Screen talks to director Sally Potter and producer Christopher Sheppard about their as yet untitled period drama, which shot in and around London earlier this year.
Sally Potter’s latest film has the potential to be her most accessible to date. Dispensing with formal innovation in favour of period realism, the drama charts the coming of age story of two 16-year-old girls from London in the early 1960s.
The project brings together an intriguing cast including Elle Fanning, Alice Englert and Christina Hendricks alongside veterans Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt. Potter also corralled a similarly intriguing crew, which included an exciting combination of regular collaborators such as production designer Carlos Conti and newcomers like DOP Robbie Ryan.
The pre-production period was no less interesting, with Potter initially open to casting the two lead roles from 1,500 Youtube auditions. Surprisingly, the film is also the first Potter production to get backing from a UK broadcaster.
Synopsis: As the Cold War meets the sexual revolution the lifelong friendship of two teenage girls is threatened.
Director: Sally Potter
Writer: Sally Potter
Producers: Christopher Sheppard and Andrew Litvin
Executive Producers: Joe Oppenheimer, Reno Antoniades, Aaron L Gilbert, Goetz Grossman and Paula Alvarez Vaccaro.
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, and Oliver Platt.
Financing: BBC Films, Danish Film Institute, Ingenious Media and BFI.
Shooting locations: London and Dungeness, Kent.
Shoot dates: February 17 – March 27 2012
International sales: The Match Factory
Distribution: Australia (Transmission Films), Germany (Concorde Filmverleih, Scandinavia (Future Films)
Release date: TBC
On the motivation for this story:
Sally Potter: “I wanted to do something about the period before the 1960s, about post-war realities and that transition period around the Cuban missile crisis. I was a child at the time but remember it strongly. I wanted to explore an explosive personal crisis that mirrored a global crisis – the threat posed by the bomb. I also wanted to show a slice of British society rarely shown on screen, one that is free thinking, idealistic and problematic.”
On how the film came together:
Christopher Sheppard: “Sally wrote first draft more than two years ago in under two weeks. We had support from the UKFC who were very enthusiastic. Sally met BBC Films early as well. They engaged with it early but it took a long time to turn it into reality as they have many other commitments, of course.
The Danish Film Institute came in late. At Cannes last year we were looking for a sales company and a co-production partner. We needed a Danish co-producer on board to access Danish funding, so we partnered with Miso Film, who mainly do big Scandinavian TV projects. This might be the first BFI-DFI collaboration so people wanted to see that happen. We agreed do all our finishing post in Denmark with Nordisk and other companies. But it’s not an official co-production.
The Match Factory also came on in Cannes. There was a lot of interest from sales companies. We were taken by Michael Weber’s enthusiasm for it. Sally also has a long relationship with Bart Walker at Cinetic Media. He represented Sally before he joined Cinetic and they will be working with Match Factory on the North American deal.
Media House Capital provide gap financing in North America but this was the first film they had committed to outside the states. They came in for the last chunk. We scoured the globe for that last part of financing.
Financing an independent film in the UK is inevitably a long - and often turtuous - process. But the torture is always punctuated by certain key moments when you can glimpse light at the end of the tunnel. For us, one of these was the moment BBC Films committed to the project: the first time that UK television had ever invested in a Sally Potter film.
It’s tricky getting in the door at the BBC (or, indeed, Film Four) because their first commitment is always to projects developed in-house, so it’s to the great credit of Christine Langan and Joe Oppenheimer that they kept an open mind and did not simply barricade the door when I hammered on it for the umpteenth time. Their commitment, and the BFI’s support, following a history of UKFC and British Screen investment in Potter projects, were key to getting this film financed.”
On casting the leads:
Sheppard: “The two central roles are two 16-year-old girls. We initially spread the net very wide. We did a campaign on Facebook whereby users could shoot an audition they could upload onto Youtube. We had 1,500 entries which we shortlisted to 300, then to 30 who were auditioned over two days.
The final six were excellent but none were quite right. We went through that process to make sure we weren’t missing someone out there in the UK. But the moment Sally met Elle she knew she was the one for the part.”
On the film’s contemporary relevance:
Potter: “What is happening in Iran and Israel, and with climate change too, there is a really doomy feeling of annihilation. Each generation faces its own fears of annihilation and one interesting way to face our own fears is to look back at a past generation’s confrontation with that threat.”
On the film’s soundtrack:
Sheppard: “The sources of musical inspiration in the film are mostly from the time. There’s a Shadows track, some Miles Davis, and likely some music from UK guitar hero Les Paul. There will also be a Gershwin track.”
On the editing process:
Potter: “I love the editing process. It is a magical, arduous and alchemical moment. It’s another rewrite.”
On making an accessible film:
Potter: “I would like it to be my most accessible to date. As a script-writer I worked hard at eliminating obstacles for a viewer coming to the story and engaging with the characters. It doesn’t have as much formal experimentation as some of my previous films, although it’s strong and beautiful. I’ve made more conscious efforts with this film to reach out to the audience.”
On its potential Venice launch:
Potter: “It would be nice. I love that festival. It’s as good a deadline as any to work towards.”