Writer/director Anne-Marie O’Connor’s poignant drama Mum, has been selected to screen at the Galway Film Fleadh in July, and stars talented transgender actress Kate O’Donnell (Boy Meets Girl) along with Lee Boardman (Jack the Giant Slayer, Coronation Street) and Kenneth Colley (Star Wars, Peaky Blinders). Anne-Marie O’Connor began her career writing for theatre before penning three novels, Everyone’s Got a Bono Story, My Made Up Life and Star Struck. She moved into screenwriting, co-creating Sky 1’s long-running hit comedy Trollied, starring Jane Horrocks, Jason Watkins and Mark Addy. She is currently working on returning dramas in the UK and US, and has written and is due to direct her first feature.
We had a chance to talk to her. Here are the excerpts:
· What inspired to make you this film about LGBTQ life? Did any movies in particular act as an inspiration?
I was inspired by trans actor and activist, and co-creator of MUM, Kate O’Donnell to make an LGBTQ film. She is my best friend, we have known each other for twenty years. After she transitioned we would often talk about the lack of trans voice, view point and narrative in film and TV and the fact that when there was that view point, it always seems to center on the transition, or be a cautionary tale of how life doesn’t end well if you were trans. That is not Kate’s experience in the slightest. Her life improved immeasurably after she transitioned. So I wanted to make a film that had a trans character as the heart of it but that was a truly universal story, to do a very small bit for moving the trans narrative along a bit.
· What was the casting process like? Was it particularly challenging to find trans actors, and how did you manage that challenge?
What may have seemed a difficult challenge was actually relatively pain free and (hopefully!) a very positive experience for everyone involved. Through Mermaids, the UK charity that helps families with transgender kids, we found Joe Pearson who played Little Andrew and who was nine at the time of filming. We auditioned a number of trans boys for the role and held the auditions at Kate O’Donnell’s house because we wanted it to feel informal and for the boys and their parents to feel comfortable. We were looking for a little boy who could emulate Kate’s girliness at that age, which Joe found a little difficult at first! But he just looked and talked like Kate at that age and this was why he was cast. Ash Palmisciano is an actor who Kate had met a couple of times on other acting jobs and when I met him I knew he’d be perfect for the role.
· What was the most challenging and most inspiring thing about making this film?
I feel that we had a lot of challenges but that we managed to overcome with a creative solution time and again. So, interior locations were pretty difficult to come by and we searched high and low for the right type of place (we were filming over three decades so we had to take that into consideration) but in the end, we used my house and then a friend let us use her amazing falling down bathroom as the seventies bathroom in her farm house but then in the other end of her house was a modern bathroom and kitchen so she very kindly allowed us to use them for present day. We had a budget of £10,000 but I wanted to make sure that all of the crew were paid, so we cut costs in other ways (like getting my mum to do the bulk of the catering!). There were lots of challenges along the way, but I had a brilliant producer in Kate Larking (This is England, The Kill List) so I didn’t feel as much of the stress of it as I might otherwise have felt!
The most inspiring thing was twofold. Watching my mate, Kate lead this film – her first real time on camera as a lead. Equally I was inspired by how well everyone worked as a team. The advice I’d had before embarking on this as my first time directing was to get people who are really good at their job around you so that you can get on and direct and that was exactly what happened.
· What other filmmakers do you like? And why?
I’m slightly in love with Patti Jenkins after she gave an amazing kick-ass film that I can watch with my eight-year-old daughter and she can see a strong girl and woman in the role with Wonder Woman. I love Andrea Arnold; Fish Tank is one of my favourite films. I’ve always loved Martin Scorsese for character driven Alpha male characters who speak how people actually speak. My current favourite film is God’s Own Country by Francis Lee. A beautiful contemporary love story set in Yorkshire and edited by Chris Wyatt who edited MUM. His film is unapologetic about the characters being gay. No one runs away to the big city. Life just happens as life happens.
· What's your message to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?
Storytellers - Know when to take a note. Collaborating is important in writing and film making but you have to know when someone is giving you a note because it’s genuinely a good idea for the project, or because it’s their job and they think they have to say something. If you believe in what you have on the page then stick to your guns.
Film makers – This is specifically for short films - try and make your film. You don’t have to sit around to be anointed by someone to make a film that you believe in. People spend years going through drafts with funding bodies that ultimately never see the light of day. Look at creative ways of funding your film, keep the budget very low (Mum was 10k) and be creative. (for example, we were very lucky to be able to borrow all of our camera equipment through the Northern Film School).