Published on: 29 November 2022 in Industry

Fashion Reimagined: an interview with Becky Hutner

Reading time: 17 minutes and 16 seconds

“It’s so important to me that people feel safe when they’re telling me their stories, and they’re sharing their worlds with me.”

Fashion Reimagined, directed by Becky Hutner, pulses with energy of the fashion industry, deftly exploring its environmental impact through the story of fashion designer Amy Powney and her brand, Mother of Pearl.

Becky, who is a 2022 BIFA nominee for Best Debut Director: Feature Documentary, spoke to Directors UK about how the documentary project came together, gaining access and trust from her contributors, navigating the edit, and even shared some sustainability tips of her own. Read the full interview below. 

What drew you to this story and how did you find Amy and Mother of Pearl?  

Becky Hutner: It was a confluence of so many different things. In 2017 I was working for a production company called Duck. They create short-form video content for fashion brands. One of my assignments was to cover the Vogue Designer Fashion Fund — an award given each year to the top emerging designer in the UK. The winner happened to be Amy.    

I was already a fan of Mother of Pearl and I knew of Amy. I got to know her through the Fashion Fund project – I went to the awards and filmed her winning the award (which is actually how Fashion Reimaged starts) and I interviewed her at home. After the interview, we were sitting in her living room and I asked her what was next. She told me that she was on a mission to create a sustainable collection from field to finished garment. That was a light bulb moment for me, because I had been on my own sustainability journey for several years at this point.    

I had worked as an editor on an environmental feature doc that completely changed my outlook. It was about climate change and the collapse of the oceans. I saw the world through a sustainability lens from there on. I had made a lot of changes in my personal life, but was really wanting to do something that could potentially have a bigger impact. How could I use my skills as a storyteller to do that? 

I also had ambitions to be a feature director. I’d been working as an editor and as a producer-director on smaller projects for so long, but was looking for that big opportunity to make my first film.  

When Amy told me that she was on this mission, it was like all of those things came together and, bam, this is an opportunity that ticks all the boxes…I have to follow this story.  

I’m interested in what happened next – how did you get the greenlight? What about funding? 

Becky: So, I have the idea and I’m just convinced that I have to do it, but I’m an employee of Duck, and Duck specialises in making marketing content for fashion brands... there’s a potential conflict of interest there, because I know this project will potentially criticise the fashion industry.  
I approached my boss, Lindsay Lowe, over some wine after work with a pitch… I was really nervous!   

She was a little trepidatious naturally, but she just felt in her heart that it was the right thing to do and she loved the idea – she became a producer on the film. So Duck Productions were our first funders, the first people to support the project. For the first year, more and more of my time at Duck was taken over by making this documentary — that was tough because I wasn’t hired to make a feature documentary that doesn’t bring in income! It was a tricky balance, but that’s how it got started.  

Then it gained momentum. I wrote a ton of grant applications. Oh my goodness. I spent months of my life doing that. I would say that over 50% of my time was spent fundraising for the first two years, and it took three years to close financing.  

We got our first grant from a small foundation in the US, then a big win was when BFI Doc Society came on board — it was from the second application I submitted to them. That’s a big tip: just because you’re rejected the first time, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again… and then try again after that.  

Then finally, we caught the attention of two amazing investors in the US who not only closed financing for us, but came on as Executive Producers and championed the film in so many ways.  

Director Becky Hutner behind the scenes of Fashion Reimagined. Photo: Dean Chapple.
Director Becky Hutner behind the scenes of Fashion Reimagined. Photo: Dean Chapple.

There’s so much work that goes into being a director even before you’ve captured your first moment of footage...  

Becky: Absolutely. The fundraising part is the producing side as well and it’s hard to tease the two apart sometimes. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that people will never see on the screen.  

Let’s talk about the shooting process. I felt that your contributors, particularly Amy and Chloe, were so candid about the realities of what they were trying to achieve. We’ve touched upon the fact that you’d met Amy before, but I’m wondering how you, as a director, gained that trust, that access, over time?    

Becky: Definitely the trust grew over time – we actually ended up filming with them for three years.    

I’d like to say that there was something special that I did to gain their trust. Maybe it helped that I was a fellow woman and a peer, of a similar age, working in a similar world to them. I feel like as time went on, they got more and more relaxed. That just happens naturally, hopefully, if you have a good relationship with your subjects. 

