• Emily

Director Claire Oakley from Soho runner to feature film "Make Up'

Unleashing your first feature is a somewhat daunting experience for any director, especially those who’ve punched their way through the industry in order to express a unique and diverse story. Throw in the hungry millennials on high alert for new movies across lockdown and you’re in for a rocking wave of surfing audiences. Described by the New York Times as gaining “admirable control in her first film” Claire Oakley has obtained vibrant reviews for her 2020 British seaside psycho thriller. Balancing sexual desires with discovering oneself, ‘Make Up’ is a gripping piece joining LGBTQ characters on screen. I spoke to the writer-director about her journey making the multifaceted drama, diving into the topic of female lesbian filmmakers and whether the industry is gaining force in spotlighting wider equality behind the camera.

Carving her pathway to the directors chair, the 35-year-old forged alliances at university with her teenage companions, creating short films whilst studying in Scotland. She was soon pulled back to London where she planted the seeds for her career, “I put together a list of production companies and went around Soho delivering my CV.” Dedicating her time to what later would influence her creative talents, she got lucky shadowing directors on set, “I assisted Irish director John Crowley on two of his movies. I worked on the lowest level, you’re essentially just making tea, but you talk to everyone and I got to sit in on meetings and watch rehearsals. You’re learning every aspect of the industry.”

Fast forward to an array of five star reviews and the success of her movie, I asked Claire if there were moments of spontaneity on location, “Working with Nick the DOP, we had planned everything quite thoroughly, I’d worked on the script for a long time to create a solid base.” After reminiscing on the process she commented, “The scene where Ruth and Jade are playing with the wigs in the caravan… I had deliberately let them have that free rein. The actresses let themselves play out the movements and dances which found its way into the film.”

As I drew upon the topic of displaying sexual content within “Make Up”, I was intrigued to ask the director if she felt pressure on showcasing an erotic homosexual scene for the movie, “The pressure is high. I was very clear and upfront, talking a lot before in prep about how comfortable the actors would be.” Given recent backlash towards certain male directors not considering actresses complacency in sexual scenes, I asked if female directors took a bolder stand on conveying sexual scenes, “I wouldn’t say we take a bolder stance, there have been open sexual moments directed by men. However, perhaps women directors are more sensitive as to how females are being made to feel within sex scenes or be treated in certain ways.”

It becomes clear to me that her passion for creating the title was down to her sheer enthusiasm for the story. Looking at the relevance it may have inflicted onto modern day audiences, the humble director is beginning to see the impact, “It’s breaking new ground which I’ve only realised after making the film. I feel lucky that I found a story I wanted to tell in an industry where we are seeing active support for women. If I was making this film 10 years ago quite possibly it wouldn’t have been made.” She goes on, “I am proud and conscious that there are barely any other British cinema films about lesbian women made by lesbian women. There were a few, but really not many at all. I understand that it’s unique to the cinema.”

It seems Claire had a gift for forming movie clubs into her adult years. In 2016 she set up ‘Cinesisters’, a platform for female directors to meet and communicate about the industry, “I met other females directors at film festivals, we were talking about the fact it’s such a lonely job. Initially, it was 4 of us and it grew very quickly. It’s reached a snowball point as there are nearly 200 members now, we can’t all sit in one sitting room now (laughs).” Seeing the rise in women being spotlighted across film festivals, she comments on how the group helps building confidence, “There’s many networking events and talks that comes with the industry. It’s scary and at times it can unsettle you. Cinesisters is about sharing those experiences together.”

As my time with Claire draws to a close, and she focuses back on her writing in lockdown, I asked her if she felt there was a lack of accessibility for viewing films directed by women on streaming services, “I guess I’m in a strange position. I’m consumed in a bubble because at least 50% of the films I watch are by women. Whereas I know that isn’t the truth of the industry.”

Having recently watched 'Rafiki' and "Atlantics' in lockdown 2.0, it's clear Claire supports other women creators excelling within the media. She finishes our chat telling me what the future holds for her, working on a new movie with the BFI called 'English Animals' in addition to writing an exciting new series for the BBC about saving the environment. I will take my seat amongst the starved viewers patiently waiting for her next moving piece to thrive on our screens!

Watch Claire's movie 'Make Up' here