In Conversation: Roger Williams & Mared Swain Part Two

Writer Roger Williams and director Mared Swain continue their discussion on Welsh-language filmmaking, and speak about perspective, code-switching and influences

27 November 2020

Roger Williams and Mared Swain continue their enlightening conversation on the importance of the Welsh language in filmmaking.


Roger: Gary Slaymaker told me about a horror film made in the early 80s. He mentioned that the film had been on a tour of schools and several school children had nightmares because they saw this film too young. It’s a pity we can’t say, "This is the Welsh horror film", "This is the thriller..." 

Mared: Yes, because Yr Ymadawiad is more of a thriller or psychological thriller than it is horror. But I remember thinking, "Can we market this as horror?" It’s not stereotypical horror but the genres are being blended so much these days anyway, aren’t they? Is there a word for ‘psychological thriller’ in Welsh?

Roger: Thriler seicolegol?

Mared: Thriler seicolegol, yes. I think the language, as you say, will make it stand out because there are so many horror films out there.

Roger: In creating the film, we discovered the importance of a point of view. The language has given the film a different focus. And as we’ve discussed the film in Welsh, as I’ve written the film in Welsh – I, as director on the floor, speak Welsh with the actors and members of the crew who spoke Welsh – that must have placed a different slant on the film. Perhaps we don’t see that because it’s come naturally to us. 

But we’ve been lucky because a sales agent has come on board and people want to distribute our film. It’s actually the language, and the language we’ve been speaking in creating the thing, is partly responsible for the appeal.  

Mared: Yes. Do you feel you write differently in the two languages? I know that’s a really stupid question. But, almost like code-switching, do you feel like what you want to say in Welsh is different to what you want to say in English, as an author?

Roger: When I started, I was only writing in English. I remember someone who was working in the BBC telling me when they realised I could speak Welsh, someone said "Make sure you don’t stop writing in Welsh too. You need to. It’s possible for you to continue, to have a career, using both languages." Now, I feel quite uncertain regarding what I write in English because – over the last 5, 6, 7 years – I’ve done more work in Welsh than in English. 

You mentioned code-switching. With the two things I did in English, I was questioning "Oh, does that sound naff? Is that true to the character? Is it as good as the other projects?" I’m more confident in the Welsh language at the moment. With Welsh stuff, I tend to be more forensic with dialogue, because I don't want my work to sound artificial and as there are so many types of Welsh being spoken too these days. I understand the politics that also exists around a language. 

Mared: It may also depend on the themes you’re dealing with too. When I made a short film, I shot it in both languages because I wanted that experience as a director, and it was really interesting. I was talking about being a mother... Because I can’t speak English with my children at all... So when I watched the English version I thought, "Oh! This doesn’t connect with me at all." It was really odd. So the Welsh version is the one I have supported at the end of the day. But it was such an interesting process to see the difference and my emotional response to my own work in both languages.

Roger: You’ve discussed the fact that your work is very visual and doesn’t depend on dialogue. I think that’s exciting, because of the medium and thinking about what makes something cinematic. Do you feel pressure perhaps to include language in the work you write?

Mared: Yes, I do. Because dialogue is the last thing. I think I struggle to know what I want to say, but people rarely say what they want to say in life. It’s through directing that I’ve come to writing, so the process is somewhat different and I’m still comparatively new to it.

But yes, I feel some sort of pressure about the script. In our culture in Britain, the author is often put on a pedestal. But I’ve got a story I want to tell and this is what I see, so I just have to get on with that.

Roger: Who are the directors you admire? What films have you watched and gone, "Wow! If I can create something half as good as that I’d be happy"?

Mared: There is so much out there. I’m a great fan of female filmmakers and I think there’s a change afoot there. Lynn Ramsey has really influenced me in terms of images.

Roger: I’m glad you’ve said her. She’s one of my favourite directors. 

Mared: Yes, there’s just sequences of her work, I just watch them repeatedly and think, "How have you done that?"

Roger: It wasn’t easy for her either. She can wait years for the funding to come together or for an actor to be available. It’s amazing. People like her still have to make a case for their work and why their next film is important and explain who the potential audience is. Yes, there are more people supporting that journey I’d say, but it’s still a battle. 

Mared: The people I’m interested in are those who want to make films that are slightly different to what the industry is used to producing. But the industry doesn’t always support them so much to be able to create.

Roger: If you need to prove that you have a special way of seeing the world or if you need to do some kind of proof of concept or something, you can now go out and shoot something. I think lots of people go out and create work knowing that they are not going to be paid to create it, and just do so because they feel so excited about what they want to say. 

If people have a particular idea or project – a story that needs to be told – I would encourage them to just go out with a group of friends and create something. Because without those different, unique voices, the choice of stories we have in the cinema, on television or in the theatre – is going to be quite barren.

Mared: I think it’s like the birth of a baby – creating a film or piece of theatre. The process is a long one and it’s sometimes painful. And that’s what’s hard sometimes with the language too, it's keeping people on their projects – seeing them from start to finish. It would be great to encourage people to do that without having to jump off to do more things for television.

Roger: I feel that tension all the time. You want to be creative and continue creating. Even when you’ve been writing for many years, like me, I still get the paranoia that I’m not going to work professionally again when I’ve finished a project. But having the confidence to know that I am going to concentrate on it – the next thing I really want to do – and that there is support for doing that would be amazing. 

In general, I think producers, directors, writers need more support to create these projects and build some kind of Welsh-language film scene. There are several interesting voices working in Welsh – Euros Lyn, Gareth Bryn – there are people who have had success in that area. But I don’t think those people are considering – at the moment – creating another film in Welsh. Euros has gone on after doing Y Llyfrgell to do Dream Horse, and it would be fantastic if Euros wanted to come back and create something else in Welsh. I’m sure he will do at some point. 

More films – that’s what we need! And that’s a problem we can’t solve, but there’s a need to ensure that the appetite of people who want to create in Welsh is not killed off. They need the opportunity to ensure that their short films are seen and the support so that they can move on and create their first feature film too, which goes to film festivals and becomes available at the cinema in Llanelli for people to watch on a Friday night. We must be able to find a way to get there.

Mared: I hope so.

You can follow Roger Williams' work here and Mared Swain's work here