Writer Mandy Lee and her team have been awarded the BAFTA New Talent Award for Best Drama 2016 for new film Hula. Shot in the Scottish Highlands, the piece follows a group of older women living in a rural and remote location. Co-writer for the drama, Lee also worked on the script for Love Cake, which premiered at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2013. Directed by Eleanor Yule, Love Cake is a romantic comedy about loneliness, desire, transgression and cake. Lee completed her MFA at Screen Academy Scotland and has since continued to work on short and feature film projects as well as a TV series. We speak to the writer about her career since ASFF 2013 and find out about the BAFTA winning piece, Hula.
ASFF: First of all, congratulations for winning the BAFTA New Talent Award for Best Drama 2016. What does winning this accolade mean to you?
ML: Thanks. It’s always fantastic to have your work recognised – everyone likes a bit of validation, particularly by such a prestigious organisation as BAFTA! We’re extra proud to win this, especially as Hula has a core all-female team – with two co-writers,director, producer and lead actress – and the plot deals with some of the issues affecting middle-aged women (a group not always represented on film). Hopefully the biggest benefit from winning the New Talent Award for Best Drama, will be that it boosts Hula’s chances of being seen and reaching a wider audience than it might do otherwise. The world needs more Scottish films that showcase the many facets of life and the talent we have. And in general, the world needs more comedy!
ASFF: Love Cake premiered in ASFF’s Official Selection back in 2013. How did this exposure help to promote the film and your ongoing work?
ML: I was choosy about where I wanted Love Cake to premiere (you only get one chance to premiere after all), and I wanted it to screen in a welcoming environment that embraced quirky, universal stories with an arts aesthetic. I had also admired ASFF’s programming from previous years. I was really excited when Aesthetica accepted it and it gave the film (and me as an early career writer) a boost. It definitely helped Love Cake to start its festival run on the right footing, with a little boutique-style, Aesthetica-approved ‘tick’ against its name.
ASFF: Can you tell us more about the process of making new piece Hula? Where did the idea come from and what are the challenges of filming in Scotland?
ML: Hula was inspired by its director, Robin Haig’s observations of older women living in the Scottish Highlands. I jumped at the chance to co-write the project as it featured such an intriguing, multi-layered and very ‘real’ lead character in Clara, played by acclaimed actress Blythe Duff. Short films are challenging wherever they’re made, but we were lucky to have lots of support from Robin’s home town of Dornie, where it was shot. Local businesses were generous supporters, and there were lots of experienced hands on the cast and crew. The weather was better than expected too – something you can’t exactly rely on in Scotland.
ASFF: How has your overall practice developed in time between Love Cake in 2013 and Hula in 2016?
ML: I was still finding my writing ‘voice’ with Love Cake, but since then, my confidence and experience have grown along with my interest in unusal, strong female roles and deep fascination with the forces that drive us as human beings. I’ve also discovered (unexpectedly) a real love of co-writing; I think Hula really benefited from the shared experiences of the core team, which allowed Robin, co-writer Clare Nicol, and myself, to refine the script. I’ve also enjoyed being part of the writing team on a BAFTA-winning children’s TV series, and I’m currently co-writing on a feature set in India about the unusual female friendships that develop between fans of a rock group.
ASFF: Can you provide us with details of any upcoming projects on the horizon?
ML: We’re currently developing Hula as a TV series, exploring more of the world that Clara is in and the other characters around her. Working on Hula has also reignited my passion for shorts, so I’m considering a couple of options at the moment, perhaps working on a more lo-fi basis. But ultimately, I’m keen to make my first feature, so as well as the previously mentioned India-set feature, I’m also developing a Scottish-based romantic comedy, and a couple of other exciting things.