Strand Film writer, Isis Hope Lloyd sat down with Caris Rianne (writer, director, producer and founder of Rianne Pictures) in preparation for their Women X Film Festival this weekend. Caris, who started her production company nearly 7 years ago, at the age of 22, shared her thoughts on how the film industry treats women, how she aims for her company to elevate women and queer filmmakers and any advice for aspiring filmmakers.
Her most memorable quotes: “It's not that hard not to be a dick”, “What you can do as an independent filmmaker is just be that change”, they said, “Are you with the director?” and I said, “I am the director”. “The worst they can do is say no”, “Don’t stop believing”, “There's room for everyone at the table”.
Q: As a filmmaker, what is your process on sets, writing and in the editing room? What do your sets look like?
CR: The stuff I’ve worked on previously has been things I wrote myself, so that process is very much using friends that are also writers, who can proofread and give you advice. But you have to be open to it. It took me a while from “No, it's not stupid. It's not moving out the script” and then it was cut. The funny thing is when you write a script you get to the point where you’ve finished, nothing else can be removed then you get to set and you start taking things away, when you get to the editing room and you start taking more things away and then you watch your film and you think ‘Why have we still got that scene in there’? You slowly chip and chip and chip away. The writing process always been very solo, but I've worked with a few people that I know and trust. Also get the producers on board to give you a realistic opinion, I do that now as a producer. We recently wrote a web series, with seven writers that was different. It was more collaboration, reviewing and talking to each other and I really did like that process. I think in future productions I'd love to work with a writing team a lot more.
Then you move into pre-production and that's when it's absolutely manic. I say you can have as many people as you like in pre-production, but a good team of about five people who are all planning how you're going to get to set and how everyone is going to do their job is essential. It's basically like planning an event, and that's where it came about with planning the Film Festival.
When I was working on sets, when I first got out of film school and studying, it was a very toxic environment. It was all male directors, and that's nothing against male directors, they're not all bad. But it was very much a case of no matter what you feel, no matter what you're going through, that shot still needs to be done. If you're upset or if you're crying or if someone made you uncomfortable or someone's called you the make-up artist when you are the production manager, you still have to get the shot done. I really don't like that environment, you see in any other industries as well, where it is so much about productivity and less about the environment. I think the way I changed that was I always made sure that we had time over pre-production so people can really get to know each other, and people can really get to feel love for each other. There’s also an element of following the schedule but you have to also be open to someone coming along like “Right, the next three scenes are cut”. You need to just be able to adapt to change, if you can't then you can come and see me and we can talk, text me on a break. I think that's what I'm trying to steer away from, that toxic environment that I experienced myself on my film sets. I worked on film sets before the MeToo Movement, so I saw both ends of the spectrum. When that came to light, I realised how much I normalise that behaviour and just accepted it was part of my job. I'd been chatted up by the producer and then when I told him I had a boyfriend he no longer wanted me to work with him. I've been executive producer on a film, and someone messaged me and called me honey. I've had someone email me and tell me that I need to stop being bossy. I’m the executive producer, I'm your boss. It's that level of respect you have to make sure that everyone knows that as much as it's a collaborative process, there is a chain of command and you have to be responsible for what you're doing but you also have to be a nice person. It's not that hard not to be a dick, can I say that is that?
IHL: Yeah, totally.
CR: We should put it on a T-shirt.
IHL: And now looking at it in the opposite light, how do you see the industry recognising women, queer folks, people of colour and minorities?
CR: They are trying more now to be more inclusive when it comes to funding. Obviously, the Oscars have recently announced that they're going to introduce certain rules you have to hit in order to qualify. The rules aren't amazing but it's you know, a step. The thing that makes me laugh is that the industry will do these small things and expect you to be so thankful for it, when really, they should have done it a long time ago. It's frustrating but it's moving in the right direction. I think what you can do as an independent filmmaker is just be that change. When you're casting, cast colour blind. When you're doing crew recruitment, think whether you're seeking that diversity. Are you reaching out to black film groups? Are you reaching out to queer film groups? Are you actively seeking diversity or are you just saying, “Nobody applied”? When I first started out, if I went to a film group with this film that has a post-it-note as a shortlist, that wouldn’t have worked out. It takes a while, but once you're in that position where you are able to start making those decisions and be able to be that inclusive, you should have 100% do it. It's really not that hard. We had that with our Film Festival. We did a recce about a month in and realised that only 20% of our submissions have been from women of colour. So, we changed our marketing, we went out to black women in film groups. You can actively be the change. You don't have to follow, the BBC or Netflix. Don't worry about those guys. Think about what you can do and what you can change.
