After amazing success at the Vimeo Film Awards, where she won Best Fashion Film, director Amanda Boyle joins our Brand Director Georgia Fendley to talk about SKIRT, the Mulberry-commissioned film for InStyle.
Tell us about the project and how the relationship started:
Amanda Boyle: I had heard rumblings that Eilidh Macaskill at InStyle magazine was plotting several films about ‘style’ with fashion brands. I immediately got in touch with her. I think I may have even stalked her a little. It was just that I had been directing back-to-back drama for Channel 4 for a while and I was on the look out for a challenge – a way to work with a hand picked group of collaborators and a chance to tell a story that didn’t pivot on dialogue. Eilidh in turn mentioned me to Mulberry and they, thankfully, were interested in me initially I think because I’d directed Skins.
Georgia Fendley: We were keen to find a director we would be really excited to work with, someone whose body of work felt sympathetic to the Mulberry brand. I loved Amanda’s work as soon as we saw it, a very complex and delicate balance of softness, the ‘romance’ of everyday life and a directness that at times is hard and almost jarring, the result draws you in to the narrative and you feel like you are a participant in her films rather than a voyeur.
Amanda Boyle: My films are delicate but they do have a kick. I could certainly see the warmer end of my work fitting with Mulberry yet I’m someone whose experience really is in narrative drama work. So before our blind date, I asked James Cunningham at Academy Films to get involved to produce the film. James is Head of Content at Academy and I knew he’d be able to balance my desire to make a film that explored the stuff of life with whatever it was that Mulberry wanted to get out of the project.
What was exciting is that ultimately Mulberry’s interest in the visceral nature of things was in perfect balance with mine.
Georgia Fendley: James Cunningham from Academy was instrumental in the project; he really listened and guided us through the process, as we were such novices, making sure we understood both the opportunity and restrictions throughout. I think he ‘got us’ on the first meeting so the whole process was incredibly natural, fluid and surprisingly easy.
Amanda Boyle: I also think this project worked because we took a little time to understand each other, shepherded along by James. Once we’d worked out what that tone was of Mulberry – witty, warm and a little quirky – a view of the world they wanted reflected in the film…then I had a sense of how to shape the story about ‘style’ for InStyle. I’m very happy when I know what the constraints of a project are. Both James and Mulberry were brilliant at making sure we were all on the same page.
Georgia Fendley: The initial brief was not so much a brief as a series of quite abstract conversations over tea and biscuits! Amanda and I discussed Mulberry, the things that make us tick at quite a profound level, our values and I guess what it is that makes us, us.
I was really clear that we didn’t want the film to be a film about Mulberry or even about fashion and it certainly wasn’t a product or brand showcase. The beauty of the InStyle project was the very fact that this was not an overtly commercial piece, it therefore needed to stand up as a valid creative statement in it’s own right away from any connection to a brand or project.
Amanda Boyle: The other person I should mention at this point is my co-writer Michael Lesslie. Mike is a very talented playwright and screenwriter. He’s also not someone who you’d think of when asked to create a film for a fashion brand – which for me is what made him ideal. He’s always super busy, so he never met Mulberry, yet that process of me explaining to him what they were after, what they stood for, really helped. He kept saying this isn’t a commercial then; it has to be about something.
Michael and I began by brainstorming what ‘style’ was. For us it was the aesthetic choices we make to express who we are, the way we interact with those choices and the way those choices affect the people around us. We imagined how style might be explored within a relationship between two people.
Georgia Fendley: In terms of a ‘theme’ we discussed the ideas preoccupying us at that point – taste and style, relationships, acceptance and dialogues in style – one of the reference points I gave Amanda was Leanne Shapton’s fictional auction catalogue, ‘Important Artifacts and personal property from the collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including books on street fashion and jewelry’ by Sarah Crichton Books. The piece is a spoof auction catalogue listing the 325 lots, the remains of the relationship between the fictional Lenore and Harold. The piece is a really sharply observed reflection of modern life and relationships, a beautifully romantic narrative and very, very funny.
