When filmmaker Victoria Mapplebeck recharged her old Nokia phone, she found a compelling real-life story — a story that tells how two people meet, date, break up and deal with an unplanned pregnancy — all within 100 texts
She shot this film entirely with an iPhone 6 on a budget of 2,000 pounds…
A Message From the Director
I once made a living as a freelance documentary director. It was a high pressure career full of drama, but I loved it. When I was 38, I found myself, single pregnant and broke. I had to rethink how I’d pay my rent. The long hours and constant traveling of a director were no longer a good fit for raising my son alone. I’d taught filmmaking at various Film Schools for many years. I liked the students I worked with and they seemed to like me, and so teaching became my new career once my son was born.
For the first few years, it was a huge relief to be off the treadmill of frantic schedules and endless hustling, but as my son grew older I missed it. There’s a famous quote by Cyril Connolly, a British Literary critic. He writes, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Connolly wrote this in 1938. A time when the person watching over the pram in the hallway was more than likely to be his wife.
Eight decades have passed since Connolly blamed the enemy of good art on “the pram in the hall” and the person listening out for the baby to wake is still more than likely to be its mother. As these women listen for that cry, they’re spinning a lot of plates. They probably have a full-time career. When they get home, tired and distracted… they feed their family, they clean, they put a wash on, they pay the electric bill, they help with homework and they contemplate how they’ll ever find the time to finish that screenplay, book, article or film that they’ve been dreaming about.
For years, I dreamt about having that time back. I thought as my son got older it would come. It didn’t. So I made the decision to go out and find that time. I let other things slide. We ate too much take out pizza, I stopped going to the gym, the ironing pile grew to new heights and all, but the really necessary emails went unanswered.
I finally found the time to write a short story, that story turned into the 50,000 word memoir about raising my son alone, entitled “160 Characters.” A few years later, I adapted this book into my short film for Film London. Once I began writing, I put on a few pounds, I pissed off a few work colleagues, but my son was happy, I was happy and even better, after three years, I had finished my book. It’s easier for women to write than it is to make feature films. Film production traditionally needs big finance. Big budgets mean keeping in with the “powers that be,” the people on panels that move your funding bid to the top of the pile because you’re a name they know. Tricky for women directors, when even a year-long career break can take you from a “somebody” to a “nobody.”
When I received the award from Film London to make 160 Characters, it was the first film funding I’d received in over a decade. The budget was just 2,000 pounds. The challenge I faced was in producing a short film on the kind of budget I’d once had for catering. What saved me was the recent boom in DIY filmmaking. Shooting on a smartphone, taught me that films no longer need a huge budget and crew. I embraced the fact that “small is beautiful,” that a good story is a good story, it doesn’t necessarily need 90 minutes and a catering budget.
My son is called Jim. When I began shooting 160 Characters, Jim was a huge part of the production, as well as the story. He was with me for much of the smartphone shooting, filmed over an unusually warm London summer. Many of the key sequences were shot in a local park. We live in a fourth-floor flat, so Jim and I spent half his lifetime in this park. It has good memories for both of us. Last year, as I filmed in the places we’d once spent so much time in, the bandstand, the swings, the paddling pool, Jim was right next to me. Watching me shoot and edit 160 Characters, he was really struck by how much pleasure filmmaking gave me.
Jim is 13 now, when I manage to get him away from YouTube and Instagram he’s great company. He’s funny and smart, we went shopping together recently and he told me the trainers I was looking at were for people born in this century. Unlike his mum, he likes being in front of a camera rather than behind it. The image of him skipping down the hill in the final sequence of the film is pretty emblematic of who he is. He’s also very proud of the fact that he composed the music for the end credit sequence. When my composer dropped out, he picked up his iPhone, downloaded GarageBand, and in just 15 minutes, composed a brilliant track we used in the final cut. And even better… he gave me the rights for the price of a new pair of trainers.
In 2015, when 160 Characters was selected for the BFI London Film Festival, only 45 of the 238 films in the festival line-up were directed by women. A shamefully small amount.
My message to any women with kids and a burning desire to get back to her creative life of old or to reinvent a new one, would be to get productive in the micro-pockets of time you can carve out when your baby is sleeping or your kids are on Xbox.
Do it for you. Do it for your kids. Do it as a collective “up yours” to Cyril Connolly and to anyone else who thinks that motherhood and great art are mutually exclusive. They’re not.
Read more about the story behind the film in her interview.