Vanessa Bailey donned directorial duty for her film Bus Stop. It was just one part of the journey that saw the film being made. We chatted to her about Bus Stop, taking control and putting the messy challenge of life on screen.
D&CFilm: The Bus Stop catchline -‘Two Strangers. One unexpected journey’ – is intriguing what can you tell us about the story and what attracted you to making it?
Vanessa Bailey: Well, it’s not a terribly original catchline, but it’s completely accurate! It was genuinely unexpected both for me as a writer and then also for the characters in the film. Essentially, when I sat down to write Bus Stop I genuinely had absolutely no idea what I was going to write or who Liam and Rachel were. I wrote it in one night when I couldn’t sleep. I was lying in bed thinking about nothing coherent, so I got up, grabbed my laptop and decided to write to try to distract myself. At that point I had no intention of producing another short film and certainly no intention of directing. I was still recovering a bit from the epic production journey of Seeing Him and really had no plans for another film.
So I just pulled two characters out of the air, Liam and Rachel, with no ideas about their background or story, and started listening to what they said to each other, feeling who they were and what journey they were on. And really once I started listening to them the story wrote itself. And once I got to the end I realised what the story was about. But only once I’d finished writing it. And that was it for the script really, bar one small tweak.
In the morning I showed it to my husband, who is also my production manager, and he said, “It’s really good, you should make it.” So we did. And to save time trying to find a director who liked and understood the script I decided to direct it myself.
So yes, genuinely an “unexpected journey”!
D&CFilm: As a supplemental to that – what attracts you to a film and where does Bus Stop fit in with your other work?
Vanessa Bailey: Bus Stop is something I’d always wanted to write and produce – presenting as a very simple scenario but with profound themes hidden in the layers of story that unravels through the characters we meet.
I’m drawn to exploring stories which unpack human experience and the complexity and variety of relationships. I like to find ways for my characters to find their human connection almost accidentally and to help each other discover their own journey.
Life is messy and challenging and it hurts, often to the point where we feel we can’t recover, but it also brings with that moments of searing love, joy and beauty. Finding ways to express that seems to be my natural playing field.
D&CFilm: This is your first short film as director – along with being the writer, producer and star – why did you decide for this film to move you into direction, and how was wearing all those hats?
Vanessa Bailey: Everyone who worked on the film is the star of the film – the film is an amalgamation of all the individual voices across the team, each telling their own creative narrative and bringing that story thread to the final piece.
One of the main strengths of the film is the team I was lucky enough to work alongside and that’s what also enabled me to juggle so many hats.
Every member of the team was so experienced and talented in their own field that I had the luxury of not having to worry on the day whether the sound would be okay, or the camera in focus. Obviously, I checked in with certain things from a writing/directing point of view to make sure we’d hit certain marks in the story, but it was made as easy as possible to flip from director to actor due to the excellence of my team.
My actors Matt [Matthew Jure] and Dan [Daniel Annoh] also needed no direction, only on points of technicality for the camera or sound. I cast them because they are superb actors and I knew I could just let them do their thing and produce the magic that was needed. I don’t like to interfere with actors’ performances, I just like to give them space to find their journey.
In the end I wanted to direct this as I felt it needed a light touch, so the characters and their dialogue and sub-text could take centre stage. I wanted to minimise visual distraction and have the courage to believe in the story and performances.
Jason Kelvin our production designer and Tom Martin our DP created a gorgeous, immersive world for Liam and Rachel with our prop bus stop which we built, lit and customised on location. The bus stop is really the fourth character and all that’s needed to frame the story. Once you had that, then you had to trust the story without gimmicks or fillers. I wanted to make sure we tried our best to do that.
Everything from the script, to casting, to production design, to lighting, to costume, to the edit and the score is about reflecting that sense of space and simplicity and allowing the story to shine.
Vanessa Bailey: I’ve set up the production company with producer Judy Goldberg. We’ve worked on a fairly diverse body of work together for other people in various capacities, so it seemed like a good time to merge our skills and passions and try to make gorgeous and resonant content for other people.
As well as working on our own slate of projects. We’ve currently got several clients we’re working on very different projects with and it’s very exciting. We write, produce, direct, shoot and edit with a team of freelancers we have worked with and trust. It’s a pretty brilliant job, to be honest!
D&CFilm: What role do you think the artist/ filmmaker has in society?
Vanessa Bailey: I think that depends on what sort of filmmaker you are and what sort of films you love making! I also think there can be a lot of inflated egos in the film world. We essentially provide entertainment and then along the way if we happen to move, challenge and provoke change for good that’s great.
I think we should absolutely be a vehicle for free speech and free expression and hold on to that right as a given. I see free speech being monitored in the creative arts in a way that’s pretty alarming and we should fight censorship from all sides tooth and nail, even if we disagree with the messages being told, we have to fight for the right of everyone to express their opinions from any camp.
We are moving into a “I didn’t like what you said, so you are a horrible person and I will shut down your voice” and that needs to stop.
Creatives should be the best at maintaining dialogue, debating and engaging with opposing viewpoints, not shutting them down. So I suppose that boils down to telling stories – we should tell amazing stories and enable others to freely tell theirs, too.
Vanessa Bailey: The Long Walk Home is currently in post and is my second stab at directing. I used the same core team, working again with DP Tom Martin. This time I don’t act in it, which is fantastic! It’s a contemporary re-imagining of the story of The Prodigal Son and a big leap from the small set-up of Bus Stop. Multiple locations, a wonderful 50-strong cast and crew and lots of creative challenges. I loved it. It’s already looking beautiful and our editor Chris Frith is doing his usual amazing job of adding so much more in the edit.
Hostage is a Scandi Noir style thriller-horror, a genre I love and have always wanted to shoot. We’re shooting a teaser trailer in a couple of weeks which I’m very, very excited about. Then we’ll be entering it into The Pitch competition, which has a very generous production budget as the main prize, to see if we manage to wow them! Fingers crossed!
D&CFilm: You have plans at some point to write a comedy – can you tell us a joke… or better yet, what sort of comedy can we expect and what feeds into your love of humour?
Vanessa Bailey: I can actually tell you a prize-winning joke. I won a Brownie camera with this, when I won a joke competition in The Beano, back in the day:
Q: “What’s yellow on the outside and green on the inside?”
A: “A cucumber disguised as a banana.”
I think you’ll agree, it’s a classic.
Comedy I enjoy the most is dark, rooted in the human experience. It’s cathartic – you take the things we fear, can’t speak about, try to avoid, can’t express, are close to the bone and you turn them into a joke. Comedy from a place of awkward, uncomfortable human truth.
D&CFilm: And finally, shamelessly self-taught, you’re a kickstarter supremo – in just a few words can you offer a bit of advice or encouragement to those looking to fund their films?
Use social media well, develop a great voice, engage people and know how to sell your film without selling your film! It’s hard work and easy to get wrong, so do your research online and find out how to do it effectively! Look at crowdfunds that have worked and crowdfunds that have bombed and try to see why. If you want help with that I run a very affordable crowdfund consultancy service – get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org ;P
But grab the crowdfunding platform – it’s cheap, it’s global and it’s democratic! Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth – don’t wait for permission/funding to make your film, take control and get it made yourself!
D&CFilm: And on such an up-beat note, thanks for your time Vanessa!
Bus Stop by Vanessa Bailey is at the English Riviera Film Festival on
Saturday, October 12 as part of the Finalist Screening.
For times and tickets, go to the ERFF site.