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Interview: Directors Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin Talk “Scheme Birds”


How much do we know about a life of struggles? How much do we care about those who feel left out by this world? Documentary subjects such as Gemma, Pay, JP, and Maria are not the only ones who have to make hard choices in life, which frankly, may not be so warmly welcomed in our well-balanced society. Why one person can afford having something fancy while another one can’t even have a piece of bread for breakfast?

“Scheme Birds” is not about who eats what and how much, but how much of their energy can be eaten by a life that is not so kind to them. But, in the end, of course there’s always one person who will prevail over the lack of luck or opportunities, while the others won’t make it that far.

During my interview with the directors of “Scheme Birds” – Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, I learned a lot about their journey, decisions they had to take along the way to make this film happen, and share an inspiring advice which surely you would not like to miss.

What inspired you to tell Gemma’s story?

Ellen Fiske: From the beginning we thought we were making a short about Gemma and her grandfather. And about his kind of rough area and the man who cared for pigeons. Gemma was just amazing character. In all this, and we set out to make a short but then things happen in her life and story just grew and we hung on to her for a while. So I think that inspired me very much, and all the things that happened to her. 

MOVIEMOVESME: How Challenging was it to follow Gemma’s life even during the filming process?

Ellen Fiske: The most challenging thing for us during the filming was that Gemma went through a lot of things. And, then, she could be quite hard to get a hold of when we were supposed to film. So we were chasing her some times, but that made us come up with our own method that we had to know exactly what we wanted to film. So it made us be more focused.

Ellinor Hallin: Challenge of filming Gemma was that she went through a hard time. Sometimes it was not easy to get a hold of her and she would not show up. But in a way it made us create a method of working that allowed her to decide when we could film or not, which was because we film sensitive stuff. It is hard to know how far we can push stuff because they are teenagers and Gemma is very much in charge of what is being filmed. And not even if it`s frustrating – you want to film everything, but we couldn`t. In the end, we can see that it was a good thing.

MOVIEMOVESME: It’s not easy to process drastic changes in someone’s life, especially after witnessing what happened to J.P., Gemma’s friend and her neighbor. How do you both control your emotions and try to remain focused throughout the process?

Ellinor Hallin: Of course you fell a lot of things when you film emotional stuff, but I think that’s the most important tool of a filmmaker to be able to understand someone’s life and feel what they feel. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing. And we saw that J.P. and Maria, for example, it was a good thing. They really like to talk about it and that someone listened, so we felt we gave them a voice and that we made a difference. That was good and important for them.

Ellen Fiske: Just to add what Ellinor said: We spent a lot of time with JP and Maria. I thing we got to know them quite well and that they felt really comfortable with us. And then we could be quite open to with our emotions. So we actually became friends with them while we were filming.

MOVIEMOVESME: How long did it take to film “Scheme Birds”?

Ellen Fiske:  We filmed over the course of four years, but we didn’t film that much. We just went back and forth to Scotland a few times actually. Most of the material is from one year in 2016 when Gemma got pregnant and a lot of stuff happened in her life, but then we actually waited for her. Because we knew it would take some time for her before she would like to meet JP and then, in the end, she did. So, it took us four years from beginning to end.

Ellinor Hallin: I think it is important that this story about the changes comes from Gemma and from her point of view and from her way of expressing herself. Because, if an outside person, me and Ellen, for example, come to Scotland and the schemes and tell people what they should do, I don’t think it’s really a good idea. I think it’s better if you hear a voice from your own situation and someone that is in the same situation that you are could inspire a lot of people. Gemma is very cool and charismatic. So I think that a lot of the younger girls and the boys get inspired by her.

MOVIEMOVESME: Editing of “Scheme Birds” is also not easy. There’s always a choice which should be made to leave certain scenes out it of the film. How did you both manage to combine two different opinions to ensure the result will be as expected?

Ellen Fiske: We started to edit the film quite early in the process. We were filming and then we were editing together. ME and Ellis before we started to with the long editing process. So we knew quite well what we wanted and I thing we the same kind of tasted and ideas about things. So we’ve been discussing throughout the process of filming what we want for the editing. So those things come together quite easy for us. So, most of the time we actually have the same opinion about things.  

Ellinor Hallin: Ellen and I, we think in a very similar way, which makes the editing and the filming process easy. Because it’s like we have the same thought, but we have two different people that can do the job. It’s easier for each other. But we also have a little bit different views of some thing, which makes the result even better that comes from different experiences. So I think when we edit the scene, we could try it in different ways to see what felt right. In the end, it’s what you can feel. And if you do, then it’s good.

MOVIEMOVESME: How impactful was Gemma’s, her boyfriend’s, JP’s or Maria’s story on both of you? What did you gain from them which you want to pass it on to the audience?

Ellinor Hallin: Gemma and the other characters in the film are very fragile and brave, I think. Even if they live in a hard place, they share their story with us. And yeah, I think that’s very brave and I really gained my respect.  So I want to pass that on to the audience and I hope that the audience will understand their way of life and their life choices, even if they are not always good but that they could relate to them. Because they are very honest with what they share and I think it`s important.

Ellen Fiske:The first time we met Gemma, I was just struck by how strong and unusual she was in this environment. She stood out. She was very witty and funy and corky and just a great character. I’ve always been inspired by her during the film. Because she always says unexpected stuff and she gets strong. She goes her own way. And when it comes to Pat, I was very movies by his background stories, who also been through a lot, and same with JP and Maria and his family. I was just very touched by their story and it was so clear that the violence could do to these people that is actually was for real. Because in the beginning we thought maybe this was just a game. This was just innocent game that would turn into something serious. And that’s something we wanted to tell about.

MOVIEMOVESME: After watching “Gemma”, do you believe that no matter how hard life is, strong will and determination can reduce the number of frustrations in life and help the younger generation to be more confident about themselves?

Ellinor Hallin: Being motivated is actually a luxury. And I think often when you speak about people in bad places, all you always want to do is inspired and to fight the odds and make the impossible things. I think, it’s not the reality and I think in the beginning, when the film was funded, a lot of people asked – “What do those people dream about? What do they want to achieve?”  And their answer was, sometimes they don’t want to achieve anything. That’s the problem. They don’t really know that there’s an option.  And I think it’s very important not to judge a person just because the person doesn’t have a dream and is fighting for something. I mean, we will give dreams back to people if you listen to them seriously and even there seems to be hopeless. If you treat them with respect, maybe they start to understand that there’s more to life than being hopeless.

Ellen Fiske: I agree with Ellis. A lot of time, you say that it’s up the individual to make a change, and I think, it’s really hard. This has to do with the structure and about the way Society is for those people. There are no jobs. There are no opportunities, for them. And I think that’s why Gemma can be strong and can change because she has a stable upbringing. Her mom was absent.  But because of Joseph was there for her, I think, it’s easier for her to break the pattern of the vicious cycle. But it’s for her than for others. They are stuck in the system. So I think it’s not that easy for anyone and it has a lot to do with the economical situation for the young people.

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