An interview with The Widow’s Last writer/director Vanessa Perdriau.
With her film The Widow’s Last making its debut on Omeleto, we caught up with writer/director Vanessa Perdriau to reflect on her journey from hopeful entrant to happy winner. She discusses the ups and downs of writing and production, tips for pitching and what it’s like to see the film make it out into the world ...
The idea was an adaptation of the biblical story of the Widow and Elijah found in 1 Kings 17, charting the journey of a desperate widow who stumbles across the ‘enemy’ during a time of immense hardship and famine when she is desperately trying to save her sick son. I took the major story beats, themes and the character arc of the widow from this story and adapted it into the setting of The Great Hunger in Ireland.
It was an incredible experience – probably the highlight of my career to date. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, from the sheer terror of pitching in the boardroom to the elation and shock of winning! I learnt so much through the process about filmmaking and formed some amazing relationships that I will continue to cherish for a long time to come.
Just how much investment and support The Pitch offered to all its filmmakers. The experience was like going on a career-building and highly focused scriptwriting workshop for free. I don’t know of any initiative out there that offers such an invaluable opportunity to hone and build your craft. If I could, I would enter again!
The heart of the story remained the same, but the nuances and the details of the widow’s arc and the supporting characters were refined. I was challenged to dig deeper in my writing, to make sure the characters were not merely puppets to serve a plot but living and breathing people with a will of their own. This new way of writing was both immensely challenging and exciting for me and through the development of the script I grew so much in my craft as a screenwriter.
One of the hardest parts of the writing for me was to find how to honestly and believably take our widow from a place of immense hatred of the English to a place where she would consider sacrificing her own life and that of her son to protect the enemy. This took a lot on soul-searching and was no small feat in a 20-minute script. In regards to production, the biggest challenge was finding the perfect location and delivering a historical drama that was epic in scale for £25,000 [The Pitch budget at the time – it's now £35,000].
I was instantly drawn to Charlotte Peters for the lead of Kathryn as she gave such an raw and honest performance. She was simultaneously able to play immense hardness and resilience alongside deep vulnerability and pain. In order to prepare, I gave Charlotte some in-depth character notes and we spent time discussing character and workshopping the scenes before the shoot as I knew we wouldn’t have time on the day.
I feel like I was really supported and informed through the whole process of pitching and I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing if I were to go back in time and shoot the film again. However, there were plenty of times where the writing was so hard and the production challenges seemed so insurmountable that I felt like giving up. I’m so glad I was able to push through those challenges and hold on to my vision for the film. I am so proud of what we have achieved and the incredible team that pulled together to make this beautiful film.
I would say story is king, so if you are going to focus on anything, take the time to make sure you have an amazing story that resonates deeply with you and with others. Practise pitching your story and once you have something that engages people deeply on an emotional level, you know you’re onto a winner.
Absolutely amazing! After years of hard work, I am so excited to share this beautiful story with the world. When I wrote the film I never could have imagined how timely its message would be for the times we find ourselves in. Just like our present reality, this film is set in a time of immense hardship, sickness and racial strife and it is my hope that this story and these characters would light a path of forgiveness, humanity, compassion and redemption for us in these turbulent times.
You can watch The Widow’s Last on the YouTube channel Omeleto.