What came first, the puppet or the ventriloquist? Connie came first. The cute little felt-mouthed showgirl was specially made to order in New York City in 2015. She wasn’t bought as a film prop, more for ornamental value, but once she was in her sequins and feathers, she took on a whole other life when I brought her back to London.
Originally, I’d voice Connie around the house as a joke. The voice I used sounded like the prostitute from the Steve Martin classic The Man With Two Brains (“I don’t mind”) and was a filthy, backstabbing, loud-mouthed superstar diva. After improvising with her, I decided that I wanted to make a film using her. She deserved a little of the spotlight.
To help develop the film, I embarked on a period of research into the uncanny and the use of dolls and dummies in horror cinema as part of my second MA, exploring what makes them such a successful scary device. As a cinema buff, this intense period of content analysis was a treat. I grew up with incredibly liberal parents and was allowed to watch films like Puppet Master, Dolls, Asylum, Magic and Child’s Play from a very young age. This research allowed me to revisit my favourites, and also discover new dummy and doll films, with key influences including Dead of Night, Dead Silence and The Twilight Zone episodes Living Doll, The Dummy and Caesar & Me.
Connie is a playful homage to these films and plays more on voodoo and the dangers of the living doll, rather than the disturbed, conflicted ventriloquist at odds with their inner being. A key finding from the research was the lack of female puppets and ventriloquists as antagonists and protagonists, with just a handful of exceptions to the rule. I wanted to create a strong female-centric story, playing on the codes and conventions of these films, but adding an extra dimension with the elements of competitive female friendships, catty bitch fighting over stage time and men, and the sense of motherly guidance imparted from Connie to Dolly. Connie isn’t just a master manipulator, she’s the tough mother who gives with one hand and takes with another.
Most of all, I wanted to write a film that turned this subgenre on its head and makes the audience laugh. As a former stand-up myself, I know the scene and pressures well, and wanted to give a voice to those who suffer from crippling self doubt and stage fright. If only most acts had a Connie to help them. The comedic elements of the film are influenced by my childhood favourites Woody Allen, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Jackie Mason.
Two was the magic number for this film. We shot all thirty four scenes in two days, with some extra time for our interview with Kim Newman, which forms part of a faux documentary on dolls and dummies within the film. It was a complex two-camera shoot for the most part, using a 4K Blackmagic and HD Blackmagic Pocket. Though directing a two-camera shoot is more challenging, it was the only way to get the film shot in two days on our modest £2K budget. Also, Catrin Stewart (Doctor Who, Stella) is incredible and plays two characters at the same time – both Dolly and Connie. She’s a superstar.
Connie is a film that I hope gives pause for thought about identity, female friendship, self-discovery and puppets… Filthy, felt-mouthed, foul-mouthed puppets.
– Cat Davies