"We are definitely seeing progress, but it’s glacially slow." TDF talks to Say My Name writer and Guilty Feminist host, Deborah Frances-White
Best known for her podcast The Guilty Feminist, which has gone from niche to selling out the Royal Albert Hall, Deborah Frances-White is something of a powerhouse. Her latest project, Say My Name is her first feature film as a writer – the film combines a robbery-gone-wrong story with screwball comedy, but also manages to map out a pretty emotional arc for protagonist Mary. Starring Lisa Brenner, Nick Blood, Mark Bonnar and Peter Davison, the film revels in witty dialogue, unique characters and the fundamentally funny traits of a sleepy Welsh island where there's only really two choices; stay or go. Becky Kukla caught up with Deborah to talk about the film, writing female characters and how the film industry is slowly diversifying.
TDF: Say My Name has such an original concept. How did you come up with it?
DFW: I just gave myself the scenario of forgetting someone’s name in the middle of a one night stand (something I’d do because I’m bad with names) and then improvised the rest. When the scene peaked I remembered Raymond Chandler saying ‘when I don’t know what should happen next I just have a man walk in with a gun.’ Guns and bad guys aren’t in my genre but that was a good reason to do it because I was able to write them differently, I think.
Mary is a great character and she's very different to many female characters which would usually appear in this sort of heist-gone-wrong/comedy film. Was this important in your crafting of the character?
Very important but very much in the tradition of screwball comedies. Katharine Hepburn was always running around wisecracking ‘I can run a newspaper as well as you or any man’ and deliberately being funny. She wasn’t funny because she accidentally fell in mud like so many hapless rom-com heroines now. There’s a long tradition of screwball comedies. We just don’t make them much anymore. When Lisa and Nick stepped onto the set I immediately knew she was Mary and he was Statton and this would work.
The lighthouse and the ocean metaphor is such a lovely visual image of relationships. I was wondering if you could talk a little about where this came from?
I married two of my very dear friends (as the celebrant) and wrote it for the service. It’s really about them but I felt it closely applied to Statton and Mary too so it’s an homage to Larry and Olivia. Anything personal captured in a film makes us immortal in a way.
The storyline of Mary finding her birth mother is a really interesting aspect of Mary's journey. You've talked on The Guilty Feminist (Deborah's podcast) about finding your own birth mother – was this something which inspired you to write about this specific experience?
I know the world and the parameters so I could write it truthfully but it’s entirely fictional. Mary is finding her birth mother so the audience are wondering whether she’ll reject her or accept her. I gave myself the writer’s challenge of coming up with a third thing the audience couldn’t see coming but still fulfils the promise. It’s one of my favourite moments.
The idea of 'catholic guilt' appears quite frequently in the film (often as a humorous device) and informs a lot of what both Statton and Mary do. How did you find balancing the humour and the 'seriousness' of religion?
I didn’t worry about the seriousness really. It’s inspired by shedding my own religious past. I just wrote what I felt and what the audience takes from it will almost certainly depend on their own experiences.
Have you always wanted to write a film and do you ever see yourself directing in future?
Yes. I’ve written loads of scripts and this is my first film. It is a life long dream. I’d love to work with our amazing director Jay Stern again and I’d love to direct too. We need more female directors!
A bit of a topical question, but how do you feel the industry is progressing in terms of female and BAME directors and writers getting recognition for their work or being given big projects? It's fantastic that Parasite won the Best Picture Oscar, but it was otherwise a pretty white and male slate this year.
We are definitely seeing progress but it’s glacially slow. Let’s all decide in 2020 we want to hear different stories and vote with our wallets to support new talent.
And, finally, what is next?!
I’m currently on tour with The Guilty Feminist in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have a big, exciting writing project on but I can’t announce it yet. Watch my Instagram at @dfdubz for news soon I hope!
SAY MY NAME is now available On Demand