Chanya Button made her start in the industry at an early age, working as an Assistant Director on the “Harry Potter” feature-film franchise. Button has since worked extensively across both the theater and film industries, blending writing and directing her own work with working on larger-scale features. She has worked in the Creative Department at Warner Brothers in LA, for the UK Film Council (now BFI) Film Fund, as an Assistant Director for the Bush Theatre, the Tricycle Theatre, in Development for Heyday Films, as well as continuing her work on studio features, including the “Harry Potter” franchise, “Sherlock Holmes” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” “Burn Burn Burn” is her debut feature as director and producer. (Press materials)
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
CB: “Burn Burn Burn” is a melancholic comedy, following Seph (Laura Carmichael) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie) on a road trip around the UK after their recently deceased best friend, Dan (Jack Farthing), posthumously tasks them with scattering his ashes. Offering his friends an opportunity to come to terms with his death, Dan leaves a series of video diaries with instructions for the trip. A dark comedy about grief and friendship, “Burn Burn Burn” sees Seph and Alex depart on one last trip with Dan, safely decanted into Tupperware and stowed in the glove compartment. Dan’s bracing video diaries are at once moving and bitingly funny, and his revelations and reflections force his grieving friends to reassess their own lives.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CB: I made my first short film with Charlie Covell in the lead a few years ago whilst I was still at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (I did their Theatre Directing MA), and our professional relationship blossomed from there! The film is a really personal one; there’s a lot of us both in there, and a lot of our own friendship. So I guess what drew me to the story was my friendship with Charlie, which I find endlessly entertaining, so I took a punt on presuming an audience would too! The cast is peppered with old friends of ours, so that kept it feeling really personal. We’ve known Jack Farthing forever, and Susan Wokoma, Hannah Arterton and James Rowland. The experience was a crazy mixture of hugely talented friends and amazing people we never thought we’d get to work with, like Alison Steadman, Joe Dempsie, Julian Rhind-Tutt — and of course Laura and Chloe.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CB: By far the biggest challenge was getting people to believe we could make it! I served as a producer as well as director on “Burn Burn Burn,” so while I was developing the script with Charlie Covell, I was out raising finance, getting other producers interested and educating myself about exactly what we had to do to make our film independently. Charlie is a remarkably talented creative partner, so between us, we had a very clear vision and didn’t want to wait for permission to make the film.
We looked to brilliant examples of breakout projects like “Tiny Furniture” and “Black Pond” and based our model for bringing “Burn Burn Burn” together on that. Not very many films of this scale get made in the UK, so convincing private financiers, Creative England, sales agents and potential producers that this was real, and that we had the skills and dedication to bring it to life ourselves, was the biggest hurdle we faced. And so everyone, from our collaborating producers to each and every cast and crew member, took a leap of faith, and I think we ended up with a team who really believed in the project as a result, because we were working outside the box from so early on.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
CB: I want people to leave the cinema and call someone they care about. Call your mom! Call a friend you haven’t seen for while. Call someone you’ve taken for granted and tell them how excellent they are. “Burn Burn Burn” is a film that speaks to a moment in your life when you have no excuse but to grow up. It’s a film that takes a brutal and hilarious look at how neurotic and self-involved we can become. I hope that through our complex web of dark comedy and moving, life-affirming self-discovery, people leave feeling positive about the people they have in their own lives. It’s a film that’s a bit of a love letter to friendship.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
CB: Advice is a funny word. I don’t have any answers! Instead, I think I have a proposition for other female filmmakers: Let’s not feel intimidated by or embarrassed out of caring about the issue of equality and not feel shy to call ourselves feminists! I’ve seen so many women in the industry recently distance themselves from the word “feminist,” and that makes no sense to me.
First and foremost, our work comes first, and that’s what we can make great change with. Let’s put nuanced characters on screen that don’t conform to old industry stereotypes, regardless of gender.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
CB: One of the great things about making your first feature is that you haven’t been around long enough to be misunderstood yet. I guess one of the trickiest things to navigate is that “female filmmaker” label. I wish it just wasn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be! But it is. It’s tough to keep people focused on the stories you want to tell, and not some accident of your biology that happened to give you boobs.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
CB: “Burn Burn Burn” came together in a rather unique way. It’s tough to bring an independent film together in the UK without it running through one of the pre-existing schemes like iFeatures or Microwave. And while they’re fantastic, they weren’t quite the right fit for us. So we had to forge another path. Once Charlie and I had developed the project to a certain point creatively, we took it to Creative England, where Richard Holmes, the Head of the Production Fund, really went out of his way to support our project. You really do need that first domino to topple, that first person to say. “Yes, I believe in you.” So we owe a great debt to Richard and Creative England on that front. We then assembled the rest of the financing through private investment and worked with a company called Goldfinch, which is trying to do great new things with independent film finance. We also started working with our sales agent, UDI, from very early on — who also believed in the project enough to partner with us early on. It was also key for us to have our Casting Director on board early. I work often with Lucy Rands, who’s a bit of a casting wizard. She worked with Charlie and me from the treatment stage, and so by the time we were financing the film, we had cast already interested and could present the project to financiers as more of a package.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CB: I don’t pay attention to the gender of the director when I’m watching a film! I think the best directors have this amazing ability to be both ever-present and invisible in their work. When I watched “The Hurt Locker” for the first time, I had no idea it was directed by a woman. I was surprised when I saw Kathryn Bigelow’s name, but I think that says far more about the state of the industry than it does about her. The film clearly has a strong directorial voice, but that voice never felt too intrusive. She let the world come alive in a way that felt natural, and the characters present this thrilling story to us themselves. That’s what made it so brilliant — she had such a generous style.