AMMA ASANTI - after grange hill

Written by James MacGregor on . Posted in filmmaker

amma asantiNetribution readers of a certain age will recall this writer/director playing a schoolgirl role in Grange Hill. She's moved on from there and gone behind the camera, becoming the first black woman to write and produce her own TV drama. Now she's turned to directing and her formidible talent sees her debut cinema offering scooping a shelf-full of awards, including a Carl Forman Award at the BAFTAs as Best Newcomer. In this, her first feature, she not only produced a good film on a low budget, but did so with a very young largely untried, but clearly talented cast. She's quite a sister, Amma Asante.

WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT

A Way of Life tells the story of a Welsh teenager battling to keep her baby daughter with the fumbling support and friendship of three teenage boys who ultimately serve as her family, struggling on the margins of society until boredom, paranoia, frustration and anger finally prove a lethal combination.


EARLY DAYS

You started your screen career as an actress – what can you tell us about your Grange Hill years?
My Grange Hill years were in some ways quite important, because as a child you are learning things without actually knowing that you are learning. When I think about it now as a director, who didn’t go to film school and didn’t have any formal training in film, it was important to have at least a practical understanding of what people do in the industry and what the gaffer is and what a lighting cameraman does; all of those sort of things. I learned an awful lot of things on the ground, on Grange Hill, just by being there. It’s quite interesting because I can remember writing my first script, when I was about 22 or 23 and I sent it out to a number of people. It was eventually commissioned by Channel 4, who bought the concept and wanted seven scripts. In the end, it never got made, but I remember the production company at the time asking me, “Have you really never written anything before?” It wasn’t particularly brilliant or anything, but it showed I new how to format script and I understood how to structure a script, even if the content wasn’t all that fantastic.I think all that came just from having two scripts given to you per week for Grange Hill and having to learn things at such a rate that it becomes an aid really.

A useful grounding for a career behind the camera - how did that move behind the camera come about?
It was a long process. I was a child actress and by the time I was 19 I really felt I had had, a career. I was ready to move on, but I didn’t know how to do anything else. I had been to stage school, but I had not gone to college, yet all of my friends who hadn’t been to stage school had been to college and as a result had at least some clear idea of what they wanted to do. The work as an actress was just starting to dry up for me, I wasn’t going for as many auditions. I was still living at home, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to earn a living. I think I was desperate for a creative outlet, some way to express myself creatively, so I started writing – almost in the way that I guess people start writing poetry – just as a way to satisfy themselves. I started wring this script which was called Soul Difference and I just enjoyed it. I really loved doing it. I had just got married and I had a lot of time during the day because I wasn’t going for as many auditions.

 UNDER-DRESSED FOR THE PART

I was going for a long holiday in California and I took my script with me, well actually I didn’t; my husband took it without letting me know! It got passed on to a friend, of a friend, of a friend, who was a producer and he read it. He actually liked it, he liked the writing, he thought that was interesting. It was supposed to be a half-hour sitcom, but actually it was about two hours long. He sent the script to Fox without me knowing and luckily, Fox liked it and they called me in a couple of days later. I thought I was on holiday in California, but I ended up in a development office in entirely the wrong outfit! All I had were cut-down jeans and cut down T-shirts because it was boiling hot and I was on holiday. Fox was very generous. They were not going to develop the script, but they liked the writing and as they often say in America, they wanted me to “keep in touch.” All that sent me back with a little bit of encouragement, with a little bit more confidence than I had previously. So I thought “Well, let me send these scripts out when I get back to London,” which I did and Visual Entertainment were the people that bit and were able to sell it to Channel 4 and that’s when I got my commission for seven scripts. At that point it became clear that I was going to be earning more money writing than I was earning as an actress. Because I felt I had had my time as an actress it seemed like the right moment to put an end to acting and to try and make that leap across to writing, which is what I did. It took me three years to get those seven half hour comedy scripts out. Then of course, just as Channel 4 were finally happy with them, the commissioning editor left and a new commissioning editor came in. As happens so often, they then got stuck on a shelf somewhere and they just never got made. By that point though I had had three years of writing, three years of knowing this is just what I loved, just what I enjoyed. I also knew that it was at least possible to at least earn some kind of living out of it. That was really my big jump.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS

How did you become involved with the BBC 2 drama series Brothers and Sisters?
After my Channel 4 commission, well a script never seems to stay in one place. Lots of people read it and it gets passed around, even if it is not supposed to. Someone at the BBC read something I had written for Channel 4. I had originally started writing in a pseudonym because I was very worried that I would not be taken seriously as a writer given that most people only knew me as an actress. Eventually though, people could see that I was the person who had written these scripts. I had set up a little comp[any at that point and the BBC came to me and said “Look, we are really desperate to do a pilot series of a very late night, very urban and it is very low money in terms of budget, but we feel it is something you could be good with and something you might be interested in doing.” It was too good an opportunity to miss really. I had not really had a series made and this was to be ten episodes, so I saw this as a great way to learn once again. We made a first series of ten episodes for £300,000.

