Rapunzel film director Stewart Kyasimire takes us behind the scenes of the new festive feature


23 Dec 2020

News Story

Rapunzel film director Stewart Kyasimire takes us behind the scenes of the new festive feature, and reveals some of the challenges involved in creating an ambitious site-specific Christmas production in 2020.

Stewart wearing a black hat and black mask filming

This year – despite all the odds, and everything that the last 12 months has thrown at us – the National Theatre of Scotland has made Rapunzel, a theatrical Christmas film created in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland and filmed on-site at Stirling Castle.

Of course, 2020 has been a unique year for everyone, and even as we come to the end I feel like I'm still learning how to adapt to the “new normal” we’re all now living through.

Rapunzel will have been my third major production of the year, so mentally I've managed to come to terms with working under these new conditions and restrictions. But working on a project on the scale of Rapunzel, and in a location as iconic as Stirling Castle no less, was a unique experience for a number of reasons.

One of the first challenges was dealing with the number of people allowed on set. With Covid guidance this was limited to five in most cases, so I often had to strip back my available team to the bare minimum. That might mean only keeping my assistant cameraman, sound guy, co-director Johnny McKnight and an actor in the room at any one time. Not your typical size of team for an on-site production.

Fortunately, the entire team was adaptable and so it meant we didn’t face too many issues as a result. The big stately rooms of the Castle also meant everyone could quickly move between large, open-plan spaces when need be.

Amber as Rapunzel at Stirling Castle, wearing a dress with a red tartan bodice

We filmed in various indoor and outdoor locations around the castle, and navigating these brought its own set of challenges. On a given day that might mean dealing with cabling for power, finding ample space to safely fit equipment and people, and of course, dealing with the typical cold Scottish weather.

Every so often that was on our side though- Amazingly, on our shoot with 'Rosey Posey' (played by the talented Darren Brownlie) outdoors in the Castle gardens, the rain held off until the minute we finished filming. If that’s not a Christmas miracle then I don’t know what is.

As with all shoots though my team and I had, of course, done our homework. I spent several days ahead of the shoot scouting locations with my talented fellow director Johnny McKnight, so when we came to it we already had numerous options for set-ups and visualisations that we could use to achieve the shots we wanted in case anything went wrong.

Paige Ootabook at the beginning of a take filmed in a red room with white polkadots

It meant that, a few challenges aside, shooting Rapunzel in Stirling Castle was really a huge amount of fun. Meeting new characters every day, with fabulously handcrafted sets to accompany them, honestly made my job a breeze, and full credit should go to Kenny (designer), Lizzie (lighting designer) and of course Ben (lighting programmer) for the amazing set design and lighting of each scene. Every filming location in the castle was spectacular, which meant the contrast between our elaborate set design and the ancient castle architecture really makes our shots stand out.

On top of the visuals, you’d be amazed at the effect filming a music scene every day has on you. I’m pretty certain I could still recite every word from Rapunzel’s amazing music tracks, which is a credit to the fantastic work done by Nova Sounds, who produced the songs. It’s wonderful that their soundtrack is being released as a digital album to accompany the film.

All in all, I think the production really is a testament to what good team working can achieve when theatre and film are in sync.

Michelle Chantelle Hopewell as Betty Botanista mid song, wearing black gloves

With Covid having forced us all into basically eliminating physical interactions it was such a pleasure to have spent this time working with such a passionate bunch of people. Taking a step back from the specifics of shooting, and despite the negatives of the past year, I really do feel grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful production.

Last year I directed the BBC Scotland documentary 'Black and Scottish', and as a Black Scot myself I feel extremely passionate about creating not just beautiful films, but positive, representative stories as well. It’s something I think that the National Theatre of Scotland’s Rapunzel has done extremely well.

This is my first intro to the world of theatre, but I gather from close friends of mine that, as with most other industries I’ve worked in, BAME groups have typically been under-represented both on and off stage & screen.

It was such a refreshing surprise then when I saw that not only was the lead character in this Rapunzel black, but so were two of the other main characters. Too often in our society BAME people are side-lined to more derogatory roles, stereotyped as “the bad guy”, so to see the beautiful tale of Rapunzel told with a largely BAME cast is truly heart-warming, and is honestly one of the main reasons I decided to join the project.

Amber Sylvia Edwards on set as Rapunzel smiling whilst being filmed

I’ve four kids of my own, three beautiful little girls and one 17-year-old boy, so I know just how important it is for them to grow up seeing people that look like them, telling positive stories and spreading love.

I know that if I can make my little girls smile, then I have a pretty good chance of making other little kids smile somewhere else in the world. Knowing I’ve given them someone to look up to, someone to take a positive lesson from, is what motives me, and that’s when I know I’ve done my job right.

Although many people won’t believe it, this seemingly minor act of representation bridges some huge cultural and societal gaps that we have in this country, and as a film, does so much more than just tell the story of Rapunzel.

The entire team, from the National Theatre of Scotland’s production staff to local Stirling Castle employees have made my own time working on the project enjoyable and most importantly allowed for a brilliant film to be made, for which they should all be proud.

I’m really excited for everyone to finally get a chance to watch it on release this week, and I already know people are going to be surprised when they see what a stunningly visual, festive treat everyone has created.