Raindance 2018: Nessa Wrafter On Exploring Post-Natal Mental Health In ‘Early Days’

NESSA Wrafter’s debut short film, Early Days, is a personal and touching portrait of a woman (played by Maimie McCoy) struggling with post-natal mental health issues.

With Early Days set to screen at the Raindance Film Festival in London, Nessa joins us on Close-up Culture to give insight into this moving short film.

Q: A lot of filmmakers talk about filmmaking being creative and rather expensive form of therapy. Was that the case for you when exploring post-natal mental health in Early Days?

A: ABSOLUTELY. I hadn’t imagined that as a possible outcome, at the start. But expressing those complex emotions in the script, and then talking about them for so long with all the wonderful cast and crew who came on board, and watching Maimie re-enact them, it may not have been cheaper than therapy but I reckon it was just as effective!

Q: Can you break down some of the problems facing Kate in the film and how you wanted to convey them?

A: IN the film, Kate is struggling with quite a few problems at once. Not only is she exhausted from 10 months of pregnancy, and 36 hours of childbirth, she has now had days upon days of sleep deprivation. I wanted to convey that this would be a form of mental torture for anyone.

Kate is also a woman in her mid-to-late 30’s, who has been extremely independent up to this point, so there is a huge shift in circumstance from pre to post-baby. Suddenly, her time belongs to this tiny human who she knows she must protect at all costs…but she’s still trying to figure out how to best do that.

The thing that really tips her into anxiety is the fact that she is suffering from PTSD, because she has had a traumatic childbirth during which she lost a lot of blood and came close to death. I wanted to try and get the viewer to be inside her head – with the use of flashbacks/hallucinations specifically – and I wanted it to be clear that dealing with all of that at once is disorientating. It doesn’t mean you’re not happy, or that you don’t “love” your baby. It just takes time to adjust.

Q: Can you talk about your collaboration with Maimie McCoy and why you felt she was right for this role?

A: I had got to know Maimie during pregnancy, so during my ‘Early Days’ of being a mother, I had this new friend who lived right around the corner from me and we became a support to one another, a bit like we were war buddies! Because I also knew she was incredibly talented, and she understood what I was trying to portray, it was a no-brainer.

I was slightly concerned she would feel obliged to take the part because we were friends but Clancie persuaded me to ask and luckily she responded really well to the script! I feel really lucky to have been able to get an actor of such calibre on my first short.

We talked about the script a lot during pre-production and I gave her some references for the character – like Ma in Room, or Stephanie in Rust and Bone. On set I’d make sure to have some quiet time before each scene and chat through the main emotional punctuation, then I might throw in a few extra ideas between takes. She is so easy to work with – a dream for any director. And her ability to deliver a nuanced and deeply affecting performance in every scene, on every take just blew me away, exceeding my (already high) expectations. I still feel like I’m going to cry each time I watch her in this film – and I have seen it many, many times.


Q: I imagine this film will strike a chord with anyone who has gone through similar struggles. What kind of responses have you received to the film?

A: THE response has been very moving. We’ve had women who gave birth 40+ years ago tell us it brought them right back to that time in their lives. We have had women who suffered post-natal mental health issues come to us to talk about their own journeys, and to say how much the story felt like it captured the intensity of their experience.

Perhaps the most surprising response is when we’ve talked to men who felt they had begun to understand something about their partners/mothers/sisters which they might never had had a chance to unpick otherwise. To get inside the head of this inherently female experience. I take that as a huge compliment.

Q: Clancie Brennan, Indira Varma and Kate Magowan are all attached to the project. Can you tell us about their involvement?

A: CLANCIE had tons of producing experience and she has a fierce energy which is infectious – I knew right away she would bring all of that and more to this project. As soon as she agreed to produce the film, things began to move so fast. We would speak on the phone or email at least 5 times a day, (during the times our babies were napping usually) and bounce ideas around.

She found Livetree as a platform for the crowdfund and never doubted for a moment we would get that money – and we did! She then sourced a mostly female crew for me – which is no easy feat with only a short run up to the shoot – and our three execs, Indira, Kate and Tom from Turn Buffalo.

Indira Varma and Kate Magowan both brought an abundance of industry contacts and experience to the film – helping with finance, promoting the crowdfund, creative consulting, gaining press exposure and as a support for any questions that we needed an extra opinion on.

Q: Early Days is your directorial debut. How did you find the overall experience?

A: I loved directing! It wasn’t something I had thought about before this project but as soon as I made the decision to do it, I knew it was the right decision. I had a clear vision for the look and mood, and worked closely with our brilliant DOP Sara Deane during pre-production to create look books and to work around the space on location. On set I had to compromise on certain shots due to time or space issues but I was confident that we were getting what we needed. Needless to say that the wealth of acting talent, (Adrian Bower and Peter Wight for example) around me helped enormously!

The editing process was made much less daunting by having such an experienced editor on board. Iseult has been twice IFTA nominated so I knew I was safe in her hands, plus, we tend to see things in a very similar way. I really loved this part of the process too – seeing how much impact a great edit can have. You could pretty much re-write the script if you wanted to.

Finally once we locked picture and moved on to the grade, sound design and original score, I was surprised by quite how much each of those affected the finished product. Every detail you fine tune makes your film so much better. All round, it was a superb learning process for me – I’ve said it hundreds of times by now but if you surround yourself with talented people, every single one of them will bring something unique and help you do your job.


Q: I imagine Early Days has encouraged you to do more work behind the camera in the future.

A: ABSOLUTELY – I can’t wait to direct again. I am writing various film and television scripts, some of which I will direct but I’m also chatting to a few writers about directing their work. Directing someone else’s work is a challenge I want to take on as soon as possible.

Q: Can you tell us what it means to you to have Early Days screen at Raindance Film Festival?

A: IT is a little hard to put into words. I have always known Raindance as one of the most prestigious film festivals, and when we entered it felt like a long-shot. I imagined you might only get into a top tier festival if you had been around the block a few times! So to hear that we got in on the first attempt was quite surreal, but incredible.

I’ve been working on this film in some capacity or another since 2015, and this feels like all that passion, energy and love has come to fruition. And it is brilliant to think that all the cast and crew who brought their time and energy can feel proud of the outcome too.

Q: What do you hope audiences at Raindance take away from the film?

A: I hope that it strikes a chord with any viewer who has been through a difficult time with their mental health. I hope it shows that dark and intrusive thoughts are quite normal in the Early Days of parenthood, but that you’re not alone in those feelings…and that difficult experiences can change the course of your life in positive ways. The intensity of that time was so hard, but there was beauty in that intensity, too – I hope I captured that.

Early Days will screen at Raindance Film Festival on 29 September and 7 October. Click for more info.

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