Dublin-based director Natasha Waugh has been steadily creating a collection of short films over the last few years that tackle important topics. Her latest, a self-funded short titled Terminal, is about two women of different ages holding a conversation at the airport, both awaiting their plane to the UK for abortions. Last year, We Face This Land showed how shorts about this topic can capture the attention of the public, and Waugh’s film received validation of its own effectiveness in being nominated for an award at the London Film Critic’s Circle Awards, a notable stop in the awards season that takes place on January 22nd. Waugh spoke to Film In Dublin about the making of her shorts and the lessons she’s picked up in her early years in the directors chair.
Film In Dublin: The subject matter of Terminal is one that’s so personal and currently relevant to many Irish people at the moment, obviously women in particular. To what extent does the short reflect the experiences of all the people who helped make it, can I ask?
Natasha Waugh: All of the people who made it? To be honest, I’m not sure; I can’t speak for everyone on the cast and crew. There may be crew or cast members who have had to make this journey or have had to think about making this journey, but nobody came forward to me personally.
I can’t even speak from my own experience. (Never having had an abortion) I’m not an expert on this by any means. These stories are not my own. I was very careful to always keep that in mind, particularly when I was writing the script. It’s tricky because I’m expressing my own views, but not necessarily those of all women. Does that make sense?
As a side note, a couple of women have come up to me after having seen the film, and said that they’d had abortions…I was very humbled that they felt comfortable in opening up to me.
FID: One of women in Terminal says “I wish I could talk about it”. You mention women telling you about their experiences, in general do you think Ireland is becoming more comfortable discussing abortion?
NW: I think slowly but surely yes. I think that people in the public eye, like Roisin Ingle and Tara Flynn, coming forward about it has really helped open up discussion recently and put it at the foreground of social issues in Ireland. All the same, it’s been said already many times and I fully agree that there is no safe place to talk about abortion in Ireland. I think we have some time to go before both sides find a middle ground to discuss it.
FID: Can you talk about the funding process behind Terminal? I understand there were some difficulties there?
NW: Terminal is entirely self funded. I used my own money, and my producer David C. Lynch pitched in as well. We had no funding from any other source. I did make a desperate plea to the IFB when I was doing a revised budget close to the shoot, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible for them to help us at the time.
FID: Were there any times when you felt that the short wouldn’t get made because of those difficulties? And if so, what kept you motivated through the funding process?
NW: Oh god you always think the film won’t happen, sure! I remember it was particularly hard getting a location that suited the film, creatively. The location that we used in the end that you see in the finished film, it definitely bloated our budget, but we pushed the boat out to make sure that we got a space that we could truly use as an appropriate backdrop for the airport. One that looks realistic. To be honest, at the time that’s all we were hoping for. The alternative, though cheaper, would have been a disaster. We know it was the right decision.
I’ve done 5 shorts now, so I kind of knew what to expect from previous disasters when it came to forking out money. Ha! Myself and David’s combined experience meant we were careful enough with making the right decisions with the budget. I think!
I have to say as well that so many of the rental houses we used to get equipment were, and continue to be, an amazing source of support for filmmakers like us. They made our lives, and our pockets, a lot easier coming up the shoot and afterwards (we used to rent equipment). Don’t get me wrong, by the end of the shoot I was absolutely flat broke, but it was worth it. I wanted to make the film badly.
FID: And how much did your experience having worked on shorts like Food Fight prepare you for this film?
NW: I think directing actors and thinking about the delivery of dialogue heavy scenes definitely. Food Fight is kind of similar in so far as it’s just two people talking to one another. Having that experience where you have to balance the situation in a scene, dialogue, and the chemistry between characters is absolutely something i have taken with me from Food Fight and others.
Another would be communicating with everyone. Something that I’m still learning how to do efficiently. How do i get the best from the scene? How to I explain to my director of photography what i’d like to achieve here, do the actor’s know what’s going on here, and so on.
FID: Being nominated for a London Film Critic’s Circle Award might validate that you’re succeeding in those regards. How did you find out about the nomination?
NW: I got an email from Lawrence Boyce, a member of the London Film Critics’ Circle who informed me around 2 weeks or so before they announced the rest of the nominations. It was a complete surprise. A really, really good one.
FID: Do you think that acknowledgement from abroad like this will be helpful to getting the message of Terminal out there? Have you shown the film much outside Ireland?
NW: Yeah i really hope that it would! I think it’s amazing that a film that deals with such sensitive but important subject matter for Ireland, could get attention and acknowledgment from a group like the London Film Critics’ Circle. It’s amazing for us as filmmakers, and it’s amazing for being able to get the word out there about repealing the 8th Amendment. I’m hoping that it will generate interest definitely.
I have shown it in London twice now; once at the London Feminist Film Festival in August, and at the Irish Film Festival London in November. Indie Cork also took us over for a screening at the Liverpool Irish Festival which was hugely important as there are support networks there for women who are specifically seeking safe and legal abortions. We also screened at the Montecatini Short Film Festival in Tuscany.
FID: So this film had some funding difficulties but you saw it through. For Terminal or future projects, was crowd funding something considered at all? Do you think its model is applicable to making films in Ireland?
NW: I actually co-directed a short film before Terminal called The Betrayal that was entirely crowd funded. I didn’t have a huge hand in the funding process, but I know for a fact that it was very hard for the film’s other director, writer, and producer Kamila Dydyna. She felt she had exhausted people’s good will from her previous short’s crowd fund, and I know it was a struggle towards the very end to reach the target, but she did it. But it took a lot of determination, and sweat.
I myself helped to crowd fund two shorts years ago that I helped produce. We didn’t reach targets, but I didn’t try as hard or as creatively as Kamila, who found all kinds of investors, and also perks for those who pledged money.
It can be hard making shorts in Ireland. There are funding schemes, but not many. Most people that I know of, like myself, beg, borrow or steal to get their shorts made. Most crews work for free if you can get them and rental houses for gear are very generous which is massive help. It keeps the industry moving, I think…So in many ways crowd funding is the only option for a lot of filmmakers.
FID: It seems like you’re learning with each short you make and help make. What then would you say is the most valuable thing you learned making Terminal?
NW: Yeah I really do. I’ve learnt so much with every film I work on. I think the most important think I took away with me was that preparation and certainty is key. We had everything and everyone we needed on the day, an amazing crew, we had all the right locations, all the right props, a wonderful cast who were ready to go for it, and I knew what I wanted to achieve on the days we shot. Lack of preparation is what can really muck up a shoot where you don’t have much time or money. In this way, you also need to trust yourself with where you’re taking the film and the cast and crew around you. That really only comes with experience. I’m still learning to trust myself.
Also, on a philosophical level, it reaffirmed something else which was ‘don’t be afraid’. I won’t lie, it was daunting making a film about women’s bodily rights, on a shoestring budget, but it was an important film for me to make.
FID: Finally, the shorts you’ve worked on are mostly concerned with issues that effect women, abortion in Terminal, the male gaze in Running Commentary, the violence in The Betrayal. With shorts that you make in the future, what other issues would you like to shine a spotlight on?
NW: Consent, definitely. I’m actually writing a feature with a close friend of mine on consent and rape. It’s quite a big deal at the moment for men and women.
Apart from that I think I might take a break out of the heavy stuff! I should do a comedy or something…!
The 2016 London Film Critic’s Circle Award takes place January 22nd. Natasha Waugh’s Terminal is nominated for British/Irish Short of the Year alongside Isabella by Duncan Cowles and Ross Hogg, Jacked hy Renne Pannevis, Sweet Maddie Stone by Brady Hood and Tamara by Sofia Safanova.