This is an actress who is that wonderful mixture of having classical acting talent, an absolutely charming personality and a soul from another time period, all tied together with a fresh attitude towards modern industry working conditions. Her name is popping up all over the indie film scene and with roles in a number of feature films in this year alone, we speak to Ayvianna Snow about her acting career, her work with Equity, the mishaps of low budget films and what’s to come in 2022.
As an actor, how was the pandemic for you?
“It was difficult for everyone but for actors all the theatres closed, I think the last time that happened was in the 1600s. We didn’t know what to do. I was fairly fortunate as I still managed to do a bit of filming. That came back quicker than theatres because you don’t require an audience, you have a minimal crew and you can wear masks, wipe stuff down between takes etc. I was able to film ‘Hollow’ in Hereford which was a lovely experience. I also managed to film ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ with Howard Ford. He visited actors in their own homes as to not to break the bubbles and merge people too much. I kept working as much as anyone could really.”
How did you find it, working in that way?
“It’s frightening, in the way you don’t want to catch anything. Both my mother and sister have underlining health conditions, so I was concerned for their health more so than my own. I actually chose to stay on my own at Christmas because I was afraid of taking my germs into their home. In terms of the acting process, it was difficult. Particularly with ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ because there was literally two of us here; me and Howard. If there were any scenes that required me to act with another actor, Howard had to read in the lines. That’s difficult because when you’re acting a scene, you have the person in front of you, being able to make eye contact and to get their reaction. That’s how I like to be in the moment and reacting as truthfully as you can. We weren’t able to do that, a lot of the time I was looking at an empty space delivering lines.”
Over the last few years, you have been involved in a number of sci-fi and horror films, are they genres you wanted to go into or ones you fell into?
“Well both! I tend to do a lot of low budget indie films and those film makers often tend to make horror. A lot of film makers who have gone on to become famous began doing horror. Horror is the easiest genre to sell. If you are trying to make something and you’ve only got £50,000 to do it, you think of what you can produce that has the best chance of selling and its horror. From a certain perspective it’s a business decision. Once that ball is rolling people begin to branch out and do other genres so it’s partly how the industry is set up in terms of getting sales and distribution. I also like horror as a genre so I’m very happy to do it! I like intelligent horror scripts like psychological horror rather than just slasher films or gory films which can get a bit monotonous.”
You recently were in ‘Barun Rai and the House on the Cliff’ which is visually a very striking movie. How did you feel working on something that was such a spectacle?
“I keep describing it as a fusion of Bollywood cinema and western cinema. In terms of me working on it, I was surprised when I saw it at the premiere screening, it was much bigger in scope. It didn’t feel like that when I was working on it. I didn’t spend any time with the leading cast, in fact I wasn’t even shown the script for any of their parts. I was literally only shown my parts for my character Polly. The filming was also in 2 blocks, the first was out on this farm in Essex which was beautiful but freezing as we filmed in November (I think), so I spent a lot of time running around the lovely countryside and cliff face and always in such impractical clothing (laughs). There were only two other actors I worked with, so it felt very small and intimate. Then I was brought back maybe a year later to do a lot of green screen work in a tiny studio where I spent 2 or 3 days standing in a box.
It’s funny, when you work on these lower budget films you have to come up with clever solutions. They wanted me to fly at one point and if you had a big budget, you would have something like a harness to make you fly but we didn’t have money for it, so they got two of the production assistants to dress in green to match the green screen and they carried me to make me fly! You have to come up with solutions and have to think creatively and be resourceful.”
The scope of low budget is insane though! One person’s low budget is £5,000 whilst another’s is £500,000.
“I work at Equity as well and the official definition there for a low budget film is anything less than £3,000,000. That covers such a range.”
You recently put yourself forward for a seat on the Equity National Committee, did you win?
“Yes! It covers anyone working on the screen anywhere in the UK like film, tv even social media videos like YouTube. I made the argument that the definition [of low budget] of very outdated, these days we all have a camera in our pocket and people are making films for £10,000. We have to have new agreements to cover this new way of doing things and we’ve got to move with the times. It’s cheaper than ever now to make a film, technology is so accessible, so I’ve developed a new agreement- a new budget film agreement for that.”
What do you feel needs improvement in regard to low budget films i.e., what would benefit from creating new film agreements?
