The final installment in our female directors season of interviews is the talented Science Fiction focused director Aurora Fearnley. She talks to us about her upcoming projects Pulsar and Tipping Point, while discussing the challenges of being a female director in the industry and balancing the dual role of a director/actress.
Interview by Caris Rianne
How do you find the balance of being an actress and a director?
Doing both roles is a perfect combination for me. I just love that variety in my work and having the freedom to be part of other projects and also create my own. Directing takes so much planning, control and communication for long extended periods of time, whereas my acting jobs are often done so quickly in contrast. Acting requires that I’m present in the moment and work with what is in front of me, my commitment is to my scene partner and we get to play together. The hardest part is turning something down to prioritise one job role over another. Keeping my energy for one task at a time is the balance.
Being a woman in this industry can be challenging, how do you combat these challenges when you/if you face them?
I think the best way to face any challenge is to do your best, enjoy your work and stay professional. The obstacles in this career can be gender/class/diversity bias and the statistics do point at worrying trends that aren’t shifting. It isn’t my business to interpret how other people think of me, I’d just get caught up in psychological loops trying please others or present a ‘best side’ of myself. I focus on who I want to work with and stories I want to tell that change social narratives. I believe my work speaks for me, but this business is built on relationships and reputation. Teams are formed on that basis just as much as talent. Recently I think the language used on set has changed for the better. There used to be more jovial banter with crew bordering on inappropriate innuendo. In my early career, having just come through the 90’s layette culture, I thought this was normal. A girls could be considered one of the guys, but mainly by emulating stereotypically male characteristics. I instantly felt that a film set was a male environment. Make-up artists were the only women I saw wearing skirts, anyone else was secretly chastised as attention seeking. That judgmental attitude was embedded in me too and I didn’t want to feel weak or vulnerable on my set by wearing a dress, even on hot days. I was scared of losing respect. I’ve had to examine that fear and it took years of growth for me to feel confident on set in my own skin. That included crying at the monitor if a scene moved me and not judging other people on set by their attire.
How did you get attracted to the Sci fi genre?
I read a lot as a kid and sci-fi was one of my favourite genres. Then when I was a teenager I found Manga and my mind was blown with their mechanised futures and post apocalyptic stories. At this time my mum was doing her PHD in Animal Behaviour and I spent summers in labs observing her doing DNA fingerprinting and meeting fascinating researchers from around the world. What I feel the sci-fi genre does so well is explore the human condition. It takes a scenario or technology that appears to be progressing in certain way and jumps ahead to a potential outcome. In that outcome how does the human race adapt. What do we discover about who we are now through an alternative future or past? I think we can explore what is happening in our current society and draw bolder conclusions through science fiction. We create our technology and it is a reflection of our humanity with every shade of darkness and light.
How did you find making 'Pulsar' compared to your previous work?
Pulsar is the beast I’ve been wrestling for a while now, or whale if you like. The story is based on the Biblical journey of Jonah in the Belly of the Whale, transposed to the future and told in space. The film was made for 25K after winning The Pitch at Pinewood. I wrapped from shooting Pulsar two years ago and in that time I’ve shot two more shorts (Murmur, Struck). The post production on a heavily VFX led project has been consuming and challenging. We have great artists involved in the project who are passionately committed to the film. However the day job on Fantastic Beasts or Wonder Woman takes precedent over my short, so it has been slow going. We wanted the best people on Pulsar and have worked around their availability to achieve a stellar finished product. I’m so excited to get this film out there and finally showcase the work from a dozen VFX artists in countries all over the world coming together to create this film. The trailer will hit next month.
Tell us more about your new project 'Tipping Point'
Tipping Point is a feature film I’ve been developing with Producer Jude Goldrei. It’s centred around an ageing female scientist who becomes obsessed with the Northern Lights and their potential cognitive effects.A few years ago NASA released an article from the Kola Peninsula in Russia talking about the link between high suicide rates in the Northern Hemisphere and electromagnetic wind (solar flares). My assumption had always been that a lack of sunlight caused changes in brain chemistry. Meanwhile there are local mythologies in Scandinavia that the Northern Lights are trickster gods and going out beneath their light would be a curse. Inspired by the scientific paper and folklore I began my own research and I’ve been developing a thrilling sci-fi story with some great writers. I’m hoping that this all be my feature debut.
What advice would you give to aspiring film directors?
Directing is about collaboration and communication. My advice is to make films and make friends. Just get there and do it.
You can view Aurora's work through the links below.