Filming with Meaning: A Conversation with Flaminia Graziadei
Young Lily Reynolds (Pearl Chanda) harbours a secret that threatens to unravel when she reluctantly accepts a babysitting job for an unhappily married couple. While stranded in the gloomy, mysterious house, echoes of her past start seeping out as she struggles to protect the infant in her charge from an ever increasing danger.
The Fan Carpet’s Lydia Kay, in association with Acting Hour spoke to Award winning filmmaker Flaminia Graziadei about her forthcoming foray into Horror; The Final Haunting…
So to start off can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and about the film.
Well about myself, well this is my first official feature film in this country. I’ve got another one in Italy, I’m from Italy actually and I moved to London three years ago and created my film production company and we have done a lot of things.
And this is my first official feature film, I come from a theatrical background. I’ve worked a lot before as a dancer and an actress and singer in musicals and these kinds of things then I moved into directing theatre and then eventually I moved in 2000 into movies and since then I’ve kind of got the movie bug. And when you move into cinema there’s no way back.
No, it’s addictive isn’t it?
So you know for as difficult as it can be I still alternate theatre and cinema direction but my main focus, the main body of my work is actually cinema now, has been like this for the past fifteen years really.
Fantastic. So what can you tell us about the film without giving away too much about the plot?
Well as I said it was meant to be a bit more towards the horror movie but I wanted to make it with more scope. I need to visualize the message in what I do so I turned it more into a psychological thriller, to show there is a story and a reason you know supernatural sometimes don’t not imply a reason for things to happen and I wanted to add more of a story line, and so I collaborated with a co-producer which is also the screen writer and we turned the story into more of a psychological thriller.
And the very challenging things have been kind of playing on two levels because there’s the reality that the protagonist is experiencing and there’s the reality which is the one that we as an audience see. So to try to be consistent in both has been incredibly challenging as a director I must say and has been very challenging also for the protagonist.
She’s an amazing, absolutely amazing actress. In fact she was awarded at the London Independent Film Festival as Best Actress so you know she’s an up and coming amazing actress and we did work incredibly well together.
We really bonded and we really worked incredibly well together with a lot of trust and a lot collaboration. I’m not the type of director that wants to put an actor in the wrong shoes. I do believe very much that directing and acting are two faces of the same coins and since I come from being an actress I kind of know how to get to an actor, how an actor would approach a character or a situation. So makes my life a bit easier in communicating with my actors.
So yeah, I tried to give the audience a hint rather early in the movie to then being able to reconstruct together with the protagonist what is going on. And this is basically as I say the task that we were trying to create during the film.
Yes, Lily’s character is very subtle especially towards the beginning of the film, so what challenges did you and Pearl who plays her face during the filming process with the character?
Yeah well first of all, if you have that kind of character that experience that kind of experience you’ll have the kind of situation you have to pace the level of drama to give it an increase to be consistent so the one of the challenges was because of cost so the film is not shot in a progressive way from scene one to whatever it is the last one I can’t remember ninety or whatever. It was to be very very sure about where she was in every part of the film that we were actually shooting. So how can I say, tuning, toning down things or or increasing a bit of the tension and the drama so it wasn’t rather challenging we had a silver script, we had a kind of I don’t know how say it’s a kind of timeline, we Italians call [06:51] what do you call the scenes and basically you create an entire film in a very graphic way and we had these four different colours to give the level of intensity so we knew for each scene we highlight each scene in a different colour. So we knew each scene where it was according to the schedule
Yeah that’s a good way of doing it.
Yeah yeah, it was yeah that’s one of my approaches and we did work a lot, a lot in the preparation a lot together I mean really deeply, we were deeply into it. Although we kept kind of shifting things along the way because you know a film is something that the script is locked and all of that but there are always things that you tend to change a bit because the approach on an artistic project take on a life of its own and sometimes it present itself with things that you think well I can’t ignore these I have to take it on board and shift a bit.
So yeah the big challenge has been that and the other very big challenge of course was when you got a character that’s got mental issues it’s very easy to go and play on the very strong colours while I come from a completely different background as an actress I hate overacting, I tend to always work on the authenticity of the character so again, Pearl and I we were and thank God she comes from RADA so you can imagine the kind of formation she’s got and we actually clicked immediately on that front too. So we did work very much from inside and then we put colours.
