Insight met with Harriet Edwards, winner of the Student Filmmaker Award in 2014, to find out what winning the prize meant to her and to learn more about her experience in Hollywood.
Last year Harriet was in her second year at Manchester School of Art’s BA (Hons) Filmmaking degree. One minute Harriet was making a film for her course, the next she was whizzing off to LA for the experience of a lifetime.
One year on, Harriet told us about her experiences, reflecting on making a film at a pivotal time in her life, what it is to be a filmmaker and why she thinks filmmakers should be making a films about ‘faith’.
Watch her winning entry and read her interview with Insight about the Student Film Award, the internship in Los Angeles and the difference it has made to her personally and as a filmmaker.
The winning entry: Psalm 46 (06:05)
Harriet’s entry was a personal film about a young girl who is struggling to understand her faith.
The interview: Insight meets Harriet Edwards
Harriet Edwards was interviewed by Marianne Knowles, Insight’s Student Filmmaker Award Executive on 21 February 2015
Insight: Why do you make films?
Harriet: I’ve always had a passion for the moving image. I am a filmmaker, as I love to explore stories and capture life. I am really inspired by how film can have the ability to influence others, to capture an individual heart, to unlock creative thinking and encourage thought.
Film gives me the freedom to express myself through visual language and to be creative. It can provide new ways and methods of addressing – and also challenging – ideas about ‘faith’, whatever that might mean to an individual.
Insight: Why did you enter this competition?
Harriet: We had a filmmaking unit called Creating Personal Film, which focused on the things you wanted to say to people. I’d always had a faith, but wasn’t completely sure about how I felt at the time. I was going through changes in my life, so I guess the course module and the Award came at an interesting time for me.
My tutor (Jenny Holt, Senior Lecturer Filmmaking, Manchester School of Art) gave me some feedback that my film was different to what she had seen before. She saw the Insight Student Filmmaker Award, and suggested I entered. It’s funny because I already followed Insight on Facebook and been to previous Insight Film Festivals. I had got some things for the Award together and thought, I’d better get my act together and enter. I’d got a 2:1 for the film, so I thought it must be okay.
Insight: What was it like making a film about faith?
Harriet: It was very rewarding to make a film about what I felt about faith at the time. All the ideas were my own, and the film is based on me and my struggles with faith at the time. When I make films, I like to interview people, and so for this one I interviewed myself, which formed the basis of the script. Psalm 46 is a personal film, and submitting it into the competition was just as challenging as the making of it.
It really helped me to develop my filmmaking skills. I now want to include the views of other people – and often interview them to ask their thoughts – in the same way that I asked questions of myself for Psalm 46. When I created my latest film, In Between, I looked at lots of different viewpoints before I made it. The film will be screened at the Filmed Up Festival at Cornerhouse [in Manchester] later this year (Link: Filmed Up Festival 2014)
Insight: What was the process like and what was it like winning? How did insight help?
Harriet: What helped the most is that throughout the whole process, everyone at Insight was brilliant. I didn’t feel intimidated at the interview and felt like I could be myself. Normally interviews are scary, but it wasn’t like that.
I found out I’d won the next day. It was weird, as I didn’t think I’d win. I was excited about the internship and knew it would be a challenge. My mum was very proud of me. It was a good morning – I thought, I’m going to LA!
Insight: What did you actually do with Loyola Productions? What was LA like?
Harriet: I went into the studio Mondays to Fridays 9–5. My working day consisted of getting up bright and early, and heading off to Culver City. LA mornings are refreshing, cool and welcoming. Everyone at Loyola Productions are lovely individuals; they involved me straight away as a member of the team.
I spent my days learning the ropes: the Monday morning team meetings, current projects, archives and company routines. I was actively engaged in the filming of a number of short segments and helped with research and pre-production. I also did camera-operating and assisted with the initial stages of post-production.
I was very lucky to have the unique opportunity to travel to San Francisco for a pre-planned shoot, for which I was the only camera-operator. This was definitely one of the highlights of my internship! I got into a routine: getting to work, waiting, being patient and then getting stuck in when everything was happening. In the regular Monday morning meetings everyone updates the team with where they’re up to on current and upcoming projects. Once I’d settled in and got stuck into working in LPI, it was great to be able to contribute to these meetings and to share my own work.
In my first week I went to the Hillsong church and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I was sad to leave and all my friends there are always asking when I’m going back.
Insight: How did the internship help you as a filmmaker?
