Gaby Chiappe [Interview]

Photo by Lizzy Coombes

At times we tend to stumble upon some amazing interview opportunities that we just weren’t expecting. When we announced that we were looking to a bit of a celebration of women behind the scenes, a wonderful person was bestowed upon us as a possibility to be featured on the site. Not only because she is a perfect representation of women in the industry, but because she is an extremely talented individual with some great stuff coming up.

Gaby Chiappe is a screenwriter from our (new) side of the pond out here in the UK. She has written for the acclaimed series EastEnders, and so many more in the BBC world. But, what we are most excited about is her work on the upcoming film about a British film crew who attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg called Their Finest. Chiappe was behind the screenplay adaptation of Lissa Evan’s wonderful novel, and from what we have seen thus far, it is going to be one of the finest films of 2017, for sure.

And, as we will mention below, this is a revolutionary type of film simply for how it is being made. It is written by, directed by, acting fronted by, and from a book written by….women! And to top it all of, they are all DIFFERENT women. And even more of the crew are women. It is an incredible showcase of the wonderful talent that is available in the world of film and television. Therefore, we are so proud to have Gaby featured in our Women of the Present showcase. So please enjoy some great words from the amazing writer, Gaby Chiappe!

When did you first realize that you wanted to write for a living? What were some of your earliest inspirations?

I loved stories as a child – however they were delivered – TV, film, books. … I read voraciously (and without much discrimination!), and I spent an awful lot of time making up stories in my own head – but what I really wanted at that age was to be an actor, because that seemed the most perfect way to disappear into a story. Then when I was older I thought I wanted to be a novelist – novels were what I knew, it didn’t occur to me that the films and TV I watched were also written. When – due to a lot of luck and some happy accidents – I discovered screen-writing, it made sense of everything I’d ever been interested in – a raveling together of all these separate threads I’d been pursuing.

I am actually a very recently transplanted American living in England, and am fairly new to some of the concepts of British television. So, in your obviously expert opinion, why do you believe the length of so many shows coming from BBC and the like are kept to only a few seasons, rather than milking it for all it’s worth as we would do in the states? Do you believe this works better for everyone?

I’m really not an expert! And I don’t know enough about how American shows work, but I think the resources available to develop those shows in the US is much greater than in the UK and that has an impact. We do have shows that return again and again and stay strong – but they tend not be on the scale of their US counterparts, maybe six or eight episodes a season as opposed to thirteen or more. From what I hear about writers’ rooms in the US, you have a large number of heavily-resourced writers working collaboratively with a show-runner to break stories over a large span of episodes. With the best will in the world, no one has the money over here to fund that kind of system. I don’t think it impacts on quality – both systems can produce great shows and poor shows, but it does mean that in the US you can produce more episodes, more quickly.

Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming film that you wrote and is set to be released this month  entitled Their Finest? What can the viewer expect to embrace and be thrilled by?

Their Finest is an adaptation of Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half. It’s about the making of a morale-boosting film in the UK in the early part of the second world war – the film starts during the Blitz. It’s also about a young woman (Catrin) growing into herself – dealing with the daily grind and fear of life during wartime, but also unfurling to fill the space and opportunities this rapidly-changing world is giving her. Gemma Arterton gives an amazing performance as Catrin, she’s got this quiet core of strength and self-respect which blossoms through the course of the film into a new kind of confidence and a conviction of her own worth. Like Lissa’s novel, the film is funny and moving and surprising – it’s also beautifully acted and directed.

One of the characters in the film, (Buckley, a screen-writer), says that a film needs to be worth both the money and the time someone has given up to see it. What I hope is that people come away feeling exactly that – that it was more than worth it.

Their Finest is also a film that was a book written by a woman and then adapted by a woman, directed by a woman, and has a woman as the lead role. And all four are NOT the same person! That is incredible! In your personal opinion and as someone involved, what do you believe these facts added to your lovely story?

Btw – The editor and composer are also both women – as is one of the two producers.

I can honestly say, I never thought about it – it’s my first screenplay, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. It’s only when people tell me this film has an unusual number of women involved that I realise it’s not the norm. And because I have nothing to compare it to, I don’t know what the alternative would have been. All I know is that it was an incredibly happy working experience for me.

Their Finest Hour and A Half
Directed by Lone Sherfig

With a career spanning a solid couple of decades, how do you feel the role of women has changed in the world of British television writing? Are women finally getting the respect they deserve, or is there still a sort “Boy’s Club” feel going on?

It’s an interesting question…. I think there are probably still more male writers than female writers who are considered A-listers – but I would be interested to know how many writers who actually make a living are male and how many are female, and also whether there’s a difference in the kind of TV they’re commissioned to write.

Their Finest Hour and A Half
Directed by Lone Sherfig

And when you look back on your amazing career, what would you say you are most proud of?

Oh, there are quite a few things I’m proud of! To see my first screenplay made still feels extraordinary. I am also very proud of work I did on Shetland (BBC) The Level (ITV)….

And the first episode I ever wrote of Eastenders made me very happy…

But maybe just as important are the things I wasn’t proud of – there have only been a couple, but I know that I never, ever want to be watching something again and think ‘I could have done better’. It’s a really grim feeling.

What is next for you? Anything else we can look forward to in the near future?

I’m adapting Dark Matter by Michelle Paver for Amanda Posey and Finola Dwyer at Wildgaze films (Amanda is one of the Producers of Their Finest). It’s another fantastic novel but very different from Their Finest. It’s a ghost story set in the Arctic – three men alone in a cabin as the polar night begins. It’s beautifully written – moving and pared down, and very frightening.

Their Finest Hour and A Half
Directed by Lone Sherfig

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The fact that it stayed sunny all weekend – in Yorkshire, at least.

Check out the trailer for Their Finest, in theatres soon!

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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