Bee Beardsworth and Jessica Lawson have been best friends since they were thirteen. Bee is an artist and writer, Jess a producer and director. Finding themselves both stuck at their parent’s homes in Cape Town during months of lockdown, Jess adapted a piece of Bee’s writing into a script and they embarked on an exploration of each other's creative visions, and on the intimacy of their decade long friendship. The result is The Willow. The short film is a poignant and visually arresting piece following the narrative of a young woman reflecting on her childhood memories of a doomed willow tree, and how the creation and destruction in nature and art mirror her own struggles with her mental health.
Here Bee chats to Jess about their careers, creative processes, working together, and being a control freak...
BB: Who are you and where are you from? Hahaha. I think I can write that because I know you quite well. Maybe it’s better to ask what you do? You’re based in Cape Town…
JL: Haha! I’m a film producer and director. My work at the moment is mainly online content and commercials, with a focus on real-life storytelling. When I finished high school I moved to LA, and after doing some acting work, I realised I hated it and that there isn’t much creative control on that side of the camera, unless you already have a really big name for yourself, and even then I’m not really sure. I randomly decided I wanted to be a producer because I thought that would give me more control over the work I was doing so I started with being a production assistant. When I moved back to Cape Town I started doing bigger jobs. Then I got to a point with production where I realised -
BB: That you want MORE control!!! You want to act in it, direct it, produce it, write it. That’s lowkey my dream. I’ve definitely had to come to terms with sharing creative control.
JL: Hahaha yeah, well maybe that’s why we are best friends. We are both control freaks. Anyway, I wanted to be a director when I was younger but never really understood what it meant and by working in the industry I slowly got to see how it really works. I eventually ended up directing because I’ve always had so many creative ideas and concepts that I wanted to execute, and as a producer that’s not really your job. I guess I’ve come to a stage with my career where I see directing as a way to be creative whilst staying in the same film-based space. Does that make sense?
BB: I feel like we’ve had a similar learning experience as neither of us really studied something or came from an artistic family, but we always wanted to be creatives in some way or another. We’ve found our pathways by working - you starting with acting and myself starting with modelling. It’s such an invaluable experience. I’ve learnt so much about how every aspect of the industry works from my job and been able to demystify it. And I think over the last few years both of us have been able to branch more into the specific things that we want to do.
JL: Yeah, it all comes full circle - having done acting really helps me direct, because I understand the needs of an actor better than someone who hasn’t done acting themselves, and at the same time, knowing how to direct aids my producing, and vice versa. Understanding the needs of the different parts of the industry is extremely valuable.
BB: Yeah, modelling has helped me so much with directing subjects when I photograph people, and knowing how an image is really created. I think you develop a far wider sensitivity to everyone you work with and what they are doing and what they need.
Anyway, let’s talk about The Willow. During lockdown I was going crazy and you were like, “Send me something you’ve written.” I wrote Kintsugi (the original essay) about this willow tree at my childhood home, and how humans have this tenuous relationship with nature. We try to control it, and I think it’s very reflective of how we try to exercise this same control over our emotions and inner world -
JL: And outer world...
BB: - and we can’t really do it. In life in general there’s no such thing as an isolated incident, like you can’t just solve a problem and it goes away, and we all have to realise that. Things are never finite ideas in an isolated universe, but a way that humans try to cope with life is by making ideas as small as possible to try and control them.
Anyway! I sent you this long piece and you edited it down and condensed the idea into a short film, which is one of your strengths. I feel like that’s a lot of what directing is - distilling ideas so they can be communicated by image.
JL: I think condensing the essay into a concept for a short film was easy for me because I’m awful at writing, but I can understand how an audience receives scripting in film differently to written word. I also just know you so well that I felt like I could narrow down your experience without taking anything away from it. Knowing each other’s history with our mental health and our allyship within that space really made the film what it is. It feels very personal to me and very special that it’s something we created together.
BB: What’s your creative process like?
JL: My creative process is always drawing inspiration from multiple sources and then adapting it to be my own in some way or another. Not just from other filmmakers - but nature, books, relationships, art. I often see filmmakers directly copy other campaigns or films and think no one will notice, but everyone has vimeo, and nothing is original haha, so, we see you. That being said I still have so much growth to do in the space of directing. I always make something and then 3 months later I hate it because I want to try out a new style. I’m still finding my style and always learning.
With a personal project like The Willow it’s fun because you can really push and be as creative as you want without a client or brand narrowing down what you can and can’t do, especially collaborating with people you know so well and trust with each other's creativity and vision. It’s always an experiment and doesn’t always work but I’m happy with what we created with what we had had at the time.
or watch The Willow here
ORIGINAL ESSAY written by Bee Beardsworth
ADAPTED FOR FILM by Bee Beardsworth & Jessica Lawson FEATURING Bee Beardsworth
DIRECTED & PRODUCED by Jessica Lawson
SHOT & EDITED by Ramon Mellett