Amanda Boyle: There’s a waspish-ness to Leanne Shapton’s book that absolutely wasn’t our film yet her themes and attention to detail definitely did chime with the ideas Mike and I were toying with.
Georgia gave me two rules – 1) to be bold 2) that no one could die in the film. Most of my work looks at stories where rule 2 has been broken melancholically and Mike had been writing a feature where rule 2 was flouted violently – so we were both in exciting new territory.
Together we then wrote the story of two people having to share a flat – how their personal possessions might become a way for them to baffle, fight, flirt and fall in love…all in under four minutes. Mike and I bounced the structure back and forth.
Georgia Fendley: Amanda then shared her draft script, which we loved, from that point on we had no involvement at all – it was all about the story Amanda wanted to tell. It sounds really corny but we just wanted her to be able to create something she would be very proud of, a serious piece of work and something we would want to share with our audiences that would resonate.
Amanda Boyle: Georgia and Mulberry were fantastic. As soon as they were in sync with the story – then they really did give me total freedom. That’s incredibly exhilarating.
At this point the project started to really grow. I started to shape this with production designer Jacqueline Abrahams focusing on what our characters’ objects might be, what those objects would say about them and how the scenes might develop aesthetically. We were interested in looking at one character’s choice of objects, and what these might mean to the other. How far do objects define or come close to any definition of who a person is?
We picked every object you see in the film – vetting it by texture, story and look. We were interested particularly in the kind of objects that you might over look at first but that would suggest a past if focused on as well as the everyday detritus of life that just seems to accumulate and has a beauty of its own. Colours were important. So was a sense of a past. We found things in props houses and in piles of rubbish in the streets near where we lived.
It was fascinating starting with objects first and the process continued as I engaged the costume designer Chloe Richardson [http://www.mystylistsays.com/] who was someone I’d been trying to work with for years. Chloe in turn responded to the objects by starting to define what the characters would wear. We showed her photographs of each of the characters’ props and again talked texture/colour. Each piece of clothing Chloe found for the film has a history – she hunted through vintage shops and charity shops, as well as people’s personal collections.
We then got on to the discussion of space with director of photography Ula Pontiko talked about space and the way doorways might frame the characters. Location was important – as it always is when working on a very small budget. Jacqueline and I had a very clear idea of what we were hunting for. We needed corridors that could help present the piece, rooms that had the right feel, yet were also invisible in a way. Once we found the flat – Jacqueline and her team repainted walls – so that the colours brought out the tones in the object and made spaces like the kitchen and bathroom feel both unloved and in keeping with our colour palette.
And then of course I cast the project. Alex and Natalia are completely integral to the film. They were found fairly late in the day as I was very specific about the pair I was looking for. I don’t cast by look, I cast by attitude and energy. It was very exciting when I paired them together in their recall – they both complemented and clashed with each other, they were fascinating to watch. I cast them on the spot.
Georgia Fendley: It was quite strange going to the InStyle screening of Skirt, it sounds terrible but I had completely forgotten other brands were doing this until then and suddenly though ‘oh sh*t, I bet they have tackled it quite differently, we are going to stand out like a sore thumb!’. At the screening, SKIRT did stand out, the only film not directly about a brand, product or creative director, but it stood out in a really good way, it is a beautiful, charming film and everyone really enjoyed it and it seemed a natural fit with Mulberry.
We have been totally blown away by the interest in the film and really pleased to help share the film with a more diverse audience, working with Amanda and such a talented team we shouldn’t have been surprised by the success, we realise how very lucky we are to have had the opportunity to work with her.
Amanda Boyle: Skirt was made with the generosity of Mulberry and InStyle and the incredible work of the film’s phenomenal creative team. Many people donated their skills and time for free so that everything went on screen.
It’s great to see people enjoying the film. I’m sure it’s had such success in part to Mulberry’s bravery at letting us go for it. It was a wonderful experiment – a chance for me and my team to try something different. Perhaps the energy of that is contagious.
Georgia Fendley: This was our first serious foray and it’s given us an appetite! Watch this space!
Amanda Boyle: I want to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in making SKIRT. So many people’s hard work go into making a film. Even a short one.