Interview #33: Rebecca Harris-Smith

Rebecca Harris-Smith is an Award-winning scriptwriter (Out of Time, Focus International Film Festival 2017, Honourable Mention at Paris Film Festival) and director (Mirrors, Royal Wolf Film Awards 2019; House of Screaming Death, Midlands Movies Awards, 2018) based in West Midlands.

We recently spoke with Rebecca about her films and the experiences that came with them.

What or who inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Originally, I wanted to be a music video director. I’m a huge Manic Street Preachers fan and I loved their videos. I remember watching the video to ‘If You Tolerate This…’ and saying “I want to do that.” I went to Walsall College to see what course I could do to give me the skills to be a music video director, and I was accepted onto the Media course the same day. My favourite part of the course was filming and editing, and so the short films we made were what started my love of filmmaking.

In 2012, I was asked by Kaush Patel (Pat The Bull Films) to come to a meeting about a film that was being made. I went and met with David Hastings (Lightbeam Productions) and ended up working as co-director of a segment of anthology film Checking In, which was the most amazing experience. The pre-production, the production and the post-production of the film was something I hadn’t really experienced before and I loved it.

On location – Checking In

From there, I was part of the directorial team for the second anthology film House of Screaming Death with Dave and Kaushy – I’d been asked to write the script for a segment of the film, but I hadn’t written a script before so I asked my good friend Mark Lees to write it and I would direct it. This film was far more intense as I was now casting actors, helping find locations, helping raise money through Indiegogo, producing filming schedules, finding costumes and props; basically everything that goes into making a film was on all of our shoulders.

Since then (thanks to Dave, Kaushy and Mark’s faith in me!) I have written scripts for short films Mirrors, Chloe and Out of Time, and then went on to direct and produce Mirrors and Out Of Time. Chloe has mostly been filmed (during 2016 and a total reshoot in 2018) but there are three scenes left and then it needs editing.
I really want to make another film with Dave and Kaushy soon! Kaushy was the producer on Out Of Time so he’s probably sick of me but they’re such a great team and I love working with them.

What films have been most influential to you and your filmmaking?

I don’t think there are any films that have been influential in particular; I watch as many films as I can and I think they all influence in some way. I do have films that I will go back to:

Dracula (1992) is one I remember watching when I was younger and being amazed by. I have a book somewhere that accompanied the film with behind-the-scenes photos.

Star Wars (original trilogy) – I wanted to be Princess Leia so bad! I really enjoyed these films as a kid, and the recent films (Rogue One, Force Awakens, Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker) have made me so happy! I love the idea of working on either the films or the TV series. Imagine working on The Mandalorian. Amazing.

Star Wars A New Hope
Star Wars A New Hope (1977) – Dir: George Lucas

Shaun of The Dead/Hot Fuzz/Worlds End/Baby Driver – Edgar Wright is one of my favourite directors. I think it’s his use of music – Chloe was originally a music video idea for Pull Tiger Tail’s song Light Turns Red and it evolved into a short film. I find music is such an integral part of my writing, and there are usually songs that I choose for certain points in a film. His Texas Switches are a joy to behold.

Bird of Prey – My god, I love this film. Cathy Yan is a genius. If I can be half as good a director as she is, I’ll be happy. The music, the cast, the script. Harley not being just a sidekick to her abusive boyfriend.

Children of Men/1917 – I want to write a film that runs like a one take; Children of Men had several one take scenes but 1917 really does feel like a one-taker (even though as a filmmaker you try and pinpoint where the cuts are!). I think Krysty Wilson-Cairns contribution for 1917 was kind of overshadowed by the fact it was directed by Sam Mendes – if it wasn’t for screenwriters, there wouldn’t be films or TV shows being made in the first place.

How would you explain your experiences of no/low budget filmmaking?

Hard work! I think the Midlands needs more investment – I remember reading about Steven Knight creating a hub but we’re still waiting. Using Indiegogo to fundraise is hit and miss as it’s like another full-time job just coming up with videos and posts for it and you aren’t guaranteed people will actually see it.

I do love low-budget filmmaking because I have control of every aspect of it as a writer-director, but I don’t like the lack of money. I’m lucky that there are people that believe in the film so much that they want to be a part of it and are willing to not be paid, but I don’t want to be doing that if I can help it. I want to be able to pay people for their hard work.

What’s your approach to working with actors?