“Health and safety can often go out the window when people don’t have money, I could tell you some horror stories I’ve had on set (laughs). I remember once being on a set and they wanted me to open a door and discover the body of my friend hanging upside down. They built a thing for him to hang off from in about 10 minutes. I said “Shouldn’t he have a safety harness? This doesn’t look safe!” so they got a runner who was about 16 years old to stand behind it all and hold the actors’ ankles so he wouldn’t fall. That was not appropriate. A lot of low budget films try and cut corners by not having insurance, that’s very risky too. Having adequate time. Sometimes with lower budget, they might only have 10 days to film the whole thing so you would turn up at 7am and still be there at 2am still filming with everyone half dead trying to remember their lines and then be expected to come back at 8am. So there has to be some basic things put in place, just because its low budget doesn’t mean you can’t still have some standards and treat people like a human and try and have good working conditions in place. I say all this from a place of love. I love what I do, I just think sometimes we could do better.”
Do you feel being younger and with experience on current lower budget sets will bring a fresh take to Equity?
“Absolutely. I’ve been knocking about for 10 years now, and I love the community, but you’ve got to move with the times. You used to be able to work in rep theatre and earn a living. These days actors are starting out in fringe theatre which is often completely unpaid in rooms above pubs. There was also no Netflix or Amazon Prime, streaming services have very much changed the way we consume film and TV. Equity has only recently gotten (this year) out first agreement with Netflix, we are the first union in the world to have that. You have people binge watching an entire series in one weekend which used to take several weeks/months to be shown. Even with something like commercials, you used to do one, get paid a fee and then get a buy out every time it was sold to a different region. Nowadays you can make a viral video for TikTok, get paid £200 and that’s global! Our agreements need to reflect the new way of doing things.”
You have a number of things coming out this year [The Good Wife, Hollow, Argh, L.O.L.A and much more]. Is there anything you are particularly excited about (that isn’t locked down in contacts)?
“I’m really excited about L.O.L.A. It’s got a really good team behind It, it was produced by Alan Maher who is just one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. It stars Emma Appleton. She plays a scientist in this film who makes a time machine called L.O.L.A and it’s very fast moving. It’s got two female leads and it’s not about looking for a boyfriend (laughs), I always find that when you get female leads on screen, they seem to find a lot of time looking for men. I had only one scene opposite Emma, but it was a beautifully written and moving scene. She was wonderful to work with.”
Is there a genre you would like to pursue as your career progresses?
“I’m a sucker for a period drama. I would love to do that but period stuff costs money, for example creating an interior that looks like it’s from the 1940s correctly. In indie period dramas, a lot of scenes seem to happen outside because a forest looks like a forest no matter what the time period is. We are filming one now called “The Final 45” set in 1945 and all my scenes are in a forest (laughs) but that’s a nice piece as well. I play a leader in the French Resistance, and I get to lure Nazi officers into the woods.”
Do you feel working at the fast pace of low budget you are more adaptable as an actor? Is there more pressure to get things, right?
“I think it has made me acquire a facility for ‘instant acting’ I would call it. When you work in theatre people usually have a 3-week rehearsal period, there’s no expectation for you to show up knowing your lines. Whereas I turn up on set, do some read throughs and go right into it. Sometimes they film the rehearsal! I remember when we were working on “The Good Wife” we had sometime like 12 days to shoot the entire thing and sometimes there just wasn’t time to learn the lines, so it forces you to get to the nub of what the scene is about and to make those character choices. I think I’ve now got the facility to do so very quickly, to turn it on and off like a tap almost.”
Do you feel you’ve gained an instinct towards your characters working like that?
“Yes, I also think ‘self-taping’ as an audition process is relevant here. With that I’ll get sent a scene with maybe two lines about the character and that’s all you’ve got to go on, so you have to very quickly work out who the character is. I would say I’ve learnt to read between the lines and make that character choice and interpret the scene, hopefully correctly with often very little information. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing (laugh), but I think that’s the way acting is going.”
Is there anyone in the indie film scene you would love to work with in particular?
“I’d like to work with Sean Cronin. I think he is doing some really interesting work, his latest film “Give Them Wings” I think is really exciting. I’ve got to work with him sometime!”
Watch the trailer for Ayvianna’s new film “Hollow” Out February: