“A Fairy Tale Parable, Without the Preaching” Alice Waddington Talks Paradise Hills
At an early age, Alice Waddington learned it was possible to create something in and around your small town, that could affect people around the globe. When the financial crisis hit Spain in 2008, she made the decision to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional storyteller.
“I wanted to pay homage to the female heroine, so I started making shorts,” said Waddington. Her first short went to seven International festivals and qualified for an Academy Award. “That was really the beginning of it all,” she remarked.
In 2015, Waddington started writing with Sofia Cuenca (Shrew’s Nest), where the duo started working on a 40-page treatment for a feature. The treatment was taken to Fantastic Fest, which won second-best pitch prior to going to market.
“I can’t really express myself with the written word. I like to present myself with a technique I learned from advertising. My presentations usually have 15-18 slides that accompany the treatment, like an intro to the film.”
Described as the “teenage version of Blue Velvet,” the treatment also described the story as Orwellian. “The sociological content, such as the dichotomy of horror stereotypes, is something we wanted to talk about. For this film, we needed to deal with all of the theoretical parts.”
There was also a character guide because young adult stories require various details. “There were two slides I had painted to include more details. I included references to the clothing in the film, but there were some other real paintings that pertained to different moments in the story. Forty pages are too long, but we were young, naïve, and excited.”
Meeting a Mentor
At the same time, the writer-director won Best Director award for a short called Disco Inferno. Among the crowd of please attendees was Guillermo del Toro. Taken by Waddington, Guillermo introduced her to his manager, his agent, and even the producers of the film he was there to promote, Crimson Peak.
After the wheels started to turn, Sofia Cuenca stepped away from the film due to family issues, but Waddington brought in Nacho Vigalondo to finish the screenplay. Using the extensive treatment, Vigalondo was able to help fill in the pieces.
At this point, it was time to focus on the genre space. “Nacho had never written for anyone else before, but I had known him for seven years and I knew our friendship could help. He could be my eyes and ears on the project, and represent my point of view because he had known me for so long.”
“I was interested in writers who would bring twists and turns to the story out of pure love, but who would also dramatize current issues that young people – particularly young women – have, so that’s why I chose these people for this story.”
Writing For Young Women
“I wrote this film for my 12-, 13-, 14-year old self who was quite nerdy and wanted to escape to a fantastical world. I loved Lord of the Rings, but never saw myself creating those types of narratives.”
Writing for the modern girl, she could better craft the story as a message. “Inside, they feel like they’re never going to be beautiful enough, popular enough, and I just wanted to communicate that the responses to those pressures are normal. They have to find a group that loves them for who they are.”
Waddington believes it’s important to balance entertainment and character with films meant for young adults. “We wanted to make a fairy table parable, without preaching. When you have a female narrative that tackles current issues, and you’re doing it with a female cast, you’re going to have to have female characters that are horrible, as well as wonderful.”
“It’s meant to be a narrative, so there’s no agenda behind this film, but there is an acknowledgment of a younger generation who is very aware of the political state of the world. You’re meant to lose yourself and go with it, but at the same time, it’s a feature made for people proud of asking questions, like I was when I was younger.”
Inspiring the Curious
As a kid, Waddington would ask so many questions in history class that her parents were called. “The teacher said my curiosity disrupted the class. That is who I’m making films for – the people who ask too many questions and get chastised for it. I think questions are a good way to see the world.”
“Young filmmakers need to understand that the world is in their hands now, and that makes me really hopeful. Parents come to me and tell me it’s going to help them figure out what they want for their kids, and what those kids actually want for the future. That’s a really important conversation.”
“The cool thing about fairy tales is that we think we know them. That’s why they’re fun. They’re entertaining, but one thing important to me is to have a first and second act that was inviting and accommodating, so you could be ready for the third act.”
“We really wanted to go after the notion of perfection and lift the lid on it. What’s underneath that glitz and glamor? There’s a lot of femininity and there’s not one specific way to be a woman.” Now in a mentor-like role for young creative filmmakers, Waddington takes this responsibility very seriously.
“I feel the need to empower women and Hispanic creators who want to bring their stories to the forefront. These stories have still been truly under-told. There is a saturation in the storytelling market, but we have young voices who are right to believe they can tell their own stories, in a way they are passionate about, but also in a way that is culturally specific.”
“Many studios are looking for tiny stories that are universal, but told in an original way. That still holds true and relevant, but young people should also look for mentors interested in and invested in their future,” she added.
“It’s all about surviving a world that is complex for them. I think female creatives who find male mentors who are morally correct are also very helpful. Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright have been guiding lights for me, simply because they’re at a point in their careers where they can extend their education to others and help minority creators.”
This interview has been condensed. Listen to the full audio version HERE.
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