Emma Branderhorst on a second year of YDA wins

Continuing our round-up of YDA Golds, Emma Branderhorst reflects on following up last year’s victorious short Spotless with a playful look at mother/daughter relationships in Ma Mere et Moi.

Congratulations on winning a YDA two years in a row! Can you share how your directing perspective has evolved from last year’s success with Spotless to this year’s Gold for Ma Mere et Moi?

Thank you!! A lot has changed in a year. Spotless was my debut film, and winning gold with it was beyond my expectations. This award put me on the map and gave me more name recognition in the film/commercial world. 

Winning it for the second time with Ma Mere et Moi has garnered extra interest because I’ve now succeeded twice. It feels like I’m not a one-hit-wonder but have truly established myself in the film/commercial world, and people have more trust in me as a director. 

It feels very nice and powerful.

Actually, directing was never a dream of mine. Acting was my great passion; I wanted to be in front of the camera. When I didn’t get admitted to drama school, I heard about film/art school through a friend and decided to apply to a filmmaking program. 

I had very little film knowledge initially, but during the first year at school, everything suddenly came together—the writing, making the stories, and executing them—and my love for directing blossomed. Now I wouldn’t know what to do without it; it feels like this is what I was meant to do all along.

What was the idea and inspiration behind Ma Mere et Moi?

With Ma Mere et Moi, I aimed to address the complex theme of the mother-daughter relationship, a universal bond filled with tension and drama. Given the multifaceted nature of my relationship with my mother, I wanted to capture these dynamics in a light-hearted, playful way that everyone could relate to. 

My graduation film had won money, granting me the freedom to make a film as I pleased. My dream was to create a film abroad, preferably in France, a country I love. Additionally, I wanted to focus on two characters and work with a small team, and all these elements came together beautifully with this film. Having this freedom for the project made the adventure even more enjoyable.

Could you tell us about the casting process for the film and how you found a mother-and-daughter pairing that could capture the complexity of their relationship so effectively?

Casting, for me, is the most crucial aspect of filmmaking. Believable characters are already halfway to telling a compelling story, in my opinion. Having worked at a casting agency for a long time, I have gained significant experience in this area.

We put out an online call inviting girls between 16 and 20 to apply. Experience wasn’t the primary consideration; what mattered was that they identified with the subject matter. We received around 300 emails from girls, and after several rounds of auditions, Celeste stood out. 

As for the mother’s role, we enlisted the help of a casting agency. During pre-production, we spent a lot of time rehearsing, getting to know each other, and engaging in fun activities. We also practised scenes that weren’t even in the film, which allowed the actors to delve deeper into their roles and observe how they reacted to one another.

The ten days we spent together on the road, sharing cramped hotel rooms and hours in the car, further solidified the bond between the mother and daughter.

How did the shoot go? Were there any standout or memorable moments during the production?

Being on the trip together was a wonderful experience. We became a cohesive unit, moving and feeling the film in unison. It felt like a close-knit family; everyone felt comfortable being themselves and making mistakes, which contributed to a genuine portrayal of the characters. This method of working was very liberating., Shooting in my favourite city, Marseille, added a touch of magic to the project too. 

Although we faced challenges like limited time and budget constraints, these factors actually contributed to the enchantment of the overall process.

What do you feel you’ve learned from making this film, and is this a subject you’d like to explore in future projects?

Making this film with a small team and shooting abroad was a fulfilling dream for me. 

In the future, I would love to work more abroad. Exploring my own relationship with my mother through the film turned out to be a therapeutic experience as well.

What does winning a YDA mean for you?

Winning the YDA for a second time is truly amazing. With Spotless, we won numerous festivals, but I was apprehensive about Ma Mere et Moi living up to that success. 

Picking up this award for my new film means the world to me. It solidifies the notion that I’m not a one-hit-wonder; rather, people see me as a fully-fledged director, and that feels incredibly powerful. I’m eagerly looking forward to what the future holds.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on my first feature film in the Netherlands, and I’m collaborating with The Cornershop in London on a short series about girl friendships. I’m currently seeking a female writer for this project. Besides that, I’m working on various commercials in Europe through Pink Rabbit and The Cornershop, each driven by female main characters.

Interview by Izzy Ashton shots


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