- Film making is such a challenging endeavor. What got you started on it and what keeps you doing it?
I love a challenge, and much of my career has been spent in high profile theatre, as a director, producer and writer. It is the sense of achievement in bringing a whole play or film together which is the main motivation. Communication of ideas is, of course, at the heart of it; and sharing something I love with others has always been a real pleasure for me. Well worth all the hard work. The great attraction of film is that it communicates to an international audience and you feel it has no barriers.
- If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your career, what would be the most important scenes?
The most important scenes would start during my childhood in Cape Town, South Africa. As a child I loved ballet, and studied at the David Poole School of Dancing which has trained many professional ballerinas. I would bring all the local children into the garden, and proceed to direct my own production of ‘Swan Lake’ with me of course, dancing the main role of Odette and Odile. There I discovered my love of organising big events although I have never starred in my own productions as an adult! Another key episode would be when I directed the Drama Group’s production of ‘Mother Courage’ for Contact Theatre and found out how much I admired Bertolt Brecht. That experience led indirectly to living and working behind the Berlin Wall about seven years later, after I won an Arts Council bursary as a young theatre director to work with the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin. That was an amazing adventure, which has had an enduring impact and influence on my work.
- Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
I am delighted to be working with Nick Hamson, who is one of those people who is very generous with his ideas and encouragement. He enjoys developing projects and is giving me the benefit of his extensive experience in film production. He has a creative attitude to problem solving, which is fun and thought provoking. We are quite similar in the way we approach things, and share a sense of humour which I’m sure will be very helpful as the pressure racks up.
- Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
I have a number of secret places, one is a fantastic and dramatic mountain location in the Brecon Beacons so it doesn’t really count as a lair. I also love the coastline and cliffs in East Sussex, overlooking the sea. I suppose my lair is my upstairs work room at home: I look out over a hillside, with rolling fields and a great skyline – views are very important to me, especially when I’m working. I have my books, and papers in piles around the room and it is cosy and warm up there most of the time. It’s a good place to work and think.
- What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone see them? Did you still have them?
My mum kept all my early efforts and there’s a file with the press cuttings and photos and certificates. I have kept most of my early scribblings and the ‘prompt copies’ of my plays and productions. I can’t throw them away because I am too attached to them. Some of the poems I wrote early on are still quite good. Although I don’t show them to anyone!
I’m fascinated by different periods, and have always felt that when you are reading a novel or listening to music written in a different period then it is helpful to find out about the historical period in which it was conceived. That is one of the reasons I went to work in East Berlin – I wanted to see for myself the theatre Bertolt Brecht set up and the Berlin in which he worked. Many of the men and women I have written about or created shows about have made an impact on their world – they have been pioneers. So, in order to understand their achievements better, I explore the time and place in which they lived and worked.
- What do you enjoy most in the process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I love the creative adventure, when the whole story of the film or the show is unfolding like a flower. I have a sense of the whole, but I want to discover how to tell the story without forcing it, or pushing it into a preconceived mould. So, the journey of discovery is incredibly enjoyable. With the current film project, I am quietly going deeper and deeper into Jane Austen’s world and most importantly, her feelings and her imagination. It feels quite special to be getting to know her in this way. In preparing for a production, you spend a lot of time on your own, thinking and writing and preparing. But in both film and theatre, there comes a time when the whole process becomes very public: working with your fellow producers, sharing the script or screenplay, working with the design team, with the actors and the whole crew. I don’t think there is any part of the process that I dislike.
- What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?
Never give up. Sometimes it just at the moment you are about to achieve a break through that you are tempted to walk away from a project. I was directing a huge musical in a ‘found space’ in the centre of Belfast, as the centrepiece of a Northern Ireland Festival celebrating ‘diversity’ and the peace process. Pressure was coming from all sides, not least the sectarian bitterness of the Catholic/Protestant divide which frequently boiled up to the surface when working with a community choir from across both sides of the divide. It was an enormous undertaking technically, in a disused factory where we had to create the whole performance space, and constant challenges from every side. At one point I said to my Musical Director, ‘I have had just about enough of this’, and he turned to me surprised, and said, ‘but you are so nearly there Sue, and it is looking wonderful’. And so it proved. That production was another highlight of my artistic life and quite unforgettable.
