Sophie Hyde is a director to watch out for over the next couple of years as she is set to make her live action feature film debut this week with 52 Tuesdays.

Sophie Hyde - Credit Alex Frayne

Sophie Hyde - Credit Alex Frayne

Hyde is no stranger to the director's chair with short and documentary projects already under her belt but this is the first time that she is set to make the leap into fiction films.

We caught up with her to chat about the film, the unusual way in which it was shot, and working with an inexperienced cast.

- 52 Tuesdays is set to hit the big screen in the UK in August, so can you tell me a bit about the film?

52 Tuesdays is a movie about a teenage girl - she is sixteen - and she discovers that her mother is going to transition and live as a man. Her mum wants her to go and live with her dad for a year while all this is happening but Billie doesn't like this idea.

They promise each other that they will spend every Tuesday afternoon together as a way of keeping their relationship going over this year. The film is then set on every Tuesday for a year; it was also shot every Tuesday for a year. It is not a documentary it is a feature film, but we shot it every Tuesday and only on a Tuesday.

- The movie sees you back in the director's chair, so where did this project start for you? And what sparked the idea for the story?

I co-wrote the film with Matthew Cormack and he really pitched me the idea and said 'let's make a film where every Tuesday for a year two people meet and lets film it on the Tuesday.' Therefore, the idea of Tuesdays came before the story. We were interested in what that meant narratively and what that would be like for an audience to have an audience told like that and see actual change over a year.

I guess, secondly, we wondered what it would like as filmmakers to not make something in the same way; most films are made during a six-week shoot and out of order. I think we were wondering how much it would impact on the story that we were telling. It was kind of an experiment, I guess.

- I had read that you filmed 52 Tuesdays in Adelaide over the course of a year, which is quite an unconventional way to shoot a movie. I guess you have never shot a movie in this way before?

That's right, I haven't but I do come from a documentary background. In some respects, it is a lot like shooting a documentary - except that you are making it up. It was like a marathon and getting deeply involved in all of the little intricacies of the story and the characters week by week. It was a great pleasure for me because I was able to work with the cast gently and slowly. They only got their scripts a week before we shot each of their scenes; they knew what had gone before and what was coming up that week but they never knew what was ahead. There was something very lovely about making a film like that, because you don't usually have the chance to do something like that.

One of the things I guess I learnt is that you wouldn't always make a film like this because it is a tricky thing to turn into a finished project. At the same time, there's something really nice about ensuring that there are questions that you are continuing to ask yourself and each other while you are making the film, rather than feeling like you already have the answers and now you are making the film to tell the audience the answers. That is the thing that I really got from working like this: staying open to chance and the things that could happen.

- Can you talk a bit about how you developed the story and the themes and ideas that you were keen to explore?

The form definitely came from this idea of shooting on a Tuesday but what set us off telling the story is Billie and her mother, who is transitioning to become James. I guess we were looking for characters that embodied this idea of the promise of change - they didn't necessarily need to change but they needed to feel like they were looking for change and the audience were looking for change in them.

Then I really wanted a story about characters that I felt questioned some of the rules about how we live and characters that I could live with for a long time. I think the richness of a child/parent relationship where the parent is trying to work out what am I going to reveal to my child about myself, how can I show my child my entire self? And at what point do I do that? Then there is a child who is able to meet their parent as an adult for the first time. The richness of that kind of story is really what drew me to this project.

- How has the movie changed from the initial idea that you had to the film that we will see on the big screen?

It changed a lot because of the people in it and our feeling about making it as well. We cast this young sixteen-year-old called Tilda Cobham-Hervey - none of the cast has been in film before and are all new actors. We had no real idea that she would become such a strong collaborator with us and that she would work so closely with us and be so invested in the ideas. Working with her really changed how we thought about that character and what that character was going through just because we hung out with her so much and she was a curious person.

For me, the change happened because you have people right in front of you and you are not dictating to them what they need to do, as they are part of the negotiation of what happens. In real terms, we were looking at a story that was very much told from the child and the parent's point of view but it ends up as a story told from Billie's point of view and it was a natural progression that took us there. I think we complicated the storyline than we thought we would have because we were living with the characters so much and the amount that you go through in a year is quite great.

- While you are no stranger to the director's chair with shorts and documentary projects under your belt, 52 Tuesdays is your live action feature film directorial debut. So how have you found the whole experience?

It has been huge. The film went to Sundance and Berlin and audiences have really responded to it everywhere so I have just travelled with the film and met so many people. It has been continuing for two years now. The difference is that I am not talking about anyone's real life - as you do when you are making a documentary - and they are the central focus. With a fiction film, it is a different kind of conversation with the audience and that has opened up my chance to be out in the world and talking to an international audience.

We also make a little companion project called My 52 Tuesdays and it is a free app where people are sent a question every Tuesday and they answer the question by taking a photo of themselves with their answer. We have this beautiful response back and the joy and engagement that we have had from people around the world has been pretty thrilling.

- And what made now the right time to make that transition?

I came from a theatre background and I think I always wanted to make drama films. I have made some shorts, some dance work, and some more experimental work but documentary sucked me in because it is fascinating and I become really engaged with the people that I was working with. Documentaries are really hard work - so are drama film - but there is so much responsibility to the audience and to the people that you are working with.

I have always wanted to make drama and I made a drama that was more like Walk the Line and worked with a production company with whom I still make many documentaries. We are interested in this place between fiction and non-fiction, we are looking for a story with authenticity, but you want to find it in a way that is grounded and also has a creativity. For me, I feel like the form isn't important as you tell stories and whatever form suits the story is how you tell it.

