Ten Questions with Becky Matthews
At a recent short film night we were lucky enough to screen Double Word Score, a great short film by independent filmmaker Becky Matthews. Afterwards we were able to catch her for a few minutes to discuss filmmaking.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.
I’m a writer-director based in London, and I pay the bills by freelance copywriting and scriptwriting. I’ve always loved film from a young age, and I watched lots of films at home. I was obsessed with Star Wars, E.T, Labyrinth (still am) – the usual 80s kid story. I grew up close to Pinewood Studios and was always aware of its importance in film. My first taste of life on a film set was in my teens. I did work experience on Kavanagh QC and I was an extra in Mojo at Bray Studios when I was 15. I spent the whole time looking at what the director and crew were doing and realised I didn’t belong in front of the camera at all. I studied Writing and Publishing & Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex which included modules on scriptwriting and I made some short documentaries and radio plays too. After Uni I went down the usual route of television production, working as a runner then production assistant / researcher but decided it wasn’t for me, so I focussed on writing. I couldn’t afford Film School so I did a night course at City University tutored by a director called Darren Paul Fisher who encouraged me to pursue screenwriting and I joined a comedy group Kaylosia (who I have continued to work with), as a writer and then I said “I’ve got this idea for a film, and I’d like to direct it” I was initially looking to team up with a director, but realised the best way of getting something made was to go for it myself. I was lucky to have a great crew that I trusted and it gave me the hunger to want to continue working with actors too.
We screened your short film Double Word Score at a recent Short Film Night, can you give us a brief synopsis of the film for those who haven’t yet seen it.
It is a romantic comedy about the ludicrous games we play in pursuit of romance. Holly is a coyly romantic academic, who is intelligent but habitually guarded. Jack is the perennial nice guy, afraid of looking foolish. The bitter-sweet thrill of the romantic chase plays out over the course of an evening. Scrabble is played, drinks flow, looks are missed and quips are misunderstood.
Double Word Score is a great short film and was very popular at the Short Film Night, can you tell us what inspired you to make it and how you came up with the concept?
Well, people assume it must be be a bit autobiographical, but I was actually inspired by a song by an indie punk band called Milky Wimpshake. The song is called ‘Scrabble’ and it’s all about the dynamic of a date playing out, and misunderstandings, mixed signals etc. Visually, I loved using the Scrabble board and tiles, there is a great scene in Spaced where Daisy and Tim play it which was a reference, and it’s a device that allows the characters to communicate without saying much. I came up with it as part of my short course in Digital Filmmaking, the brief was we had to write something that could be shot in a day, one location, two characters, so I pitched it to the group and they picked my idea which was encouraging. So, technically the version you have seen is a re-make!
Every filmmaker has their own preferred bits of equipment, what are yours? (Camera, sound, editing, etc)
I have only got experience with working with whatever I can lay my hands on, so far!, but I work closely with my crew to decide on what to use, how I want it to look, what are their preferences and what we can afford. We shot Double Word Score on the 5D MK3 edited on avid. I’d love to shoot on ALEXA – Phedon Papamichael’s work on adding a film stock grain to it on Nebraska is just beautiful, that grain is what I love about film stock, so the ability to start emulate the way that film looks digitally excites me.
Who inspires you in the filmmaking world?
So many people, for different reasons. I think my favourite filmmakers are where you know it’s their work from the opening credits, the ones with a very distinctive style and voice. I love Wes Anderson, Carole Morley, Sofia Coppolla , Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Edgar Wright, The Coen Brothers. There are some very exciting newer female filmmakers too, like Ana Lily Armirpour and Desiree Akhavan who are making really interesting work and I’m excited to see Alice Lowe’s first feature Prevenge.
What makes a great film for you?
I’m a writer first and foremost, so great dialogue as important, even if it’s quite minimal. I love all kinds of films, but whether it’s a popcorn movie or something more arthouse, it has to make me feel anything other than ambivalent. I don’t necessarily need to like all of the characters, but I have to feel pulled into the story and feel invested in the journey.
Filmmaking isn’t your only passion, music is too. Can you tell us a little about Kid Vinyl?
Yeah, music and film are my two great loves and I have been in a few bands. Kid Vinyl is a music blog that is run by my good friend Matt Law who I have been friends with since we were teenagers, and we were in a band called Buccaneer Hearts together too. We write reviews, and features do interviews and occasionally host a podcast too, we cover lots of genres but it’s mostly alternative music. Most of the reviews are quite enthusiastic, not in a sycophantic way, but I’m not interested in writing about stuff I don’t like, I’d much rather share great music that I want people hear about. Matt used to write a cut ‘n’ paste fanzine called The Ballroom Dalek and I used to do reviews and silly articles for that and then years later he started the site. Kid Vinyl is actually what got me writing again after a dry spell. I felt a bit directionless for a while after the structure of Uni, and was looking for a creative outlet. So, when Matt asked me to write reviews it was great, because I could combine writing with my love of music.
If you could give advice to an aspiring filmmaker what would you say?
Well, I’m still aspiring myself, but I’d say the first obvious thing is, don’t talk about it, do it! Everyone says that now because you can make films more cheaply and easily now, but it’s still very hard! I would say, find good people to work with and perhaps work on other people’s films too, to get some experience and build contacts. I read an article before I got started that said you might be the least experienced person on set that was certainly true on my first short. Know what you want to say, but communicate clearly with your cast and crew about how you want to say it, and how it should look. Also, be patient, you’ll be doing this at the weekend, and after work. It can be frustrating and tempting to rush decisions but don’t, especially when it comes to casting. It’s what I hear at q&a’s a lot, and I completely agree. All of this stuff is helped by teaming up with a great producer, you have someone to take care of logistics as you will have enough to do on set so don’t be tempted to do it all yourself unless you have produced before. They will help you decide on locations too, the fewer location and continuity changes you have to make the better, especially on a weekend shoot.The final obvious thing is to make sure everyone is treated well, even if your budget is tiny and you can’t afford to pay people a lot make sure they’re fed, hydrated and comfortable so no one is left cold, damp and miserable when you’re shooting exterior scenes – basically don’t be a dick!
What are you currently working on?
Mostly co- writing, at the moment. I am working with a director called Emma Miranda Moore , who I met through the London Film Talent Connect Facebook group. It’s is great to work with someone from a visual background, she is a photographer too and we have co-written a drama short, and I am developing a comedy web series too.
And finally, if we want to see more of your work where can we look?
I have a few sample scripts on my website becky-matthews.com, and you can see some sketches and a web series I worked on called Churchill: The Lost Interviews at http://www.kaylosia.net.