Aim high: Get to know ‘Behind Closed Doors’ director Kaitlyn Boxall
Kaitlyn Boxall has always been drawn to stories about societal issues in Britain. Her mother fled to a women’s refuge when she was just three weeks old, and she developed a passion for the creative arts soon after. Boxall has gone on to direct a number of projects around Britain, most of which have dealt with social issues that are relevant to the average citizen. Her most notable projects include the dramas Someone Like You (2020) and Behind Closed Doors (2021).
The latter release deals with domestic abuse, and the difficulty that some women face in trying to leave a toxic relationship. The film has struck a chord with audiences to such an extent that Boxall recently finished up the sequel, Behind Closed Doors II.
Film Daily was fortunate enough to talk with Kaitlyn Boxall about her upbringing, her directorial career, and her decision to make Behind Closed Doors II. Here’s what the talented artist had to say:
Tell us about your history in film directing. How did you start your journey?
My journey with filmmaking began when I received my first ever camera at 10 years old. Ever since I held my first camera, I felt an instant passion for it. Since then, I have been completely drawn to filming throughout my time growing up and learning to bring inspirational stories to screen.
I think it’s the aspect of being able to catch moments that will never happen again which has always meant a great deal to me. What motivates me about filmmaking is the creative and storytelling aspect. To have that creative control to convey a story through the eyes of a lens, expressing a storyline and having it play out on a screen is an amazing form of self-expression aside from it just being a form of entertainment for viewers.
Who were your biggest inspirations growing up?
Growing up, I have had so many inspirations, which came from films or television programmes that I have grown up watching. Some of my biggest inspirations were the film director James Cameron, the screenplay writer, Russell T. Davies, Catherine Tate, Kathy Burke and Jennifer Saunders.
I tend to relate to Kathy Burke and Jennifer Saunders the most, as they are female directors/writers, living proof that you can flex between many roles in the industry, and do not have to stick to just one title in the industry. You can undergo many different roles in a production and be as creative and flexible within your talents as you wish! Above all else, my Mother has been my main inspiration throughout my life as well as my career path.
You co-wrote and directed the film Behind Closed Doors. What was the initial inspiration behind the story?
My mother’s experience with domestic abuse and how she fled to a women’s refuge with me, was my initial inspiration for the storyline.
Behind Closed Doors simply started on a piece of plain paper, where I wrote a very basic storyline about this abused woman. From that point onwards, I found myself developing the story from there. A lot of segments in the plot stemmed from what my mother had told me about her own experience with domestic violence. By hearing her experience, I was able to effectively write down scenes and create the characters. I chose to form the storyline of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ into a film, because it felt appropriate for this difficult time in society, in terms of the Coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has worsened so many social issues, such as domestic violence in particular. Domestic violence has risen since the very start of the first lockdown.
The film explores the story of main character, Lisa Crawford, (portrayed by Holly Prentice) who is living through an abusive marriage until her best friend, Alison (Ellie Mulhern), refers her to a counsellor named Aaron, primarily known as Mr. Smith, (Vasile Marin). Lisa, reluctant to the idea, finally accepts her need for a counsellor and arranges to secretly attend to Mr. Smith’s appointments regularly. It’s not long until their professional relationship becomes a little more intimate than they anticipated.
This storyline was one I had written up when I was about 15 years old, but I didn’t pursue it with my filmmaking at the time. I’ve always written my own stories and made-up characters, as I was always quite an imaginative child. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I realized domestic abuse was also becoming a pandemic. Every human being in the world has been confined to their homes for months on end, and deaths were occurring from domestic outbreaks as well as from
the virus. It felt important for me to use my knowledge and filmmaking to help raise awareness on domestic abuse, because it has not been addressed as much as it could have been. Also, domestic abuse is a big societal issue across the world as there is a large proportion of the population who are or who have experienced it. In order to convey this story and make it factually correct, my Mother was my main point of research, as she has been a victim of domestic abuse. The film carries personal segments, based on the characteristics of real people and true events
Studies have shown that domestic violence rose during the COVID lockdown. How much did this spike factor into the writing process?
Well, originally Behind Closed Doors had no elements surrounding the topic of coronavirus. However, when I decided to form it into a film, I wanted it to have relevance to the pandemic, because I realized there had been a significant increase in domestic abuse across the world. This is due to women/men being trapped in their homes with their abusers.
This factor inspired me to throw a twist into the storyline, expressing how the main character Lisa, loses her access to counselling due to the lockdown. This ended up highlighting how domestic abuse has been amplified since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Looking back on the storyline and how well it has done, I can see how so many viewers related to it and why it is so different to any other domestic abuse film that has been made. It has shown how many cases have increased and the meaningful message that the film gives to the audience. Because the film is not just about creating awareness or highlighting the social issue. It is also about encouraging victims to seek help and get out before it is too late.
With this being said, the film has a true impact on influencing an audience in a positive light and educating young people to notice the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Do you prefer to tell stories in which you have a personal connection to?
I love portraying storylines which hold a personal connection to my past experience or background. Mainly because I can carry the storyline with confidence, knowing I have personal experience or personal insight to the subject. I feel it is hard as a director to explore a film topic that you have no personal experience or any insight to, because you have less understanding on how it should be approached. It also really helps to have your own empathy to the subject you are tackling.