For the whole series? Amazing!
We shot it in Liverpool and Southport and I just don’t know how we managed to do it for that money,
but we had got the series off the ground.

You not only wrote that series, but you produced it as well, didn’t you?
That’s right, yea. I don’t know how we did it for thirty thousand an episode. I suppose it is down to naievety – you just don’t know any better. It is down to naievety, to energy and to excitement, I suppose. It get you moving mountains in a way you could not do if third was your third or fourth project maybe. I couldn’t possibly do it now!

How did that series go down with audiences?
It did OK., it did well on screen and it went down well with audiences. The BBC decided to reward us for the second series and gave us an entirely normal budget, so second time around we felt like millionaires! For that series the episodes stretched and became forty minutes each so we did eight of those. That was when I got my first critical reviews really, the first time the critics took a little bit of note. Again, we did quite well audience-wise, although we were scheduled very late at night. We could have done with a better slot, but it was repeated on Sunday afternoons. I had been well and truly bitten by the bug at that point. I was producing and writing and seeing really, what was possible.


DEVELOPING THE STORY

What A Way of Life really about?
On the surface it is the very simple story of a teenage mother struggling to bring up her baby girl. She becomes involved with the murder of her Turkish-Cypriot neighbour who lives across the road. It is the story of how she becomes involved with that murder. It is not a who-dunnit, it is much more of a how this came to happen.

Where did the idea for A Way of Life come from?
A lot of places really. A lot of things were hitting me at the same time.the Bradford and Burnley riots were happening at the time when I was starting to think about this kind of project, which was very different to Brothers and Sisters the TV series. There was a lot on the news at the time and I was listening to a young Asian lad speaking and listening to white lads speaking, who were obviously rioting against each other at the time and they were really saying very much the same thing as each other. That they were very afraid for their future, they didn’t feel any respect, they didn’t feel they had a voice within their own communities. It was a real sense of frustration and a real sense of fear and it was really fascinating to me because although they were saying very similar things, they could not see their similarities – all they could see were their differences because they were so entrenched in their situation. What fascinates me as a writer and a director is what we have in common, rather than what separates us, or what we can’t see that we have in common.

"SPEAK TO PEOPLE ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL"

The film opens with a horrific racial attack – as a writer, did you worry about giving a voice to racists?
Yes, in the beginning, yes. I think it is something that you have to be very, very careful of. I thought A Way of Life was really a story about coming-of-age, about growing up in poverty. Race was really used as a sort of modern day tool if you like, to really explore that situation. But nevertheless, one has to be very careful and it was really important to attempt to tell the story on several different levels. In one sense, you may be preaching to the converted in many ways, speaking to people who already understand the situation. Another way you have to speak to people is on a completely emotional level.

 SELF-DESTRUCTIVE SITUATION


You have to make sure that teenagers who are watching this film and also racists understand that for the kids in this film, this is a really, really self-destructive situation for them. In the end, nothing good comes from this situation for them, so there is nothing in it for them, nothing to be gained by feeling and behaving this way. At the same time I guess I was coming at it from the point of view of… I have a niece and nephew who are half-back and half-white and half-English and half-Welsh, who are very tiny at the moment, but who are also going to grow up to inherit the world that we are creating today like all the children of their generation. I felt it was very important for us to try and understand what it people are feeling across the board today, before we can even try and look for solutions in what is a really complex situation. So it really looks at racism as a symptom, rather than a cause. In this story, for this particular kind of racism, poverty plays a huge, huge part... the way poverty strips you of your identity, how it strips away any kind of a future really.