I’ve also learned to listen, not only to my inner voice but to others, and absorb their valuable input. At the same time it is important to maintain one’s own artistic vision and integrity, and much of my career has been spent finding a balance between sticking to your goal and keeping focus, while listening and considering the contributions of others. Theatre certainly is a collaborative process, and film is also.
- What do you to keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
I have made myself more organised: I remember when I was directing a show early on in my professional life I realised I would have to become more methodical and better organised if I wanted to attain the level of achievement I’d set myself. So I keep duplicates of my files on the computer, I have paper files which I file quite carefully. Although I must admit that when working on something, I tend to have research material and handwritten notes around me on the desk and chairs, so I can access things as I need them. But I do keep my paperwork disciplined – on the whole!
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’m not sure there is one piece of advise which stands out above the rest. I recall the sense of purpose I had from one of my teachers at school, when I was initially turned down for my first choice of university, and she said, ‘oh well, we don’t have to accept that,’ and then we sent off a letter to the department concerned and with a week or so the decision had been reversed. That taught me that you should not be put off your chosen path in life, but always challenge things which are not right So, the qualities of perseverance and determination are very valuable, (although not to be confused with wilfulness.) Also the statement from Martin Luther King, that we all have the opportunity to be great, because we all have the opportunity to serve. I feel happiest when I am involved in activities I feel will enrich and bless the lives of others.
- What have been your most memorable experiences along the way?
In addition to those I have already shared some of the most unforgettable things are very personal. For instance, when I went on a tour of Germany with the National Theatre, Yehudi Menuhin came to see the show and then invited the company and cast to his house for tea. He had such a quality to him, an aura which was very special. He was quietly spoken and quite modest but made an enormous impression. At the other end of the scale, was a wonderful invitation to my own production company to tour India, and it was such an extraordinary experience. We invited to participate in the Prithvi Theatre festival in Mumbai by Sanjna Kappoor, neice of Felicity Kendal. If you’ve seen the film ‘Shakespeare Wallah’ it will give you an idea of our adventure, because it was the Kendal family who toured India with their Shakespeare productions and now here were we, following in their footsteps in cities across India. It was an unforgettable month which I could spend many hours describing. And that would be just the first few days!
- Tell us a little about your current project.
I have adapted and directed two of Jane Austen’s novels, Pride & Prejudice and Emma and got to know and love her work that way. The exciting events which have been taking place this year to mark the bi-centenary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice in 1813 have been a catalyst for me to explore her life more deeply. There has been an explosion of interest in her work and in the Regency world which is all well and good but I wonder if we have lost sight of her individual journey , and what she had to contend with just to write and then be published at the dawn of the nineteenth century. So this film will explore her own story, and the conditions of her creative life. It will aim to connect with her inner feelings and her hopes and dreams. I want to put Jane herself back at the centre of her work and her world. We have been filming since May, meeting many Jane Austen fans from across the UK and from all over the world. We have attended all sorts of events and interviewed some very interesting and knowledgeable people. And we already have the support of David Bamber (Rev’d Collins in BBC’s Pride & Prejudice), international composer Carl Davis (who wrote the memorable score to the series), actress Jean Boht who has played Mrs Bennett, Professor Peter Sabor from McGill University, Dr Linda Bree from Cambridge University and some of Jane Austen’s surviving relatives. We will start filming the dramatised episodes of Jane’s life with a high profile star cast in spring 2014.
To find out more about this new film, and to help make it happen please visit http://www.fuschiafilms.com/jane-austen-film-products-and-events/
For regular updates follow the project on twitter @JaneAustenFilm and @FuschiaFilmsLtd