The director of the acclaimed Irish documentary 'Pyjama Girls' talks to Harry Guerin about making the film.
Harry Guerin: When and why did you decide to make 'Pyjama Girls'?
Maya Derrington: I got the idea for the film three or four years ago, when I walked in to my local Spar and saw a group of girls in their PJs. I hadn't heard of the pyjama wearing phenomenon at that point and was completely stunned. I started making up stories in my head to make sense of it: they must be going to a fancy dress party or have been involved in a house fire. Once I understood it was a conscious clothing choice I became surprised at my own reaction. I consider myself to be open-minded, yet my reaction to this trend had been extreme shock, and that extreme reaction was mirrored in everyone I spoke to about it.
HG: How did you meet the two stars of the film, Lauren and Tara?
MD: After a trawl of the city for potential characters, we started filming with a group of girls who hung out at and lived near James's Street. We'd been filming with them for a while before we met Tara and Lauren but as soon as we turned the camera on them, they were naturals. They're brilliantly funny and bright and, at times, tragic or terrifying. I could listen to them bantering forever.
HG: Were they wary of you and the idea of making the film at first?
MD: Tara and Lauren were very open from the start, and their families were supportive of the project too. But other characters we met along the way were more reticent or rather more aware of the presence of the camera and of maintaining their own self-image.
HG: Did it take long for you to build a rapport with Lauren and Tara and their families?
MD: We were filming with them over a period of months, during which time we did our best not to be too intrusive too quickly. We kept discussing the process with them.
HG: Do you think that not being from Ireland helped them to accept you more easily than they would, say, another Dubliner?
MD: I'm not sure. A lot of the time the crew consisted of me and my colleague Sinéad Ní Bhroin - the film's Assistant Producer, who also did Sound when I was filming - who is from Swords. The girls and their families bonded with Sinéad as much as with me. I think they saw us both as equally alien and were slightly intrigued!
HG: What was the most challenging thing for you making the film?
MD: Trying to find a fair balance in terms of how deep to delve into the lives of the main characters, who as teenagers deserve to be treated with special care and respect. If anything the main characters were too giving in terms of letting us into their lives, and we had to be sure that we kept their interests at heart throughout the process of making the film.
HG: You could have asked Lauren and Tara questions when they are on-screen, but you are very much in the background. Why did you choose this approach?
MD: I wanted the audience to be able to see them as much within their own context as possible. If I ask questions, I'm placing my own frame around them and their lives. Obviously I'm doing that anyway in terms of framing and editing, but this felt like one way of limiting my own editorialising.
HG: Why did you decide to spend more time with Lauren than Tara and why don't we see Tara's family?
MD: We had so many potential stories to focus on when it came to editing the film. But you have to choose your storylines and be specific about the structure the film will have. Lauren became the main focus of the film at a late stage in the process. We filmed a lot at Tara's house and, until very late on in the edit, we included a great scene showing Tara with her Dad, who runs a horse and carriage near Guinness's. Sometimes you have to cut out scenes you love, in order to make the film flow as strongly as it can.
HG: One of the best quotes in the film is: "We're the pyjama generation - the fashion that we're into hasn't even come in yet." What's your own take - before and after - on pyjama wearing?
MD: I love it. That sounds too simple after focusing on the subject for so long, but basically I love the bold statement it makes, both visually and in terms of riling the wider public. To me it's as close as we get to punk these days. The colours, the laissez-faire attitude: I'd be a pyjama girl if I had the guts.
HG: Do you think that the phenomenon of people wearing pyjamas outside their homes is because they feel safe in them - that the pyjamas are almost like an armour?
MD: I think it's hard to pin it down to one specific reason or definition. In some ways it's the opposite of armour as it often brings out outrage and disgust from the wider public. Sometimes I think it's about opting out of society and the pressure to impress, sometimes I think it's about being part of a close-knit community in which you are not judged. Sometimes I think it's just a brilliantly cheap and bright way to dress.
HG: Are you still in touch with Lauren and Tara?
MD: Yes, I spoke to them both earlier today.
HG: What has been the most rewarding thing for you about this film?
MD: The generosity of Tara and Lauren's families in terms of being open with us and letting us into their lives. Also the intensity of the process of the edit, in which Paul Rowley and I locked ourselves away for weeks on end, armed only with a Mac, a pile of coloured post-it notes to work out our structure and a supply of good chocolate. Finally the public response has been incredible and very encouraging.
HG: What's your next project?
MD: We Still-Filmers are currently making a doc about Irish architects in the 1950s and 60s creating modernist masterpieces in Africa: my colleagues Nicky Gogan and Paul Rowley are co-directing and I'm producing. For my next project as a director I'm developing a doc about the unconventional young woman who created 'London's A-Z' by walking every street in the city. She's an inspiration.
'Pyjama Girls' is currently showing at the Irish Film Institute.