the Dressmaker (short film)

The Dressmaker

by // Philip White
Staring // Anaïs Gallagher
For // Suzie Turner

“Let’s make a film that follows no rules, with no real purpose or desired outcome. No intention to sell a product or promote a brand or business. Let’s create a film with zero budget, but were creativity is unrestricted. Let’s plan a little but then let the project develop and drive itself. “

I first met Suzie in Paris in November 2017. I was with Kat, my wife at a weeklong ‘event’ for luxury wedding professionals. Out of 50 or so individuals in attendance we gravitated towards each other. A common ability to cut through the bullshit of industry ‘networking’ led to an evening long conversation about film. I’d shot weddings consistently for ten years and expressed to Suzie my desire to film something else, non-wedding related. I needed a personal project.

Suzie being Suzie told me to make a film about her. I laughed but then as we chatted, I realised that the suggestion wasn’t a complete non starter. We spoke about craftsmanship, work ethic, personal demons and fairytales. Suzie told me of her childhood obsession with the elves and the shoemaker. She’d planted a seed. A month later I’d storyboarded a film.

My vision was to base the film on the classic Hans Christian Anderson story, only infusing elements of Suzie’s journey as a Couturist throughout. Suzie later spoke to me of the endless nights she’d spent working tirelessly on her creations. When she did infrequently sleep or eat it would usually be at her workbench, alongside her creations. I used these personal elements to blur the lines between fiction and reality. When we see our main character find a completed gown one morning she looks surprised. My aim throughout every stage of the film was to make our audience ask questions. I’d made Suzie both the elves and the shoemaker, the former, showing a side of our character who’s demons grew as the film progressed. Constantly bluring lines between night, day, dreams and reality, the film crescendos when our character hits breaking point. I used the Disney projections alongside the naked mannequins partly as a nod towards the endless pursuit of perfection idea but mainly to enhance the final stage of our characters breakdown. I wanted to end with the irony of our character becoming the ‘princess’ where in reality it was more about her giving back to herself. The kids in the classic tale set the elves free by giving them shoes. Suzie sets herself free by realising that she can’t continue living this way. Wearing her own creation is merely symbolic of the generous act. She free herself. She’s finally in control.

We never wanted to make this film with a budget. Doing so would have cheapened it I think. For that reason, I tried to strip everything back as much as I possibly could. One actor, one voice, one room (Suzie’s studio). I took the decision in post production to only include scenes that were within one metre of the workbench, simply to resonate more with Suzie’s own personal connection to the desk. The use of black and white is also about stripping back. When we’re asking the viewer to question so many things, I didn’t want the distraction of colour. It sounds wanky but it’s true.

Throughout this entire creative process we’ve always joked that this film has its own mind and appears to create its own path. At every turn, from our first encounter in France to us stumbling across our lead actor within 10 minutes of even discussing who could play the role, the film has taken hold of us and almost made its own choices. Maybe it’s because there’s never been a ‘goal’ in mind. Even with it now complete we’ve no idea what its purpose is. I kinda like that too.

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