Natalie McCoy was born and raised in Liverpool, UK. After studying Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Chester she founded Pooch and Terrier Productions to create her own unique stamp on creativity in Liverpool and beyond.
Ms McCoy has since written and directed the film Followed as well her upcoming piece Murmur. Here we delve into McCoy’s creative processes, and understand how this upcoming director ticks.
Caroline - Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but what you wanted to do as a career?
Natalie - I’ve always known I wanted to pursue a career within this type of industry but at the time I wanted to be an actor. I trained in university focusing on acting. But I think it really hit me after university and I had to sit down and have a serious think about what direction to take.
A mixture of the 6 year old me who was just blown away by films and the 24 year old me who wanted to create opportunities for myself and others around The City creatively. I trust my gut in everything I do, I know when it feels right, and I’m most happy and more excited about the prospect of creating films.
Caroline - Who is your inspiration?
Natalie -I don’t really have one specific inspiration but a mixture of different things. I’m inspired by my drive and belief I’ve had for so many years. Not giving up and telling people that one day I believe this will happen for me.
I’m inspired by stories and people. Knowing you have a great script, a great team around you and working towards getting a film into the production stage.
I’m inspired by the possibility of paving the way for younger people who want opportunity within the Liverpool creative scene and don’t know where to turn to. Plus, I’m a huge cinema fan. I see every film released and I always leave feeling a bit more inspired. From appreciating the production value, to the warm and fuzzy feeling it gave me. To seeing the credits role. I leave excited to put that inspiration into my next production meeting.
Caroline - What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Natalie -Although I’m a massive horror fan and my first two films sit within that genre, I watch a variety of films, and film for me has always been about captivating me. Engaging me in the story and having me on the edge of my seat. I love that feel good feeling of entertainment.
Caroline - What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Natalie -Hook is my favourite film of all time. I remember being about 6 years old watching it for the first time. The story of Peter Pan will always be special to me. When I watch Hook, even to this day after a long work week, it’s the film I put on to just forget everything. And even 21 years later, it’s still so magical.
It’s such an influential film for me because it makes me feel how I want someone else to feel from watching a film I make. It sparked something in me at the tender age of 6, that I realised as I got older, was the beginning of my filmmaker evolution. Leading me into the path from just being so mesmerized by it,to hang on, I want to make films like this! Films that leave an impression on people of not only the satisfaction of watching a film but to find that influential moment.
Caroline - I understand that you’ve previously made Followed, what important lessons did you learn from this?
Natalie -Followed was so much fun. I loved every second of it because I was finally out there doing what I wanted to do! I couldn’t of asked for a better team around me for that film, everyone was everything I could of asked for and more. To this day I’m still getting such great feedback which I’m so grateful for. It fills me with such belief. But as any filmmaker knows, film doesn’t always run smoothly and we encountered problems on Followed.
I would say production plans. Although we had one, we didn’t have a production manager. So we didn’t stick to the time the plan told us. Which resulted in us losing daylight. But of course, not sticking to the plan because you’re not happy with the take is also a factor. For my next film, I have a production manager to help things run more smoothly. But I also learnt good lessons too. I learnt that it’s okay to trust other people. Give them a job and let them help. I believe I learnt to be a better director from the content of the film not having dialogue, directing the subtext and motive through actors emotions I feel improved me a lot. And I learnt that if I keep working hard, my life could be like this all the time. So as soon as Followed was out, that’s when I started Murmur.
Caroline - Where did Murmur come from?
Natalie -Murmur has been an idea in my head since 2015, I remember being in second year of uni and started writing scripts. Over time the film has changed massively and the script I have now I’m incredibly happy with. I like to entertain an audience, I like to create a reaction. So I like to feed questions from the subtext and throw in hints, easter eggs and red herrings. Keeping them on the edge of their seats, guessing the outcome and shocking them with the ending. Being a fan of horror I don’t scare easy but when I do it’s from real life situations. How the most normal, everyday person has a sinister side and a motive. I also wanted Murmur to be as original as I could make it and something that’s not been seen before.
Caroline - How do you create such original content?
Natalie - Finding original content today is incredibly difficult and on some level impossible. Something will always have something similar out there surely! Original content I believe starts with you and your experiences. My original idea for Murmur, which is still the back bone for the script I have now, was Tinnitus and the noises from Tinnitus.
