Erasing David: An Interview with Melinda McDougall
co-directed the thought-provoking , and at times haunting documentary, Erasing David. We caught up with Melinda to ask her what she thinks about surveillance and women in the film industry as part of our First Weekenders Club.
How was the idea for making Erasing David first concieved and how did you get involved in it?
David Bond and Producer Ashley Jones came up with the original concept. I was approached to come on board and help make their idea a reality. There were a huge amount of legal issues to deal with initially plus a massive logistical analysis regarding the secrecy of the shoot – details of how the Detectives would attempt to track David had to be kept secret from him throughout pre-production.
You were working alongside David Bond as co-director. How was it working with him whilst he was ‘disappearing’?
My role was to direct the half of the film that follows the Detectives as they track David. I had limited contact with him to preserve the purity of the chase. Ashley Jones liaised between us and alerted me when the Detectives were closing in so we could be prepared to capture it.
Frank Ahearn made David aware of things that we all do on an everyday basis that give away more information than we could possibly conceive of, say, at the time of making a phone call, or responding to a message on Facebook.
How did this new level of understanding make you feel?
Being aware of the number of times we are filmed each day, or the amount of data we give away is important in our increasing surveillance culture. But it’s also essential not to let it make you feel paranoid.
The cinematography of the film is really interesting. One example is that when David is on the run we see him from oblique angles which heightens our level of anxiousness, but also gives us the idea that we are following him. Can you talk to us a bit more about the aesthetic decisions you made in directing the film, and why you made them?
I worked closely with the fantastic cinematographer Annemarie Lean-Vercoe. We wanted to give the Detective sequences a thriller/surveillance feel and filmed their search observationally. The impression is that the audience is spying on Cerberus as they spy on David’s life. One of my favourite scenes was filmed covertly at the Eurostar terminal as we waited to see if David would be caught, while the North Yorkshire landscape opened the film out and gave us some eerie moments. David and I discussed shots we could both aim for which would give the two chase elements of the film a sense of overlap.
Since making Erasing David are you more careful with your personal information?
Definitely. I now own a shredder and avoid data collection as much as possible. Opt out as much as you can. We are all far too careless with our data.
Finally, at Birds Eye View we recognise that there remains huge disparity between the number of successful and established male and female film-makers – do you feel that your career, and the status that you have reached has been affected at all because of the fact that you’re a woman? What would you like to see done in order to close this gap?
I think women do have to fight a lot harder in an industry that can be tough, unforgiving and to a large degree still run by the Oxbridge boys club. The recent skillset figures showing 5000 women left the industry in the last three years comes as no surprise. By the time most women have built up years of experience as freelance directors and producers they find themselves faced with the challenges of biology and unpaid maternity leave. Until TV and film companies provide adequate childcare (including on location) for talented female professionals, the female drain away from the industry will continue at a rapid pace.
Erasing David is out now. Show your support for Melinda McDougall and women directors by going to see it. For more information, vistit our First Weekenders page.