Interview – Caroline Bartleet (BAFTA-winning Operator)

Whilst most (some) of us will be swirled in love, hearts and flowers this Valentine’s Day, engaging in yet another capitalist ploy, Caroline Bartleet will be doing something much more interesting. She will be attending the BAFTA Awards in the hopes that her nominated short, Operator, will be honoured on the biggest of stages. In preparation for the huge evening, Caroline agreed to have a chat about all things Operator.

OPERATOR 2

Hi Caroline, how’s life for the director of a BAFTA nominated short?

It’s been a great start to the year as you can imagine. We’re very excited and happy!

Could you give the reader’s a quick snippet of what Operator is all about?

Our film is about an operator in a Fire Control Room who answers a call from a woman who’s trapped in a house fire with her little boy. It’s about how that operator gets the caller through the most traumatic of situations, without losing her cool. It’s pretty intense!

What inspired you to create the film?

I stumbled on a call, a real 999 call, to the Fire Service while I was researching something for another project and it really blew me away. The sound of the caller screaming – that raw fear. It was something I’d never heard before. It made me realize for the first time what an intense job 999 operators do. I was in awe of how calm the operator was when, to put it bluntly, she had no idea if that woman would survive.

It struck me that this was a beautiful, simple story about two complete strangers connecting in the most intense circumstances, outside everyday experience and outside their control. The operator was a lifeline – she was really the only thing the caller had in those dark, terrifying minutes. It sounds super cheesy to say that but it’s true. I just found that operator so inspiring.

Do you feel that the work such emergency operators do is undervalued in the community?

Absolutely. Especially because there are serious cuts happening at the moment with the Fire Service. I hope seeing this film gives some insight into what they do. Because until I listened to the call that inspired it, I’d never called 999 and I had no idea what the job entailed.

On that note, I read a brilliant article the other day by a 999 operator that I really recommend: (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/18/the-secret-999-call-operators-diary-i-want-to-end-my-life-says-a-man)

What contact did you have with people who have been on either end of such emergency calls as ‘Operator’ features?

Very early on, I rang the London Fire Brigade and I asked if anyone could help me with some research I was doing. I was put in touch with a brilliant man called Vic Bagnelle at the South Wimbledon control room. Vic was fantastic. He let me come and hang out there, listen to calls, sit with operators, ask hundreds of questions…I was very lucky.

Did the fact that it was grassroots funded make things less stressful?

A Kickstarter campaign is stressful because for the weeks that you’re raising the money you’re worried you won’t hit your target. If you don’t hit it, all your hard work is for nothing because with Kickstarter you only get the money if you hit your target. It also adds a certain pressure when everyone you know and love chips in with some cash because obviously, you don’t want to let them down or make something they think is rubbish! That said, I’m so glad these crowdfunding sites are around because we couldn’t have made the film otherwise.

Was it daunting directing your first film? Did your previous experience in film help?

It was definitely daunting. I am so glad I did it, because it’s the best experience I have ever had creatively and I just want more!

My acting background definitely helped me. It gave me a really good grounding in how to work with actors, which I think’s the most important part of filmmaking.

Was it a conscious decision to make the film as gripping, and frankly, scary as it turned out?

I’m so happy the film made you feel those things! Absolutely! I really wanted it to be as immersive as possible. I wanted people to be sitting on the edge of their seats and to feel like they had no idea which way it was going to go. I wanted them to feel what I’d felt when I listened to the call that inspired the film.

How important did you feel it was to keep the film blind to the physical action?

That was always the plan. Our imaginations are powerful things. I always knew that leaving the fire end of the call to the viewer’s imagination would make it much more frightening. But more importantly, I was always totally fascinated by the operator and her point of view. You’ve seen it so you’ll know that she’s calm when she’s talking to Gemma, but her face is telling another story. We feel her anxiety and the tension of those five minutes so clearly. By staying with the operator, I hope that we give our audience a real sense of what it’s like to answer a call like that.

How gratifying is it that Operator has received so many nominations and selections?

It’s wonderful. But there are so many other moments that are gratifying too. At a screening recently a woman came up to me afterwards and said ‘I’ve got a little girl and I just wanted to say that I’d have gone up stairs too’. I love that! Knowing that she’d connected with the film and the character in that way. That’s just the best feeling!

How do you feel your chances are of walking away with the BAFTA?

Right now, my main concern is finding something to wear!

Is this just the start for you personally as a director?

Yes. I’m working on another script which I’m hoping to shoot later this year. Finding stories that I really want to tell is what I’m focusing on at the moment.

And finally, which classic film actor/actress would you want to save you from a house fire?

I feel like Julie Andrews would come prepared – she’d have a spoonful of sugar on hand and she can sing which is always a bonus. Yup, Julie Andrews, please.


Operator hasn’t a set release date yet, but the film will be available online this Spring /to keep up to date with the BAFTA nominated film is by going to www.operatorshortfilm.com or following @OperatorShort on Twitter.

Wilson Reviews wishes Caroline and co. all the very best for this upcoming weekend and the future.

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