Claire Fowler is a Welsh, Brooklyn-based writer and director. Her most recent short, Noodles, was made in Los Angeles in conjunction with AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. She's prepping to make a new short in New York at the beginning of 2017 and is currently in development for the feature version of Noodles.
On her first cinematic memory:
I remember watching Jaws on TV. My parents told me I cried when the big fish died.
On her film Noodles:
My film, Noodles, was deeply personal. It’s a love story between two young people, told in reverse. It’s basically about how your first experience of broken love impacts you. There was so much drama in pre-production that production felt like a walk in the park. Many of the people I met making this film are people I have already worked with again, and I consider them lifelong collaborators. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to make such a personal film, to have met these collaborators, and of course, to have been welcomed into the Directing Workshop for Women fold! I’m now developing the feature version of Noodles.
On making films while studying at Columbia University:
Each film I made at Columbia was about learning to tell a story with the minimum amount of resources. Dub was made as part of the program. At the end of the first year, we all have to swap scripts and make an “8 to 12” (meaning an 8-to-12 minute film). I was super panicked about it, because I had to go back to the UK to renew my visa and work, so I didn’t have all summer to prep like most of my peers did, and I was low on funds. I gave myself a production budget of about $1,000 (a credit card). I teamed up with Icelandic filmmaker Ísold Uggadóttir (who has actually just completed production on her first feature, And Breathe Normally). Her script was about a documentary intern who has a one-night stand with her boss and then finds out she’s pregnant and then has to decide what to do. It was incredibly simple, and I identified with many aspects of the story: being alone in a big city, struggling to make a living in a tough industry, and having to deal with an unwanted or unviable pregnancy on your own. Isold wrote and produced the film… I changed aspects of the script a little, though. I took out a lot of dialogue. I took out a ‘morning-after-the-night-before’ scene. I tried to balance story with ambiguity, and slowly reveal this girl’s situation layer by layer. As a documentary filmmaker, I was naturally drawn to working with a loose, handheld camera, so I decided to work against that with this film. The film is about inner turmoil, so we shot it in a very composed and considered way that observes, rather than reflects.
On the changing landscape for women in the arts:
I think the work of people like Stacy Smith at USC has been essential to changing the gender landscape of film and TV. Disparity in gender behind the camera is now a subject that is being discussed, and that's the first step…. It is changing, but we have a lot of work to do before equality is achieved. Female directors need more opportunities, period. That starts at film school, should carry on into festival screenings, and go right through to making your first feature.
On the directors she admires:
Claire Denis was one of my earliest influences. Both Beau Travil and Trouble Every Day are astonishing. As a cliché ex-film student, I also love Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach. I love Mia Hansen-Løve’s and Maïwenn’s work. So many! I also love horror movies, as well as TV, so I have huge respect for directors such as Lesli Linka-Glatter, Neema Barnette, and Ava DuVernay, who are changing that landscape.
On the making of Two Missing:
Two Missing is a film that came about, again, from having limited resources and trying to come up with an inventive way to work around limitations. I was given a very small grant to make a thriller. It had to be a thriller, and I’m really, at heart, a drama person, so that was challenge number one. I only had enough money to shoot for three days in a free location and with [a small cast]: challenge number two. I came up with this idea of a road movie crossed with a horror film—one that subverted the horror trope of “helpless females lost in the woods” and didn’t actually take us on the road (because filming in moving cars is all kinds of complicated). A car breaks down in an isolated area, and two girls are forced to accept the help of a stranger. The guy who offers to help is kind of a jerk… he’s leery and creepy. But these two girls can look after themselves…
My producer, Olivier Kaempfer, brought on board a friend of his, Amelia Hashemi, as casting director. She brought in some amazing women to meet us, and the three of us had a good time whilst looking for our leads. Sophie Kennedy Clark and Morfydd Clark were just fantastic though—real standouts from an already awesome group of girls. They’re so different from one another, which was essential. Sophie played the outgoing narcissist, and Morfydd the vulnerable, browbeaten sidekick who is completely under her friend’s emotional control. It was a lot of fun to make. We only shot for ten hours a day (due to British regulations). It was Morfydd’s first time on set, and ever since, she’s worked almost non-stop in TV, film, and theater. Both of those talented women are in ascendance, and they’re a joy to work with.
On the importance of coming-of-age stories with women at the center:
I love coming-of-age stories. Although I have no idea what it’s like to be a teen mother or a gypsy, I do know what it’s like to feel like an awkward teen, to feel isolated and different, to make stupid mistakes, to go out, get high and dance all night, to clash with your parents, to fall in love for the first time…. There’s a part of me and my experience in the writing, and that is important to me. I don’t have a huge amount of interest in writing from a male perspective at this time. I want to write from a place of truth, and right now my focus is on the female experience.
On what’s ahead for her in 2017:
I’m currently wrapping up work as a script supervisor on a new TV show for VH1 called The Breaks. It’s a drama about a group of friends trying to break into the hip-hop scene in New York in 1990. I’ve had the privilege of working with highly experienced directors such as Neema Barnette and Seith Mann, and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to garner some small funding awards for a new short—my first in New York since I left Columbia in 2011. It’s about a Palestinian/Syrian female Uber driver. I wanted to shoot in the summer, but The Breaks came along and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so now I guess I’ll have to brave the New York winter to get this done.
I’m also excited to get back into writing. I owe a rewrite on Noodles the feature, and I have a new TV pilot idea I’m itching to jump into.