A New Project Begins

Since October I have been working on a new short film project for Ewa Habdas of White City Productions. Our working title is Fair, and the script will be in its final form in spring 2016.

The original premise: what would the Evil Queen in Snow White really be like, if the story were told from her point of view and not Snow White’s? Has she perhaps been misunderstood? What pressures and fears led her to behave the way she did in the story? And what would happen if we set this in contemporary Britain?

We have swapped the magical forest for contemporary London, the castle for the Royal Ballet, and the speaking mirror for a room full of mirrors and an over-concerned mother who seems to speak for them. The theme is really the same. A middle-aged woman must make a choice, to fight or to risk being forgotten, in a world where a woman’s looks and fertility are still scrutinized and judged as the single most important elements of her person. But for what she fights, that you will have to wait and see…

When Ewa commissioned me for this project, my first step was to distill what its root message or purpose was. What do we want to say or have achieved by the end of this story? And, using at least some of the elements of her original idea, what is the absolute best way of getting that across? One beat-sheet and conversation later, and a lot of the original building blocks were dismissed and new ones brought in, the characters and narrative arc changed significantly. An almost entirely new story was born, but framed around the central concerns of the original.


The writing and re-writing continue. Now where did I put my mirror…


Unearthing the Past: Why ‘Aversion’ needs to be made

Now that the publicity and funding campaign for ‘Aversion’ has begun, I thought it would be useful to give some background information on where we at White City Productions are coming from. Below I will very briefly touch of what Aversion Therapy actually is, and why making a film about it is so important, both as a step in LGBT history and film-making, and as a fundamental human rights issue. We’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce the Team so far: myself the Writer, Ewa Habdas as the original creator of the project, and Kirill and Aleks our wonderful co-producers.

Aversion Therapy is based on the principle that all behaviours are learned, and can therefore be unlearned. The idea is that a patient, subjected to unpleasant physical stimuli, starts to associate their unwanted desires or habits with the discomfort, resulting in the behaviour decreasing or ceasing altogether.

In the 1950s and 60s, Aversion Therapy was used widely by American and British psychiatrists to treat addiction. Unfortunately, it was also used as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality. The treatments were neither particularly effective nor safe, and hundreds of people were left physically and psychologically damaged by the procedures.

The central narrative of our film, ‘Aversion’, will follow the experience of two British teenagers in the 1950s undergoing Aversion Therapy for being homosexual. All places and characters will be fictional, but as much detail as possible will be taken from historical documents and real people’s experiences.

To this day, not much is known about the extent of damage done to people in the name of ‘curing’ them, especially regarding what happened here in Britain. It was only within recent decades that homosexuality was even declassified as a mental illness.

We at White City Productions feel strongly that people should learn about this under-reported part of history, and that a well-researched and accurate drama is the most compelling and effective way to achieve that. With films like ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘Freeheld’ receiving wide public interest and acclaim, it seems we are at a point where there is genuine hunger to learn of the struggles of LGBT people in recent history.

More to the point, in certain parts of the world, people are still being put through Aversion Therapy and similar ‘cures’ for being gay or bisexual. If we can move people with ‘Aversion’, we hope that people may have more sympathy for people still undergoing these treatments, even become inspired to campaign against these practices.

There are also people who are simply unaware of what is involved in Aversion Therapy. Seeing characters with whom they empathise go through it might make them think more deeply about both the efficacy and morality of these treatments. Perhaps, seeing homosexuals develop and struggle may even make people who would naturally be uninterested or prejudiced see them as more relatable.

We hope that ‘Aversion’ can also inspire people more generally. ‘Aversion’ is primarily a story about facing physical and psychological ordeals, and how different people react to that. Some fight, some give in, some find strength they weren’t expecting in themselves or each other. The real people who were put through Aversion Therapy deserve to have their story told, but we also want to show that, no matter what you are put through, you almost always have a choice regarding how you respond.

Through ‘Aversion’, we hope also to remind people that love and acceptance are more powerful – or at least more important – forces than hate and prejudice. We cannot present a world in which no-one is hurt or unkind, but we can show that, despite everything, the solidarity between the central characters keeps them fighting, surviving, even thriving through to the end of the story.

These are, admittedly, ambitious aims for a film. But we can, at the very least, hope to make people seeing ‘Aversion’ feel more informed, and potentially even motivated to help bring about positive change.

To our knowledge, there are not many movies in the current market that depict Aversion Therapy being used on homosexuals. Some films and TV shows refer to it, such as ‘Call the Midwife’, ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Web Therapy’, but we believe it is time to make a feature primarily about this subject. We believe it needs to be fully explored and exposed, and that we have the passion, skills and experience to do this.

Our target audiences are people in their twenties and over who are interested in gender and equality issues, the LGBT community, including teenagers, and people in their 60s and over, who will have been teenagers in the 50s and 60s and will hopefully feel a personal resonance with the social atmosphere we will depict in ‘Aversion’.

Regarding White City Productions itself, we are a group of independent filmmakers based in London, working together since 2013. Our combined skills and experience have helped us create films that are both entertaining and thought-provoking, for instance our short, ‘Iscariot’, which won ‘Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy’ Award at this year’s Follow Your Dreams Film Festival.

Our long-term goal is to become full-time film industry professionals. We are passionate about film and each have stories we are hungry to share. We want our films to be inspiring, to move and potentially show people different ways to look at life. Making ‘Aversion’ would be a milestone for all our careers. Not only would the process give us invaluable experience, it would also be wonderful to put a project out into the world we all feel so strongly about.

The treatment for ‘Aversion’ is finished. We are now seeking funds to develop the script, carry out additional research and begin sourcing cast and crew. Once the script is completed, we will also seek support from national grants and funds, private investors and sponsors, and crowdfunding.

Although ‘Aversion’ is in the early stages of development, we have already started building an audience. We have a dedicated website, enabling people to read about the project, as well as social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter where we regularly share related articles. In June we attended London Pride, where we spoke about ‘Aversion’ with the general public and made connections with film industry traders.

We have also begun conversations with people who directly experienced Aversion Therapy themselves, or LGBT people who were teenagers in the 1950s and 60s. We are about to record a series of interviews with these contributors, which we will use both as a means to further promote ‘Aversion’, but also to raise more general awareness of the experience of being LGBT in previous generations or in other cultures.

If anyone out there has any questions, or would like to get involved in some way, we would love to hear from you!

Antonia Reed

November 2015