Female Directors Season: Melissa J Woodside

The third part in our season of interviews with female directors is Melissa J Woodside. Who talks about switching career aspirations from the law to film, changes in the industry for women and every indie film makers dream - converting her short film into a feature! 

Interview by Cagla Demirbas.

Thinking both as a filmmaker and as a film-goer, are you optimistic about female directors have accomplished so far? 

To be honest, I'm really not sure. I've been to a lot of masterclasses where I've heard statistics about lack of change and how women are ignored on set and this will never change. What I can say I feel optimistic about, is that there are a lot of great talented female producers that are actively working, which is encouraging. 

What turning points and milestones in the industry for women have caught your attention?

Wow what a question.  Its funny because on the one hand awards ceremonies don't mean much to me to determine success/talent, but on the other hand, I feel like Jane Campion winning the Palm D'or was a bit of a turning point.  When you look at the pictures or the lists, its just astonishing and makes me wonder how could it possibly be all men and for so long. 

Within the past two years, I feel femininity has been celebrated, and welcomed more. I feel this is great instead of using it as a tool of combat or instrument, just admiring great female voice/form for what it is and has been more apparent over the years, allows us to take stock and see how we approach the future. 

During your journey in filmmaking as a woman, which misconceptions and myths about it turned out to be true? And which ones you expected it to happen, but didn't much to your surprise?

 I generally don't have many myths/misconceptions about the industry. I go in with my eyes wide not sure what to expect. Although, I did and still do expect it to be difficult to have a small child whilst working in the film industry, because of the weird hours we work, but many woman continually prove me wrong. That's something I'm working on inside my brain. To change my perception. 

You first wanted to be a lawyer, then realized your talents and switched to filmmaking. How did your social circle react to that important decision? If there were any negative ones, do you think the reason behind it was the prejudice "film industry being more suitable for men?"

I always wanted to work in film I just didn't see it as a possibility.  Indie film doesn't exist everywhere and Canadian unions and regulations make things tricky at times to just create like you can in the UK. I didn't know anyone working in film growing up apart from my musical theatre friends, who were the typical cookie cutter singer/dancer types. 

I remember distinctly as a teenager I told my best friend Kate that I wanted to work in film as a writer or actress after we watched Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides in the cinema. She responded full of confidence that to work in film you need to "rise through the sheets". To this day, that comment still shocks me. But thats obviously an opinion she gathered very quickly from her parents and many people think women need to sell themselves sexually in order to work in film. 

Reality is such that any industry can be filled with chauvinism or sexism. I decided I would rather work in one where my art is valued and has a chance. And  I have strict boundaries and was delighted to find them respected, thus dispelling my friends myth!

You're currently shooting the feature version of your short film "Podsnappery". What are the essentials in that process? Are there going to be parts that won't make it to the long version, or the new parts you couldn't shoot in the short version?

Podsnappery is pure escapism. The feature film is even more so. I want the feature to capture more of these moments we wish we could live through as humans, to disappear from the grim news! There are a lot more fast-paced, action scenes. I got Jack Johns, a great up and coming UK writer to help me with the feature. He's from Cheshire originally and knows my vision so he's just taken it and expanded it to a new level of grandeur with his own special twist. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring female filmmakers? 

Whilst being organised is great, try not to get bogged down in details or paperwork on set. Try to take creative risks and be confident. I've had a lot of female filmmakers try to be my friend which isn't what I'm there to do. I'm there to work. Also I think maintaining a sense of humour is key. 

If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of film would you make?

Something like Mad Max!

Can you give us some clues about the upcoming projects you're working on?

I am working with a new Canadian writer and teaming up with fellow Canadian actress Brittany Bristow and developing a rom com.

For more information on Melissa's work you can check out her website here: www.melissawoodside.com