However, nothing is ever impossible, and I believe it’s always worth trying out new things and experimenting with ideas. It is also imperative to make sure you at least do your research or hold any kind of personal relevance to a topic, before you dive into filming a portrayal of it. Because you have to remember you are trying to convey a real-life situation, societal issues and characters that hold true segments of real people, so it’s important to ensure you approach it realistically.
Did COVID lead to any complications during the production of the film?
We initially started production late August (2020) and we finished by the end of October (2020). This was just after the first national lockdown and just before the second, so we managed to fit filming in between both lockdowns, which came down to good production planning.
In terms of complications during the production process, I was not met with any huge complications that prevented me or the team from creating our vision. We were all very lucky to be able to work with one another during this period, and we managed to fit the filming process in between two lockdowns.
This worked out very well, as the film was then released during the second lockdown and inspired so many people who were trapped in their homes, with only the internet as a prime source of visual entertainment. This gave the production the opportunity and exposure that was needed, to tell this important story to people of what truly goes on behind closed doors…
Do you allow room for improvisation on the set or do you prefer to stick to the script?
I absolutely do allow room for improvisation. It is great to stick to the script primarily, but sometimes not everything on script works the way you think it will do on screen. This being the case, I always like to improvise when I can on set, when it’s suitable to do so and experiment with scenes and characters during the filming process. I personally feel improvisation can sometimes work better. Even allowing actors to experiment freely with their lines, can also help to make a series of events seem natural. Otherwise, the representation of the film can sometimes come across as unnatural or perhaps too predictable.
Some people state improvisation is unprofessional, but I strongly disagree, because the tactic of improvising can be just as powerful as a script. I like to think of the script as more of a guidance, because not everything in scripted scenes plays out as you may think it would. It is always worth risking your creative control and giving the film some room for improv!
Tell us about working with actress Holly Prentice. How closely did you work on perfecting the main character?
Casting the main character, Lisa, was very difficult at first, because I wanted the character to fit the perception of the character in my mind. I had a very clear image of Lisa’s character in my mind but finding an ideal actress to fit the image and having the acting abilities was another story. Although, I came across Holly Prentice who sent over a great self-tape for the role, and I saw the potential in her acting abilities.
I worked very closely with Holly Prentice from beginning to end, and she carried the storyline from start to finish. During my time on set with Holly, I would relay my Mother’s personal experience to her, which gave Holly a clear insight of how domestic abuse can truly affect a person in real life. The true story itself helped the production to come across in a realistic perspective, and the main actress, Holly Prentice, was able to pick pieces of information from the true events behind the production’s storyline, using that to adapt to her character and bring Lisa to life. We were both able to work closely together, gain extensive research on both the subject and the traits of Lisa’s character.
Achieving these aspects of the production allowed us to put out a realistic portrayal of how domestic abuse truly impacts a victim long term, and how difficult it can be to remove yourself from the abusive lifestyle. As the director and storyline writer, I feel our main actress, Holly Prentice, has portrayed Lisa to perfection, and she has done amazingly well, carrying this production on her shoulders.
After seeing Prentice portray the character for a long period of time, I think it has also given her a big insight to societal issues, and that is a great educational aspect and starting point to an actress’s career.
What was the most challenging aspect of the film? Was there a particular scene that was difficult to shoot?
There was a rape scene in the film between Lisa and her abusive husband Mick, which was particularly difficult to approach at first.
This was because I didn’t want to approach the scene insensitively and portray it too graphically. I had a certain idea in my mind, of wanting to keep the film safe for a young audience to watch and understand, without it being too overly graphic for a young audience to visually consume.
My way of tackling the rape scene was to film it in a discrete manner, which would allow viewers of all ages to hear and visually comprehend what is happening. The cast members and I were able to portray this uncomfortable scene in a brief portrayal, without making the film too uncomfortable for an audience to watch.
I felt this was an important tactic for the production, because I wanted the film to be available to younger viewers. Mainly because it holds educational aspects and inspirational messages that can help to educate young people.
If younger people cannot access an important film like this, then they have little to no access to being made aware and educated on this societal issue. It’s so important for young people to know the signs of an unhealthy relationship, otherwise they will not recognize the signs if they were to ever find themselves in an abusive situation, and instead think it is normal.
You worked with a relatively small crew on Behind Closed Doors. Did you find the experience to be a positive one?
From previous experience in filmmaking, I find that a small crew can work very well, because you can all work very closely together. Big crews work as well, and it is great to have certain people covering all aspects and every corner of a production, because it eases the responsibility of other crew members and ensures that a production can be fulfilled to its potential.
Although, I personally prefer to work with a small crew, because you have more time to establish your understanding and creative experiences with one another. It can also be good with preventing complications during the production process. Despite it being great to have people cover certain angles of a production for me, I do like to have as much creative control as possible, when necessary, because I can have a very specific portrayal on my productions. Creative control has always been a major factor for me. A small crew is also brilliant if you are producing a low-budget film, and that is very fundamental!