Yeah that’s good because it’s so easy to for people to play mad which doesn’t come across because obviously if someone doesn’t know what’s going on they believe the situation they believe and they don’t necessarily know what’s going on around them and what I found about the film that was very convincingly done was you were right there with the character, you were right there with Lily believing everything that’s happening to her.
That was my aim.
Yeah very well done.
It was my aim also because you don’t want to, how can I explain, you don’t want to cheat on my audience you know. I don’t want to you know that has also been part of the process because originally in the script there was even this big turning, big shift at the end, big oh, but we had not given any hint of it and as a cheat like okay whatever you’ve seen so far actually no it was completely, whatever you saw, it was completely wrong because actually the reason is this. And you can create anything at the end but it’s not correct towards your audience so we tried to rework it in a way that actually again as you were saying the audience could discover together with her certain things.
So you worked quite closely with the writers in the early stages of the film and the storyboarding?
Well I would have liked to have worked more with that to be honest. The trouble is when I took it I knew that there were things that needed to be changed and because originally there was supposed to be just the director and then we became also co-producers because we had certain amount of upset and we had this crew we had the particular day for equipment, regular equipment so you know we jumped on board also as co-producers but originally I said that yeah it could have, it had something but it had to be reworked in my opinion or at least if I was going to direct for my style of direction.
And we agreed that yes it would have been reworked but then you know sometimes things take over and that’s why I’m saying it’s been changed along the way quite a bit when we were ready to shoot. But the good thing it was because part of it was just Pearl on her own and there is this house they use it like another character really.
So it was, what we were allowed to do it without spoiling any of the other character dynamic. So we concentrated, we focused very much on the courses on the development of the high drama in changing things.
So we changed a bit the way she was arriving to you know to the climax and these kind of things.
Yeah definitely. What was it that drew you to this script to make you want to do it in the first place?
Well apart from the fact it was supposed to be the first of a lot of three and this was the one that was immediately more approachable because it was a low budget one but in reality I am very drawn towards mental issues, themes that talk about it and give me the opportunity to go deeper in analysing mental issues and my first short film that was my calling card in this country three years ago it was about panic attacks.
I tend to be very interested in this kind of subject or in subjects that have got some sort of social awareness involved and what I call filming with meaning and that’s exactly why I didn’t want to have just a pure horror with supernatural reason because what would have been the meaning of it than pure entertainment?
That’s fine but it’s not really me as a director. So I like to be entertained but if I have to approach as a director something I have to have a message that I am trying to say or a story could be a story that I’m trying to say. So that’s what draws me towards it because I knew I could see that, how can I say, through their eyes that there was something that we could have worked on in an interesting way.
Did you have to do much research into the paranormal for the film or did you draw more on what you would find to be scary yourself?
No. To be honest I approached it again from another point of view. Apart from the fact that yes of course I’ve seen quite a lot of things and all of that and I did watch quite a lot of things in any case like you know what was it, especially two of them, Woman in Black and the other one I can’t remember the name, was actually even better but anyway these kinds of movies.
But in reality, my approach to it was different; it was more from the mental point of view. So basically my approach was how far mind can go in creating horrific things that are way more horrific than whatever could be in reality in a way so what I felt to play you know I had big references in mind like Shining like this kind of stuff. Like Shutter Island this kind of, this were the things that was more inspired you know by. And what I was thinking it was you know I’m not going to say exactly what’s going on because whatever I, whatever hint I can give you, your imagination as an audience as a person watching will always be stronger than whatever I can give you, that’s my approach so it wasn’t my role creating a situation putting this character in in fact putting the audience in our mind and then together they were creating if you understand what I mean they were creating the thing. So part it was there, part. It’s whatever you want to read into it or what I want to read into it well only because I’m the director but anyway anybody anybody else that watched it wants to how you decide to relate to it and I think that in general film art I come from dance theatre which is a very metaphorical type of art. Contemporary art is something that influenced me a lot, so for me it’s very important not to work in a technical way we call resolve the character, resolve the movie resolve the show cause otherwise I’ve given you answers and what I want to create is questions.
It definitely creates questions.
Oh I’m sure I listen on that front I actually succeed in what I meant to do.
I think it’s interesting because there are so many parts of it that are still open to interpretation.
