Profiling Peckham Levels: Rebecca Manley

As part of a new series, we get to grips with some of the best creatives housing at Peckham Levels.

Peckham Levels is a space that champions creativity. The disused car park in the town centre has been refurbished as part of a special project which offers creative spaces for young individuals hoping to nurture their talents. Spanning diverse industries, from music to fashion and film to photography, the project has been confirmed for the next 6 years, ensuring that the inhabitants have a good opportunity to make a go of their very own businesses.

As well as using the space to push new talent, there’s also food pop-ups, shops and communal spaces for hanging, ensuring that the people of Peckham are getting something from the development. If only every town had this idea!

For our first creative profile, we get to know Rebecca Manley, an award winning director helming from Suffolk whose work is already gaining a lot of attention…

When did you first become interested in film? 

From a very early age I have always loved going to the cinema and still find the experience magical. I got into the idea of film as a job at secondary school and, weirdly, knew I wanted to work in animation from the age of eleven. But I wasn’t sure about the different roles in a production team at that stage. I just thought I’d be painting cels* or something! When I got to uni, and onto my BA Animation course, I learnt what a director does and it all clicked into place.

(*With the advances in technology in animation over the last twenty years, and the decline of 2D traditional techniques, this isn’t even something that figures in the majority of 2D production anymore!)

When and why did you launch your studio? 

I am a writer/director represented by Aardman animations and don’t have my own studio as such. But as it is a freelance position, and Aardman is in Bristol, it’s essential for me to have a base close to home.

What makes your work unique? 

I am a very visual person and therefore always heavily involved in the design aspect of all my projects. My animated productions tend to have a strong hand-crafted element and I have worked in techniques as diverse as sand-on-glass, chalk-on-board, stop-motion, live action puppets and traditional 2D. But one of my favourite projects was a commercial for Little Big Planet on Sony PSP where I combined CGI with stop-motion and pixellation techniques. Whether the medium be animation or live action, I think my visuals and the tactile quality that characterises my film making approach makes the worlds and characters that I create stand out.

Tell us about some directors / creatives that you’re most inspired by. 

I love Wes Anderson’s work both in live action and animation. He has a unique sense of detail and style that I really admire. I am also inspired by directors Susanna White, Beryl Richards and Delyth Thomas who I met when I sat on the board at Directors UK. These women are doing brilliant work in what is still a male dominated profession and, alongside this, take the time to support and mentor those at earlier stages in their careers. Good theatre always captivates and motivates me. This year I saw The Brother’s Size at The Young Vic, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Bijan Sheibani, and Claire van Kampen’s production of Othello at The Globe. Two very different experiences, both fantastic and emotive. Shows like that always leave me buzzing and keen to crack on with new projects. I am also a big fan of children’s illustration and am inspired by artists like Maurice Sendak and Dahlov Ipcar. 

What is the greatest film of all time and why? 

E.T. has everything for me – a brilliant structure, great characters that you feel for, epic drama, amazing fantastical elements and iconic music.

What is the most ambitious project you’ve ever worked on. 

Probably my short film Now You See It, which I Wrote, Directed and Produced. I made it because I wanted to contribute a creative piece to the global conversation about Climate Change. Even though I had little to no budget, actor Ewan McGregor was always in my mind for the voice-over from the very beginning of the project. And through a lot of tenacity and determination, much to my surprise and delight, I managed to get him on board. He was really fun to work with!

What is it like having your studio at Peckham Levels? 

There’s a wide variety of creative businesses at the Levels. So it can be very inspiring to see what other members are up to. It’s handy to have a great yoga studio and cafe all in the same building too. Try the banana bread!

What is your favourite thing about Peckham? 

I like the fact that there is still a good mix of people in Peckham. It would be a shame to lose that. It’s cool that there are lots of creative people living in the area and those with a real passion for their small businesses – independent cafes, restaurants and specialised shops. It means there’s a lot of variety here to enjoy.

What are you working on right now? 

I am in post production on my very first live action drama short Of Thread and Almonds. It’s a departure from my animation work and so has been quite challenging, and sometimes daunting. But live action is something I’ve wanted to expand into for a while, so it was time to take the plunge!

What are you hoping to achieve? 

My dream would be to direct long form drama and features in future. I never want to stop learning as a director. I think there’s always room for improvement. And I’ll continue to challenge myself in order to do that. 

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