Part of it is just their personalities though. Amy wears her heart on her sleeve.. She just loves to chat and she tells you everything. She’s like that with everyone, not just me. I mean, that’s just a wonderful thing for a documentary subject! As a filmmaker, you could take advantage of that, but I was very conscious not to,   

Chloe is the same. What you see is what you get with Chloe. That’s completely who she is. She’s so just naturally funny and articulate and accessible. I am quite amazed at people who are the same on camera as they are off. We were just really lucky to get subjects like Amy and Chloe.  

As a viewer, it felt like I was there with you for these real moments that were heart-wrenching and exciting.  

Becky: I’m always very conscious of my contributors feeling comfortable. It’s so important to me that people feel safe when they’re telling me their stories and they’re sharing their worlds with me. I don’t know, maybe some of that is reflected in the film. 

There is an energy to the storytelling. In parts when it’s a more traditionally ‘fashion’ environment the energy mimicked the rat-race of the industry. But then in the moments with Amy at home or when she’s in Uruguay that energy shifts. Slower, but still with the sense that this mission is a lifeblood for Amy. What are your directorial choices there?

Becky: It was definitely intentional. For scenes where it’s fashion industry focused, we wanted the edit to be pacier: crazy sound design, driving music, frenetic cutting to mimic the chaos, the speed at which the fashion calendar is currently moving. We wanted to contrast that with the way that Amy grew up, or the slower approach that Pedro takes at the beginning of the supply chain — the same chain that leads to London Fashion Week.  

A still from Fashion Reimagined.
A still from Fashion Reimagined.

But the fact that it starts at a slow pace and then somewhere later it just gets out of control — that was a deliberate choice. In showing those slower-pace scenes, we were presenting, not an ‘ideal’ exactly, but I guess we’re posing the question “wouldn’t it be nice if we could recapture some of this in the daily reality of fashion?” I mean, it’s never going to be peace like a farm in Uruguay when you’re at Fashion Week, but how can we reach a happy medium? How can we slow down a little bit? I definitely wanted there to be that juxtaposition.  

Did you feel the attitude toward sustainability shift during the time period that you shot the film? Was there a sense that Amy was really onto something?  

Becky: Yes, I felt the shift dramatically. One of the biggest surprises of the whole film, was how much things changed in terms of both the public and industry awareness of sustainability. When Amy presented her mission to me in 2017, sustainability in fashion was not a big conversation in the industry, or the mainstream. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a closeted environmentalist because it wasn’t really a cool thing to talk about. I would try sometimes, and I’d usually get negative feedback.  

I thought that this project would maybe be a niche thing. It’s something that I care about, and it’s something that Amy cares about, but I didn’t know how many other people would care about it. To think that seems like another lifetime ago – but that’s genuinely where we were at. When Amy would pitch her idea to people, when I would pitch the film to people, I had to do a lot of explaining. People would be like, “eco-fashion…what?”  

Fast forward just a year and we had millions of people watching ‘the plastic moment’ with the whale in the David Attenborough series. That’s an example of how filmmaking exploded awareness amongst the public — I think that the idea of plastic pollutants permeated other things, and there were articles in mainstream publications about the environmental impact of fashion.  

All of a sudden there was pressure on the industry to be seen to do something that was just within a year. Amy just happened to be at the exact right place at the right time, having already done lots of the work to explore what that meant. The shift was super serendipitous for our film and for the world.  

As you say, Amy was right place, right time, but she also had the right intentions. 

Becky: Yes, and people in the industry recognised that right away. They saw that she was the real deal.  

Director Becky Hutner behind the scenes of Fashion Reimagined. Photo: Dean Chapple.
Director Becky Hutner behind the scenes of Fashion Reimagined. Photo: Dean Chapple.

That also reflects on you as a filmmaker, because you were there for the story before. Suddenly you find yourself in a new space, with people caring about different things, open to hearing the story you wanted to tell...  

Becky: Amy is such a determined person, and she had  already achieved so much in the fashion industry – with no connections, no money, arriving in London and just cold-calling around for internships. She gets an internship at a label and rises to creative director within a couple of years. Like who does that?! It’s so so rare. I knew that about her already, and when she’s pitching something to you she’s so passionate, she’s so determined, you believe her. So, I just had a feeling about Amy —  she is going to go on this mission, and she is going to be successful. I just wanted to tell her story. 

On sustainability, is there anything you think directors can do to be more sustainable?  

Becky: Yes. There are so many things that can be done. Firstly, connect with albert. When we started making the film in 2017, I wasn’t aware of albert, so the way I ran my production was just an extension of my own life, and what I thought made sense.  A really easy thing is to eliminate plastic bottles — I know a lot of people are on board with that in their daily lives, but then when they travel that flies out of the window. We used CamelBak’s self-filtering water bottles with UV light — you can use it to drink water from any source. So that’s a good tip! Pack lots of snacks so you’re not buying little plastic bags or pots of things. Partner with locals on the ground to eat in local restaurants, support the local economy.  

