SxSW 2020 Interview – MAKE UP director Claire Oakley

“MAKE UP is a psychosexual coming-of-age movie infused with suspense, mystery and elements of horror. It follows Ruth, 19, who moves in with her boyfriend, Tom, on the remote caravan park where he works. It is a strange and almost deserted place on the edge of the sand dunes where the locals speak in dialect and Ruth feels like an outsider. Soon after arriving there, she discovers some long red hairs on Tom’s clothes and suspects that he might be cheating on her. Intent on finding out who this redhead is, Ruth begins a search that leads her deeper into this mysterious place and that deepens further when she meets Jade, one of the residents who keeps a collection of wigs in her van, including a wig of long red hair. As Ruth’s obsession grows it affects her relationship with Tom and as she struggles to make sense of everything, she begins to realise that something entirely different might be haunting her.” Director Claire Oakley on MAKE UP which screens at SxSW 2020 Film. 

Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW 

Let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!

MAKE UP is my first feature and until now I have made short films, five in total. I have also had jobs reading scripts, researching, assisting directors and making a lot of tea. It has taken a good ten years of perseverance to make my first feature. 

How did MAKE UP come together?

The seed of the idea for MAKE UP came about nine years ago when I wrote it as a short film but it wasn’t until 2014 that I started re-developing that short into a feature. When I started writing it was a straight up thriller but over the development process it became a lot more personal as I got braver with the writing. We made it as part of a scheme that the UK runs for emerging filmmakers called iFeatures which involved an intensive year of writing and pitching before we got greenlit. At that moment we could relax a little, take stock and re-write before we entered prep. We had a tiny budget of $500,000 so the prep and shoot were quite quick; four-and-a-half week shoot which a couple of weeks prep before. We all lived and worked on location in the caravan park which was dreamy, we surfed the weekends and became a close-knit filmmaking family. 

Then I spent the summer of 2018, the hottest ever on record in the UK, in a dark room editing. Once we had picture-locked it took us a good six months to finish the film as we were asking for a lot of favours and waiting for suites to become available as we didn’t have the money to do the offline quickly. We were delighted to premiere in my home town at the BFI London Film Festival and we have been touring since in Rotterdam, Goteborg, Dublin, Glasgow amongst others.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

It’s when I’m not making a movie that I have to keep going. When I am making something I don’t even think about it, I love the work and the fact that you have to spend a good five years with one idea and get deep into it. It is the end is the worst part, when you finally sign off on the DCP and can’t make any more changes, then I found it really hard to keep going, it is a great loss not to be working with that film everyday and it was hard to know how to move on to the next project. I found reading and watching films and going to galleries helped a lot, getting inspired and refreshing my creative reserve.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you for MAKE UP? 

The biggest challenge was the writing. I was intent on expressing an internal and psychological process and so finding ways to externalise and dramatise and visualise that was the hardest part of the process. The most rewarding was probably the edit. I love editing, it’s like writing but you aren’t alone and it’s with images. We essentially re-wrote the film again in the edit and that was extremely satisfying.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how MAKE UP was photographed. 

We got on an Alexa Mini because we had a lot of small caravans to shoot in so it helped with that. We used Canon K35s lenses, they give a softer look than modern lenses with flattering skin tones. A lot of the references that Nick Cooke (DOP) and I used were photography references rather than cinema. Our main anchor was Todd Hido whose atmospheric pictures of suburban America were a huge inspiration, he creates a kind of edge-land twilight feel to the landscapes where you can imagine anything might happen. 

Where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

We have a theatrical release in the UK in July with Curzon Artificial Eye and we have various other festivals lined up too.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I lived in New York briefly and used to go to the IFC a lot. I would love to play there.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

I mean I hate the fact that they sell popcorn in movie theatres, cinemas should only sell ice cream and other silent foods.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

I have a sign on my desk which has a Maya Angelou quote on it saying “nothing will work unless you do”. It’s what keeps me going, which is the most important thing, just to keep going.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I love watching films at festivals because you can watch things without having read any reviews or listened to any hype or marketing. I walked into this film MUSCLE by Gerard Johnson at London Film Fest in October whilst my film was playing and it totally gripped me. I had to leave to go do my q&a and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, I have to see how it ends!

For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!

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