Director Nathan Morris On My Eyes Are Up Here

Director Nathan Morris stops by on Close-Up Culture to discuss his new short film, My Eyes Are Up Here. It tells the story of a disabled woman who sets off on a mission to get the morning-after pill after a clumsy one-night stand. 

What was the inspiration for the film? 

The film is very much based on the lived experience of one of our writers,  Aminder Virdee. Everything you see on screen stems from something that happens to her in her day to day life. It was quite eye-opening for me as a Director to work with her to realize just how badly people with disabilities are treated in society. I learnt a lot making this film but very importantly the script really entertained me, it wasn’t just a ‘message’ it was a great story. So this is something I really wanted to to create alongside her, a compelling and entertaining story that manages to get something important across. 

What does it mean to you to have a film with disability representation? 

I’m a white male, I come from a group that has been over represented in society since I’ve been alive, and that is beginning to change, and that’s great. Disability representation to me is a no-brainer as is creates inclusivity and inclusivity creates better stories. Creatives should come from a mixture of society. It benefits us all and creates unique, interesting and heartfelt stories that are grounded in real life. Unique  voices are vital.

I think it’s really, really important to to work in an inclusive environment. I want to see different viewpoints, hear different opinions, learn from others see their gaze. The tricky thing is underrepresented groups don’t get many opportunities – especially in a super tough industry like film and TV. It’s brutal, so sometimes when they are given opportunity, it doesn’t come with the right support (to begin with). I feel it’s important to try to help give people who aren’t usually given a chance. Wherever it be on set, on screen, in pre and post production. 

I come from a documentary background, that means I’m always trying to amplify other peoples’ stories, and voices, to  illustrate them on the screen in a authentic way. It was very much a similar process with this film.  I feel it’s really important for people to see themselves reflected in the media in a positive and realistic way. People with disabilities haven’t had that. But it’s so important for a director like me not to ‘tell’ another group what their story is, what their voice is. I’m only here to guide and help amplify voices, Aminder worked alongside me the entire process of the film to guide me and help me make sure the gaze of the film and tone was right. We made adjustments to the script when Jillian came on board. The idea with our inclusive crew, and Aminder being alongside me, is to empower, increase skill sets to help create opportunities where there would be none. 

Has anyone with similar experiences reached out to you? 

Yes, lots and it’s been great. It’s my favourite part in film making, hearing what others think, seeing them respond to the work. I know people have reached out to Aminder and spoken about how great it is to see themselves represented on screen. Response to the film has been amazing and people have been telling us out their experiences. People want to see more. 

Was there anything particularly difficult to film?

The entire process was difficult, ha! Film making is an intrinsically difficult task. We had some bad luck, our bus broke down, taxi’s not arriving, lack of accessible venues and transport, which, while it was difficult really compounded our passion for sharing a story like this. It just really highlighted the hardships and

difficulties this world puts on people with disabilities. When I was in preproduction I had a phrase I used a lot “the same world but different”, that’s the world we all know recognise but it’s different more difficult for some. I think the difficulty of production just really highlights how important films like this are to make. We all came together and got it done! The producers did an amazing job and I’m so grateful that we got funding from the BBC in the BFI, it was great having their guidance-  I’m truly grateful for the experience.

From a story and directing perspective, it was interesting when our hero is having a rough time in the film, I wanted the audience to feel for her, to have empathy with her, but not to feel sorrow because she’s disabled – and that’s a different challenge. For me it was always important, even in sadness to show the strength and the resiliency of our hero. That was a tricky line to navigate but I think we managed to do it due to the awesome performance of Jillian. 

How has the audience received the film? 

It’s been amazing. It’s totally blown me away! I love/hate sitting in an audience watching my work, it is so so damn nerve-racking and you can see every mistake amplified on the big screen! But also, you get to see peoples faces react and hear the laughter and there’s a real communal feeling in the theatre sometimes which is palpable . Nothing, no other experience is better than that. I love it. It’s been wonderful hearing people and seeing people react to the film, I’m blown away. 

What drew you to this film? 

The script. It was awesome. It had a real freshness and a boldness and of strength of character that really spoke to me. I really really wanted to make it ! On first read I could see it in my head, the tone and the voice and the characters, it just really made me excited.  It was also eye-opening for me, so having something fun and enjoyable, with the undercurrent of something of value is very important to me.  I don’t want to be preachy and I do wanna be fun but I don’t want to be flippant within that fun. That can be a hard line to walk and the script did that in a beautiful way.

What is next for you? 

We are in the process of expanding the world the short film created into a television show. I can’t wait to get out there, it’s fun to write and really interesting. I’ve also just received a Seed grant from the New Zealand Writers Guild to help me develop a feature film script, a story based on my own experience of growing up in New Zealand. It’s so encouraging and brilliant,  I can’t afford to live and write at the same time so receiving a grant like this is amazing. I’m really excited to be given the opportunity to work hard. I can’t wait to see people react to these new projects. 

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