I love making drama and there is something incredibly enjoyable about working with actors and working with the writer to craft that story. I really do wish I could make another one right now.

- Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Del Herbert-Jane take on the central role of Billie and James so can you talk a bit about the casing process and what you were looking for in these two central characters?

I knew that we were going to have to get young actors to play the teenagers and I knew we wouldn't get actors who had done very much before. That was the big question around all of the cast - we are from Adelaide in Australian where there's not a lot of cast and we couldn't fly people in all the time with our budget and we needed to shoot for a year.

We looked for actors that felt like they had faces that we didn't get to see very much or embodied or showed people who weren't necessarily... for instance, when I was casting the role of Billie's dad Bo, I didn't want to cast someone who just felt like 'dad'. I wanted someone to show that there was a whole character and person behind them, even if we didn't get to go away and experience that character more. I just want a full kind of person.

Tilda is someone that we sort of knew through her parents - we thought that she was much younger. When she came to an open audition we had a whole load of teenagers but it was very clear that she was incredibly creative, very collaborative, and just at the point where she was really looking to start thinking about who she was and that maybe it wasn't what she had thought before. That moment in somebody is very seductive for a director.

Del was somebody that I had started talking to about the diversity of gender and the different kind of experience of gender. Del was working at a consultant and it was a natural process to think 'Del is the same age as this character.' Del and the character are very different, they have a very different experience but they share a commonality; which is not necessarily being seen the way that they feel in terms of their gender identity.

Del identifies as non-conforming to gender and so doesn't conform to the idea of male and female, while James identifies as a man; so quite different. However, there is a similarity of experience in there and that became an important thing. The rest of the cast were people we knew and people that fit in to round out those characters - not necessarily actors.

- 52 Tuesdays was the first film/acting experience for Tilda, so how did you find working with someone so inexperienced?

I found it very fantastic actually. There is something to be said for working with actors who have their craft sown down - they are stunning to work with. When you work with an actor who can give you so many different options, what a joy. On the other hand, in this project, it was my first feature film as a drama director, I was able to be really gentle and slow as well, and we were able to try things that I may have been a little embarrassed to try with someone else.

Those guys really went on the process with me. They were not... we did a lot of rehearsals where we just sat around the kitchen table with a cup of tea... it was very much about them finding their way into things rather than coming with this conceived idea of how to play them. It was very gentle. Like all of us, they get better over the course of film I think. That is one of the strange things of watching a film like this, I feel like the filmmaking, the acting, all of it gets better over the course of the whole film. It is a strange thing to watch but it is also lovely.

- We always hear about how difficult it is to get independent movies of the ground here in the UK; do you face the same challenges in Australia? How difficult was it getting the funding for 52 Tuesdays?

We do. We have film funding like you guys do but the way that it work in Australia, is that you normally have to have both an international sales agent and a domestic distributor before you can get funding from the government. That means that, as a new filmmaker, you are excluded from that a lot of the time.

52 Tuesdays was funded in an initiative called Film Lab, which is an opportunity to step outside of that system and it was market free; the idea was that you would make a low budget movie that didn't have any market attached. We certainly took on the challenge that we wouldn't be able to make in any other situation and if we had the chance to make something like this, we should make something interesting and as unusual as we could because we may never get the chance again.

We were funded by the South Australian Film Corporation, which is a regional body, and later on, it got some extra funding from the Adelaide Film Festival, who have an investment fund. It was a very very low budget but that did give us the chance to have the control over it that we wouldn't have had in any other form and that we needed for a film like this.

- 52 Tuesdays was met with critical acclaim at Sundance last year, so how have you found the whole festival experience? And how have you been finding people's response to the film as transgender is also a topic that is very much in the spotlight at the moment?

The festivals have been amazing - one of the great things about making films is getting to go out and meet all of these different people at festivals and show them your film. I found the response to 52 Tuesdays really heartening and people that I didn't necessarily expect to be its audience have really responded to it.

For me, the whole idea of transgender and that becoming more and more present in our culture and conversation has a lot to do with just ideas about gender and our very dogmatic way that we persist on saying that there are two genders and they are the defining part of our identity. It is something that is an unsatisfying for a lot of people - not just those who are transgender - but the way that we gender everything, they ask me what gender I am when I fly on a plane and my daughter is supposed to be in certain things because she is a girl and not into other things.

This over the top way that we have gender means that we are interested in pushing against it at the moment and the people that are standing up and questioning that are leading that charge.

- What do you think people are taking away from the film when they see it?

Great question (laughs). It depends on its audience. There is a family at the heart of this film that is going through a hard time but are very much accepting of the idea of people needing to be happy and wanting to find out what that thing is that makes them happy. Even though they fight and are horrible to each other sometimes, they are really around for each other and I think people do respond to that.

There are three teenagers in the film who are exploring their identity and their sexuality in a way that is very much about how they feel and what they like, rather than an external way of looking in at them or being looked at; I think that is unusual and people respond very strongly to the young teenagers and their story.

I guess, some people respond to the form, the fact that we don't need to tell all of our stories in the same way, that maybe there are some other ways that we want to be talking to each other, and another rhythm in our storytelling. I hope that people watch it and think... it is not a perfect film it is a film that is like its characters, flawed and unusual but full of love.

- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of this year? Now that you have made the leap into features, is this where you want to stay?

I am just working on a first draft of a new project, which are two features that are designed to be companion films; one is about is a historical film about Marie Curie and the other is a film about people making a film about Marie Curie. They share actors across the two films and they are designed to be made and viewed together. I am just at the early part of that.

52 Tuesdays is released 7th August.


by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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