Instagram Live Q&A with Simon Wegrzyn
If you don't follow us on Instagram (which you should, do that now. It's top tier content) then you would've missed our live Q&A with writer/director Simon Wegrzyn. Don't worry, you can still check it out on our page. However, if you haven't got time to watch the full thing, then read on for a summary of what happened.
Q. What was your first experience that led you to wanting to pursue a career in the arts?
A. My mum and Dad took me to my local theatre, which is the 'Everyman Theatre' in Cheltenham, and I think it was 'The Wizard of Oz'. At the end of act one, it's like a crazy climactic moment, and suddenly the orchestra goes MAD and the lights go MAD and everything goes WOAH and I was like *GASP* what is this?! I remember I got home that same evening and I remember saying to my Mum and Dad "I wanna do this" and then, very lucky, they signed me up to the Youth Theatre of that same theatre. That's kinda where I lived out my teens. Had some amazing youth theatre directors, kinda went through quite a few, but that became my kinda life then. I was there every Saturday, Sunday, every Thursday night as well, I just kinda super immersed myself in that world.
Q. Who did you look up to when you were younger? Whether that be someone you knew or a celebrity.
A. Starting off young, one teacher in particular at my school, I had Mrs. Jenkins who was my drama teacher. There was something very different about Mrs. Jenkins. She kinda never went on about "Oh, I used to be an actor", none of that. We did so many cool, practical shows with her. We did site-specific stuff, and because of her, we had a new studio built. She gathered people in petitions and went to the council and all of a sudden we had a new studio. Everything she was doing, I was so in awe of her. She was the person who told me to go and audition for National Youth Theatre and she got me reading loads of play texts, she taught me how to understand Shakespeare. So I kind of count myself super lucky because I come from this super rough background, so I didn't really have those opportunities and everything about her was just a treasure chest.
In terms of actors, I was super obsessed with Alan Rickman. Just incredibly versatile. I first saw him in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and I always love the villain more than the romantic lead. They can fudge off. Also, Julie Walters as well, I was really keen on Julie Walters. Her comic timing and she was always a bold character. Yeah, I kinda just went for much older actors as icons because there weren't any younger actors that I found cool. I was a bit of an old soul.
Q. Have you followed the path you thought you would when you first went to drama school?
A. No! This is sort of why I think you have to, as somebody who goes to drama school, you have to be quick to adapt. I'm 37 this year and I'm still adapting. Naturally, as creatives, we have to be chameleons and we have to think on our feet and go "right, what can I do next?" I left drama school and I was very lucky. I auditioned for a BBC teen drama, got straight into it and I was a little bit cocky with it, I was like "uh, I'm in a teen drama". It's BBC primetime, I'm sorted now, this is it, I don't need to worry. Then I sort of had this rude awakening, and I really went down. BBC drama happened, had loads of money, spent it like that. In a nice way, I bought loads of friends presents and stuff, but I wasn't thinking. I was only like 20. When you've got that, you're suddenly like "this is great, it's going to stay like this". That finished. Very quickly I thought "Woah, I need to be more proactive here". Very quickly, I learnt to talk to people, be proactive. I thought by the time I was 30, I'd be famous and in Hollywood films. I'm glad I'm not, because now I'm a director, obviously. It's interersting how the road changes constantly and I say to a lot of actors and creatives, I always feel like there are moments in your life when you go "I'm back at a crossroads again". I always imagine three routes that you can take, and as a creative you've got to decide which one to go down, and I think you come to that many times in your life. So, no. I'm not where I thought I would be, but I'm very happy where I am.
Q. Your short film 'Hold Hands or Hide' is a brilliant piece of filmmaking about a hate crime against a member of the gay community. As an LGBTQIA+ creative, how important was it to tell that particular story?
