Writer/director Maddie says she most often “conceives of things visually,” so it’s not surprising that when I ask about SWIM, her upcoming original short film, she describes the film’s very first shot. (She came up with the first scene before she came up with the film! Fabienne, the producer, rightly remembers.) Maddie gives me a taster of the enigmatic opening. “It’s a wide shot of two figures walking together. The audience don’t know who they are,” she explains, “but there’s a moment when these figures suddenly recognise each other. Then, one turns and starts running away at sheer speed, and the other throws a bottle at them.” I get the sense that she’s playing with irony when she elaborates, “I liked the humour of something like that.”

We soon find out that these two figures are Thea and Cass, two sisters whose relationship is the beating heart of the film. Narratively, SWIM is a coming of age story about “being on the cusp of adulthood.” Yet, it is also a film characterised by the youthful, exuberant mischief of the sibling dynamic. “I liked exploring how quickly they could turn back to being children,” Maddie says of her protagonists. “Jack and Gaia” (who play Thea and Cass) “have a really well-developed sibling rapport on screen, to the point where I had to say to them, Guys, you’re not supposed to be getting on this well at this point in the film!”

“Maddie’s influences are films in which sexual and romantic love are peripheral”

For Fabienne, the centrality of a sibling relationship was one of the things that attracted her to SWIM in the first place. “Romance is so often the centre of every plot!” she laughs. It makes sense, then, that Maddie’s influences are films in which sexual and romantic love are peripheral: she names Lady Bird (2017), Baby Teeth (2019) and the Before trilogy (1995-2013) as a few of her inspirations. They’re aesthetically nostalgic and beautiful, but Maddie was most keen to emulate the tenderness of their representation, “the gentle way that they go about studying their characters.”

Both Maddie and Fabienne speak about SWIM with enormous affection, and it’s easy to see why: it’s been in the making for over a year. The film is due to be screened at St. John’s Old Divinity School on the 12th March 2022, and Maddie remembers submitting the screenplay to the Cambridge Creatives x CUADC Screenwriting Competition on 5th December 2020. Amidst Maddie’s humility, Fabienne reminds me that SWIM was selected as the winner by BBC judges and Hollywood screenwriters, and relives the Zoom calls in a “cold lockdown January” that began the process. Both were, to use Maddie’s words, “astonished by how many people applied and auditioned, and how brilliant they were.” Indeed, their affection towards the film itself was second only to their genuine appreciation for the entire cast and crew. Maddie and Fabienne are full of gratitude for Chloe Kelly, the Director of Photography, whose knowledge of films was an inspiration and a “godsend.” They tell me I should look forward to the film’s “exciting” score, composed by Eve Machin and Matt Haygarth as well. Paul Storrs’s “comedic timing” and Rachel Oyewale’s “wonderful sensitivity for acting on screen” get heartfelt shoutouts too — in fact, it’s hard to name a cast or crew member that isn’t showered with praise. “It was amazing how there were no big egos,” Fabienne adds. “No one was trying to one-up anyone or be the star of the show.”

"It is a film characterised by the youthful, exuberant mischief of the sibling dynamic"Maddie Lynes

Fabienne consistently makes sure Maddie does not go without recognition: when Maddie reveals this was her directorial debut, Fabienne is as shocked as I am, admitting “Maddie took to it like a duck to water! The script was very comprehensively written,” she continues, later calling it “an integral [thread] that ran through production.” Maddie’s vision came to fruition in a particular scene, where the pink lighting in Thea’s bedroom corresponded exactly to Maddie’s stage directions: “a pink lighting hue.” “Maddie had such a good idea of the aesthetic from the start,” Fabienne summarises, “so we stuck to the script.”

“The script was very comprehensively written: an integral thread that ran through production”

I ask Maddie if she felt her vision emerged exactly as it had been scripted. She thinks for a moment, then tells me, “The film developed as we encountered limits.” A particular coffee-drinking scene “looked quite different because we couldn’t film a coffee shop because of roadworks. We had to go to college accommodation that didn’t look too accommodation-y. Then, in the edit, we had to lay over the sounds of the street and birds so it didn’t come across too silent.” They reminisce about more moments where the crew had to be resourceful: “The ice cream scene!” Maddie smiles. “The ice creams kept melting as we went, so continuity was really difficult. The AD had to keep running to and from the ice cream shop to get more!”

Filming in Cambridge city centreMaddie Lynes

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic was also a limitation throughout. “We shot last summer,” Fabienne explains, “when cases were rising rapidly. We managed to avoid a lockdown, but it did really interfere with production.” Maddie pipes up, “I got Covid! We all had to come back in the holiday to finish filming, with no accommodation. It was an absolute skeleton crew for those days. I was then a close contact of someone who tested positive, so for two of the days I was directing from outside the house where we were filming. People would rehearse scenes in the doorway so I could see!”


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SWIM, then, has been a hard-fought project, and the excitement for the screening, almost 400 days after its submission, is tangible. Fabienne tells me the journey won’t stop there: there are plans for SWIM to go to a number of film festivals too. We finish our conversation by reflecting on film in Cambridge. “Don’t think that everyone knows everything!” Fabienne says. “No one knows anything. I was the sound operator, and I’d never done sound in my entire life! I learned it in a day. If you don’t know how to direct, good, that’s the whole point! It can be daunting, but just go for it, and get people to help you.”

Maddie agrees. “Write the thing you want to see. During the first lockdown I filmed some monologues with my friends, and it was just me and a camera, just one shot — all I did was press ‘Record!’ I was moving the camera around, and my friend said, ‘just think about what you want to see, and point it there.’ I think that’s common sense, but I found it so helpful. It is a visual medium and because you’re working within a frame, work out what you want to be seeing in each of those moments and that will create really exciting opportunities.”