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Creative Reflections

Anjhe Mules in Culture, Self - 15 May 2019

From a two-time Oscar-winning costume designer to the director of an explosive documentary following Vivienne Westwood, Bridget Arsenault asks four of the film industry’s most-accomplished women to reflect on a pivotal moment in their careers.

Having never been to film school, Quinn Shephard got her education on set, from as young as five, starring in shows like Hostages alongside Toni Collette and The Blacklist. Now only 23 years old, at 20, Quinn wrote, directed, starred in and produced her first feature film, Blame.

I think I began my career by breaking the status quo, which was very daunting… I set out to do something that was pretty unprecedented for multiple reasons: my age, my level of experience, and even our budget level for the film. I constantly get people asking how I did what I did at my age, and I usually just answer “I don’t know, it’s just who I am!” It’s not like I woke up every day like “wow, I’m shattering boundaries.” I just did what I always wanted to do.

Jenny Beavan, OBE has won two Academy Awards and received nominations an additional eight times, including for her work on Gosford Park, The King’s Speech and The Remains of the Day. Most recently Jenny triumphed in 2016 for her Costume Design on Mad Max: Fury Road, which also gained her the BAFTA. When Jenny accepted her BAFTA host Stephen Fry made a cutting remark about her appearance. Jenny has beautifully harnessed this moment and negativity to propel her career forward.

Having worked predominately on period pieces, being offered and accepting the job to design the costumes for Mad Max: Fury Road felt quite revolutionary in its own right. Working on that film opened up so many new avenues both in work and life. In work: now I’m offered a hugely greater diversity of projects and life as a ‘feminist’, although I am not sure I am a very good one, but apparently, I am some kind of role model to young women!! Looking back, I wouldn’t approach any of it any differently. I would have accepted the job - such s fantastic opportunity, and the aftermath was unexpected, but I am quite happy now with the way it turned out!

Lorna Tucker started her work in film in her 20s, primarily behind the camera producing tour videos and music promos. Her feature-length debut came only this year with Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Lorna’s second documentary Amá, which will be released later this year, examines the issue of sterilisation abuses of Native American women in the United States and their fight for reproductive rights. It was co-produced by Colin Firth.

A pivotal moment was saying no to Vivienne Westwood when she told me to re-edit elements of the film. For better or for worse, I knew I had to retain complete creative and editorial control, and I'm super proud of the results! Unfortunately, I knew that when I said no to her there would be consequences because of who she is and how powerful she is. Since Westwood was released, Vivienne's team have reached out to the fashion world and I've now been blacklisted by much of the industry and several fashion magazines have said they won't review the film or interview me due to their loyalty to Vivienne. It's a real shame, but I had to stay true to my vision and retain my integrity. The final edit of Westwood is not only an authentic and honest portrait of Vivienne, but it's also a true representation of my vision as a film-maker.

Set designer Stella Fox has worked on everything from the mega-blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Jane Campion’s John Keats biopic Bright Star. Stella’s work has taken her as far afield as Jordan, Budapest, Istanbul, Italy, Azerbaijan, the UAE and Malta. By no means restricted to film, one of her most notable projects was Channel 4’s sci-fi series Misfits, which won a BAFTA for production design in 2011.

A few years after working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was given the opportunity to join the same team on Star Wars: Episode VIII as an assistant set decorator. I imagine the majority of people would’ve jumped at the chance, but I turned it down. I wanted to stick to my guns as a decorator in my own right rather than assisting. I think this was a turning point in my career. I am now an established set decorator and have gone on to head up a wide variety of independent feature films and television series, including Entebbe starring Rosamund Pike and Danny Boyle’s new TV show Trust. It was incredibly tempting at the time to jump at the opportunity offered up to me rather than venturing forth on my own. However, I wouldn’t change a thing.

A longtime journalist and the former Associate Editor at Vanity Fair UK, Bridget has written for a number of respected publications, including Forbes, British Vogue, Departures, Travel+Leisure, House & Garden and Architectural Digest.