An interview with filmmaker Bindu de Stoppani on RyeZine, 24 March 2022.
Bindu de Stoppani
Based on a true story
What a perfect place to chat with Bindu de Stoppani, Rye’s Kino Cinema. We found our seats, turned our mobile phones off and had a quick chat before the main feature started.
Bindu is an award-winning scriptwriter, director and (former) actress, based on the South East coast.
How did you turn your love of films into a career?
Bindu. I’ve always been a passionate lover of cinema and have always appreciated visual storytelling in its magical form. As a child, I’d spend hours writing and illustrating short stories and turning them into books; this was before video came along. I loved nothing more than going to the cinema or watching old movies on my granny’s television; we didn’t have a tv set at home as a kid. The medium of cinema transfixed me, but I didn’t know that there was someone directing the whole thing. As I grew up, I became more aware of directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and John Hughes, but I never saw anyone who looked like me behind the camera. That concept seemed out of my reach. It never occurred to me that I, too, could become a filmmaker one day.
So my introduction into the world of cinema began as an actress. As my obsession with cinema grew, I could see actors like me represented in these visual stories. At 17, I auditioned for drama schools in London. I got into three and probably chose the toughest one at the time – the Drama Centre London. From the audition process onwards, I could sense this would be challenging; the place was raw, intense and honest. It was exciting!
Two percent of actors work, the rest don’t! They laid that message on thick, in black and white from day one. I completed the three years at the Drama Centre London, but it was incredibly competitive. The course started with 22 boys and 18 girls in our year. By the third year, we were 18 boys and just five girls. So, it was cut-throat and, by the last year, not incredibly gender-diverse. Our days began at nine in the morning when rehearsing for a show and ran until ten at night, five days a week. So you had to be committed. They pushed that point; if only 2% of actors find employment, our tutors pushed us to check that we cut the mustard.
So, I came out of drama school feeling invincible, thinking that anything was possible: you think you’re going be the next Julia Roberts! Little did I know that the business is really tough. Having said that, my first actual job was incredible. I got a part in Danny Boyle’s The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio. I was 22 years old. I flew to Thailand for four months and thought this was the beginning of my acting career, and it was going to be plain sailing from then on. But, of course, much of the film industry is about timing, who you know and how you foster these relationships. I was so naive, and it took me a while to realise that the knock-backs only make you stronger. So, whilst auditioning for bit parts here and there, I started my own theatre company with a drama school friend to generate our own work and not remain idle.
But my curiosity kept going back to cinema. I love theatre, as an actor, how you can live the story every night; but I felt limited by the four walls of a theatre box. I wanted to explore the dimension of film. So, I started writing short movies and sent one to RSI (the equivalent of the BBC in Switzerland), asking them for £2,000 to make it. Really nothing! Chump change in film terms. I had no idea about budgets or anything. Miracle of miracles they said yes! So, off I went and made my first short film.
It was a two-hander, set in a laundrette. This was pre-iPhones, so it was shot on mini DV with terrible sound and even worst graphics, then again, it only cost 2K, – we had a four-person crew and shot it in one day or one night, to be precise, when the laundrette was closed. I was in it, wrote and directed it, and my former Drama Centre schoolmate Michael Fassbender agreed to do it with me. It’s a cheeky love story about two young people who meet in a laundrette; oh, and there’s a pair of sexy underwear hanging in the balance. It’s cute.
So that kickstarted my filmmaking career. After that, I started developing a feature film, and again, I approached Swiss TV and presented them with the feature film script. Would you read it and let me know if you’re interested? I told them. The boldness of youth! I was trying my luck!
After drama school, I had tried to get into film school, but I didn’t have any more funds. So, I created my own film education, primarily working in bars and restaurants and attending film directing and scriptwriting courses in the evenings and on the weekends. For some time, I worked in film post-production and PR – and when I was lucky enough to land an acting job, I’d find myself on set, observing everything that was happening around me and soaking it all up. After many drafts of my first feature film script and many years in between – whilst I met my husband and had my first child – Swiss TV said yes, and agreed to support me. They wanted to foster whatever energy I had and the story I had written. I am still incredibly grateful to them for taking a punt on me at the start of my career.
In 2010 I finally directed my first feature film, Jump, starring Claire Price, which we shot in Switzerland and London. It was a co-production between Switzerland and the UK, and this film was the mark in the sand where I thought, yes, I absolutely love this. This is it!
It felt incredible to be involved in the creative process of making a film from its conception to its execution. Moviemaking is such a collaborative experience, and being there to steer the ship from start to finish was exciting and creatively stimulating. I’d found my thing. I love acting, don’t get me wrong, and I adore the process of working with actors, they are amazing, but if I’m honest, I always felt limited by only being an actress. I always yearned to tell the whole story.
