Why I’m adapting a Marian Keyes book into a short film

by Robyn Grace

 

Women aged between 35 and 55 are the largest movie going audience in the world, yet we are traditionally under represented, both on screen and off. Hollywood actresses seem to be put back on the shelf at 40, and, as a woman, I often stand on film sets as part of only 5% of the total crew, with most female representatives being in the traditional roles of Make Up and Costume. Very few are in Assistant Director roles and even fewer are Directors. I’m taking this as a personal challenge.

Having spent the last 20 years working in the film industry as a First Assistant Director, Director and more recently Associate Producer, this is my first short film. Being a strong willed, opinionated girl has meant that I have formed firm ideas about how I would do it. Not how it should be done, but how it would be best for me to do it.

A slow gathering

What I know about myself is that I am determined (bloody minded some might say), and I have been working towards this short film for a long time. I believe women come into their own much later than men, whether it is a genetic thing or not, I’m not sure, but I wanted to direct back in the late 80’s and have been gathering information, experience and hopefully some balls! Men seem to be born with an innate sense of self and belief in their abilities, but women seem to slowly gather and learn and grow, often struggling against prejudice and stereotypes, and often still having to run the household.

With great hardship comes great strength. What I have achieved to date I am very proud of, and now I have the belief to step forward with assurance and skill.

Real stories, not fluff

I chose A Women’s Right to Shoes as my first short film because I love the way Marian Keyes portrays women in their most vulnerable times, with fantastic humour. I believe this is how women cope with the most terrible things.

Marian’s work is often described as ‘chick lit’ but I don’t find it light and fluffy at all. It is easy to read, very funny and very entertaining, but all her subject matter is very real. Shoes is about a woman being heartbroken and left by her husband. The fact that we find it funny doesn’t make it less real. I was once left by my husband, not with many single shoes, but with many young sons. And I like to laugh about it now; I think it is how women cope.

To be able to portray this in film is very important to me. We all have times of madness, but it doesn’t diminish who we are, our intelligence or our relevance. The fact that we laugh doesn’t make it less painful either. It’s a very important message for many women all over the world,

We seem to take our setbacks differently than men, we wear them on our skin…

To show that women can come back from the setbacks is important to me. Shit things happen to everybody, the size of the shit is always relative, and how you cope with it is always individual, but the thing I have learnt is that women seem to have a mechanism that allows them to see the shit from the outside, and consequently overcome and carry on.

Apprenticeship

I started being an Assistant Director just to get close to as many Directors as I could. The Assistant Director or AD runs the set. I take the script, break it down into scenes, or parts of scenes and then reorder it in a way that makes it shootable. I decide where we will shoot each day, how much we will shoot, what and who we will need to shoot it. I get what the director wants with the money the producer provides. If you have ever seen a film crew out and about, I am the person shouting, ‘quiet please’, ‘ stand by’, ‘roll cameras’, ‘action’ and ‘cut’, amongst other things.

I have worked for many years helping Directors to translate their vision to the screen. I have coaxed, suggested, and even sometimes argued, I have often sat back and enjoyed the ride, and occasionally had to drag myself and the crew through it.

I have worked on big American movies for studios with huge budgets. I have worked on small labours of love for tiny New Zealand companies.

I have seen a massive range of Hows, Whys, Whens and Wheres.

Stories of my own

All the other stuff I have lived through just means I also have life experience and empathy, and the knowledge that I still have so much to learn – something that seems to pass you by when you’re in your twenties!

I grew up on a poor farm in rural New Zealand. I took myself off to University in the city and studied English Literature, Drama and Film. I worked in the theatre, then left town after going to one too many parties full of Dramatic types, and headed overseas to see the world.

In London I met the father of my children in a pub. After moving back to NZ, four babies, and many tears, he broke my heart. The boys ranged from 6 to 0 (I was pregnant with the fourth) I raised my boys on my own for 12 years.

We have a messy, lively house, often filled with extra teenagers, and even though I’m constantly buying food, there never seems to be any in the cupboards. I believe that even though we have seen some dark days, our house is full of light and love and laughter.

From the inside

Perhaps that’s why, when I read a story by Marian Keyes, I see it in pictures, it comes to life for me off the page. These are the stories I want to tell, I understand them from the inside. I immediately contacted her publisher, and so this journey began.

I have worked hard to prove that I can tell her stories as they were intended, and last year she rewarded me with the rights to Shoes, as my starting point.

Shoes

I have assembled a wonderfully talented cast, Antonia Prebble (Outrageous Fortune, Anzac Girls) and Brooke Williams (Shortland St, Spartacus) and introducing the fabulous new talent Taylor Hall. The crew is also impressive – Dave Garbett is an award winning cinematographer who will help me make this film. We have five days to shoot it in early January 2016, and for that we end up with a 15 minute film. We are using a crowdfunding campaign in late October to raise the funds needed to pay for all the equipment, cast and crew. (The Crowdfund link is here; for updates and info you can sign up to my Facebook page for the Shoes short film project).

Best work

I have to say that to date, my four boys are my best work and my greatest achievement. I made a decision to teach them that:

  • no-one, no matter how hard they try, can hold you back from your dreams
  • adversity can define you, not as a failure, but as a success
  • your mind can still be free, even if the Bank Manager owns your very core, and wants to sell it
  • life is complicated, and never to judge, because we never have all of someone else’s story
  • we should live honestly, and then, if we make mistakes at least they are ours entirely.

All of these things are me, they define me, they guide me.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Robyn Grace is an accomplished film professional having worked on TV drama, feature films, short films and TV commercials. .Her directing debut was Koreo Mai, a bi-lingual NZ TV drama, her latest personal project is detailed at : https://www.facebook.com/awomansrighttoshoes.shortfilm

 

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