Women’s History Month: Claire Fowler

Biography

Claire Fowler is a writer-director from Wales who is based both in the US and UK. Her latest short, Salam, was the first Welsh short film to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and was one of ten shorts selected for the Short Film Award at the BFI London Film Festival. It has since screened at more than one hundred festivals and won over ten awards including the BAFTA Cymru award for best short in 2020.

When was the first time you realised you wanted to make films?

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of filmmaking, and I’ve always loved narrative in the form of reading books, drawing, and watching films. But being from a small village in North Wales it didn’t really occur to me that directing was even an option for me– which sounds ridiculous when you consider that I studied Fine Art at University. I guess my naive teenage brain thought I could be a teacher and an artist, but never a director because only posh people did that- which just goes to show that representation matters. But at University I began to make little experimental films and I became completely absorbed in the process. There was this palpable magnetic pull towards filmmaking, but there was also a huge amount of resistance from me (and my family) in the form of very practical questions such as: How do I even begin to do this? Where will I find the money for each film? How can I make a living? But I had to give in to the gradual realisation that I would not be happy unless I pursued it. To be completely honest, it still feels very far away because I don’t yet make a full-time living from directing. Sometimes I manage to for months at a time, but right now I still need a back-up for the dry periods. What we do not talk about is the fact that most people who succeed in this business have independent wealth. To make even a short film a director has to not only raise the funds for the film itself, but also factor in lost earnings for all of the days spent casting, in prepro, on-set and then in post.  If you don’t have all of the resources on hand, you still have to pay rent and bills, eat and travel and maintain other employment. It’s a real juggling act when you’re not wealthy and no one is ever going to give you extra credit for that. 

What was the last project you worked on / made?

The last project I worked on as director was actually as a director-for-hire and it was unfortunately not an enjoyable experience. The writers were great, the scripts had a lot of potential and the cast and crew were lovely, but it was low budget, corners were cut, and certain directorial decisions were taken out of my hands by the producers. It only served to weaken the end result and make the process painful. A director’s job is to bring their vision to a project. One person takes on that responsibility because design by committee is disastrous. A director-for-hire has the additional responsibility of pleasing various people– execs, writers, producers. In this situation, there is a process that should be followed to ensure that everyone is happy– for example, casting and other creative decisions (such as hiring key crew) should be made in consultation, there should be in-depth concept and tone meetings for every episode, a post-production schedule, time set aside for a director’s cut. It should be a collaboration, but one that supports the director as the creative helmer of the project. This job did not follow the usual professional process, and it did not respect my role as director. Compromise is always possible when there is respect present in a relationship, but if someone insists on imposing their vision over the director’s, then there is going to be discord on-screen and off.

What are you up to now? What is the next project you’re working on?

I am developing a feature script with BBC Films and Sorcha Bacon of Try Hard productions. It has taken pretty much the whole of the pandemic to get the contract to a place where we are all happy, but I am really excited to be working with Sorcha, and Claudia and Eva of the BBC.

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Check out the many other female filmmakers telling unique stories in Wales yma.

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