Published on April 3rd, 2017 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Sarah Deakins
With over 60 professional acting credits in film and television and some exciting new endeavours in directing, Sarah Deakins is a creative force to be reckoned with.
Her newest project, Yellow, is an ambitious pilot that she hopes will be the first in an anthology film series written and directed by Canadian women.
As Yellow finds itself in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign, Sarah Deakins spoke to us to share more about how the project came to be and what she’s learned along the way.
Can you start by telling us more about you and Yellow?
I’ve been an actor for most of my life and a few years ago I realized I wanted to have more control over the types of stories I was putting out into the world. A friend of mine, Jason Goode had directed a film I wrote called Late and it went to Cannes as part of Telefilm Canada’s Not Short On Talent program. I was lucky to have Brightlight Pictures take me under their wing when I decided to direct my next film myself, Greece and it went on to win over 30 awards on the film festival circuit.
I spent much of the following two years shadowing established directors on the sets of various TV series (Hannibal, Killjoys, Wayward Pines) and although this was extremely helpful in learning about the politics of working on a network show, I had a conversation with one of the executive producers on one of these shows, and she explained to me that they had only had two female directors on their show that season, one of whom was very well established and the other who had never directed TV before but had written and directed seven feature films, had the best reel they had ever seen for their show, and they still had to bend over backwards to get her approved by the network. So, she said, It’s nice that you made a short film, but…
It was clear that gaining access to series TV directing was not going to happen for me through shadowing and having a few short films to show. I started thinking about all the women like me who wanted to get into this world, who wanted to direct series TV in Canada and were making their own work out of the passion for it, but also wanted a way to make a living in their chosen field. It is so tough to break through, and I started thinking about what if we made an anthology series that was exclusively written and directed by women?
Yellow was a long short film that I had been developing and I realized it was the perfect length for a pilot. From there, I thought what if I did a seven part anthology series, with each episode titled after a different color of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)? We could use Yellow to pitch the series, and attach up-and-coming female directors and writers from all walks of life in Canada, all ages, races and sexual orientations, so as to tell a wide range of stories. The series would have the theme of human connection, which is strongly illustrated in Yellow, and I want that to run through the whole series, but other than that, the stories would be up to the women we end up working with on this. It’s quite Black Mirror-esque in that each episode will be completely different, but with a recurring theme.
The idea has been evolving and growing since then. I want to use established women directors to mentor the up and comers, and the main thing is to create a platform for women who have something to say, have a promising body of their own work, and need some more experience and a forum where they can all cross promote and have a community that is their own.
I had sent the script to Shawn Williamson and Arielle Boisvert at Brightlight Pictures, and though they liked the script a lot, Arielle was most interested and excited about the bigger picture idea of a series exclusively written and directed by women. So here we are, raising money for the pilot episode of the series, Yellow. We have a “who’s who” of Canadian talent attached, and I’m excited to move forward in this process!
“There’s something about connecting with art that connects us deeper to our own humanity.”
What is the inspiration for it?
The inspiration for Yellow itself is from a day I spent at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I heard snippets of conversations, observed people’s behaviors and started making up stories in my mind about the characters wandering around in this place build for contemplation and reflection. People are different in those spaces. Things slow down, their humanity floats to the surface. There’s something about connecting with art that connects us deeper to our own humanity and I wanted to write something set in that world. So Yellow follows ten characters over the course of one ordinary afternoon in an art gallery, but on this particular afternoon, each of these characters experiences some sort of crossroads in their lives.
How does your specific part of the project, Yellow, fit in with the rest of the series?
Yellow is the jumping off place for the series. It should set the tone and the theme of the series and hopefully is engaging in a way that makes people want to see more stories in this vein.
How can people get involved in helping this project come to life?
We’re running a Kickstarter campaign for the pilot right now.
Other than that, we are looking to create a community around the project and a buzz of expectation for the series, so spreading the word really helps!
What have been some of your most precious career highlights?
Working on Greece with Brightlight Pictures was a dream come true. This is probably the one and only time in my life when a piece will come out looking exactly as it did in my head when I was writing it. Truly, writing and directing, having control over every aspect of how a story is told from conception through post-production (one of my favorite parts of the process) is the highlight so far. I had no idea I would love it this much.
You’ve done a lot of acting to go with your recent shift towards directing. What advice would you give to other actors who want to direct?
I think actually Jason Goode, who directed Late had an interesting approach. He wasn’t a writer, but he sought out short film scripts that had an element of something he wanted to learn about or work on in his directing. So each time, I remember him telling me, he picked a project that had something he thought he needed to work on in his development as a director. So, while my first film was set primarily in one room, with just two actors, I am now working on a piece that has a much wider scope, with ten characters all interweaving, and a sense of movement that my first film did not have.
I would also say to seek out scripts or write ones that really move you. It’s the only way I know how to work. Filmmaking is hard. The amount of prep before you even get to shoot, raising money, promoting etc. probably take up more time than the actual time on set and in post. So make sure you love and are truly passionate about the subject matter. If you are going to work that hard, it may as well be on something you really believe in and think is important for you to be doing.
“I’ve always felt that if I’m doing something, I’m going to do it to the absolute best of my ability.”
What is the biggest challenge for you as an actor or director and what steps do you take to overcome it?
As a filmmaker, raising money is always the hardest part. I hate asking people for money. I hate being in people’s faces, or feeling like I am bugging them with constant posts about my project. I’m still learning to overcome that icky feeling I get when asking for help in this manner, but it helps to have support, and a team who believe in you and what you are doing. It can be isolating and you can feel very alone in that process, but if you just start, then you have to follow through, and I’ve always felt that if I’m doing something, I’m going to do it to the absolute best of my ability. So I learn how to make memes at three in the morning to thank the people who put money into the film that day, and I send letters to people personally, and I take marketing and fundraising people for coffee and pick their brains. Information is power, and though I am always still learning, I think seeking out that information from people who have done this before me is how I work through my fears.
What’s the most rewarding part of being an actor and director?
The most rewarding part of being an actor is sitting in the story. Being immersed in another life and taking that emotional roller coaster. I adore that process.
The most rewarding part for me so far in being a director is seeing it all come together in post. That process of seeing the story strengthened by the perfect cut, or the swell of music at the exact right moment, or the lone church bell chiming in the background that you layer in during an achingly lonely moment…that is where the story really becomes magical and I get such joy from that part of the process.
What film-related books and authors have been influential in your creative journey?
As an actor, I use Larry Moss’ book, The Intent to Live whenever I am building a character and as a filmmaker I love the book How Not To Make A Short Film by Roberta Monroe and The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje, a great resource and inspiration when one is in post.
Where can people find out more about you and stay updated about the status of Yellow and In Person?
Currently you can stay in the loop with our Kickstarter campaign.
You can join us on Facebook at Yellow, A Sarah Deakins Film.
And Twitter @YELLOWthefilm1.
Thanks to Sarah Deakins for speaking with us!
Watch for more of Sarah Deakins and Yellow in the weeks and months ahead!