By Rosie Westhoff

22 March 2017 - 18:21

'If you're watching the film, I hope you remember the wonder, longing, awkwardness and joy of your first crush.' Film still (c) 'Crush', directed by Rosie Westhoff
'If you're watching the film, I hope you remember the wonder, longing, awkwardness and joy of your first crush.' Film still ©

'Crush', directed by Rosie Westhoff

The short film Crush was chosen as part of five short films on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, which form this year's #FiveFilms4Freedom. Rosie Westhoff, the writer, director, and producer of Crush, talks about the experience of making her first short film. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell us about the film.

My short film, Crush, is about a 14-year-old girl named Ella who is on her way to school one day getting the train, and sees another girl across the platform. It's about her first crush, and those feelings of wanting to see her again, and not seeing her again, and missing her, and wondering what these feelings are that she's feeling, and then having that awkward moment again with her.

Why was that a story you wanted to tell?

This is my first short film, and I had been writing quite a few short stories and scripts in the lead-up to making Crush. When I wrote it there was something about it that I just couldn't get the idea and the characters out of my head.

I remember that first crush so vividly. Those feelings of awkwardness and how intense it can be when maybe you've never had them before. So, because it was my first short film, I really wanted to be able to be emotionally attached to it. So I was really invested, and I could tell it properly and well.

What were the biggest challenges you came up against when making the film?

Probably the biggest challenge in pre-production and also during the shoot was the fact that we were filming on a public railway station with two 14-year-old girls. I remember being quite stressed out in the lead-up to the shoot because we didn't have the release forms for the actual station until about a week out from the shoot day. So, that was quite stressful, just thinking, you know, you're really attached to the way this location looks. And I thought, ‘Oh no. We're not gonna get it, and everything's going to have to be pushed back’. Luckily then, a week out, it was all OK.

But then, of course, on the day, it was quite hard, because you can only have a certain amount of equipment on the platform. It's still open to the public, so you've got people walking through the shot. It's also quite high-risk, not only for crew, but also the two young actors, being so close to working trains. Also on the actual train, we had to deal with the stage, and everybody walking through the shot, and people looking at the camera, and all that sort of stuff.

Working on a train platform sounds like a challenge.

We did a schedule for when all the trains were coming in, so we knew when they were due. But there were certain shots that we felt we could only get in one take. On the actual day, because everything is going so quickly, you don't think about what's going to happen in the edit, you just think, ‘we need to get that’ or ‘we need to go again’.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I'm so unromantic. To be honest with you, no, I don't really believe in love at first sight. But I do 100 per cent believe in infatuation at first sight, and lust at first sight, and desire at first sight, and all those kinds of feelings that make you think it's love at first sight. That's definitely what Ella is going through.

How did you decide to make the film with almost no dialogue?

It developed out of a short story, and then after sketching out the short story, I scripted it. I decided not to include dialogue because when you have a crush on somebody, it's so internalised. It's all about you and your feelings. Also, the fact that she is on a public railway station, and nobody else is around, means there's no opportunity for dialogue.

The film is all about Ella and her internal feelings, so it's important that we are taken on this journey only through her emotions. If there had been more dialogue, or more awkward moments between them with words, it would have maybe taken away from that real intensity and awkwardness. It actually says more that they don't talk.

Can you tell us about how you used animation in the film?

The film opens with a little short animation. Originally I wanted to open the film with animation because I felt like it set it up as a film for teenagers and kids. I hoped that rather than just opening with a girl on a train platform, opening with a kind of little kitschy cartoon might get kids' attention and draw them in and say this is a film for them, rather than a film for parents.

I think it works because it sets up the character of Ella. She's on that cusp of childhood and teenage-hood, because we go from this childish cartoon to her being semi-serious on the way to school. So, I think that the animation helps to do that.

What do you hope the audience reaction to the film will be?

If you're an adult and you're watching the film, I really hope that you remember those emotions of wonder, and longing, and awkwardness, and joy, and just those feelings associated with your first crush.

I do feel like the film is for teenagers and kids. First, I hope they like it and enjoy it. Maybe it's far-fetched, but I would hope that maybe they'd watch it and think, 'Oh, I've been going through this' and 'Maybe everybody feels like this?'. I just hope that they feel like it's normal to have all those awkward, intense feelings.

That moment when you are between the age of ten and 15, or whenever your first crush is, it's such a formative time in your life. When your emotions are changing, and you're going through puberty and all that sort of stuff, it has an important influence on who you become or the relationships you will have. Those first feelings are when you question the type of person you are, and potentially the type of person you want to be.

What does it mean to you to be part of #FiveFilms4Freedom?

When I got the email, I was very, very excited and quite shocked. I just didn't think that this little film about a moment in my life, and loads of other girls' and young boys' lives, would be selected for such a big initiative. It's amazing.

Why do you think an initiative like #FiveFilms4Freedom is important in 2017?

I find this one a little bit hard to answer, only because I don't want to sound like I'm being all preachy about it. But unfortunately, it's 2017, and you would think that this would just be a no-brainer, that love would just be a human right. Love is love, and anyone has a right to it.

Unfortunately, it's not like that. This campaign, this initiative, is going out to 180 countries around the world. Especially because I'm based in the UK – but I'm Australian-born – it really saddens me to think that my friends and my family and people in the country that I was born in are still fighting for marriage equality, in quite a progressive country. It's still very important in 2017.

#FiveFilms4Freedom is the first global digital LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) short film programme and is brought to you for a third year by the British Council and the British Film Institute (BFI).

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