Anattic's junior director Alice Halstead on her childhood collection of dead moths and aspiring to ‘big city’ dreams, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
Aged seven, Alice Halstead was taught to use her Grandfather’s DSLR camera and hasn’t really put one down since. As a quiet child, she immersed herself into the digital world, sharing her pictures with those closest to her. “I used to come back from holidays having taken about 3,000 photographs of everything I saw; then make my parents sit through various pictures of random trees and bugs as they feigned interest.” But that wasn’t the only thing she enjoyed doing. “I also used to collect dead moths for some reason; perhaps the makings of a female Buffalo Bill? Buffalo Jill?”
Brought up in Yorkshire, Alice’s settings were idyllic as she recalls ‘chatting to friendly farmers and feasting at pub lunches’ in a storybook childhood setting. “Whilst giving me an appreciation of the countryside and nature, it also led to a romanticism of the ‘big city’ and a yearning for a busier atmosphere, which I’m sure many would tell me is misplaced.”
Alice went on to study at the University of Leeds where she embarked on a film, photography and media degree which left her somewhat short. “I met some great people but for me, I felt they neglected the importance of the practical side of the course, so whilst having a great academic grounding in film and loving Leeds as a city, I would say to anyone considering a career in the practical side of film to go for a more specialised course (or none at all).” What made all the difference for Alice was her year in the industry, which she encourages every aspiring filmmaker to embark on. “Doing a year in industry is invaluable.”
During her stint with industry experience, Alice describes practical endeavours ‘going around about five different companies’ where she made music videos and promotional videos, being exposed to the way in which the industry works. While this reaffirmed her passion for the craft, it also uncovered a flaw in the industry which she believes needs significant change. “The work experience was unpaid of course so I was very lucky that I could use loans and savings to get me through the year and it led to me making great contacts, but it’s 100% an aspect of the industry that needs to change as it’s not an accessible option for everyone.”
After finishing university, Alice wound up at production company Anattic, based in Manchester, where she has been working since. “I owe those guys a lot, as they’ve taught me so much and have opened a lot of doors. They’re also just super fun to work with and I feel that they really want me to do well.” She credits her development to her colleagues who she says, “feel like my wise industry dads. I hope they take that as a compliment.”
Alice keeps on top of her craft by continuing to experiment within her home, “I learnt a lot just by experimenting with a camera and wireless remote and taking self-portraits.” She describes converting her sister’s room for whichever style suited her at the time, adapting as she goes. “I’m a firm believer that you can’t polish a turd, so if the location or environment of your film is dull it’s really hard for it to actually look good. Most of my photography or moving image was done in my own house having moved rooms around, much to my family’s displeasure.”
Working on various projects through the years, Alice gets questioned most frequently about her work on the Hard to Know music video, a project with an interesting concept and many screens. “I used twelve screens and the artist Claudia ‘travelled’ between them. It took a lot of focus and effort and I produced, edited, shot and directed it with no budget and I actually thought, ‘that’s pretty sick’, when I’m normally so critical of my work. It got into Aesthetica, which is a festival I really respect, so I think it’s helped me in a lot of ways.”
Throughout her work, set design and art direction are Alice’s favourite aspects of filmmaking, particularly when it comes to scoping out the potential for the context behind the scenes. “There’s a lot of story you can tell with a person’s environment and I love adding in little jokes and Easter eggs. The set can often be overlooked in favour of the characters, but I see it as a character in itself.” Describing it as one of her favourite aspects of the role, Alice says, “I love art direction and set design. If I don’t end up directing I’ll do art directing.”
Within the industry, inspiration is far and wide but Alice specifically looks to those she collaborated with, “In terms of people I’ve come across in the industry - it tends not to be necessarily people’s work that makes me admire them but their demeanour on set and their personality. For example, I art directed for a TVC recently and the director Andy Poyiadgi was such a lovely guy. He was always offering up a brew, he thanked everyone throughout the day for their work and was consistently there to offer a helping hand. Despite being the director, he had no ego, which I respect. Especially for young directors I think directing can go to your head and it’s important to be grounded. If I’m ever successful I hope to have that attitude.”
Aside from the lack of funding for internships and paid opportunities in the film industry, Alice believes working regulations need to be more encompassing within creative industries. “I think having stricter regulation of workers’ rights is very important and often slips under the radar. If you’re a production company that can afford to pay overtime, or pay APA rates for a TVC then do it.” While smaller companies may not be able to afford it, she believes corporate greed and ‘exposure or contacts’ are an alternative for actual payment, but they don’t pay the bills and shouldn’t be seen as an alternative.
Though there is a disparity within the industry, Alice believes that since the pandemic has hit, being a filmmaker has more gravitas than it previously did. “I think the industry as a whole is starting to gain more respect. For so long I felt ashamed to say I wanted to be a filmmaker, but since coronavirus, I think people have realised the intense need for this medium to offer much-needed distractions from real life. It’s turning into a more essential service and it’s nice to feel needed.”
It was through the pandemic that Alice embarked on a brand new project. “I spent the majority of the last few lockdowns attempting to get a short film made with three friends. I don’t know if it helped me keep my sanity or caused me to lose it. We raised money through a ridiculous crowdfunding video featuring my terrible acting and we had to rope in a lot of favours and a production company along the way, but we made it! It’s called Jam and is currently in post-production.”
When she isn’t producing or filmmaking, Alice has a charity shop addiction which takes up some of her spare time. “What’s to lose? you’re giving to charity, getting some funky new clothes and you’re recycling?! They’re the best thing since sliced bread.” She also embarks on collecting ‘weird objects’, labelling herself as a bit of a ‘hoarder’, frequenting antique shops and ‘scrolling through Facebook marketplace’. She and her dad are often found watching Bargain Hunt, hearing the history behind the quirky objects which often pop up.
Alice’s ambition is to become a director, "I also wouldn’t mind an Oscar or BAFTA one day if that’s not a huge ask… I’ll take one in any category." But most of all, she has a more emotional ambition: “As cheesy as it is, I really want to make my parents proud. They have given up a lot of time and energy to help me with my ridiculous projects and I want it to be worth it for them, and for them to see me doing something I love. I also want to be able to take them on a couple of nice holidays at some point to at least convince myself I’m paying them back somehow, not that I ever could.”