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In the Directors Chair With Harriet Townsend

Yak Staff writer, Ben Collison caught up with second-year Bachelor of Communication student, Harriet Townsend following the release of her independent short film Veil of Whispers.

From personal experience, I am still staggered at all the working parts that come together on the set of a film or television production. a creation, that audiences see on screen is the manifestation of a concept that sees a thought come to life.

This transitory journey brings together a collective of creative minds each with their own unique and refined skill sets. From Camera operators, art directors, sound techs and engineers, screenwriters, actors, and dedicated crew hands; each contributes to what becomes a highly polished production.

One such journey has been the production and release of “Veil of Whispers” written and directed by Bachelor of Communication, Harriet Townsend. I caught up with Hattie and chatted about her recent release and the creative journey she put together her professional project assignment.

Firstly congratulations on the release of Veil of Whispers, How does it feel that it’s wrapped? 

Writer, Actor & Director of Veil of Whispers, Harriet Townsend

Thank you! It honestly feels a little surreal. After 3 months of working on the film; it feels very bittersweet that it’s over. It’s also a great feeling of accomplishment. I feel so proud of my crew and cast (and myself I guess) that we were able to pull it off.

Tell us a bit about Veil of Whispers? 

It’s funny because every time I get asked this question it still stumps me. Even though I wrote the script, I can’t think of a solid answer to this question. To put it simply, it’s a story about trauma, friendship and revenge. The backdrop just happens to be a breathwork retreat in the countryside.

What was the inspiration for this project and how long did the development stage take?

The inspiration for this project was actually one of my dearest friends (minus the axe murdering, smothering or anti-freeze poisoning). They are really informed with breathwork, and after spending a lot of time with them I got to understand the practice a little more. So the idea of entering ‘an altered state’ stemmed from that knowledge I learnt from them. The development stage was around a month long. However, I did have the initial idea for the script for quite a few months, but I just hadn’t put the pen to paper yet. I just needed something to push me and make me do it, which is what the professional project course did for me.

We’ve worked with you when you were in front of the camera, how do you compare that to being behind the lens?

Well for this project it was definitely a 50/50 with that aspect. Being behind the camera was a lot to get used to, it was often easy to forget that I was the one running the show as well… switching back and forth between acting and directing was a bit of a challenge, especially in emotional scenes. But generally, being behind the camera was incredible, I loved giving the actors my directions and then seeing that come to life.

Filming of Veil of Whispers courtesy of Harriet Townsend

How did you find directing?

I found directing to be one of the hardest, but most rewarding things I’ve done. This was my first time directing a crew, and it was intimidating, to say the least. I learnt a lot about myself, and what I should and shouldn’t do while shooting VoW. I don’t think the process would’ve been as great, and successful, without my amazing and enthusiastic crew. Directing made me realise the power of communication, and has honestly inspired me to be clearer with my vision and how this translates into verbal directions.

What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? 

The time schedule was a massive challenge we faced for the first block of shooting. Luckily for me, I had an extremely reliable crew and cast who reserved more time to work on the film. So, I think we overcame the challenge of time by being realistic with how much time we actually needed. It’s easy to say that we’re going to shoot a 2-page scene in 3 hours, but there are a lot of factors that can influence stagnation. Because we had the next block of shooting, we also knew that there was no time for messing around, and we just had to get it done as efficiently as possible.

Another (niche) challenge that I faced was the loss of my voice. I’ve recently discovered I have a disorder called chronic laryngitis (not contagious); it’s probably the most annoying thing I’ve dealt with in the past year. It arises from the overuse of vocals. So, evidently, acting and directing caused my voice to basically be unusable (listen to the bonfire scene). My sidekick Samuel Meaker was the interpreter of my god-awful miming, and Nathan Winslow was my sign-language mentor.

Veil of Whispers Crew courtesy of Harriet Townsend

The cast and crew were absolute troopers for dealing with that.

What directorial influences help shape your style? 

I grew up watching a lot of M. Night Shyamalan, so I’ve always been a big fan of psychological thriller films. I feel like a fake film student saying this, but I’m more inspired by the films rather than the director. I’m not sure if that makes sense… but I have so many films that inspired me and my directing, but no specific director. I mean, I love Jordan Peele, Sofia Coppola, Ari Aster, and Luca Guadagnino (and many more), but I’m more influenced by films. Films and series such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Get Out, Midsommar, Coherence, The Sinner, and Aftersun, have inspired me in various ways; visually and thematically.

As a Bachelor of Communication student, what part of the course has been the most valuable to you in pursuing your directing career? 

The supportiveness of all the students and tutors in this degree has been the most valuable in pursuing my directing career. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with so many wonderful people, who really do uplift and encourage creativity. There hasn’t been a time where I’ve felt discouraged, or that I couldn’t express my ideas to others. So yeah, the support from everyone would definitely have to be the catalyst.

Do have another project in the works? 

At the moment, no… But I definitely have plenty of ideas, and am aiming to write/shoot something during the summer break!

As an emerging filmmaker, what opportunities do you see the industry need to make available to help? 

Perhaps easier access to funding and financial resources targeted towards newcomers in the industry could be incredibly beneficial.

What advice do you have for budding filmmakers? 

Just make something. I was scared for so long to show off my work, in fear of failure or embarrassment, but you just have to push through that. I still have a long way to go, but the best thing I did this year was to bring one of my ideas to life, with the help of some pretty incredible people. You’ll probably doubt yourself a lot, but I’m a sucker for a quote, and one quote that got me through those feelings was ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it’. Apparently that’s a Tom Hanks quote, so my advice is to listen to Tom Hanks.

Be sure to check of Veil of Whispers below. 

Feature Image courtesy of Harriet Townsend

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