IHL: As you just mentioned, how did you start with your Women X Festival and what is your intention behind it?
CR: Originally, we used to throw an event on the company's birthday which is where we'd usually premiere a new film we did. We wanted to do an event in the North East because there's not many film events up here. We want to do an event that celebrated and brought together women. We thought, the way to do that is to obviously hold some film screenings to celebrate what women have already created but also holds workshops and panels to inspire or innovate other women in the industry to start making films. Because it's not that there's not enough female directors, is that they're not getting enough funding, they're not getting enough exposure, they're not getting enough jobs. There are directors out there they're just not being hired. So, it's about maybe giving them that extra boost of confidence. We would set them up with that collaboration, which would then take them to the next level. We hired a small room, thinking we would sell about 25 tickets. It would be nice place to collaborate and meet some new people. Then the pandemic happened.
And we just went along as normal for as long as we could. We made sure that we've got some great partners, some great panellists and workshop content. Asking people to send films in. We thought we'd get about maybe 50 films that we’d choose from. So, we got 240 films, which was really shocking. Then obviously we chose our selection which was incredible and then we started selling tickets. We sold out of our digital plus passes because we thought we wouldn't sell more than 50. I was fully expecting to have them hanging around my house for the next two years. And now we have nearly up to 100 people coming online, which is crazy cause that's like triple what we thought we were going to have. But the expectations we have are exactly the same, that we want to collaborate and celebrate women and innovate them and inspire them, it's just changed the format we were doing it in. I feel like going digital has made it a lot more accessible, not just reaching out to people in the area, we reached out to people who can't afford a train ticket, or people who can't afford to take it out of work and go see an event on a Saturday. But more accessible as well because we were able to include subtitles, we were able to include more readability with things. So, the key aspects that we wanted to achieve is still there, the dressing of it is just a little different.
IHL: With such a female-driven company and festival, how have you felt as a woman of authority on sets, and secondly do you believe there is a certain female sensibility on a female-led film?
CR: Maybe on the authority level, it's hard. I feel like the experience I've had, and I think just in life, we are very much used to being pushed to the side or someone asking, “Where's the man of the house?”. We've been at a location and someone's asked where the director is and when they pointed over to where I was, they went to speak to the man I was standing next to. I've been at a film festival and they’ve said, “Are you with the director?” and I said, “I am the director”. Like I said I've had emails before from guys on my set saying, “Hey, honey” and “Stop being so bossy”. It's hard. You have to just remember that it's your name that's on that director list. I used to always ask mentors when I was studying, “How do you deal with people’s disrespect for you?” and they’d say, “You just get through it”. I’d get so frustrated by the answer. I need a plan; I need a process. But there is no plan, there is no process. You just have to remember the key reason why you're there. You're there to make a film. That's the most important part. It doesn't matter what that idiot says, just get through it.
When it comes to being a female director and telling a female story, it's small things that you just wouldn't think about. We were shooting a thriller film and the girls were running through the woods in dresses that basically with any movement you would probably see their knickers, not in the film, it was just on the set experience you would see their knickers. They both said to me “I'm so glad it's you and not some creepy male director so I can just relax about showing my knickers.” You just wouldn't think in that moment, that extra level of calmness that they've got because they’re not worried about someone making inappropriate comments or someone laughing. I think that authority blends in with that female director experience. There is a level of safety they feel. Something that came from the MeToo Movement was that a lot of directors and production companies put in a contact on the film set that you could speak to if anything did happen or if it makes you feel uncomfortable. We installed that within our film set and we did two people, because we thought, what if the person you were going to speak to was the one make you uncomfortable. I think it's a good thing to do as just an extra level of care that you can take in order to be more responsible. Some stories and some roles are very traumatic and triggering and it's your duty of care to make sure that your actors and crew are okay being around that environment.
IHL: On the topic of a project being female led, French director Celine Sciamma talks of her films as not proving the female gaze exists, not gendering this look, and how it’s not that difficult to not objectify a woman (shockingly). In terms of the female gaze and with a film having a specifically female feel, how do you see that in practice and the outcome?