I’ve had Tinnitus from the age of 16 but only really noticed it from my early 20’s. And I remember sitting there one day, with the noise I was hearing being quite bad and affecting me. Sitting there thinking. Can I put this into a horror context. Can I use the noises to question my audience, to give my character a motive. To have a soundscape of noises so eerie and different that the audience feels uncomfortable? And once I started developing characters and the story got deeper and deeper. The rest of it just sort of fell into place.
Caroline - How do you approach directing a script?
Natalie -At University I remember a lecturer of mine; Shelley saying something and what she said has stayed with me since. She said “Don’t ever show or demonstrate to an actor how to say something, why? Because they will just mimic you, they will say it how you say it and it won't be authentic”.
When I direct a script, I talk about the story. I talk about the subtext to that point in time. Yes I know how the script ends, yes the actors know how the script ends, but in that moment in the story the characters don’t, so that plays no part in the subtext I talk about within that scene.
It taught me to appreciate the script as a whole and commit to telling the story properly. I put the actors in that moment and create a hype and a drive.
For example, in Followed. Myself and Emily, who is a fantastic actress took a few moments away from everyone. And we sat down next to a tree. I spoke to her about the scene we were about to do. How this character of hers is trapped, no matter how far she runs she will never get anywhere. She knows exactly who’s following her and what exactly he’s capable of. The fear from their past comes through here but is 10x more knowing you can't be saved. That is the level of fear this character has.
The same with Tom, such a hard working guy and his work ethic is really up there! Not seeing his face and directing the physicality of his body. Within the story, subtext and motive of his character. He’s invincible, he can play games, hes sinister and evil. Portray that in your confidence when you walk. Take your time, you know you’re in control here. It’s more authentic to the story and trusting your actors they will give what’s needed is such a massive part. The first thing that needs to come is that trust.
Caroline - What do you think is the best way to work with your cast?
Natalie -I treat my cast the way I would want anyone to be treated. With respect, trust and creative freedom. Talking about trust previously, they are on board to create a great film too. They are on board to portray your vision. Remembering you choose them for a reason, now it’s time for your belief in them to be shown on set. Know that they know their characters and the story. So you can delve deeper now into the backstories and the subtext and I can ask them questions on what they believe, what they think their characters are going through. Allow each others creativity to portray the story in the most authentic way possible.
Caroline - What do you want to bring to the table in the current film scene?
Natalie - I want to bring opportunity. I want to create a buzz for Liverpool filmmakers and beyond. That if you work hard, get out there and try you never know where it will take you. The friends I’ve made through doing this is unbelievable. People on the same wavelength as you and we already have so many projects lined up. I want to represent the film scene with my friends to be a place for opportunity. A place for creatives to reach out and get involved. To put us on the map as respectable filmmakers who create good content, and are good role models for people out there. Build up our companies in a respectable way that we’re recognized for good work ethic and approachable for helping others.
Caroline - Are there any difficult topics you want to address in your films, symbolically or literally?
Natalie -Not right now, however I have had conversations about a few different topics for documentaries and short films. I feel that if I was to take on something so important and so delicate to portray I want to get it right. I would want to do a massive amount of research, talk to people going through it. I’d also want to have more of an audience so a topic like that can get the engagement it deserves and hopefully does raise awareness and benefits a charity in some way. Right now I make films purposely for the entertainment of an audience. But as I improve as a director and within the film scene I would love to take something difficult and address it in the most respectful way I could.
Caroline -What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?
Natalie -Just go for it! Get yourself in social media groups. People post for crew all the time. Get as much experience as you can and while you’re doing it you’ll make the best friends along the way. If you feel this is what you want to do, then don’t let no one or nothing stop you. Get out there and create your own stuff. The more you do, the more you learn. Put it online, take the feedback and learn from it. It’s the most rewarding experience you will ever do. To have an idea in your head, and from the stress of paperwork, to auditions, to the long film days. Then you see your end product and you can actually say. I done that, I worked hard and got through it. And now I have a pretty good film, friends, improvement as a filmmaker and belief to go and do another one. I’m a huge believer in gut instincts and trusting what your gut tells you. You know when something feels right, you know when you need to take risks and go for it. If not you will spend a long time regretting it. If it feels right, don’t look back. Trust your gut!