Harriet: It was a completely new experience for me. Time isn’t like it is at uni or at work. One minute you’re sat there doing research or waiting for something to happen and the next it’s all systems go. You have to work out how to be helpful and also know when not to get in the way, which I think is the same whatever you do in filmmaking.
Everyone in the studio was juggling three projects at once, and you learn about what different people do. Loyola (the studio) were great at letting me watch and learn. Seeing people work on the different parts of the programmes helped me to see what is involved.
The team had no expectations of me in terms of software knowledge, and they were really supportive. I thought they might expect me know everything, but they didn’t. I gained a lot of skills. It’s a small production company so everyone knows each other, which was also nice.
I experienced amazing places that I had never imagined I would end up that summer and furthered my aspirations as a young filmmaker. My experience has encouraged my thirst for filmmaking and to delve into the unknown without expectations.
Insight: How did the fact that it was an international experience make a difference?
Harriet: I love travelling and it was a great opportunity. It was a lot different to what I expected. The atmosphere in LA is so laid back. People work hard when they are there and it is fast-paced in the studio, but outside of work I got to spend my time going to the beach, exploring and enjoying everything LA life has to offer.
I didn’t feel intimidated there at all. The people in the studio asked me all about England. It was good to experience a studio somewhere other than Manchester or London, as the culture is very different.
I think the experience of travelling over on my own and making my way around will help me to go to other places in the future. I love being in Manchester, but I know I don’t want to stay here forever. The film industry is global and if you want to work in it, I think that international experience helps.
Insight: What was the best thing about it all?
Harriet: Just the whole life experience. I think 20–21 is a fragile age. This experience has given me the confidence to make films of my own and get them out into the world. It is massively motivating to see that there are bigger things in life than your immediate surroundings.
I got so much out of it. One minute I was making a film about something that was important to me, the next I was in LA. I got a lot of friendships out of it and it changed me as a person. It’s also given me a new thirst for travel and discovering new things.
Working with people who were so enthusiastic and feeling like your work is adequate is really important. Your final year can be intimidating when you start to think about your life after uni. Winning the competition and doing the internship has given me the confidence to achieve what I want through film and have a career in filmmaking.
Insight: Has the experience changed your view on faith in film?
Harriet: You learn so much. I’ve even thought about studying film and theology further. I Googled it, but there was surprisingly little on offer, which I suppose supports the reason for the Award in the first place. I was very happy to hear that the Award was happening again and that this year it’s nationwide [in the UK].
In contemporary filmmaking there’s lots of crossover of topics and different ways of doing things. I’ve learnt, that for me, it was beneficial to do something personal and make a film about it. I’ve also had chance to continue with my course and reflect on my experience with Insight. I feel like I’ve developed so much in terms of understanding the importance of a balanced argument.
I think that it’s important to make films about faith, whether you have a faith or not. As a filmmaker it’s important to consider things from different viewpoints. That’s exactly what making a film about faith, is all about.
I’ve been developing this idea within my recent work as I’m preparing for my grad film, In Between, which explores life after death and how we deal with levels of satisfaction in our lives.
I don’t think films about faith are too niche, or need to be niche. We need to discuss how we see religion, especially in the contemporary society that we live in.
Faith in film is very popular in Hollywood at the moment. It’s made me think, who makes these films? When I made my film Psalm 46, I wasn’t sure where I was faithwise at the time, but it doesn’t matter.
I think film can provide the opportunity and freedom to communicate personal ideas, and that’s what I love about it – you can use visual language to express your views, however contemporary or challenging they may be.
Insight: So what’s next?
Harriet: I’ve had four amazing years at Manchester School of Art and due to the experience of winning the Award. My research film from this year, In Between, has been selected for the Filmed Up Festival at the Cornerhouse.
I interviewed a lot of people about their concerns about death. We don’t have any idea what death is like. I wanted to find out more about what other people think, and what I think. I don’t have to tell anyone what to think or be responsible. It’s for people to make their own interpretation.
That’s the power of film – to have something linger in someone’s mind. If it happens to be a film about faith, or any aspect of it, they’ll think on it and form their own opinion.
You can explore ideas you’ve not thought about before.
Insight: You’ve convinced everyone to enter – any advice?
Harriet: Be open-minded, even if you don’t have faith. You can look at a million different things. It’s exciting. Filmmakers should be open to looking at things from different angles. This has given me so much confidence. When I made the film I had no idea that it would take me to LA after winning the Insight Award. Don’t let ‘faith’ put you off – see it as an opportunity.
Oh – and double-check that your DVD works before you send it in!
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I now have friends in LA. Winning is on my life achievements list already!