CR: I mean if you watch any film from, well from the dawn of time and particularly the 2000s, there's so many so many examples of women being exploited in the most unnecessary ways. Probably a massive one is Megan Fox in the Transformers movie. She was very much objectified. She's wearing hardly anything for no reason at all. It's the same in horror films. You'll see the girl is running through the house and she's got a nightie on and you think “Why is she wearing an nightie?”. In an action film, she's wearing high heels when she's beating someone up. There's all these little moments that you realise overtime, they just put them in there because someone in the editing room probably thought it looked good. It's the same in modern day films too. I mean we look at films like Avengers for example, Scarlett Johansson was asked about her underwear in all the interviews she did after the film because her suit looked really tired. You think, this person made this great film with your opportunity, why are you asking about underwear? Why didn’t you ask about how she did the stunts or how she learned the lines or how she liked working with all these people? Because that then bleeds into to film journalism and how from journalists objectify what is happening with women and objectifying how women are shown. As well, what they're wearing in the posters have been altered so that gaze issue, bleeds throughout journalism into representation in the film marketing. For me, I think it is moving in a direction where you can select films where people aren’t just objectified.
I did a feature length film about bisexuality with two girls falling in love and I got asked a lot why there is no sex scene in the film, and I said because it didn't need to be sexy. Obviously, the homophobia and the idea that women that are lesbians have to be lesbians that men enjoy they can't just be lesbians. There are so many different elements to it. The lesbian side but as well, Celine Sciamma, portrays relationships in realistic forms unlike other lesbian films that are made by male directors where it's just about that sex scene. Do I need to see the girl’s boobs in order to know that she is seducing this man or can you do that in a look? Can you do that in a glance? Can you do that in a way the hands move? Just think of different ways, don't be so lazy.
IHL: Especially not just seeing the women be seductive beings. I love seeing women being assholes and making mistakes.
CR: Yes, realistic women. I hate the term ‘strong female character’ because you can be a strong female character and still be crying everyday. You can be a strong female character and still being in a rotten relationship. You can be a strong female character and be failing at motherhood. There are so many elements to womanhood, to girlhood that it's not just about having a bow and arrow and saving the world that's a strong female character. Sometimes, just getting out of bed and going to the shops and taking your kids to school, that's a strong female character. We need to breakdown that stereotype but it's because of that strong female character that has the bow and arrow and saves the world, that men will not go watch a film about a mother going to the shops.
IHL: On the topic of what, as a collective, us filmmakers need to do for the future of film, do you have any advice for new filmmakers?
CR: You’re gonna laugh, because I'm gonna say “don't give up” or “don't stop believing”, which sounds like I'm quoting Glee, but you need to have that at your forefront during the whole of this thing, because you are going to be told that it's silly and “get a real job”, (by the government recently). The biggest thing I'd say is that like I said before you have to be your own agent, manager, biggest fan and keep just pushing and pushing. If you don't find space for you, make space for you, bring yourself to the table. There's room for everyone at the table. Be realistic with your expectations, don't come out of graduating thinking you're going to get big on Netflix, if you do that's fantastic, but don't feel like you're above anything. You have to work for everything and that's that goes for everybody, no matter what your background is, no matter what your experience is, you have to work yourself up to that point.
If you are planning to open up a production company, I'd remember to just start small and remember that your first few productions are going to be very cheap, they're going to be very short, and they're going to include probably a lot of your friends. Build yourself up and keep going. I mean this, for me, is what we built. It did not happen overnight. A lot of this was me sitting in my bedroom, until three o'clock in the morning, working on things and I now have a team of 30. But also celebrate the small wins as well. If you get into a small Film Festival, celebrate that! Most festivals only accept 10% of what is sent in, so you made 10%! Celebrate all of the wins and take time to celebrate them, it can be so easy to want to rush to your next project. Just take some time to think “Wow. I made something and someone liked it” that’s such a huge accomplishment in itself. There’s so much advice I can tell you, but the three I you would say is; don't give up, celebrate the small wins and be realistic about the fact that it is going to be really really hard at first, but there will be a pay off at the end, and when’s the end? Who knows?
The Women X Film Festival is on the 24th-25th October online, with passes still available! Rianne Pictures offer great opportunities for filmmakers and are a wonderful space to absorb some lovely female voices, as well as watch some lovely female content.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor