We are so pleased to showcase the talents of Poppy Goodheart this week in her first directing role for Channel 4's "The Boy Who Can't Stop Dancing" (Tuesdays Child TV). Poppy appeared as a panelist on our hugely popular webinar 'From AP to PD: Making the Transition" and we are so pleased to be able to shout about her success with this thoughtful and moving film all about Tom Oakley, a young dancer with cystic fibrosis and his journey as he prepares to audition for dance school during COVID.
Give us an insight into the making of the show?
As we all know by now, filming during a pandemic isn’t easy, and the 2021 lockdown certainly added some extra layers of challenge for me as a first-time, self-shooting Director. I’m based in Bristol and the family I was filming were in Liverpool, the lovely team I was working with at Tuesday’s Child TV are based across the UK - including Cardiff, London and Glasgow. Despite the sometimes tough realities of solo shooting and remote working (which meant lots of zooms, long drives and only meeting some of my colleagues face-to-face near the very end of production!) I was well supported by the team. I travelled up and filmed Tom Oakley and his family for a couple of days at a time, over a number of months - following his journey to audition to one of the UK’s top contemporary dance schools, while he also started taking some new medication for his cystic fibrosis.
The national restrictions meant a lot of the early sections of the film were inevitably going to take place in lockdown, which meant filming mainly inside Tom’s family home. Although this was restrictive in many ways, there were obvious benefits to the close working relationship that developed as I followed this family through those very dark and often stressful early months of 2021. In turn, this meant I could encourage Tom to take some creative ownership over the film, recording video diaries himself and eventually even doing his own voiceover!
The lockdown also meant that the stylised dance sequences became an even more important element to the programme. It was key to show Tom dancing in wide, open spaces around the city he lives - particularly as lots of the actuality was inevitably very centred around a small number of rooms in the family home. However, with a limited budget, we managed to stretch to 2 days of DOP filming and were lucky enough to work with the multi-talented Jon Hillyer who shot some beautiful studio-based and exterior dance sequences, as well as some gorgeous drone shots of Liverpool. This was my first experience of traditional directing and it was admittedly very nice to work with a small crew, not hold the camera and creatively collaborate with people in the same room for a small part of the shoot.
I’ve never worked on something which required so much solo working, however I do believe my time as an AP and Producer (sound recording and working with contribs) prepared me well for becoming the one-woman shooting crew this project required. I was offered a runner if needed but given the cramped domestic setting and Tom's health condition - safety was of utmost importance which included regular testing for me before every shoot. And although the filming was at times a fairly isolating experience, this project always felt like a big team effort - from Producer Jacci Parry and Exec Steph Harris (who were always only ever a phone call away, watched rushes and countless cuts and always sent back wise and supportive notes) to the Production Coordinator May Crawford, Junior Production Manager Michael Grant and Production Exec Colette Magee (who always found a way to make the budget work and arranged everything perfectly, no matter how last minute the shoot) and the whole team at Tuesday’s Child.
What did you learn?
I learnt so much while working on this project, in particular I realised early on that asking for advice and feedback during (not after) a project is completely invaluable. As this was my first role as a self-shooting Director I obviously made mistakes, but I was given the space and support from my Producer, Exec and Commissioner to learn from them, develop and improve. Although learning on the job is inevitably scary it’s also amazing as it really encourages you to push yourself further than you thought possible. I found that asking for feedback early-on from my amazing editor Sophie Pollock, and then during the later stages with my wonderful finishing editor Zoë Davis, has also been incredibly helpful for building my confidence as a self-shooter and I feel like I’m taking lots of lessons with me from this project and onto the next one.
What was it like to work for the channel/production company that hired you?
This was my first production for Channel 4 and my first time working with Tuesday’s Child TV and I’d happily do both again in a heartbeat. I found the experience very supportive, as everyone was very aware I was a first-time director and I think actually that gave me the confidence to ask for help or advice when I needed it. The commissioner Sacha Mirzoeff met regularly with the team throughout the process to discuss editorial ideas and directions and the whole team at Channel 4 have been hugely supportive in promoting the film, which feels wonderful, particularly for a small, single film from a debut Director.
How did you get the job?
I applied and was accepted onto the Channel 4 First Cut Scheme run by Rita Daniels and Sacha Mirzoeff at the beginning of 2020. At the time I was working part time as a Producer on another project and pitching various ideas for a First Cut when the first national lockdown happened. I was later paired up with Tuesday’s Child TV as the amazing Jacci Parry had pitched an idea about a young dancer called Tom Oakley. After a successful meeting with the family on zoom it felt like such a lovely story to follow and I couldn't wait to start filming.
What is your top TV tip?
Don’t be afraid to approach someone for help and advice (people generally like to be asked!) and watch lots of stuff - even when you are busy shooting/in the edit - it’s so easy to get bogged down in whatever you're working on and it’s so lovely to be inspired by something unexpected.
"The Boy Who Can't Stop Dancing" first aired Tues Aug 3rd, 11:05pm, also available on catch up on All4