Indy8’s Jake Dypka on working with poet Hollie McNish on punchy short ‘Embarrassed’
Young women hunching awkwardly on cold toilet lids, surrounded by graffiti. Old prudes and pervs throwing looks that are by turns lascivious and disapproving. Billboards plastered with oversized funbags that loom over the passers-by below. Spoken word artist Hollie McNish’s poem ‘Embarrassed’, about the persistent social weirdness around breastfeeding, is packed with visceral images. That’s why when she and director Jake Dypka decided to collaborate on a short for Channel 4’s Random Act series, it was the obvious choice for a filmic reinterpretation.
“Specifically that’s a big one for Hollie and it was one of my favourites for turning into a film. Just all that imagery. I knew it could be really photographic,” says Jake, who is a director at Indy8, Independent’s content arm. For the YDA-winning filmmaker, Embarrassed was quite literally an embarrassment of visual riches. “I had a clear idea because the images came crashing into my brain. That made it easy to know what to shoot.”
As for the poet, whose works have reignited the spoken word form and brought social and political issues to the YouTube generation, Embarrassed was a deeply personal piece of work. One of the most striking visual themes in the film is women hiding in dirty public toilets to feed their babies, harking back to the day Hollie wrote the poem. She had retreated to the loos in shame and, there and then, started writing on her phone.
“Women breastfeeding make me think of beautiful old paintings,” says Jake, who found the juxtaposition of maternal love and the filth of public restrooms fascinating.
But while the images were easy enough to conjure up – Jake says the original treatment for the film is strikingly close to the finished short – getting the project from page to screen was a different matter.
“We had been flirting with the idea of doing something together for a while and if we did it I wanted to do it justice. With filmmaking though, money does unfortunately come into it,” says Jake, who has been friends with Hollie since secondary school. (“We all thought she was going to be prime minister, rule the world!” he says of his old school friend.)
Eventually Hollie won a small grant and Jake spotted an opportunity to pitch for Channel 4’s Random Acts short film thread had popped up. The pair went for it.
“Channel 4 are doing something brilliant with Random Acts. How many opportunities are there on TV for people to be genuinely creative nowadays? They were brilliant to work with. They liked the idea, signed it off and just said ‘get going’,” says Jake.
Working on a short film jam-packed with so many shots and individual images on a small budget was always going to be a challenge.
“Because we had so little money and we were fitting around peoples’ schedules it was a really disjointed shoot – which isn’t the best way to make a film!” recalls Jake, explaining that the tricky schedules led to the short having two DoPs (Robin Fox, Leon Willis) and two producers. For the first two days of shooting, producer Tom Ford helped Jake kick the project into gear, while Sophie Murphy stepped in and stepped up for the final two days. Jake himself took on the location scout role, cycling round London in 30-degree heat.
After the shoot came the edit, which presented its own unique puzzle for Jake who edited the film too. He’d never edited anything quite like it – it wasn’t a music video, it wasn’t a commercial or a ‘typical’ short film. “It’s not a music video; songs are rhythmic throughout but her poem moves through different moods, different tempos and her voice moves from soft when she’s talking about her daughter to angry and hard. When I was doing the edit and music I thought, oh my God, how am I going to fit all that in?”
A year after the film was finished, it has been broadcast on Channel 4 and since the short was broadcast last week both Hollie and Jake have been inundated with messages from well-wishers. Going forward, Jake is keen to work on more projects with Hollie. In the meantime, he’s got a new collaboration that’s recently kicked off with the band Communion – he’ll be art directing all of the band’s visual output.
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