Q&A with Emily Ringe, Norwich University of the Arts

Is the traditional “film school” model of short film production still relevant today and can it really prepare students for future modes of storytelling? Join lecturers and alumni from the BA (Hons) Film and Moving Image Production at Norwich University of the Arts for a Showcase Screening and Panel Discussion at this year’s ASFF. This post-screening discussion explores the future of storytelling and its relevance to industry-focused higher education. We speak to filmmaker Emily Ringe ahead of the event.

ASFF: Your film examines the close relationship of Bernie and Mills through a sequence of memories. Where did the idea for the piece come from?
ER: I had a bit of a time coming up with an idea in the summer preceding my final year because I had too many conflicting thoughts about how I wanted it to look due to my passion of cinematography, so I found myself thinking too visually to be able to set a story in stone. However I had a conversation with my brother and he told me to think about the types of films I was drawn to and after listing an extensive array I realised my favourite type of story is that of a physical journey that characters take, along the way discovering things about one another and making bond, so basically a kind of road trip story.

I suppose the idea also came from a few sessions we had at the end of year two where we were asked to sit and basically think deeply for a while about how things made us feel, which made me think about how horrible I would feel if I couldn’t just be with my own thoughts and feel happy and how other people must really struggle with the concept of being alone with themselves, which ultimately got me thinking about loss. Over the summer I also took a few walks to interesting places with my friends and just shot some stills of them and from this I found myself piecing together a story, I definitely feel like I need to get out in the open to really be able to think properly and to get inspired as apposed to sitting, starring at a screen and hoping for the best. I also knew I wanted two characters and I was playing with the relationship they would have for a while, thinking about mother daughter bonds, brother sister etc. but I ended on best friends because ultimately the best scripts come from really knowing about a subject and I thought that best friends is something I could really write something interesting about.

ASFF: Do you draw on your own experiences when searching for storylines?
ER: One hundred and ten percent yes I did. The whole script is based around experiences I’ve had with close friends at childhood, through to right now (the embarrassing stories are the most true). I really just thought to myself how would myself and my friends talk when we go fro walks (which is a lot because I have always lived in he countryside) and just put it all into script form. When I went to start writing the film I literally sat down and just wrote out a thirteen-page dialogue that I would have with my best friend. I then chopped it down accordingly, added more fictional elements in order to emphasise the main themes I wanted to get across and there was my script. I think the final script was about twelve pages but because it is all dialogue is worked itself out to seven minutes perfectly.

ASFF: Where We Were explores what it means to be a friend. In your own words, how would you define this word, and how is this realised in the film?
ER: To me a friend is someone who can be there for you without even being present. Just knowing that you have someone who will always look out for you despite any kind of distance or circumstance is something I think truly defines friendship. I think that my film embodies this idea and I feel that most people could be able to relate to this kind of friendship. I think that Mill’s character approaches certain subjects with humour and sarcasm knowing full well that Bernie needs some form of relief from the inner grief she is feeling and to me, the friend that knows what we need at any time without having to ask or say anything about it, is normally the friend that we can count on for anything.

ASFF: As a filmmaker, which creatives and styles inspire your practice?
ER: As my main aspiration as a filmmaker is to become a DOP one day, a lot of my initial influences were cinematographers. For example, Roger Deakins is my all time favourite DOP and I take inspiration from him a lot. For this I found myself in particular looking at the Coen Brother remake of True Grit because I loved the outdoor visuals and how everything looked so wide open and free. This film is obviously also about a bond formed between two characters over the course of a journey which is another reason for taking inspiration from it. Again another DOP whom I find inspiration in is Conrad L Hall, in particular in, ‘Road To Perdition’ which is one of my favourite films of all time. Again I found myself trying to find a story that would suit this kind of dark and rainy atmosphere but ultimately I found again that the reason I love this film so much is because of the development of the relationship of the father and son throughout their journey to find some kind of solace.

There are so many other influences for my film, films such as John Hughes’ ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ again for being huge again on character development through a physical journey. I grew up watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer so the natural kind of dialogue Joss Whedon writes is something I feel I was inspired by when writing my script just because it was something I had listened to time and time again when I was younger and is something I feel makes characters much more relatable and real, as well dialogue wise I found myself inspired by ‘American Werewolf In London’ because of the first scene when Jack and David are basically talking nonsense but it just defines their friendship straight away. ‘Stand By Me’ played a big part for me as well for this same reason with dialogue and visually it was always in the back of my mind.

Lastly I feel that in a way I am always inspired by people like Steven Spielberg because Nostalgia is a big part of filmmaking for me because the whole reason I love film is because it reminds me of being little and being taken in by these huge stories like that of ‘E.T.’ or ‘Jurassic Park’ that seemed like they could be completely real because the characters and interactions felt that way.

ASFF: Can you speak about your time at Norwich University of the Arts, and describe how the institution has supported your creative development?
ER: My time at NUA was easily the best three years of my life so far. I remember when applying for university in the first place finding them and not wanting to go anywhere else because it just felt so right for me. The course is all practical which was perfect for me as an aspiring DOP coming from a background in art and photography, as it meant I got to learn everything necessary to be able to go from shooting stills to shoot moving image.

As you have to work in teams for each project the course effectively gets you networking straight away, finding other creative’s with other strong suits that you felt like you would want to work with, due to these projects and working with a lot of people and closely over quite a few weeks, I have definitely made a solid network of filmmaking friends who I know would be willing and able to help if any of us had an upcoming project we needed a crew on. I think its also hard not to feel inspired in Norwich anyway, its such a great city filled with creativity and the University is located slap bang in the centre so you’re never far from something exciting going on either.

I was always pushed to achieve my full potential at NUA, especially in third year when I went in incredibly scared of what was going to happen through the year and about graduating and finally coming out with a ten-thousand word Research Report and a film selected for the annual Cinema City Screening in Norwich. I felt like there was a lot of support if you needed it and the tutors would always help you realise you’re ambitions. It is not a course for someone expecting to just get through by waving a camera around for three years, there is a lot of work and commitment involved and you need to put in everything you have in order to get everything out of it and to show you have the work ethic needed to be successful in the film industry. I would it all over again, exactly the same if I had the chance!

1. Emily Ringe, Where We Were.