How easy was it to get financial backing for the film?
You know, I think timing is everything, particularly when trying to get a British film off the ground.
The timing for A Way of Life was absolutely perfect, because it wasn’t the most difficult thing in the world. It is never easy to get any kind of movie off the ground, but I think A Way of Life came about at the right time, particularly once we had the UK Film Council on board. It became a case of dealing with the usual issues that arise when you are dealing with several different financiers. As far as the story goes, I never had much pressure to change the ending, which is clearly not a happy ending. I had great support for telling the kind of story I wanted to tell. If I had tried to tell this kind of story five or six years earlier….. well, I don’t think I would have been able to. I don’t think I would have got this film off the ground a few years earlier. So I think timing really is everything.

"THESE COMMUNITIES WERE NOT SLAVES"

The location for the story is non-specific – why did you decide to shoot in South Wales?
I have that family connection with South Wales. I find Wales is very beautiful aesthetically, but I was also fascinated with the fact that Wales has some of the oldest black communities in Europe. And what really interested me about them is that generally, these communities were not slaves. They were merchants and sailors. I was interested in what kind of impact that kind of history might have had on today. When I started my investigation, probably through slightly rose-tinted glasses, thinking that because South Wales has had multicultural communities that sit side by side for some time, that they might be somehow slightly ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of these kind of relations. But once I started my research I realized that Wales is just the same as everywhere else and actually, these issues are so deep-seated that even the length of time these communities had lived together side-by- side in Wales wasn’t enough to solve some of the issues that we have. So it was the history that attracted me in the first place, but then Wales is also a great place to debate identity. Even within the Wales white community, they have their own issues of identity, so it provides a great kind of basis to start from.

Was it the only place to shoot it perhaps?
In many ways I can’t really think of it being shot anywhere else. I don’t think this was purely from the creative point of view, I mean we had shot Brothers and Sisters in Liverpool and Southpost and pretended that it was Manchester. The second series was shot in London and we pretended it was Manchester. I guess you look for new ways to tell old stories. I love the idea of hearing voices on the big screen that we don’t often get to hear, like the teenage Welsh voice, for example. It gives quite a new slant on what is really an old story.


"I WOULD EVEN STOP PEOPLE IN THE STREET"

Absolutely fresh, yes – and how did you find the young actors you needed to cast in this?
With difficulty, actually. We auditioned about 700 in total. I was very lucky. I was given some money by the UK Film Council a year before I shot the main film, to shoot a pilot of the film. I was given £10,000. So our casting process really started a year before, during the pilot. Two of those cast members remained and stayed on for the film. We continued to cast after the pilot, going to community centres, Saturday morning drama classes, universities and colleges… I would even stop people on the street if I walked past them. It was that age-old story of trying to source that very raw talent. I had a brilliant casting director in a guy called Garry Howe who is based in Wales and who would move heaven and earth just to try and find me exactly what I wanted. Very late in the process we found Stephanie James who plays the lead role in the story.

A first timer - what qualities were you seeking in Stephanie James, who plays Leigh-Anne?
In the beginning I was looking for the wrong qualities, to be honest with you. I think in the beginning I was looking for somebody who was very, very tough, who could at times express vulnerability. I think I was coming at it from the wrong angle from the beginning. Some way through the process I realised that what I really needed to look for was somebody who was vulnerable. Who could put on a really tough front. When I found Stephanie I realized that there was just something incredibly fragile and something very gentle about her, but she was simply brilliant when it came to putting on this tough front. So the moments when vulnerability seeped through, when fragility seeped through were very natural. Obviously, you have to direct and you have to draw out some of this stuff, but it was not a case of me having to say, “Now be vulnerable,” “Now be tough,” because I had somebody who was very natural and very unused to the process of filming and who was in reality having to put on a tough front because she isn’t really that kind of girl. So I think it worked really well in the end.

TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS

How did you find working with the first time ensemble - Stephanie James, Gary Sheppeard, Dean Wong and Sara Gregory?
It’s weird really, because as a director I didn’t know any differently, so it just felt very natural. We workshopped for quite a period. We always stuck to the script – the film you see up on the screen is the final draft of the script – but we workshopped and improvised in order to get to know the characters before we went back to the script. So we had become quite tight really, before we got on set. It is important to form relationships that have trust and that make young actors feel very safe, particularly when they have to play the kind of difficult roles that these actors were all playing. And at the same time you know, it was my first time, so I guess we had something in common and we were able to support each other through that process. It was important to me, to let them know how important THEY were to the process and how much I felt they had to give to the process. Once they felt confident in their roles as actors rather than their roles as characters, they really opened up and it really became a very easy process in terms of how we got on and how we understood each other – all that became very easy. It wasn’t easy telling such a difficult story, telling such a sad story. I think it is important that you wake up each morning with the right kind of energy to go on, because that story can make you feel very tired when you have been living and breathing it for three or four years as I had been.

