Its 10:20 pm
This past December I was checking email and received a note asking to get in touch with one of our Film and Media editors. So I called the cheetah-in-charge over and showed him the email.
The letter as turned out was from a young director in the United Kingdom who is trying to finish her first feature film,”Trapped Magic : The Broken Blade”. This is how I met Heather Aspinall. She wrote asking if I would be interested in interviewing one of her leads in her and while at first I said yes,once I saw how new they were,I changed my mind,I didn’t think anyone would read the interview. But I also know that I had some fantastic good fortune in reviewing a lot of first directors the past year.
So I asked Heather if I could interview her instead and then interview her two leads once “Trapped Magic: The Broken Blade” is released. I know I was taking a risk and that it would come across that I was dismissing her cast and Heather could have told me to jump in the lake. (And I would have completely understood that).
Instead she agreed to answer a few questions as she prepares her first feature film for its release. The cheetah and I will be reviewing “Trapped Magic”,the original short film that launched Heather’s feature debut,very shortly.
In the meantime,I hope you will enjoy getting to know director Heather Aspinall as she answers 8 Questions……
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself.
I am the director of Trapped Magic® and have been involved with the franchise for just over four years. Originally, I began in post-production and have worked in multiple different roles to pursue my passion for storytelling. Growing up I enjoyed how fantasy films widened my imagination and cultivated a mindset that ‘anything is possible’ and it is this message which I seek to promote to young adults through my films.
I am now directing a feature film called Trapped Magic: The Broken Blade which is a feature-length adaption of the Trapped Magic original short film. My inspiration for Trapped Magic came after discovering the myth of Sally the Dunstable Witch within a poem written by Alfred P Wire. The poem describes how Sally, an elderly and lonely lady, is accused of witchcraft and is burned at the stake. However, there is a twist in the tale and Sally’s spirit returns to terrorise the village. To defeat her, an exorcist is called in who corners her spirit, traps her in a bottle and then buries it deep in the earth.
Trapped Magic is in essence a continuation of this myth, where an unassuming teenager Jack discovers a magic bottle containing the ghost of a malicious 18th century witch, ‘Sallianne’. Over the last few years, I have particularly enjoyed developing Sallianne’s character and exploring her relationships as she has the power to draw both fear and empathy within an audience.
Most people have a desire to be in front of an audience, what made you decide to become a director?
One of the main aspects that I love about film making is creating a world you can become lost in. When making a film, you are in a sense constructing an illusion for an audience and allowing them to feel empowered and free. By being a director I am not only helping to create this illusion for others but also ultimately guiding its direction and final form. It is this overriding ‘big picture’ mindset that I love to use in my work.
What three directors are your favourites and why?
There are so many directors I admire, but the main three who stand out for me are Werner Herzog, Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg. I find Werner Herzog a fascinating filmmaker who has an incredible ability to develop character and who is not afraid to go to extreme and challenging locations to create his stories. For Tim Burton, the unique style he has developed within his films is wonderful to appreciate and inspires me to seek out my own personal, distinctive style of filmmaking. My third choice of Steven Spielberg has been a director I have admired from a young age for his character development and focus on narrative. Spielberg‘s popularity and fame is no mistake, and his ability to touch the hearts of so many individuals through the storylines in his films always reminds me why a career within filmmaking is so fulfilling.
Tell us a little bit about “Salem”. What was the most rewarding part of the process for you and what lessons did you learn during the making of the film?
Salem was a very long time ago! It was one of my first projects so it’s quite interesting looking back at that, especially when the genre is similar to Trapped Magic. The most rewarding aspect of the process was having the opportunity to make mistakes. I was learning for the first time, what worked, what didn’t and how to make changes based on feedback.
You go through challenges when making films and ultimately you need to actively seek out critiques of your work to be able to make improvements. When you are so invested and involved in the film making process it is hard to objectively view your work. This was the biggest lesson I learnt with ‘Salem’, when you receive critique; this is only ever a good thing.
How important is the relationship between a writer, director and the casting director?
I think it’s very important to build a close relationship between the writer, director and the casting director, particularly to promote strong communication between those roles. You all want to create a project that everyone is happy with and not only fits in with the director’s vision but is also in keeping with the story being told.
You are expanding “Trapped Magic” from a short film into a full length feature. As a first time feature film director, what led you to cast and take a risk filming your debut with new actors to film versus those with a few films under their belt?
I think looking back it was important to select actors who fit well with the character, not only for how they came across as an individual but how they interact together. There have been times where more experienced actors would come in for an audition not having prepared and relying on their credits. This was in stark comparison to actors who may be lesser known but would put in the effort to research the character and prepare well for the role. I have to say that the cast for Broken Blade are very talented individuals and each actor has impressed upon me their ability for character portrayal. I trust them completely to do an amazing job on the film.
Walk us through a day in your shoes during a shooting day: What does your schedule generally look like?
A shooting day always puts on the pressure as there is so much to think about. At the fore-front of my mind going into each day is that I am trying to maintain the overall tone for the film. Ultimately as the director you are helping to create a consistently high-standard across the whole production. The benefit of having worked in post-production is that my approach is quite creative and flexible. I enjoy collaboration and certainly enjoy adapting to include the ideas of others on set. I feel that some of the best shooting days I’ve had may not have stuck exactly to schedule, but went off course because we wanted to include a fantastic idea or approach that had been pitched on the day. I can think of numerous scenes that are incredible for having changed due to this type of collaboration.
From the beginning of the day, I will look over my plan for the day. I will have already written down what I want to achieve in that day as a minimum and the extra shots we could prioritise later in the day with any extra time. I’d then discuss the plan with the assistant director and then check in on the rest of the crew. I would spend some time with the cameraman and AD to answer any questions and ensure they are happy with the set up for the day. We would then start setting up the first scene when the actors arrive. I would check with them if they are happy with their lines and talk through the first scene. Once we are all ready to go we begin shooting for the day. This process repeats until the end of the shooting day when the crew will pack up and the actors head home. I will then go back to the editing room to back up the day’s shoot onto a disk and to look through each shot, logging them and checking the footage if any needs to be redone.
Should directors shoot what they are given or should they have script input as well? How do you handle reading a terrible script versus reading a good story?
I believe that one of the main advantages of an independent production is that the director can have a greater amount of script input than in a studio production. If the director and the script writer are able to work in collaboration it benefits the final product by developing the overall vision and feel of the film without diminishing the nuances and intricacies of the storyline. I would argue that it is how a story is brought to life which is important and the initial format of that story can come in any number of shapes or sizes. The evidence for this is in Jean-Luc Godard’s film Breathless (originally entitled Á bout de soufflé) where he would famously arrive on set each day with a few notes jotted down and this would be that day’s script. Jean-Luc’s example goes to show there is no such thing as a terrible script as long as people are passionate about the overriding storyline.
To follow the progress of her film “Trapped Magic: The Broken Blade”,you can follow their social media sites