The wild and windy night of Where Have You Been? isn’t just the weather. Writer Amanda White and director Andrew Gillman captured an emotional storm and put it on film. In the process, they created something out of nothing, pushed the boundaries of short film and won over new and unexpected viewers.
Amanda is a writer of poetry, children’s stories and travel, with a background as a literary agent and the agility of having loads of other creative endeavours. She also studied film at Goldsmiths and was on the board of the Cornwall Film Festival. Andrew has gallons of experience working in film, television, and was part of the team on the BAFTA-winning The Day Today.
Former neighbours in London, their working life began once Andrew asked Amanda to create a script for a triptych-based short which became It’s Not My Fault. They worked together on three comedies with actors Bruce MacKinnon and Ben Pullen.
Comedies are so unforgiving, says Amanda. “That was a really good training for me, then we made some poetry films.” That training included extending that brutality of editing she developed in her publishing and writing into short film
“Amanda has sharp skills, and an aesthetic understanding about how to use descriptions in an interesting way,” said Andrew.
With such a good working relationship, it was to Andrew who Amanda turned after she stormed out of her West Penwith home one, well, stormy night Amanda was out on a familiar path, offloading into her phone, when she thought something more constructive could be made out of her words.
“As I was walking, I thought, I can turn it into something. Not just me, but a persona,” says Amanda. That involved talking into the phone for 20 minutes in the rain and wind, with the occasional car passengers staring bemusedly at her.
When she got home she played the crazy recording to her kids and unexpectedly they liked it. Then she sent it to Andrew.
“What I really liked was the jitteriness of it,” says Andrew. “You could track a really strong emotional journey with Amanda’s character.”
That jitteriness had a feeling of consistency and intrigue, so Andrew asked Amanda to do two things.
“I made her go back out four or five nights in the worst weather imaginable to get more and more and more shots,” he says. “And I was quite precise about it. I talked about how to abuse the iPhone, so that it wasn’t just being used as a camera.”
The aim was to cheat the phone into recording things that would never normally exist. Not just playing with focus and exposure but forcing it into visual areas it wasn’t designed for.
Andrew also asked for Amanda to re-record the audio in quieter surroundings.
“The shadow character is like a commentary or an undermining or a support of the external character,” says Andrew. “It also had a convenient effect of where the wind was too noisy and couldn’t hear what was going on, I could replace it with the inside character. So you have these two tracks of the same person. One commenting on the other going through an experience plus all these amazing shots.”
Amanda says: “The genius really with it is Andrew’s ability to pull it all together.”
Andrew: “What we achieved with this was what we set out to do. And what we’ve done with the poetry films, is to make something from nothing. And that making something from nothing is very, very interesting for me.”
Ripped from thin air
They ripped ideas from thin air stuff, and combined them into something solid.
Where Have You Been? pulls in all the core elements of a good short film.
“It’s all about the writing, it’s all about the visuals, it’s all about the editing,” says Amanda.
The film dives into a specific moment in someone’s life and taps into the headspace of a woman of a certain age – there’s something powerful about it. Plus it has a raw appeal that stretches beyond the usual arty crowd.
That connection is a fundamental part of creativity and the role of a creative in society.
“It’s all about connecting and creating infinite invitational spaces where other people have a chance to express themselves,” says Amanda. “I genuinely feel that art has an ability to make us feel better, to connect us with other people. I think we should take a leaf out of Cuba’s book wherein every little place has a health centre, a school. and an arts centre.
“If we’re not encouraging people to think creatively, then people are not questioning their politicians. They’re not questioning what they’re looking at. They’re asleep. Without art, we’re not thinking creatively, and we’re just becoming passive.”
Andrew says: “It’s a way of understanding the other bits of the world that aren’t immediately in front of us. It’s a way of knowing other viewpoints, of, looking at things from a different angle, and understanding something more about it. Our understanding of the world incrementally gets better and more detailed.”
There’s a pivotal moment in Where Have You Been?, it’s a cliffhanger in a very real sense as well as dramatically. And for a film that is embedded in a sense of location, it toys with geography.
“It challenged both of us, which is really good, and I’m really proud of the output,” says Andrew. Family, friends and others have been connecting with it, which has been a real buzz. Possibly because it connects with a pent up frustration.
Amanda says: “It’s about a woman who’s had enough. It’s universal. And we can all identify with that.”
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