Marina Parker, Producer/Director on BBC2 documentary 'Reclaiming Amy' (Curious Films) talks about her experience of making a film about a high profile personality, Amy Winehouse, who had already been the subject of popular documentaries. She tells us her editorial decisions to set her film apart from the others and why it was important for her to hear about Amy Winehouse through the voice of her mother, Janis.
Give us an insight into the making of the show?
I had never made a film before where my contributors could only meet other contributors a handful of times across the whole production. The decision making was much more intense and focussed - actuality felt like a luxury. It felt like we were in production during another time, shooting on film for example when you had to be incredibly selective about what you could shoot as days were numbered.
How do you make something new from a person/subject matter there has already been a lot of high profile docs about?
It was daunting and I had reservations about why we should make a film when everything seemed to have been said. But as I started watching the Amy Winehouse canon of documentaries I started to see a familiar pattern.
Amy always being defined by her destructive relationships with men and addictive substances. Her mother was missing from the record and her father was always the villain. I knew there was more to the story than this.
What was behind your editorial choice to tell the story from Janis' POV?
I decided I wanted Janis to narrate the film. It made it intensely personal and she was able to weave the strands of Amy’s life together and her own part in in a unique way. Janis has lived with Multiple Sclerosis since the 1980s and recently it has begun to affect her memory so it felt important to record her perspective before it’s too late. She had never been heard in depth and after the way the family had been treated it felt right for her to reclaim her daughter’s narrative.
Do you think it was important to have a female director making this film? What did you bring to it as a result?
I would hope that I was the best director available to make this film not just the best female director! I think women directors can be overlooked when it comes to landmark films and it feels good to help move the dial in the right direction.
What was it like to work for the channel that hired you? How did you get the job?
The film evolved hugely from commission to delivery but we had very strong support from our commissioners, Max Gogarty and Rachel Davies at the BBC. It was potentially a tricky commission as it came from two departments BBC Music and Docs and I worried they would ultimately want two different films but there was harmony between the departments and we were never torn between them.
Dov Freedman and Charlie Russell from Curious Films approached me to make the film.
What were the logistics around making it?
Luckily I live near Janis in North London so I could see her pretty regularly and we formed a sort of bubble during covid times so I never felt I was putting her at risk. Covid created a huge layer of admin and headache for our valiant production team and editorially it restricted who, how and where we could film.
How did you access/manage the archive aspect of the film?
The archive was huge. I had an experienced Archive Producer called Kal Dhillon to help me. She gave me a huge haul to get going with at the start and she managed all the permissions which gave me more time to forage on the internet sifting through fan forums to find unusual footage. Kal brilliantly sourced dictaphone recordings of interviews with Amy that journalists had made that hadn’t been heard before. We also had access to the family’s own archive which was a huge treasure trove of photographs, journals, school reports and family video.
What were the commissioner viewings like and what notes did you take away?
We had lots of commissioner viewings as it was a complex process to find the film. We played around with tone and authorial voice for the film as well as adjusting the past tense/archive story with the present day filming with her family and friends. It was a complicated journey to find the right balance. Constructing various timelines of past present is hard work!
What kit/tech did you use?
Actuality was shot on a Sony FS7 and the Masters were shot on an Arri Alexa.
And finally, what is your top TV tip?
Make friends with your peers. We are Doc Women is a network of women directors which has been an amazing support. My fellow directors have given me precious advice and support over the years, helping me to navigate tricky execs and contributors, hard salary negotiations and difficult edits.
'Reclaiming Amy', BBC2 9pm, Friday 23rd July and available on iPlayer