A. It's a weird one. I kind of battled making that film because as a queer creative I'm only interested in creating stories where being LGBTQIA+ isn't the narrative, they just happen to be. Moving forward, I don't want it to be problems that we in the queer community face. I think it's really important that it's just good stories being told, but their sexuality doesn't come into conversation because I think that's the way we need to move forward. It doesn't need to be 'a thing' anymore, but saying that, it was a story that I felt like I needed to tell because I'm at a point now and just before I made that film, I was at a point where I was sort of coming to terms with my queerness more and you hide it for so long and you have the first hurdle of telling friends, then the second hurdle of telling family. I love my Mum and Dad now, but when I first came out to them they completely disowned me for quite a substantial amount of time. That was quite tough, but I rebelled against that and went off into the streets as camp as anything. With that cam torrents of abuse and then obviously there was a moment when I was in a relationship and we were walking down the street, holding hands. Before I knew it, we were attacked by three people and I don't remember it much. I just remember blows to the head, it being painful, then suddenly my ears really ringing and not really being able to see. That was kind of it.
So then from that point on, I completely policed myself and I then tried to 'play straight'. Not that there is a 'playing straight' or 'playing gay', it's just who you are. I was just like "I am going to deliberately rough up my voice and lower my voice. I would not stand out, I'd wear really baggy jeans and a grey hoodie and just try to blend in. So it was important for me to get over that hurdle. I got into my thirties and was like "I've got to start embracing who I am a bit more". I like to be camp as Christmas, but I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin again, so it was really important that I then told that story because I haven't really talked about it that much. What you see in the film is very much kinda what happens. There's hardly any dialogue in the film and that was an intentional thing. I wanted to show the attack, which was amazing to film and hard to film. It was weird remembering it happen, then seeing it happen again. I had a great fight director, my fiance, Richard Hay. Also him doing that fight was quite special as well and he carried it out in such a careful and considered way. Once I'd done that I just felt so much better for doing it. So, I think it's important for those stories to be told. I think there's so many stories like that still out there, especially with the transsexual community right now. Whenever someone's got something that they're repressing or hiding or there are a number of people who are opposed to that or against that, that's when we need to tell those stories.
Q. Your newest short film 'S*!t' was filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic. How was this unique film making experience?
A. I'd been on BAFTA Crew throughout 2019, which is a great programme for up and coming directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and composers, the list is endless. I was focusing on that for a while. Then corona happened and I lost loads of directing work, just like everyone else, lost loads of work. It was at that point I started writing a few short things and then BAFTA Crew randomly cam in and said "we want to challenge you to make a 90-second film, in lockdown". This was quite a while after lockdown had come into effect, now people were starting to say "maybe film and TV can get back up and running". BAFTA Crew then threw a load of us together and that is where S*!t came from. The difficulty came from, it had to be in one location, the cast had to social distance, we had to wear face masks, we couldn't have too many actors, it was also 90 seconds. It was great, it was weird. I'll be honest, I was anxious for the whole day. I tried not to show it. I like to try and remain calm when I direct. I'm kinda like a swan on top, but underneath... I was very anxious on filming day because I had this mask on, on a really boiling hot day, it was like 32 degrees and the sun was blazing and we were all sweating. Talking to an actor and giving direction 2 meters apart is really challenging. It was very odd. There were points when I had to sort of break social distancing a little bit and I just had to take my mask off because I had two great actors who were just a dream, Laura Evelyn and Liam Ballantyne, they were really great, but there was a point when I was like "I've just gotta rip this mask off" because they can't connect with what I'm saying, the eyes aren't quite connecting. The minute I did, it felt normal. So I still kept my distance. Even our make-up artist had to have separate boxes for each of the actors, individual brushes, lots of hand sanitiser. The base was at my house because we couldn't get a studio anywhere, so then I had to put plastic sheets everywhere that led to the toilet and there was hand sanitiser at the entrance of the toilet, in the toilet, it was such a bizarre experience, but I'm really glad I made it, I'm really glad the story just popped from my head. It really came from a lot of girl friends talking about their experiences of men and how men like to act like God's gift. There's one line when she says "You think you're a 10 in a room of 5's", or there's another one that says "you're acting all 'Long Dong Silver'". It's finished, it's done, it's brilliant, it's really funny, we've just a load of official selections from festivals which is really nice. The weird thing is, the festivals aren't really happening this year, they're all online now. So we're at a lot of great film festivals, but the online versions of them. We will then release it on Vimeo in a couple of months and then BAFTA are going to release it as well on their website and hopefully we'll get a screening there once lockdown's over and we can get back in the cinema.
We want to thank Simon Wegrzyn again for his time and wisdom and we hope that you enjoyed this Q&A summary.
Bye for now