Did your own early experiences as a screen actor help you in drawing out these  performances?
I think so, oh yes, I think so. In particular, without three solid years in Grange Hill I don’t think I would have been able to get under the skin of the actors in the way that I was able to. And also, just to get to know some of their tricks! You know, at a fairly late stage in the auditioning process, one of them would come in for a recall and it would be very clear to me that they had not read any of the script. All they had done was learn their little moments and they would come in and act those moments, not really understanding how those moments fitted into the grand scheme of things within the bigger picture. I had learned some of the tricks as an actress myself, so I was able to recognise those when I saw them in these young actors.

BABIES GALORE!

You also have a lot of baby scenes with Leigh-Anne’s child – how easy were they?
They weren’t easy at all. They were probably the hardest part of the whole thing. We had five babies in total. Two were used most often and the rest were doubles. The two babies most used were identical twins. Luckily, we had one very happy baby and one who was a little bit more temperamental, but that was very good, because it meant when we needed a more spirited baby then we would bring out the slightly stronger-willed baby and whenever we wanted a very happy, clappy, smiley, giggly baby, then we would bring out the one who enjoyed being around her audience and loved the crew, clapping every time she came in. So we had two really great personalities who suited the process, but for very different reasons, really. It is difficult though, because you know babies need to sleep, you’ve got limits on the amount of time you can use them and have them on set. You know if the baby is sleeping during that day’s period that you are allowed to have it on set, then you have got to work around that. You have to be careful not to accept the babies in any way, or disturb the babies in any way. Once they are on set the filming process really becomes all about them and everything revolves around them and that is rightly so, but you have to build all that extra time into your schedule. You have to be very aware of that.

A schedule dictated by baby needs rather than dramatic ones!
Exactly so, James!

Did the racist language create any problems, self-consciousness for example, for you or the cast?
Not for me, because I had already got over those barriers at the point when I was writing the script, but I think it did for the cast in the beginning and certainly for youngsters that had to audition, who had to audition in front of me. It is very typical and very normal that when you in for an audition, you want to please the director. You certainly don’t want to say anything that might be offensive to the director  and so there’s this strange conflict that goes on for the actors. On the one hand they want to do it really well, but on the other hand they don’t want it to seem too real.

Or offensive…
Yes, they didn’t want to offend me as well. We had to get over all that fairly early. Of course when we were filming we also had to be careful because a lot of the racist language was loud and was being shouted, a lot of it took place at night and we were shooting on real streets with real people living in houses next door. We had to make sure that we really created a good relationship with the communities that we were shooting in very early on. We explained to them the nature of the piece and warned them whenever there was going to be racist language used. Even our night shoots never went past midnight, so we were not shouting racist abuse at three o’clock in the morning. We always tried to get a s much out of the way as we could, as early in the evening as we could, so as not to disturb. We tried to be really sensitive and just observe all of that.

"LOCATIONS, ACTORS, GIVE YOU IDEAS..."

You have been quoted as saying, when looking at the roughcut, it was a better film than the one you wrote. What made that difference, do you think?
Probably the performances, but then there’s so much more than the performances alone... Somebody said to me very early on, that directing would probably make me a much more rounded writer. ntellectually I got the drift, but I don’t think in an emotional way I totally understood what they meant until after I finished shooting A Way of Life and I saw the early cut. I think that there’s only so much you can do on the page. There’s only so much explaining you can do on the page.

 DRAW AND SUPPORT PERFORMANCES

When as a director you are allowed to draw the performances and help support those performances in coming to life, it is just so much more fascinating really than just reading those words on the page. When you are writing, you have this little film going on in your head. You have this little idea of how things are going to be. The great thing as a director is, that locations give you ideas, actors give you ideas, the DoP will know exactly what you want in terms of the mood of the lighting, but then will take it on a step further and show you something even more brilliant than that which you imagined. I think it is the same with every sort of craft that is involved with filmmaking. If you get people that are on the same level as you, they can understand what you want and give you more. I think that is probably what happened with A Way of Life, right through to working with the editor, Steve Singleton, who would get a feel for something that I wanted, or get a feel for something I was after and then using his own great creativity to make it even better. That kind of joy you just can’t get purely working by yourself.

Filmmaking is such a great collaborative process and a great synthesis of talent that comes in from all directions…
Absolutely, James, absolutely.

