We spoke to the director of The Turtles, Maya Witters, about first time
filmmaking, writing queer characters and not being restricted by labels.
To watch the full q&a with Maya, click here.
What made you want to write The Turtles?
The story sort of just came out once I started writing the script. I didn’t
necessarily set out to make a queer film but I knew I wanted to make
something that was centred on women’s experiences. I think I took some
inspiration from seeing a lot of my female friends, not necessarily coming
out as such, but realising at some point after being in relationships with men,
just realising they were also attracted to women. To me that felt like a more natural way to explore relationships and sexuality. I wanted something a bit more subtle. The two main characters in the film give each other clues and they kind of figure it out as they go. It’s almost like a dance - when you’re flirting with someone it’s often not that explicit. So they’re exploring this connection that they can feel outside of these boxes and that was something that was important to me.
You don't explicitly explore any of the characters sexual orientation - why did you decide to take this route?
I’ve never had much interest in labels, especially when it comes to sexuality. I understand that it can be really helpful for some people to say ‘I’m lesbian or bi’ and that can foster a community for them and give them support. To me, that’s never been an important aspect. I’ve experienced labels being restrictive or not accurate enough. I really want to explore how different people can bring out different sides of someone.
What challenges did you face shooting this film?
It was my first film, it was self-funded so we were on a low budget. I literally figured it out whilst I was doing it - so I learned a lot! It was definitely difficult. Almost everyone on set was more experienced than me, even though I was the director, so that was quite challenging - to stay confident in my choices. The whole cast and crew were wonderful and they really trusted me. The other main challenge was working with the tortoises! They are a lot faster than I anticipated they would be!
As a first time filmmaker, what advice would you pass on?
Make things easy for yourself. Don’t choose too many locations. Don’t try to do too many things at once. Try to stick with something that is maybe in one setting or one room...I did not stick to that advice! It can be little things as well. In my first version of the script Emma and Jamie go to the park to get an ice-cream. Ice cream would be an absolute continuity nightmare - you’d have to keep buying new ice cream. So I changed it to coffee. These are the small things that you learn. Ask for people's opinions, but trust your gut instincts. If it’s something that’s important to you - stick to your guns and don’t be scared!
What queer characters have you identified with or felt inspired by?
I really enjoyed how the queer character storyline in Booksmart was handled. Everybody already knows that Amy is gay and there’s no weirdness around it. I liked the subversive nature of that storyline and how she has a crush on a character who is a total tomboy, so you expect that character to be gay. I like content that approaches queerness in suversive ways, in a more natural way.