Interview with Mel Piper, creator of “No Man’s Land”, a genre feature film project
We spoke to the creator of the wonderful world of No Man’s Land, Mel Piper; a fairy tale like world where nothing seems what it is. She told us what inspired her to create such a rich world, what has her trajectory been so far and where she hopes the project will go.
Imagine a Europe where each country is separated from the next by stretches of no man’s land. In this world an alchemist finds missing persons. And a scientist researches a cure for human imagination. Their endeavours collide when the scientist asks the alchemist to find his son.
FMH: Tell us a little bit about yourself, why did you decide to become a filmmaker? Where did you study? How did you start your career in film?
I studied to become an actress so I spent a year at the Gaiety School in Dublin and one summer at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. It was a fantastic education but before anything could get serious I turned and walked away from that extraordinary profession. It just wasn’t for me. I went on to get myself a degree in Film Studies from London Metropolitan University and shot my first shorts on miniDV. I paid my bills with assistant directing and stage managing jobs in theatre and runner jobs in casting agencies and TV production companies.
With the writing I started much earlier and a lot less structured. I would tell myself bits of stories wherever I went and scribble things down. It always felt that reality fell short of what was actually happening around me: the magical things, the connections between people, the glue. Movies have a unique way of making such things visible.
FMH: Do you have any other work in film, TV or advertisement? Can you show us/ tell us about your most noted work up until now?
I was lucky to meet my mentor and now friend Jens-Erwin Siemssen, a noted theatre director who specialises in documentary and site-specific theatre. From him I learnt the importance of truth in stories.
I accompanied Jens’ productions to Greenland and Kenya as an assistant and I made a documentary about his work in Greenland, which is available on the theatre’s website www.das-letzte-kleinod.de. Later I co-directed his site-specific play Atalanta, and I then moved on to write and direct my own independent theatre production Children of Neuhof in the Hamburg port.
I made two fiction short films: Abseitsleben (Offside Life) and Fleeting Visit. Despite their micro budget they went on a bit of a festival tour. You can watch their trailers here: www.melpiper.com.
Next to No Man’s Land there are currently two more feature film scripts at different stages of development.
FMH: Tell us about your project, No Man’s Land, how did it come about?
The journey started on a beach in the south of France. It was winter, not so long ago.
FMH: I read through the script and dossier for No Man’s Land and I loved the whole concept from the start: from the language to the mood board of the world you’d create. So, you’ve created a fantasy world, which is surrounded by this threat, the origin of which we don’t know much. I wanted to ask you, where does the inspiration come from for this story? It seems to have many layers and something that could be even developed into a saga! It could even be something developed across several different types of platforms and channels as a transmedia project. Have you thought about it in that way? Or you see it as a more self-contained type of story?
Wow, thank you, Alex, for your encouraging assessment! But I believe to answer it would be too early. I want to make this film first.
In regards to inspiration and layers… In today’s social and political discourse there’s rarely ever middle ground, instead extremes are predominant: right-wing and left-wing, black and white, hate and more hate. Why is one group of humans privileged over another?
I was happy to be a German living in London, fall in love, study, work and do all the wonderful things you do in London in your twenties. The U.K. had been my home away from home for many years but now what’s happening in regards to Brexit feels alien to me.
Then there is Germany and its many segregational, racist thoughts. I grew up while these thoughts were invisible, dormant even, and I felt safe and free. But the forces with which they are surfacing now suggest their continuous presence. You know, the concepts of true hate and fear got to me late. I was lucky, naive and rather cocooned.
FMH: What is your ultimate goal with the creation of “No Man’s Land”? In the sense of, what concept would you like audiences to stay with when they’d watch it?
I really, really want No Man’s Land to entertain its audience. I mean that is the ultimate goal!
The film is about how we shape our own reality. How we can transform something horrific into something filled with positivity and hope. And it’s really up to us.
FMH: How long have you been working on this project?
Letting drafts settle in between rewrites can be incredibly rewarding. Like the best thing you can do. One draft takes roughly eight to twelve weeks. After that and in between, there are draft-settling-weeks. Then the next one. I have been blessed with very insightful feedback from professional readers and trusted colleagues and friends.
Lately there has been a lot going on on the networking front. As a first-time filmmaker that is another film school entirely. I love it, it is fabulous, especially within the generous genre film community. I have been meeting the most inspiring and giving film people in the last months. Many through the nurturing realms provided by the European Genre Forum and lately through Sitges Film Festival and Sitges Pitchbox. However, networking has taken me away from script development a little.
FMH: At what stage are you with it at this moment? What do you need, are you looking for to further develop it?
To receive development/preproduction funding or equivalent in a next step would be immensely helpful. Seeing as this is a very specific dystopian world I am eager to take the project to the next level. We are at a stage where to have talks regarding cast, VFX, locations etc. and to concept art and storyboard the film would be fantastic.
FMH: What do you think stands out most in No Man’s Land?
No Man’s Land paints a flipside picture of the world that we live in. It is a love letter to an ailing Europe. Both the alchemist Lumière and the scientist Dr. Right believe that what they are doing will make it a better place. I imagine that one of them is correct.
FMH: Had you shopped it around before uploading it to Filmarket Hub? How did it go?
FMH: What made you apply to Sitges Pitchbox 2018?
Sitges Pitchbox and Sitges Film Festival came with high recommendations from the founders of the European Genre Forum, in which No Man’s Land participates.
And it truly is a magical place for genre filmmakers to network.
FMH: Do you think, as a director/screenwriter, is it important to be involved in all parts of the process of making a TV Show, not just writing it, but marketing it etc.?
As the director, the film carries my vision. So I believe the first steps have to be mine. But a film becomes a cinematic story that people want to watch only in a team collaboration. There are fantastic people in every department who excel at what they do. They can turn abstract thought into film matter and make it fly. That’s something to trust. Only with their talent can a film be complete.
FMH: At Filmarket Hub we tend to have a hard time finding projects led by women. In your experience, what’s it been like working in the film industry? Who are some of your role models?
It seems to be a great time to be a woman filmmaker. Although I’d rather be considered just a filmmaker.
- Tell us your three favourite screenwriters:
Gus Van Sant
- Three favourite screenwriting books:
Just one: Save The Cat
- Three favourite directors:
Guillermo del Toro
- Three favourite movies:
Mustang (Ergüven, 2015)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, 2013)
Rebecca (Hitchcock, 1940)