In conversation with Lucy Forbes, BAFTA-winning director of drama and comedy
Towards the end of May, Screen and Film School Manchester were delighted to welcome Lucy Forbes for a superb virtual masterclass.
Lucy is a BAFTA-winning drama and comedy director from London. Her work includes This is Going to Hurt, The End of the F***ing World series 2 and In My Skin, all of which she discussed throughout the session.
Lucy’s stunning direction on the BBC’s In My Skin and the C4/Netflix production The End of the F***ing World rapidly earned her international acclaim and has helped her to amass multiple awards. She also featured on the Alice Initiative’s Emerging Female Directors list in 2019.
With a background in commercials and comedy, since 2009 Lucy has directed a wide range of comedic talent including Charlie Brooker, Doug Stanhope and Aisling Bea. She was also lead sketch writer/director for Bring the Noise for Sky One, a collaboration with Katherine Ryan. She recently directed the opening four episodes of This Is Going To Hurt, adapted by Adam Kay from his own best-selling medical memoir, produced by Sister Pictures for the BBC and AMC, and starring Ben Whishaw in the lead role.
Lucy started off by explaining to our students how she got into the television industry:
“It’s long-winded. I didn’t go to a Film School, I should’ve done. I would’ve got to where I am now much quicker. I went to Salford University, and I did a Performance and Production degree, trying to be an actress. From there I started working on game shows and children’s television. Off the back of the success of Big Brother I started writing and directing sketches for Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Then four years ago I landed In My Skin and that has been completely transformative for me.”
Did you enjoy the earlier work in children’s television and light entertainment?
“I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. I always wanted to work in television, and I honed and developed as I went along and then I realised I wanted to tell stories and here we are.”
Our Head of Industry and Careers in Manchester, Judith Suckling, then asked Lucy about the three shows she has directed recently that have gained a lot of attention, which are all dark comedies. How do you take dark subject matter and make it comedic?
“For me, comedy and drama are the same thing, they walk hand in hand. Life is funny and dramatic all in one. Comedic drama feels like the most truthful version of life. It’s all about balance. The most important thing is finding the truth and if you find truth in the story then it’s not really that complicated. To make people laugh and cry at the same time is very enjoyable.”
Are you in a position now to turn down projects that you don’t connect with?
“Yes. I am very happy with the trajectory of the last three shows but that means that the next one has to be even better than This Is Going to Hurt and to take me in the direction that I want it to go in.”
Lucy then discussed the importance of making the right stylistic decisions at the beginning of a project in order to galvanise the many departments that are involved:
“At the start of any series I make a set of rules and I try to stick to them throughout production. Therefore, a show feels like the show you set out to make. Some of these rules in the past have been on the set of In My Skin: it had to feel real, personal, funny, raw, gritty, and to be housed in a naturalistic way, and that there was a real portrayal of mental health issues. I wanted it to feel like it was in its own world. Every single shot is shot from over Bethan’s shoulder – she walks the viewer into a scene and back out again. We didn’t use any wide shots, as it was told from her perspective.
The performances were so good – which is above all else. Jo Hartley’s performance as the bi-polar mother was crucial and I locked her in a room on set to help her get into the space to perform. We then let her out and she improvised and we covered it.”
Judith then invited our student to ask Lucy some questions. To begin with, Mia asked: if you could tell your younger self one thing you know now about filmmaking what would it be?
“The first thing would be that whatever process you’re going through is important. You will learn so much by doing those jobs that are not quite right for you and missing out on jobs is all part of the process too. I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’ too. It’s also okay to not know the answer to everything. It’s okay to ask and it’s okay to change your mind too.”
Another piece of advice I would give you as young filmmakers is, prepare for meetings. Know who you are talking to, be able to reference what the people in the room have done, always go in with more than you think they will want to know.”
Rumaysah asked: can you start out being a DOP and move over to directing?
“Yes, absolutely. You can start off with any job in the industry and move to be a director. Actors act for an entire career and then move into directing. If it’s a confidence thing, then starting out behind the camera can be helpful. If you’re feeling anxious about the creativity behind directing, then the big thing to remember is that collaboration is key. Use the people around you.”
Niamh asked: you mentioned that you have worked with the same DOP for years, do you hire them when you take on a job or is it about recommending them to producers for them to be hired separately?
“Ben (Spence) and I have grown up together. I have done a few things without him but all of the drama has been in collaboration with him. We have such shorthand with each other that it just takes a look across the room. When you do find people you click with it can become a long-term creative relationship. You have trust with each other, which is very important, especially when you’re working long hours.”
Those fantastic words of advice brought this brilliant masterclass to a close. Lucy was incredibly generous with her time and her warmth and insight were very meaningful to our students. Thanks to Lucy and we are all looking forward to seeing her next project on screen.