Things like limiting travel — when we travelled, it was just myself and my DoP, and we shared the sound duties. Travel was necessary in our case, which sucks. It was definitely more air travel than I would normally be comfortable with, but I felt that given the importance of transparency within Amy’s mission, with Amy wanting to see all parts of the process for herself, it was important for the audience to see that too. So, though it’s better not do the travelling at all, we carbon offset our flights.  

In a few cases, we used remote crews, which is a great way to cut down on your emissions and, again,  support the local economy. There was a day shoot where we used a local crew to capture the cotton fields – I couldn’t Zoom in, but I was directing on the phone and on WhatsApp! We also shot remotely with the Danish designer who made our creative titles — I could actually just direct from my laptop at home.  

The production company, Duck, switched to green energy, which is probably the most important and impactful thing of all. Duck went on its own sustainability journey which is really cool to see. They ramped up their electronics recycling: you end up with a lot of electronic items, batteries and cables that you’re not using anymore. Everyone in the team uses reusable bottles. They only use vegan catering. That’s all a result of this film. 

People hear the word sustainability and think it means they have to limit themselves, and they have to change their life and their work in a way that’s not as fun and abundant, and that’s not always the case.  

Fashion Reimagined director Becky Hutner. Photo: Dean Chapple.
Fashion Reimagined director Becky Hutner. Photo: Dean Chapple.

Alongside Sam Rogers, you were an editor on the film. How did that interact with your director duties? You’ve been so involved in the shoot, you have both a micro and macro perspective. How did collaborating in the edit work?  

Becky: It’s a good question, and it was a really long edit, about 17 or 18 months — so there were many phases! Firstly, everything was transcribed, and I put together a script, about a 70-page paper edit, and that was our starting point, and I was like, ‘Here Sam!’

Originally, Sam was signed on for about four months, and that was going to be the entire edit. This was during lockdown by the way, so, I’m not even sure that I’d met him in person! But, we were working through Zoom, in touch daily. He was sending me edits, I was feeding back, and he had many, many strokes of genius. He was sending me scenes and I would get so excited I would have to run around the block! He was showing these amazing possibilities with the footage that we had, with music… it was a really cool time to see Sam at work.  

So for those first few months, I wasn’t editing, it was all Sam. I wasn’t planning on editing necessarily, but we weren’t anywhere near finished and Sam had to move on to his next project, and so eventually it was decided that I would come on as an editor as well, which I was fighting the whole time! I was an editor for so long, and it’s such hard, hard work, but ultimately it was a good thing that I came on, I think, because I’m so inside the project, and there are just certain things where it’s easy for me to do them because I know exactly what I want, and I’m able to be so specific. Then Sam came back, and I was very excited about that! We were passing it back and forth, sometimes we were working at the same time, but we were never editing in the same room. We work really well together.  

I think you have to be a very special person to be a documentary editor, you definitely have to be part therapist, because it is such a lonely process. For me, as a filmmaker based in Devon, as a new mum as well, I’d have a crying baby and a film, and I’m in the middle of nowhere. So Sam was like the calm, level-headed voice of reason, and the person who was saying, ‘It’s going to be okay, this is a great film, you’re going in the right direction Becky!’ You need a person like that in those situations. It was a bit of an unplanned process in the way that the edit ended up unfolding, but maybe that was just how it was meant to be.  

Organic like its origins! We wanted to congratulate you on your BIFA nomination in the Best Debut Director – Feature Documentary category. What does it mean to you as a director?  

Becky: We’ve got a lot of amazing feedback, and a lot of great things have happened with our film – including a World Premiere at Tribeca — and I’ve just kind of kept my cool... but there was something about the BIFA nomination where I allowed myself to be excited. I don’t know, I just never expected it, especially looking at the other filmmakers in the category, and the other films nominated across the awards. It’s just so bonkers to me that we would be included in that group — it still doesn’t make sense to me that we’re in the same category as all these other epic people! It’s my first film, and I didn’t even know if we were necessarily on anyone’s radar. But, you know, it’s validation for the work and it feels good.  

You mentioned the impact of David Attenborough’s work has had in changing attitudes to plastics, I feel like your film demonstrates the power of documentary in making a difference too.  

Becky: Thank you so much, I mean let’s hope it does, right? I really hope it gets seen by a wide audience. Fingers crossed that it does have that impact, that’s why I made it.  

Fashion Reimagined is in cinemas 3 March 2023. Find out more.  

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