In addition to writing and directing, you produced and edited the film. Did you find it difficult to juggle so many different jobs?
To be honest, I did not find it difficult because I have had previous experience in all these roles and that has given me inner confidence to take on a number of responsibilities in a production. I have always drifted between different job roles throughout my time in filmmaking, and I have gained so much experience by trying out different things.
I have always believed that the more flexible you are between roles, the faster you learn and the more capable you become of dealing with challenging situations. By taking on different job roles, I have learnt to deal with pressure in the industry and carry production independently which has given me a lot of confidence as a director.
Since you have experience in so many areas of filmmaking, which would you say is your favourite job?
Directing is my favourite, because I love being on-set and watching the storylines being played out in front of me. Despite the responsibility of a director’s role, I do enjoy the creative control because I can have my say on just about everything. Having creative control allows me to get my vision across, and I always welcome a second opinion from my cast and crew.
No matter what I work on, I like to hear what everyone on set has to say about each scene we may be working on. The opinions of others on set give me the opportunity of producing a film that will contain creative input from all different people. It is good to have control of your production as a director, but it always boils down to teamwork…and listening to what your team members have to say is also very important. Because listening to your team members gives you the ability to understand the perspective of other creators, and that helps me to progress as a filmmaker.
Artists are always improving their craft. Is there an aspect of your directing that you feel improved during the filming of Behind Closed Doors?
I feel the planning process of this production was an improvement compared to other productions I have produced. I had more time to plan this production out and maintain the accuracy of what I was aiming for. The pre-production stages can be far more important than the in-betweens, because it’s all about planning in advance, and this was an aspect of the production that worked out so well, and I had a lot of time on my side.
Despite paperwork being a boring part of making a production, it’s always so important to make sure you have documents prepared, as it helps to be more organized.
The film has been praised for its realism. How important do you feel authenticity is when dealing with such grim subject matter?
Showing authenticity in a script and on-screen is so valuable to a film, because it makes it believable for the viewers. If a film is not somewhat believable for the audience, then it can be very difficult to put the story across at all. The people watching the film need to feel emotionally invested in what they are watching, and they need to feel gripped!
Behind Closed Doors has many authentic segments throughout such as the abusive husband Mick, nicknaming ‘Lisa’ as ‘Princess’. This is what my Father would call my Mother, and this was something I wanted to adapt to Mick’s character.
Was Behind Closed Doors influenced by any films in particular?
Not at all! Behind Closed Doors is completely original within its own right, and I did not refer to any other films when making it or copy any lines from pre-existing characters. The true story behind it was the initial inspiration, to what led me to create the main characters, Lisa, Mick and Aaron. Overall, the film is entirely from my mind and is inspired by true events and real-life people.
The film is being released through your company Ginger Paradise Productions. What would you say distinguishes Ginger Paradise from other film companies?
Ginger Paradise Productions has become distinctive for the originality perspectives in the film productions I do, and also how every film is primarily focused on a societal issue. Every film produced by me and in the name of GPP, does tend to have a link to real life as I like viewers to be able to relate to what they are watching. Many films now lack emotional connection to viewers, as it is hard to hit the reality of life on-screen, and we do not see enough real stories being portrayed, with the aim to help viewers who are watching it.
You have been working on the sequel, Behind Closed Doors II. Did you already have plans for a sequel when you were writing the first film?
Not at all! Behind Closed Doors was supposed to be a complete one-off short drama. I did not expect it to get the attention it received. I only ever intended for Behind Closed Doors to be a one-off single short drama. To my surprise, the film has gained so much attention, especially due to the open ended which left viewers with so many questions. Because of the responses we received, I decided in agreement with the cast and crew, that we could go on to producing a sequel!
How does Behind Closed Doors II build on the ideas of the original?
Behind Closed Doors II builds more on the story, delving more into how abuse is easily spiked during a lockdown. I feel the sequel highlights the lockdown perspective more than the first, as the original film is primarily set before coronavirus, and towards the end we see how it differs. This is where the sequel builds onto that element of the storyline, and how much Lisa struggles being trapped indoors with her abusive husband, Mick.
What is the main theme you want audiences to take away from Behind Closed Doors?
If the film, Behind Closed Doors can save at least one person’s life, then I know I have achieved that. To all victims who are living with domestic abuse, before lockdown and during, I promise you that there is hope! Material things do not matter, the big posh house, the out lookers looking in, thinking your life is perfect. The psychological effect is devastating. Get out, and do not be ashamed to ask for help. Peace of mind is invaluable. You CAN start again, and you WILL.
I pledge to any victims; do not let your children witness such horrific actions of violence. I understand it can be difficult, but a lifetime of abuse can be changed to a lifetime of happiness. You can do it! It is heart-breaking, as you probably still love your abuser, because they make it seem normal. You end up knowing no different.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers/directors?
Never give up. Whatever your aspirations are in life, keep going and don’t take no for an answer. I like to think that it’s best to aim for the moon…because if you miss, you just might hit a star! So, aim high, and don’t be afraid to just go for it! Life is too short to live in fear or avoid risks. Take those risks and make the most of life, whilst being the best you can be.