After taking time out to have my second child, I directed my second feature film. I was juggling motherhood and filmmaking! It was not always easy to manage, both practically and emotionally, but it felt important to do both jobs. I’m empowered and so proud to be embodying both roles. One feeds into the other, and motherhood has informed my storytelling nuances and given me a vast array of skills I use on set; compassion, patience, clarity, empathy and dynamism.
Last summer, I directed my third feature film, 40 & Climbing, which I’d been developing for a couple of years. It’s a film about the complexities of female friendship, set in the mountainous great outdoors. I’m hoping the film will be released in the UK sometime in 2022 – maybe it’ll be shown here in Rye at the Kino; watch this space.
I’ve also been working on my first TV series in the last couple of years. Four years ago, I optioned a book in Italy called An Astrological Guide for Broken Hearts – by Silvia Zucca. I read it on a road trip through Italy with my family and thought this would make a fantastic TV series. I’d never seen a romantic comedy centre itself around astrology before. So I reached out to the publishers of the novel, inquired whether the rights were available, and expressed my interest in having a conversation with the book’s writer. Magically, the rights were available. The stars were aligned, as Silvia and I now say. When she heard about me and that I was coming at it from a creative point of view, rather than as a production company, she said, yes, let’s go for it.
So, I wrote the pilot script and sold it to IIF, a well-known production company in Italy, and Netflix picked it up. We wrote Season 1 in 2020, and in December of that year, they optioned Season 2.
Filming kicked off in Turin, Italy, in January last year. Season 1 is out now on Netflix – streaming in 190 countries – dubbed or subtitled in English and many other languages. We finished filming Season 2 in September 2021, and it will launch on Netflix 8th March 2022, International Women’s Day.
The last couple of years have been intense. But, it feels like things have jumped six steps ahead.
Silvia Zucca’s book follows the mishaps of Alice Bassi, a thirty-something woman and her quest to find “the one”, with the help of astrology. Every episode represents a different star sign. It’s a quirky, romantic comedy with a twist. Bridget Jones meets the Zodiac! That is how I pitched the show to Netflix. It helps to have a book because the novel has a life of its own. It has a readership; people are already engaged, curious, intrigued. Silvia’s novel has been published in 17 countries and printed in many languages. So it already had an audience, and that was part of my pitch. I loved turning her written prose into screenplays and a visual story. It’s definitely something I would like to do again.
Your films are released in Switzerland; do they also receive a UK distribution?
Bindu. Jump was a UK and Swiss co-production, as my producer was English, and I wrote it specifically for Swiss TV. So it tells the story of how I remember Switzerland from my childhood. Also, the script is half in English and half in Italian; I am bi-lingual, although I mostly write in English. It was screened in various festivals around the world, and in 2012 Jump won five awards at the British Independent Film Festival, including Best Film and Best Director. So when I moved to the south coast, I reached out to the Kino Group and asked if they’d be interested in screening it. And they loved it and decided to release it here in the UK.
“Nothing beats the collective energy and experience of going to the cinema. To enjoy visual storytelling in a room with other people. It’s like going to a concert or a comedy gig. It’s emotional.”
Then the same thing happened with Finding Camille. It premiered at the Rome Film Festival in 2018 before travelling around the world. Following that, it was broadcast on Swiss TV, and once again, it came to Kino (Rye, Hawkhurst and Bermondsey), and I hope the same can happen with 40 & Climbing. I feel it’s essential to support cinema locally – especially independent cinema. I love the Kino, and I am a massive champion and fan of their cinemas.
I often attend the screenings of my films at festivals; I love sitting at the back and gauging the room’s vibe. It changes every night. You wouldn’t think it, but cinema is just like theatre. Every night it evolves based on the audience’s status quo or the zeitgeist of the moment, what an audience brings to the space and what they pick up as a collective. Finding Camille, for example, might have had audiences in hysterics, laughing out loud, like overwhelmingly so, and I’d think jeez, it’s not that funny! But, then, there would be screenings of the same film, where the auditorium is deathly silent. You could hear a pin drop, people’s shoulders shaking, and audience members wiping away their tears. It’s the same film, and yet the audience interprets it in such different ways.
Finding Camille shares a story of a family connection and disconnection. The trailer reminded me of films like Together or Little Miss Sunshine, but it is 100% its own unique story. With a real-life level of comedy in the dialogue, especially between the father and daughter. Is this part of your own story?
Bindu. I’m so happy that you quoted two of my favourite films! Together and Little Miss Sunshine both represent my kind of filmmaking. Blending comedy and the heartfelt drama I so admire. I love that space when you are laughing one minute, and then the next moment, you feel choked up, and your eyes well up. Because sometimes even dark situations have humour; that’s life. I love a proper good weep, especially in a darkened cinema, and I also love when there is laughter at the end of it.
