Filming During a Solar Eclipse: A Conversation with Richard Raymond for Souls of Totality
British Director Richard Raymond’s ‘Souls of Totality’ was filmed during an actual solar eclipse and is uniquely powerful and intense short film about the sacrifices we make for love. The film stars EMMY winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, Stronger), Tom Cullen (Knightfall, Downtown Abbey) and after a successful New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival has now been selected to play at both the prestigious Palm Springs International ShortFest and Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Lady 18 (Tatiana Maslany) and Guy 3 (Tom Cullen) have a secret. They are members of a cult that believes if they die during a Solar Eclipse their souls will be taken to paradise. But that’s not their secret… They are also profoundly in love.
Director Richard Raymond started his career at Pinewood Studios when he was 15 years old, establishing himself as a regular face there while interning on a variety of movies such as Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Raymond applied what he’d learned at Pinewood to his own films, working with the crews and their equipment on weekends. In 2015 Richard’s debut film Desert Dancer opened the 30th anniversary Santa Barbara International Film Festival and screened at Lincoln Center, the United States Capitol, the United Nations and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it was the runner-up for the Audience Award. In addition, Desert Dancer won Best Film Choreography at The Fred and Adele Astaire Awards and was nominated for the Golden Frog at Camerimage.
Souls of Totality contains a five-minute single-take sequence shot during a real solar eclipse, a first in cinema history. This topical film was produced by husband and wife team Richard and Nousha Raymond, and written by the husband and wife team Kate Trefry (Stranger Things) and Ben Bolea. The cinematography was created by Jarin Blaschke (The Witch).
In our interview, The Fan Carpet’s Camila Sayers spoke to Award winning filmmaker Richard Raymond about Souls of Totality, they discuss the impact of the dialogue, filming during an Eclipse and working with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke…
The film grips you from the start, from the dialogue to the fact that both these characters are putting on the same clothes and speaking of leaving to somewhere unknown, what was your first reaction when working with this brilliant script?
The solar eclipse was the ever looming deadline and we were only two weeks away from shooting when the writers, Ben and Kate, finally handed me the script! So there was a considerable amount of relief! But there was also a huge amount of excitement. I loved the way they started the film right in the middle of an existing relationship, on what they believed was to be their last day on earth — and how the story unravels for the audience. Because the writing was so strong, it allowed me to shoot most of the scenes wide, in single take sequences, which allowed the drama to just play out on the frame and limited the editorial manipulation. The actors relished this and, for me, I always prefer telling the story with the camera. One would think the path to “Souls of Totality” was paved only with a desire to make the first film shot during a solar eclipse. And in all truth? That’s how it began. But as the script was born everything changed. To the writers credit, their incredible story, like a magnet, pulled together a group of passionate, like minded, like-hearted souls. We created a vision, a love story, a bond. In doing so the eclipse became a foot note to a story I had to tell.
It is incredible to watch a film which was shot during a real eclipse, can you tell us a bit more about the logistics of this; where, when it was shot and the challenges of doing this?
The final eclipse sequence was designed to be as immersive as possible. It wasn’t about looking up and seeing the eclipse, anyone can go on YouTube and do that. I wanted a single, continuous hand held shot that focused on Tatiana Maslany’s character – and allowed the audience to feel her desperation of not knowing whether the person she loves is alive or dead. the dying light and the spectacle of a solar eclipse plays out in the background of that drama. We rehearsed the scequence for 3 days before the eclipse, using NASA data and GPS coordinates to precisely time the performances to the exact beginning and end of totality. We timed it to the second – like a piece of dance choreography so to speak… everything was specific and designed. There wasn’t going to be a second take…. It was like a high wire act with no safety net. I think both Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen relished it. For them it was like theatre. I had complete faith in the cast and crew who worked tirelessly to pull it off. When the eclipse came, a remarkable and surreal atmosphere enveloped us all. The bright desert light quickly shifted from day to dusk to twilight. The air chilled and all went quiet. I called action and Tat started to run… I won’t ruin what happens for your readers, but after I called cut everybody was overcome by the alchemy of what we’d all just been a part of. Everyone cried. Even me! Looking back, this was a shared achievement by a beautiful group of people who came together to try and do something special. It was an incredible experience that none of us will ever forget. My hope is that the audiences share in that too. I think they do!
Please tell us a bit more about your collaboration with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, his work was incredible conveying the climax of the film and the tones of each scene.
Jarin is a master of light and composition. He calling and his passion is photography, it’s what he lives and breathes. Like many in the film community, I’ve just loved watching his collaborations with Director Robert Eggers on films like “The Witch” and so I leaped at the opportunity to work with him. We both share a love of symmetrical composition and are equally eager to find ways in which the camera can enhance the narrative of the story. There’s a calmness about Jarin on set, which when you’re up against it is such a reassuring quality to be around. Jarin operated that last eclipse shot and I think it’s one of the best examples of camera operating I’ve ever seen.
The story is based in a very complex backdrop and environment, grounding the characters in a an unusual predicament already. As a director, how do you navigate that, ultimately allowing the main theme of love to shine through?
I think key to this is the fact that Tom and Tatiana are not just incredible actors in their own right but they’re also a real life couple – and in casting a real life couple, there’s so much you get between them that is unspoken, a connection between the characters that you feel in your bones, in the very depths of your soul — that you just don’t get on screen with other actors who are strangers. That connection, their real life trust and love was the through-line in the film. Around that was this never repeatable, cant turn back event that forces a person to find the most real, honest part of them self to help determine how they will handle it. That is very apparent in the love story and it’s intensity, but it’s also in the making of the film… Souls of Totality was made by couples who are passionately in love! The two lead actors, the director and producer, the two writers, some of the crew and even the investors. Multiple couples in love, working to seize a never repeatable moment and replying on their authentic partnerships to help see it though. I really think this is felt in the fabric of the movie itself.
The film has received such a good response already, what more do you hope for the film, going forward?
Paulo Coelho wrote ‘the power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.’ In a time where our world is maddeningly out of sorts I feel the stories we choose to tell are more important than ever. Souls of Totality is a celebration of the universal power of love, of its resilience to overcome and break the lineage. It’s been an amazing journey so far, sharing the film with audiences all over both the UK and America. The first real reward with any film is the reward of making the film itself — everything else from this point is just such a blessing. I’m just excited and grateful to continue the journey.