Changeling ATVA director: “I wish somebody had said to me, don’t be afraid to be who you are.”

8 mins read

The ATVAs, AirTV’s annual awards night, celebrates the talent and individuality of Stirling’s resident filmmaking society. Yet in Zoey Thomas’ Changeling, we get a glimpse of what happens when you try to be someone else.

Changeling follows a mythical creature as they navigate university, shapeshifting into people from their past so that they can fit in. It blends the realities of the student experience with a fantastical world of magic and powers. Zoey told Brig that the idea came from her own experience. She said:

“When I first got to uni, I was very much in the mindset of I had to be cool, I had to act cool. I couldn’t do those things; I have to do these things to fit in properly. And it didn’t help at all. It just made everything worse.”

She explained that in one scene, which had to be cut for time, the changeling tells people they go to a certain school but eventually gets caught out in the lie. This actually happened to Zoey:

“I went to all boys Tory private school, which was an issue for quite a few reasons. So, I was like, right, I can’t let anybody know. So, I just lied and said I went to another school.

“It was all going great until somebody turns up at the flat and saying they went to that school as well. I never left my room for the rest of the year. It’s just sort of little things like that, where I wish somebody had said to me, don’t be afraid to be who you are.”

Eagle eyed AirTV followers will have noticed the cryptic trailer released for Changeling has little to do with the premise. Instead it is a chaotic bombardment of quick edits and seemingly meaningless shots. But Zoey joked with Brig, the trailer may be more revealing than meets the eye:

“Have you ever read The Emperor’s New Clothes? If you don’t understand it, it just means you’re not there,” she said laughing.

“There are actually, there are two or three little moments in the trailer that do relate to the film. But I’m not going to say what you have to go back and watch it.”

Zoey is a regular contributor to the ATVA line-up with last year’s entry, The Pint, gaining almost 400 views for the AirTV Youtube channel.

However, she said this is the first time she has directed something with a message behind it. It isn’t a surprise that Zoey feels such a strong connection to this project given the significance of every artistic choice, right down to the name. Zoey explained:

“There was an old notion that if your baby was acting strange when it got to about one or two and wasn’t acting like all the other kids, parents would assume, ‘Oh, that’s not my baby, it has been replaced by a changeling.’

“But in reality, it was usually just them showing signs of like autism or ADHD or any of that kind of thing. And since I’m sort of on that spectrum, it is sort of like a whole allegory for all of that.”

The personal connection Zoey has with Changeling doesn’t end with the story. She clearly draws inspiration from her friends and main cast, making the project a true collaboration. Changeling’s lead actor Em Allardyce has the difficult task of giving the main character a solid base for the other actors to work from. But Zoey maintained that they were more than up to the challenge:

“Weirdly, I think I had my main actor, before I had an idea. Because Em is an incredible actor and I knew whatever I was going to do, I wanted them as the main character. Even though it’s strange – because of the whole shape shifting thing, they’re not even in it that much. But I knew I wanted it to be them.”

Cast and crew of Changeling. Image credit: Zoey Thomas

After finding the story and her lead, it was important to find a superpower that made sense in the fantasy world and the reality of student filmmaking. Zoey explained:

“When I was coming up for ideas for what to do for the ATVAs, I knew that I wanted to do sort of superhero stuff… I wasn’t sure like what superpower I could do with a super low budget.

“I think it was my friend Anne who suggested a shapeshifter. And I thought, that’s easy. All you have to do is have somebody walk behind the pillar and come out as somebody else. It all blossomed from there.”

The night is tinged with sadness for fourth-year student Zoey as this will be her last ATVAs before she graduates. When thinking about what she has learned from her time in the society, she reflected on the friends and the memories she’s made through filmmaking:

“The main takeaway is that if you want to make a film, make a film, even if it it’s not perfect. Those shoot days, when I got all my friends together to film a thing, some of them were my best days of uni. For me, that’s what it’s all about. Obviously, the end product is the best bit, but it wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t fun to make.”

Before saying goodbye Zoey had one final thing to say to anyone that was thinking of joining AirTV next year:

“I think they should watch hit 2023 ATVA winner, (it’s gonna win), Changeling, that’ll teach them all they need to know,” she joked.

“But no, what I would say to them is that this is not high school. You don’t have to pretend to be cool. Just go find people like you and you’ll get along great,” she said fittingly.

The ATVAs are tonight at 7 pm at Macrobert Arts Centre. Tickets are still available to buy here.

Featured image credit: Zoey Thomas

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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