By Hans Pedersen, January 2016 Web Exclusive.
52 Tuesdays is a whopper of a challenge. The movie was shot over the course of a year, and only on Tuesdays. Similarly, the events in the story also unfold only on Tuesdays, creating quite a creative challenge for the storytellers.
As part of this Australian film, the producers cast actor Del Herbert-Jane, who was about to undergo gender reassignment from female to male. Herbert-Jane agreed to play the role of the parent who is making a similar transition, while young actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey was cast as the daughter, 16-year-old Billie.
Over the course of a year, Billie begins to explore her own sexuality with a boy and girl from school. And, as Billie’s mother transitions into her father, the time they can spend together becomes limited to only once a week, on Tuesdays.
Screenwriter and producer Matthew Cormack had to tackle the task of weaving together a storyline that could be shot chronologically in real time over the course of a year with input from the actors. The result is a powerful and unique movie with authenticity and heart.
In early 2015, Cobham-Hervey, Cormack and 52 Tuesdays director, producer and co-writer Sophie Hyde sat down for a group interview at the Sundance Film Festival. Del Herbert-Jane, the actor who played Billie’s parent, James, was not available for media interviews.
Echo: Tell me about the inception of the project and how you got involved.
Hyde: Matt, the writer, and I had worked together a few years … and Matt came to us with an idea that was, every Tuesday two people meet for a year basically. And with the idea we would ... shoot on Tuesdays, and only on Tuesdays, for a year.
Matt wrote long, long character histories, so he knew them very well. They, of course, changed when we cast them … And then working with the cast, they bring something completely other…
Echo: In terms of trans issues, do you think society is improving, in terms of greater acceptance?
Hyde: I think the idea of variance of gender is something that, while I do think there’s a shift, there’s a kind of flexibility or freedom around that, I think that’s an idea that confronts us, all of us, it brings into question how we were raised, how we feel about ourselves. With this stuff there’s always a backlash.
Cormack: I think there is growing acceptance. But there’s still an obsession with genitalia in talking about gender. There’s still confusion about that, and that’s going to take a while.
Hyde: That’s because it taps into us, and it makes us confront our own idea of who we are. Like we ask those questions, what makes a man? What is a woman? And once you start really doubting and questioning that you have to doubt your own conception of you …
Echo: Were there any revelations for any of you from the movie?
Cobham-Hervey: I grew up in a family ... with people who were always playing with gender … What did really surprise me, and what I found intriguing and learned, was the feeling of not feeling comfortable in your own skin. In terms of empathizing with other people in that situation …
Hyde: I think there were a million different revelations over such a long time. Some of that for me was about living your life in boxes, segregating your life, which we were doing anyway making the film. And he characters were doing that and it’s an easy thing to do, doing things a simpler way ... to segregate one part of your life from another. I probably don’t do that. [laughs]
Echo: Can you talk a little bit about the teen’s sexuality and how that evolved?
Cormack: Early on, we had the idea of these three teenagers getting together and exploring all these questions … But as soon as Tilda and Sam [actor Sam Althuizen, who plays Josh] were cast … we had a great time with them and it was very easy to write for them. For some scenes we got together beforehand and played games and did work-shopping type things and a lot of great things came out of that.
Echo: Were there any benefits or limitations from the unique production schedule?
Hyde: It was really a marathon. I think we all really expected it would get easier or something but it was intense the whole time. It was lovely we still had another life … Sometimes it felt like I was still rehearsing …
Cobham-Herbey: I was doing school at the same time. So it was … weird, doing my final year at school, and then you go to Tuesday and get to do your other life. It was like your other family. It felt like I was sitting down to dinner ... but a different version. Like how my life could have gone.
Cormack: Because it was written as we went. It was very much in my mind, “How much can we shoot in a day? Can we make it through the day?” It was certainly on your mind with redrafting ... “oh that scene is too long”… And the final day, day 52, was a 20-hour shoot. It was eight pages.
Hyde: It was a tiny team, five or six people at a time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The cinematographer and editor are all producers – that’s a huge bonus. We worked fast because of that ... We always had that Monday we’d try to pre-light, things like that. For me, one of the interesting things about the form … it couldn’t be a 90-page script because we knew we had to shoot changes as we went ... We had to be limited by what was shot the previous Tuesday … That meant the editing process was really huge, difficult.
Cobham-Hervey: And that was bizarre to see. Because I didn’t see it until it was done. That was weird for me. The film was a totally different experience to what was on screen. It was a year for my life, all of our lives.
Hyde: Tillie’s the kind of person who’s a collaborator. I think we discovered that making the film. I think that’s really crucial. Tillie really made it with us. She’s a huge part of it.
Hyde: We made an app and called it 52 Tuesdays. Tillie works quite closely with that. Every week a question goes out to everybody … And everyone responds with taking a photo.
Cobham-Hervey: And that’s really exciting. We had a wonderful year…
Cormack: Because 52 Tuesdays is a long time.