FILM GRAPEVINE AT WORK

When did the film begin to demand public attention --  and what was your reaction?
Do you know, that’s a question I have never really been asked before. When did it begin to demand…probably… it’s weird, because there was kind of industry attention which started to build…probably about July 2004. We started to have these very private but interesting screenings and I think a word of mouth started to spread. I think then when James Christopher at The Times started to write about it and others like Keith Bradshaw and Derek Malcolm started to review it, write about it and really give it big space in the newspapers in a way we probably didn’t imagine a small film like A Way of Life would get. I guess that’s when I was out at a reception say, and people ask what you do and then ask about the title of your film, that’s when you realize they have heard about A Way of Life. I had never imagined that would happen so early on. Then the London Film Festival and winning the UK Film Talent Award made a huge difference. It wasn’t a quick build, it was a very slow build, but it definitely was a build, if that makes any sense.

 SURREAL

It all becomes a bit surreal, so you detach from it slightly, almost like it is happening to a different film, or it is happening to somebody else. Even now, I have to look back and remind myself that certain things have happened to me and certain things have happened to this film which are always quite… surprising. That’s the honest word to use, I’m surprised, not because I didn’t think that if people knew about it they would want to see it, or that they would be engaged by it, but more because with the struggle that British films have in general – we opened in the same week as Bridget Jones and when you are up against any kind of blockbuster yiou can never be sure if you are going to get any attention at all.

But the film has formed its own momentum really…has it not?
Yes, it has. These things form  their own legs in the end and those legs either collapse beneath them or start to pick up speed and that is what A Way of Life has been doing. It is now out on DVD and was in cinemas from November 2004 until March 2005. So when you go to a screening and do a Question-and-Answer session, you don’t expect full audiences because it is available on DVD… yet people still come and still stay for the Q&A afterwards. So I’m due in New York Saturday for a screening and doing a Q&A and the week after that I will be at the Sydney Film Festival for a gala screening and a Q&A. It’s just amazing that it keeps going really.

How many awards have you garnered so far?

We are up to twelve now. I keep saying when you are up to your knees in mud somewhere up in the valleys trying to get that shot, you really can’t imagine that you might win any awards for the work you are doing and then to be able to turn around to a journalist and say, well, we’ve got twelve so far, is really amazing.

The Carl Foreman Award must have been a particular thrill….
It was, you can’t get away from that. It is a great endorsement and a great line-up to be a part of.
A lot of great filmmakers have won that award and I am really glad to be on that list. It is a very personal thing in a way that is very hard to describe. I still look at my award today and still can’t believe that it is mine. You think about the whole process and you think about how many first-time films are made. Even though it is never very easy to make a film, nevertheless there are many first-time filmmakers out there and it is probably a lot easier to make you first film than it is to make your second. To be selected to be among those first-time filmmakers and to be given an award like this… it is great encouragement really, just to go through that whole process all over again, no matter how difficult it is.

You must have collected a few evening gowns by now then as well as a few trophies??
Loads of them now… It is very, very expensive and as everybody knows you absolutely make no money on the first film and I doubt if you make any on the second film, unless some royalties start to come in, in a few months or a few years time. We women have to spend so much money on frocks!
So, I’m pleased to say some very kind and very great designers have loaned me some wonderful frocks and I am very grateful to them…

In film, all are expected to struggle! Verve, your UK distributor, have gone to DVD very quickly – was that part of their exploitation plan?
I guess it was, yes. You have got to keep the momentum going, out there. You have to go off the back of the cinema release and off the back of all the awards we have won as well. I don’t think a long gap would have been the best thing for this kind of film really, so I think quick DVD release is probably the best thing really.

WEEKS OF PREP

Any tips you would like to pass on to other first time directors?
Be very careful in picking your heads of department. Do the preparation that is needed there in finding out the people that have made the kinds of films that you love and that you want your film to look like, or that you don’t want your film to look like, or feel like, or sound like, or whichever craft you are looking at. Really take that time. Remember, just because a head of department loves the script it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right head of department to work on the film. Make sure they are on the same level as you and that they are roughly in the same area of understanding  about the film, as you. It just saves so much time later on – I think that is a key thing. You have to have a really great relationship with your DoP in particular, so make sure that is a nice tight relationship. I was very lucky in that my production designer and my DoP and my location manager spent weeks and weeks ahead of time, with me, before we actually started filming. It was way above and beyond what was needed for them in their own schedules and way beyond what was in our budgets even. People who are determined to support you in that way, are going to be so useful to you in the long run.

