An Interview with Elsa Hunter-Weston
Elsa Hunter-Weston is a writer and director. Her short films have screened at festivals including the BAFTA qualifying Belfast Film Festival, Playback Festival, and Sunderland Shorts. Elsa’s latest film, Please Introduce Yourself was nominated for Best Experimental Short at the BFI Future Film Festival 2021 and is available on BBC iPlayer. I spoke with Elsa about pursuing a career in the film industry, Please Introduce Yourself, and what draws her to a project.
Did you always want to pursue a career in the film industry?
I have always loved film but at first had no idea how to get a foot in the door. I was very lucky to have had a supportive teacher at school who gave me the confidence to apply for schemes I otherwise never would have, like the BFI film academy. Going there was a real turning point for me and has since opened up so many new opportunities, putting me on a whole new path. Looking back, it was the push I needed and I am really grateful to my teacher for that.
Is there anyone in the industry who has particularly influenced your work?
There are definitely certain films that have been influential to me at different times in my life. Moonrise Kingdom was the first film I appreciated for being something that was designed for the screen if that makes any sense - my first trawl through an IMDB crew list may be a better way of putting it. Before that I had been a more passive viewer but now I can’t watch something without analysing it which is probably a little annoying for whoever’s with me! In terms of influence though, there are people like Ken Loach, Francis Lee and Shelly Love who I have seen give talks and felt really inspired by their words and work, so they’ve definitely changed the way I approach telling stories.
You wrote and directed Please Introduce Yourself, which was in Official Selection at the BFI Future Film Festival 2021. What were the initial conversations you had with the DP about the look of the film?
I’d admired Carl’s work for a while, so working with him was a great experience. The initial conversation with him was really to chat about the ideas behind the film. Please Introduce Yourself’s main premise is about a girl, Eliza, who goes to a job interview and has to introduce herself. My hope for the film was that people come away with a sense of the world in which Eliza lives - her frustrations at feeling stuck and the barriers she faces as a D/deaf young woman. I wanted the film to be in three screens where the centre screen was the sort of narrative thread if you like and the left and right were more experimental. Carl really helped create a consistent tone throughout the central screen and his work really grounded the narrative aspects of the film.
What was the biggest challenge on this production? And how did you overcome that?
Even though the film is about two minutes, because there were three screens showing three lots of material, the file sizes were huge. We had a limited edit time anyway, it was two days I think, and the software just couldn’t handle the three files at once so we had to render literally every 5 minutes. It was a pain but we got through it and the editor was really helpful. Next time, I would definitely use low res files until picture lock, but we live and learn!
What draws you to a particular project? Do you like to direct your own scripts?
My experience in the past has been directing my own scripts as writing is something I love and the thing I started doing first. But I am definitely open to working with a writer. I think finding any collaborator who you can be vulnerable with and whose judgment you trust is never a bad thing so if I found that person in a writer then I would definitely be open to working with them. My collaborator so far has been my producer, Caoilfhionn, who I’ve worked with a few times now and she’s just brilliant. On Please Introduce Yourself, the actors Lucy and Paula were also amazing to work with as they each brought their own experiences of being D/deaf to the film which was invaluable. I think I have a real respect for collaboration and any opportunity to do that is something I would love to do.
You've also worked as production coordinator on the documentary Lee Miller - A Life on the Front Line. Could you tell me more about this?
Yes, Lee Miller was an amazing experience and I feel really lucky to have been a small part in what was a brilliant production. I didn’t know much about her before the project but she was a surrealist muse turned war photographer and a total icon. The director Teresa Griffiths was amazing to learn from as well, and I love that she presented Lee as a real, complicated woman - it was very refreshing and a great doc I thought.
Are there any projects you are currently working on?
I’m currently working with State of Grace films as a production coordinator on a feature doc about Derry City Football Club. I’m so lucky to have had work in this horrible period, even more so as it has been such a nice project to work on. In the evenings, I’ve been taking a screenwriting course which I am really enjoying. I’ve now got a few scripts that I’m developing and will hopefully be able to get off the ground at some point in the future.