When researching Finding Camille, I studied the dynamics of Alzheimer’s. What happens when someone is unwell and when death is looming. I found that we approach death and illness differently, especially when it’s not our own. I observed families and spoke to people caring for loved ones suffering from this heartbreaking illness. I wanted to tell the story from the carer’s point of view rather than talk about the disease itself. The stories people would say to me could be so heartbreaking and yet so hilarious at the same time. I could see that laughter was a means for them to cope with what was going on, and I thought that was an exciting way of approaching the conversation. In relation to the father-daughter story, this theme has come up various times in my storytelling. Yes.
I met my father for the first time when I was seven. Although my mum knew who he was, they had had a short love affair. So I was the product of a situation that was quite unconventional. They had agreed that I would meet him when I started asking who he was. Aged six and a half, my teacher asked our class to draw a picture of our family. I grew up primarily with my mum, great auntie, and granny, so I drew a picture of two old ladies and my mum. Oblivious that that wasn’t the norm, but it was my family.
“I could see my friends drawing mum, dad, brother, sister, and the penny dropped. Do I have a father?”
So I came home that day, and I said to my mum, do I have a dad? And she said, yes, of course. I think it’s time you met him. The first time I met my father – and this is a movie in itself – he was living in Sweden, although he’s Italian-American. And so aged seven, I got on a flight and went to meet him. Alone. I landed in Stockholm and saw this man who looked identical to me. I remember the feeling of recognising myself in him but not knowing him. I recall seeing a double rainbow through the window on the bus into the city, and I started crying. I managed to tell him I wanted to go home, now. Naturally, being a parent myself now, I can understand how nervous he must have been to have this little person in his care, who belonged to him but also knew nothing about. But from my perspective, I was so uncertain I felt that sticky homesick feeling in my tummy. I just wanted my mum and the two old ladies I considered my family.
My dad lived in a theatre collective, and they had arranged a party for me. By then, I had a younger half-sister, and he told me that she was dying to meet me. Let’s go to the house, meet everyone, and after that, if you would like me to bring you back to the airport, we can do that, is what he told me. Naturally, it sounded intriguing. The prospect of cake and meeting my sister was too much to resist. Needless to say, once I’d arrived and fell head over heels in love with my sibling and my father’s partner (at the time), I stayed for the rest of the summer. I have a great relationship with my dad now, but that experience has definitely shaped me, and hence, it’s been a source of inspiration for my storytelling. A recurring theme in my writing, but maybe that will change soon. I think I might be ready to explore the themes of motherhood now.
My mum, too, has an incredible story attached to her name. She has worked as an architect and an interior designer for many years now; she’s a therapist and has a visual aesthetic that has always fascinated me. She was both mother and father to me and always encouraged my self-expression and creativity. I was born in India, which I hold very dear to me. My Swiss-Italian mother went to India in 1975. On her own. When she was pregnant with me. She is one of the bravest women I know. Brave, adventurous and idealistic. She’s a spiritual dreamer. So, I have a multifaceted identity. India was my home for the first five years of my life; after that, we lived in various places around the world until I came to the UK when I was 11, where I attended boarding school until I was 16.
You have been living on the south coast for 15 years. Would you like to film in this area?
Bindu. Yes, absolutely, it’s such an inspiring part of the world. At the start of 2020, I launched a production company called Bright Films to create projects locally, using the talent that I see is available here. One of the projects that I am developing is a film version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It would be incredible to set it down here. From Dungeness to Hastings. This area, its landscapes, the changing weather and the lost worldliness of this place lends itself beautifully to this well-known story.
I’ve written a modern magical retelling of Shakespeare’s last comedy. It is set in the present day and encapsulates many issues we experience living by the coast – the human beings arriving on our shores, the boats landing on our beaches regularly. The environmental impact our lifestyles have on our oceans; the rubbish and flotsam collected on the beaches, my family and I are regular beach clean collectors. The Tempest touches upon so many issues we are facing right now. Including gender issues, homelessness, coercive control and naturally, the impact first love has on our mind, body and souls. I am interested in retelling this tale with a specific female gaze thrust upon it. Miranda’s zeitgeist and girl experience, in a play that is mostly made up of male characters. This reshaping of The Tempest will be led by Miranda’s sexual awakening and her fantasies whilst exploring her sensuality. So this is one of the projects that I’m looking to get off the ground. The idea would be to work with as many local artists and creators and keep it as sustainable as possible.
Kino Cinema – Rye, Lion Street, Rye TN31 7LB, UK
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