For the latest part of our female directors interview series, we are with London based filmmaker Laura Hypponen, who is also the founder of Electric Blue Films. Hypponen's debut feature Live East Die Young (2012) was nominated Best UK Feature at Raindance and Golden Hitchcock at Dinard. She is also known for her ten-part art series Ten Faces of Anna (2014) which is also acclaimed in numerous festivals. We sat down with Laura Hypponen and talked about her most recent project Quadraturin, the changes in the industry and crowdfunding.
Interview by Cagla Demirbas
Thinking both as a filmmaker and as a film-goer, are you optimistic about what women have accomplished so far?
It feels as though the push for more diversity in the film industry, and the debates about issues of underrepresentation, have gained huge momentum over the last few years, which is very exciting. There are lots of positive outcomes already, like schemes specifically supporting female, BAME, sexual minority filmmakers, and increased media attention to e.g. female filmmakers, also filmmakers starting new collectives like FilmFatales and Cinesisters – all these efforts have worked to gradually starting to shift the landscape.
I’m hoping the progress will continue into deeper structural changes, and shifts in attitudes – but these things are harder and slower to change. I am optimistic that as more diverse voices and stories find their way into the mainstream, the next generation will naturally shift the landscape of cinema into something more diverse and exciting.
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?
Filmmaking has been my passion since my teens and even though it hasn’t necessarily been a smooth ride at all times, I’ve always kept my focus on my goals. Perhaps this single-mindedness has helped me ‘zone out’ anything that might have become an obstacle. For example, it never occurred to me I couldn’t be a director (because of my gender).
There have been times when I’ve been faced with other people’s preconceived notions of what a director should look like –people assuming I’m either an actor or an assistant and being extremely surprised when I tell I run my own company, write and direct. If anything, thesşe instances have motivated me to work even harder towards my dreams.
If you think about the themes and undertones you're discovering in your films, can you narrow them into a few key words?
I’m drawn to characters that are struggling with inner conflicts, or find themselves in conflict with their surroundings. My writing is usually character-led, though recently I’ve sought to expand into higher-concept territory. Tonally, my work is quite dark, but I try to balance this with some form of playfulness.
And what is the audience reaction to them, do they ever surprise you with finding things even you didn't think of while creating?
I had a really unexpected experience with my first feature, Live East Die Young, when it had its international premiere at Dinard’s festival of British Films in France. We had had our world premiere at Raindance, where we were nominated Best UK Feature, the night before. The London audience had no difficulty relating to the hedonistic and druggy East London party types the film was depicting.
So it was quite wild when I heard from the Dinard festival director that the French audience had been much more divisive, with half the audience walking out and the other half cheering ‘Bon Courage’! When we went to do our Q&A with the Dinard audience we noticed there were signs outside the cinema warning the audience the content of the film might be upsetting. Apparently the jury had been similarly divided - some enraged by it and others defending it passionately. All this came as a complete surprise to me – I hadn’t anticipated such a strong and emotional response to it.
You successfully funded your projects like Quadraturin and Ten Faces of Anna with the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. According to you, what are the do's and don'ts in crowdfunding a film project?
We took to Kickstarter on both occasions after we’d already shot the films with finance from elsewhere, to fund the post-production. I think it’s easier for people to share your excitement for a project if you already have something to show, like a teaser, stills or footage – whether from a test shoot or actual production. The other aspect of this strategy is that you are already much closer to the finishing line, which will also make it more appealing to supporters, as the risk is lower.
The other thing I’ve learned about the crowdfunding process is that it’s very important to contact people individually, requesting their support - rather than sending out a group email or using social media in a generalised way. Everyone gets so much spam these days that a general email won’t get noticed, let alone appreciated.
Crowdfunding, in my experience is labour intensive – you do have to work hard for the money – but the upside is you are actively building an audience for your project and your future films, too.
You've also worked with different formats like fashion and music videos. Are there any differences in narrative and cinematography wise compared to short and feature films?
Certainly, each medium carries their own conventions, clichés and audience expectations, but it’s up to the filmmaker to decide the extent to which they let these guide their creative process. I try to approach each new project with an open mind, regardless of the genre and find a way to explore something I am genuinely interested in. I enjoy playing with expectations and mixing things up; for example by bringing in a narrative approach to fashion film, or breaking from straight narrative mode into language that might be typical to a music video.
The obvious difference between narrative film and fashion is their focus and objectives – fashion films these days are functioning much like any other viral / commercial content, expanding the universe of the brand into the realm of social media – and your role as the filmmaker is to execute this brand vision. In contrast, as a narrative filmmaker you are not projecting a branded world, but the world created by the writer, as interpreted by you, the director – so there tends to be a personal philosophy underpinning the work.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female filmmakers?
The same advice I’d give to any aspiring filmmaker: keep making films; don’t wait around for someone to give you the permission. Find what inspires you and keep referring to that whenever you feel discouraged. Find people you enjoy working with, don’t let other people define what success means to you - and don’t give up!
Can you give us some clues about the upcoming projects you're working on?
I’m just finishing sound design on Do Not Feed The Pigeons, which is a 50-minute experimental film essay inspired by the surveillance state and the fear of terrorism. The film depicts the inner journey of a woman from a conformist to someone searching freedom, from multiple perspectives: real CCTV footage, a VHS video diary, and Super16mm footage.
I’m also in development of Snow Queen, a London set crime thriller with a female protagonist. We were lucky to be selected to a fantastic MEDIA-supported genre script development workshop in Italy called Film Garage, where we wuere mentored by genre specialists and got to pitch the project to the industry. I also won a scholarship from Skillset to attend the workshop, for which I’m very grateful.
For more information on Laura's work you can check out: