By Bianca Garner
After watching Angela How‘s hard-hitting and very real drama/thriller “Bullied” I was very keen to speak to her about the development of the film and her inspiration behind it. As a child I was subjected to bullying at school and it did have a significant impact on my overall perception of myself and my confidence. I found myself really relating to the character of Charlotte (played by the brilliant Jacinta Klassen) and I wasn’t quite aware of how much the film had impacted me until afterwards when I was coming up with the questions for How. There’s such a rawness and sense of realism, that this story could have only come from someone who had lived through the effects of bullying. In this interview below, How discusses her inspiration behind the picture, the struggles of casting and the female filmmakers who influenced her as well as her next upcoming project which sounds fascinating.
Could you give our readers some background into ‘Bullied’ and how you developed the story and what inspired you to make this film?
Angela How: I wanted to make a thriller about children, so I turned to my childhood memories to identify the one thing that made the deepest (good or bad) impression on me then. I was bullied as a child, but parked all those bad experiences away, in the depths of my mind. When revisiting my childhood memories, all those experiences – the fear, anxiety, stress, the fight or flight sensations – came rushing back. It was very clear to me then that childhood bullying is the perfect topic to tackle in the thriller genre. I was working with a very small budget, and needed to keep locations to a minimum. At the time, I thought that filming outside could bring down costs, and so explored in my mind a story that could encompass the outdoors, and be location-specific. During that period, I was also taking our puppy to dog obedience school, which is located in an expansive suburban park. I observed that the park was under-utilised. I thought then that the sheer size of the park and the lack of people meant anyone could walk through it, and get up to things, and no one would know. My mind started to wander, and before I knew it, I married the location with the topic, and came up with the story.
I developed the story on my own, and with the generous feedback of fellow screenwriting / filmmaking friends.
The film explores some very dark and adult themes, and the film takes an interesting direction half way through. Why did you decide to change the film’s antagonist and how did you work with your actors to develop their characters?
AH: I don’t see the direction of the film as having changed – it remains the same, with the A-story through line – Charlotte’s need to address the consequences of what she’d done – running all the way to the end.
Childhood bullying comes in different forms, and is not only child-on-child, but can also be adult-on-child. What people think is a change in direction is really a B-story, that allows the theme of childhood bullying to be explored in a different way. The B-story also allows the protagonist to address her A-story, by being active in changing the course of her journey. Metaphorically, the two stories are linked and speak to the same theme. There’s no change in the antagonist neither. They are two parallel stories, with a different antagonist in each storyline.
As a victim of bullying, I don’t recognise bullies as individuals. The recognition is in the antagonistic bully energy exerted. This may not be a perfect analogy, but imagine yourself being knocked over by a strong tide. You don’t recognise the individual water particles, but the force of the wave knocking you over, and your instincts that kick in to help you survive.
During the audition process, I conducted interviews with most of the actors, and talked to them about their experiences with bullying. I wanted to make sure that it is a topic they are familiar with, and understand. Once the cast was finalised, the actors and I spoke a little bit about character backgrounds and backstory. I also allowed the actors to come up with ideas about their characters, for the actors to embody their characters, and to bring things to the table. I believe deeply that a collaborative approach with actors (and other creative crew) is the best way to enrich any story.
Could you discuss the casting process? The young actresses are really wonderful in their roles, and seem very natural and professional. I especially loved Jacinta Klassen in the leading role, and thought she had an amazing emotional range.
AH: Yes, Jacinta did a fabulous job, and does have an amazing range.
With no budget for a casting director, I conducted the casting myself over several months. I auditioned countless of actors, especially children, for the different roles. I met Jacinta through this process. During her first audition, I knew that Jacinta was the one, but asked her back for a callback, just to be sure. When I saw Jacinta’s callback with Lulu Fitz (whom I also knew was the one for the role of Brenda at her first audition), and their screen energy together, I knew then that I had found both my key actors. Jacinta and Lulu are naturals and had the perfect level of maturity and innocence that I was looking for. They made my job really easy, and were absolute joys to work with. I can’t wait to see more of their work in the future.
The ending had a very ambiguous, dreamlike feeling to it with Charlotte and Brenda sitting on the bench together. What was your intention with this ending and did you want to leave the film open-ended?
AH: The scene at the end of the film happens after a major and frightening experience for Charlotte. I imagine her being shell-shocked, and relieved at the same time. I also imagine her contemplating what has just unfolded, and questioning whether she’s deserving of the experience. Brenda’s appearance reassures her, and points out to Charlotte all the goodness and blessings she has. Whether it’s imagined or not, I let the audience decide. I have my understanding of what happened, but want to leave it open to interpretation.
What has been viewers’ response to the film and what do you want viewers to take away from the film?
AH: I’ve had viewers tell me that they really enjoyed the film, and found it powerful, and entertaining. They particularly enjoyed the fact that the film explores dark themes, and features some great performances. There have also been trolls online who said some not-so-nice things, but that’s what trolls do, and I don’t respond.
I want viewers to think about the episodes of bullying they have witnessed or experienced, and about the actions they may have taken or not taken to help the victim. I also want bullies to reflect on their actions, the harm they have caused, to read this film as a cautionary tale to them, and recognise the error of their ways. Tables can and do turn, so bullies beware.
We focus mainly on female directors, do you have any favourite female directors and have you been influenced by any of their films in your own work?
AH: Some of my favourite female directors include Agnes Varda, Margerethe Von Trotta, Claire Denis, Sylvia Chang, Ann Hui, Kathryn Bigelow, Karyn Kusama, and Celine Sciamma. The influence of their films in my work is a definite. Sciamma’s work, ‘Tomboy’ in particular, is a film that I referenced a lot with ‘Rock Sugar’ / ‘Bullied’. Her work with young people is always such a joy to watch.
What’s next for you?
AH: I am currently attached to direct ‘My Eyes’ (working title), an Asian Australian feature length romance about an everyday working mother being forced to confront a past lover to save the vision of her only child. It is currently in late development. I also continue to develop other script ideas to direct, for both film and television.
Thank you for Angela How for her time and for talking to In Their Own League. You can find out more about “Bullied” along with where to purchase the film here.