So you established a close-knit creative team early-on?
Yes, really early-on. These were people who not only yes, loved the script, but more important, clearly understood it. They were really on for the sort of piece I wanted to end up with and really supportive of that and that was a very important thing.

And in hindsight, what tips would you pass on to feature writers?
Do you know, it is such an easy thing to say after your first film, but I think it is important, so I am going to say it, which is honestly stick to your gut instinct. Listen to what everyone else has to say, your financiers, your producers and your exec producers and the great buddy team that will be around you the whole time – because when you are first-time directing nobody trusts you anyway. I think that is a good thing, by the way, because you are continually questioned in way that really makes you think about everything. Ultimately, there is an instinct within all of us that matters.

 TOUCH PEOPLE

When I sit and do my Q&As after A Way of Life screening, the moments that I get the best compliments about, or the moments that have touched people the most, are often the moments that I was nervous about including, but my gut told me to go ahead with. I am really thankful to that instinct now. Even when I am sitting and bouncing ideas off a production designer, or off a DoP, or off a producer, there’s still a gut instinct that goes along with that part of the process anyway. So, even when options are placed in front of you by a producer, or even just a shot that a DoP is offering you, there’s a gut that tell you what’s right and what isn’t. It is important for filmmakers to believe in that gut, because that’s your voice. That is your individuality that is speaking. That is what will separate you from the rest, I guess.
 
Working as a writer though, you only have yourself to bounce ideas across, surely?
In a way, but when I was working on A Way of Life, I had a development producer who was just absolutely brilliant at never prescribing – I think it’s best for writers not to be prescribed to – but would just ask some really quite profound questions. They were often quite simple questions, but they were always profound and they always looked at the bigger picture. You solve the problems and solve the details, by looking at the bigger picture.

RUSHES RE-SHAPE

Can you put that into context – something you did when writing your script perhaps?
I can out it into the context of the edit, which is similar to using the technique in script. After 14 weeks of editing I was actually forgetting what the film was that I was editing. You are so far under it, you have got thousands of rushes and I think we were up to the second or third cut - but of course it had taken quite a long time to assemble everything anyway – and I watched it with a colleague who was a producer who had loved the script when he had read the script. Now he watched the film and as he watched it, I could see he wasn’t as keen on it as he had been on the script. He turned around and said what is really a very simple thing – he said, “You know, you have got to think about what it is that you want people to feel, your audiences to fee, by the end of the film. It isn’t that you are necessarily going out of your way to manipulate people, but obviously there a point you are trying to get to. With me and A Way of Life, I just wanted to create a space, I wanted people to talk about the film and to talk about the issues and the theme once they had left. So it was important to me to create an ending that left that open to people. At that point, I remember going back up to my editor and really changing the structure, changing the way the middle of the film was by swapping scenes around and making sure that there was no confusion in that particular area, because it might have looked like I was trying to say something that I wasn’t trying to say if I had left it completely the way it was in the script. Sometimes things seem to work well in a script, but they don’t seem to work the right way when you are left with just the rushes.

 BIBLE BECOMES A ROADMAP

It is a queer thing, in that you have this script and it kind of operates as a bible in the beginning, but in the end, it has to become just a map, because once you have shot the film, all you are left with, is what is in the can. The script, in a way, has to be put to one side. You have to then re-tell the story with the rushes that you have got. And sometimes, what you have got may not coincide exactly with exactly is in the script. Does that make sense? I think it applies equally when you are writing. You constantly have to bring yourself back to the original story that you wanted to tell and not allow yourself to get too lost. It is so easy to do that when you are doing drafts and drafts of something. In the end, you could kill the story you set out to tell by, well, redrafting it do death.

A dreadful case of redrafticide….! And after a first feature, what’s next on the horizon for Amma Asante?
A first feature is important, but what is even more important is that you establish yourself as a writer or a director that is here to stay, really. I want to do something very different from A Way of Life, purely because my voice is still developing and I have so many stories in me to tell that aren’t always social realism. I’m reading a lot at the moment. The great thing about getting a BAFTA and the other awards is that people begin to recognise you as a director, so I am reading a lot of other people’s stuff and getting a lot of scripts and books sent to me from America, but I am also just starting to research a piece that I would like to write. The combination of writing and directing together have really become my first love, I guess. I love the idea of directing some more of my own stuff, so I am researching a period piece at the moment, that takes place just at the end of World War Two, set in the UK and it is quite a gentle love story, but set against a fairly harsh backdrop.

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