There are some parts which you do get an answer to but there are other parts which the answer could be a couple of different things and you are kind of left to try and decide yourself so it’s quite nice in that respect that you kind of can come to your own conclusions and maybe debate about it with your friends, you’ll definitely leave talking about it.
I’m pleased that you think that because it’s another thing that I find incredibly important as a fan. You know I prefer somebody to come out from any of my you know allow me to say creations talking about even if they didn’t like it then just say nice and forget about it you know if something like that happens, that’s for sure I failed.
Any reaction is better than no reaction right?
Yeah in a way yes, I mean not that I actually work for creating a reaction but I work in a very honest way in what I am trying to say and hopefully what I’m trying to say comes across in a way that creates in people a thought, a question, it gives an input. That’s really my main issue.
Input to thought, yes that’s what I you know it could be the plot, the love line the tag line, input to thought.
Definitely. And do you have a favourite scene and if you do why?
(laughs) Very good question. Do I have a favourite scene? No actually I can’t say I have a favourite scene. Yes yes no I do actually, I do have a favourite scene which is the first time Chris comes to her place to celebrate the fact that she has found a job and that’s because it was quite a long scene.
Challenging because it was in a closed space so of course you know long scene challenging on that front because of how I actually visually try to explain what’s going on and I think in a way it worked and also because on the film it’s a complete turning point that happens visibly early I think I mean I can’t remember exactly which minute but it’s within the first fifteen to twenty minutes.
But it’s really the turning point of the entire film and people do not know yet that from there that precise situation recreated whatever happens after. So it was interesting and they are very good both of them they are incredibly good and it was nice, I said challenging on the camera movement front so I decided to use this low traveling track, circular traveling track to give them a bit the idea of being in an intimacy that is slowly slowly it’s creating and then it sometimes you can go out.
But also because it’s like they are, they started to get surrounded because what’s happening between them is something that as I said will trigger off the entire thing. So yeah I would say that scene is probably the one.
I think my favourite one is the one of the first ones where you see them meet on the bench where he’s trying to talk to her and her facial expression is just fantastic. It’s so subtle.
(laughs) That’s quite nice too and yeah definitely and of course I need to mention the second best actress which is the dog.
She’s my dog
Oh really? Especially with the high five.
Yeah exactly. No I promised her that I was going to mention it so… No yeah yeah that’s the other thing I mean in a way I am aware of the fact that it’s like the build up and the coming out of it. It’s like they are two different colours, two complete different colours that’s exactly what I meant to do. It’s a bit of a risk I know it is.
It’s interesting because her reactions to what he’s saying how he’s behaving is so bizarre you can kind of in a way slightly understand them as she’s talking to a stranger but then as the two as their relationship develops it’s, it’s very interesting to watch it unfold…
Yeah well because you know as I said I can’t say too much but the fact that she allows somebody of course somebody being the male to come close to her is something that triggers off a memory that she had lost I mean it’s something that she’s completely inexperienced towards so somebody who’s twenty one twenty two is reacting like a girl that could be twelve. Because that’s the emotional development of that side of her because of what happened to her. So that’s why we say abuse can create permanent damage. And there are damages that cannot be mended.
Yeah it stays with you always.
So you know you can try to come out or you can try, she will and wanted to have help at the end. But still she’ll be damaged goods forever. I mean not much good in a bad way but she’ll be damaged and that’s that forever.
Yeah because she’ll carry the experience with her for her whole life…
The way that she reacts to that one.
Exactly. So that was very important for me to explain to establish it was something that and again it was one of the colours that I needed to make very very clear very very meaty very vivid.
So what’s next for the film? Will it be entered into festivals and where would people be able to see it?
Right yeah. It’s been entered into a couple of festivals one was London Independent, and one was in Mumbai, Mumbai International Film Festival and there are some other festivals. It’s a long process because you enter the film and then you await an answer for three or four months time and things like this.
And at the same time we are looking for distribution in this country, Europe and we have basically got North America and Canada covered but we are looking for the rest of the world so yeah we are still in early stages that’s why we are presenting it tomorrow. Still in early stages of the distribution process and then yeah hopefully it come out pretty soon.
Yeah, I wish you the best of luck with that one hopefully because I think it’s definitely one that deserves to be seen because I did really enjoy it myself.