I’ve pretty much used the same actors and I think we have a great rapport. When I was casting for Out of Time, I knew that I wanted Michelle (Cox), David (Claridge) and Tony (Gibbons) from Checking In and House of Screaming Death. Tony is in America, so that was a no-go, but Michelle and David were in.

Working with Jimm (Rennie), Tiddles (Raven), Josh (Hennion) and Susie (Lynch) was an experience as they were totally new, and I know I take a bit of getting used to. I like actors to tell me if they think a line should be different, if they aren’t happy with a take, if I’m asking them to do something that they aren’t comfortable with. I never want the actors (or the crew) to be unhappy on set, last thing I want is a toxic environment.

Rebecca with Ian McNeice

I had the absolute pleasure of working with Ian McNeice on House of Screaming Death and he is such a kind soul with a ton of patience, willing to regale us with stories while lighting and camera was being set up for the next scene. Honestly, working with him has set a precedent in how I work with actors and everyone on set.

How do you go about developing your ideas and how do you find the scriptwriting process?

I actually find developing ideas quite difficult. I get writers block a lot due to my depression. Chloe was the first script I wrote in 2015, during the filming for House of Screaming Death. It was the product of a mental breakdown, unfortunately, but the idea of isolation and being alone is apparent throughout it. Mirrors was a microshort based on a two-sentence horror story I saw on Reddit, and I couldn’t find the original writer for that.

I actually find developing ideas quite difficult. I get writers block a lot due to my depression. Chloe was the first script I wrote in 2015, during the filming for House of Screaming Death. It was the product of a mental breakdown, unfortunately, but the idea of isolation and being alone is apparent throughout it. Mirrors was a microshort based on a two-sentence horror story I saw on Reddit, and I couldn’t find the original writer for that.

There’s another microshort I’m writing which came to me when I was checking the home security cameras, one I’m writing is based on a script we filmed at college (I’m stuck on the ending) and my latest one is a ‘revenge’ film that I’ve written with Pedro Pascal in mind, based around an idea I had about someone finding a USB stick hidden in those toilet roll dispensers in public toilets.

Honestly, I sometimes just have random dreams or images in my head and I write them down and see what I can write around it. Sometimes I read a phrase and keep that somewhere; I saw ‘Night Falls’ in a book and I’m trying to think of ideas based around that.

Your most recent short film ‘Out of Time’ is doing well on the festival circuit. How did the idea come about and what were your experiences of making the film?

Out of Time was written as part of my MA degree, and literally came from an image in my head of a man in a straitjacket trying to prove he didn’t kill a room of people. It ended up being slightly different to that when it came to writing it. I really enjoyed writing something that had flashbacks – a review by Midlands Movies said it reminded them of Memento which I didn’t watch until way after the script was written.

Rebecca on location – Out Of Time

I loved making the film; the cast and crew were exceptional. The only sticking point would be the funding, as I didn’t raise enough through Indiegogo. There are so many things that can go wrong, and we had issues with locations falling through, but it went really well and everyone was brilliant. I’m so lucky that everyone involved really believed in the film.

Is there anything you’d change in the film industry?

I’d like to change the culture of the film industry. I’d like to see men being held accountable for their actions (see; Joss Whedon, Michael Weatherly, Harvey Weinstein). I’d like more women writers and directors to be trusted with blockbusters. We have to jump through hoops to be taken seriously. Two men with barely any experience (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) were given millions to make Game Of Thrones, but women have to prove how good they are first. It’s annoying.

There’s a recent study ( which shows that women accounted for 16% of directors working on the top 100 grossing films in 2020, up from 12% in 2019 and 4% in 2018. Look at Cathy Yan, Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig, Emerald Fennell, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Patty Jenkins, Dee Rees – all amazing, and yet women account for 16% of directors? You can’t tell me there aren’t enough women out there busting their guts as indie directors that should be given a chance.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a filmmaker/Producer?

Do it. People will say you can make a film on your phone, which is such an oversimplification of filmmaking, but you have to start somewhere! Find likeminded people that you can work on sets with to get experience, write your scripts. Find your niche. If I can do it, you definitely can!

What’s next for Rebecca Harris-Smith?

I’m currently writing a script I mentioned before (the revenge script that has no title) and it doesn’t actually have an ending yet. Most people write knowing what their ending is but I create the big scenes and write around them. Mark Lees is currently reading it. Ideally, I’d like to get it to Pedro Pascal, which is ridiculous and probably won’t happen, but I live in hope!

You can get in touch with Rebecca via Twitter and Web. IMDB

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