggles and obstacles that lay ahead. The trans actors we met were instinctively knowing – whereas – Harry Gilby (who we cast as ‘Charlie’) brought an innocence and vulnerability that was essential to the story we wanted to tell.
Harry was originally put forward to play Tommy but after seeing him in in an improvisation workshop I immediately knew he had the potential to be our Charlie. When Harry Reduced the entire team to tears in a recall casting session I think my mind was made up.
For the Adults – we held auditions in London and Tamworth (where the film was based). This paved the way for a quality cast with an overwhelming regional feel. Given our tiny budget we did also use many local amateur actors and friends and family as extras, notably Charlies Grandparents were played by my parents.
“The casting of JUST CHARLIE was particularly collaborative throughout and – together – we found a wonderful cast to deliver Peter Machen’s beautiful script and fill the shoes of the characters he so thoughtfully created.” Ben Cogan CD
How important to feel the female voice is in film and why?
I think the female voice is important in many ways. Charlie is fundamentally a girl so its vital that we explored what it is to be female. Eve is a more typical girl and helps Charlie understand her more feminine aspects, the girls who play football show a different aspect of what it is to be a modern woman. We also see the Mom and Nans stories, ultimately what we see is gender isn’t whats important its about being true to yourself regardless. I am a strong believer that the only time we have true equality is when we are no longer talking about gender, but just accepting people as human beings with talents and skills and looking at what they bring to the world. I look forward to a day when questions about gender are redundant.
What would you consider to be your “crowning moment” so far?
I think the most wonderful responses have been from young people who have been so open, receptive and accepting of the film, angry at the way Charlie is treated and keen to make a difference. I have always had faith in young people but their response internationally to Just Charlie has given me great hope for the future. 500 teenagers Cheering and giving the film a standing ovation is not something I will forget anytime soon.
One festival review said this film could save lives.
I will be honest and say I think I cried when I read this. When you are making a film like “Just Charlie” which is about such an important issue, that is about peoples real lives and experiences you carry a real weight of responsibility. Both myself and the writer constantly tried to refer back to our research and advisers to make sure we were getting it right. So when Someone tells you that you could have saved a life, what more can you ask. As a Director I want to make big budget, Fantasy, Action, Westerns but I will never stop wanting to try and affect peoples lives in a positive way and try to do my best to have a little part in making the world a better place.
Who or what are your inspirations and why?
I have many inspirations, films about identity (even genre films) seem to resonate with me. I have always struggled with my own identity, never quite feeling I fit in so I think all my films will always reflect this in some way. I am always inspired by people who just get on and do things, but I think my biggest inspirations are my mom and daughter, My mom is fearless she will do anything, she is also responsible for my getting in to Drama at a very young age. My Daughter Elinor has aspergers but despite that deals with her difficulties every day and pushes herself above and beyond, sometimes its hard for her but she never gives in.
What is the best piece of ‘life’ advice anyone has given you, that you couldn’t live without and want to share?
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Top Three films? Difficult question I know, but I had to ask!
A matter of Life and Death.. Pressburger and powell, The Artist, Once Upon a Time in America and Pedro Almodavars Matador.
What are your fav things to do for you?
I love to dance (and definitely dance like no ones watching). Quizzes (I was recently on The Chase) and Crazy Golf!
We at Those London Chicks are all about positive visualization. What would be your dream project?
My Dream project is to direct an epic telling of the life story of Mahta Hari, her life is unbelievable and seems more like fiction, its a rags to riches story about a woman who is used by men all her life and makes the perfect scapegoat. This is a big big budget film with amazing locations and lots of dance but filled with terrible tragedy so ticks my boxes in many ways. I think this will be my Oscar Film!