The camera movements and framing pump the atmosphere and create a unique visual narrative. Was the filming all meticulously planned before shooting or did a lot of it evolve on the shoot and in the edit?
Before a shoot, I do a lot of prep, watching films, writing notes, photographing all the locations inside out and only choosing ones I find narratively and aesthetically pleasing from every angle. I get pretty obsessive about all those details in the run up to the shoot then make a camera script with shot descriptions, acting notes and photos in it. I always think about the style and movement of the camera according to how it’s going to represent or create the mood of that moment. I spend a lot of time formulating those ideas before the shoot so that when I get to the set, the vision for the project feels clear in my mind. Then on set I can be relaxed communicating it all and also confident leaving room for magic, unexpected moments to happen. We didn’t have a lot of time for the spontaneous moments to evolve on this though as it was such a tight schedule.
Do you tend to work with the same DP and if so what do you feel that adds to your creative process?
On the last couple of projects I have worked with Steve Annis and that’s a relationship that is really working as I think he is brilliant and I guess we are equally obsessive and passionate about what we do so that’s both comforting and inspiring. I’m very particular about aesthetics, quite OCD, to be honest. Everything has to be complementary colour-wise and symmetrical or visually right in my brain when I look at a location, a prop or a frame and Steve gets that and has similar taste so it’s a real pleasure over all. In hand-held camera movement especially, Steve has great instincts that I trust. Before I worked with him, most of the time when I would notice beautiful cinematography I would repeatedly discover that he was behind it.
You open on an epic underwater shot – what was it like trying to direct your lead actor / model and the DP while they were submerged!?
Pretty challenging! We had restricted time and budget on this so we had to do this in quite a guerrilla way in a nearby outdoor swimming pool. Most of my direction was happening in breathing breaks and I was shouting a lot – not in an irate way, I hope, only to be heard! Overall it was pretty hilarious. Steve, the model, Brian the producer and all the crew were total heroes during this scene. We literally had to nail it in about an hour. Even Stephen, the Exec dived in to retrieve itinerant props.
Was there a lot of footage that didn’t make the final cut?
In a word No. Pretty much everything we shot is in the cut. Sometimes I shoot a lot but we just didn’t have that luxury time-wise on this so we all had to be very focused. It was 109 degrees for most of it so we were pushing ourselves hard.
The lighting looks natural with languid shots of dusk or is that dawn too? And then you have the super-lit night scene. Was that a complex lighting scene?
It was two regular shooting days – one more for daylight and one more for the night scenes. I really wanted to feature shots where the sky was literally on fire, given the concept of the film, so we had to make sunset our hero shooting time.
The exterior night scene was a relatively complicated one in terms of set -up, yes…getting the lights to sweep at the right height, pace and intensity – so they could be the correct combination of ominous, aesthetic and functional!
The location is integral to the story – how did you go about finding this location and what was behind your decision to go with this backdrop? Were there any other sites you considered?
I’d come across the main location a few months ago and been dreaming about it/ obsessing over it ever since. It directly inspired the story really because when I visited it I felt like the world had already ended there. I considered other places for sure – one in Ireland actually, but I knew I wasn’t going to get that light or firey sky or atmosphere anywhere else.
Did you write the narrative specifically for River Island? And what was the original brief?
Yeah I wrote it to suit their brand and audience. It was a different approach to the Italy, Texas film or Jon Hopkins video which were personal to me. They wanted something that would showcase the clothing in a masculine way and appeal to a certain age group so they were very involved in choosing the model. The narrative brief was pretty open though. Josie and Mary from River Island approach their commissions in a very creative, progressive way. Tom’s designs are very functional and that was the characteristic along with the textures and rich colours that I took inspiration from. The bones of the story just came in to my head in quite an immediate way whilst handling the clothes. I liked the idea of the clothing literally being this guy’s last emblem of humanity in a post- apocalyptic place…and the notion of a dandy wandering around an empty, desolate world, just collecting pieces of people’s scattered lives and filling his time. I liked the way this approach had the potential to be quite surreal, heroic, existential, fashion and anti-fashion all at the same time…
Could you describe your creative process please – how you come up and evolve ideas and then pre-prep for the shoot?
I think in a visual, cinematic way initially…I always think of scenes, moments or images first, then I start organising them or dropping them as I build them into a coherent story. I always like to think about scenes that I can invest meaning beyond the surface or symbolism into and hope that the viewer can feel what’s going on beyond the image too. I watch tons of films, gather photographs and references, read a lot, listen to music and look at art in the run up to a film because inspiration comes from all of these places then I build a camera script or storyboard using my location photos. I find the subjects for the film, generally on the street, in an instinctive way, although in this case we had to cast a model who fitted the River Island brand. I leave any dialogue finessing until later on in the process when I’ve gotten to know the protagonist or subject well so I can write it around their speech or personality and ensure it doesn’t feel contrived or unnatural to them.
What’s your favourite part of the film making process?
I love editing as I used to be an editor so I’m always preoccupied by that as we film but really it’s got to be the shoot. I think I’m addicted to that part. I love every minute of shooting no matter how hectic or challenging it might be. I think the more weird or dangerous it seems the more of an adrenaline rush it is.
See an earlier interview and work by Aoife McArdle here
River Island, The Fervent Heat
Music by Jon Hopkins, Burial, Night Beats & Murmur
Writer/Director: Aoife McArdle
Man: Tony Adams
Boys: Austin & Jonathan
A co-production at White Lodge, Colonel Blimp & Good Company
Executive producers UK: Stephen Whelan &Tamsin Glasson
Executive Producer US: Brian Welsh
Line Producer US: Brian Welsh
DoP: Steve Annis
Production Design & Styling: Alexis Johnson
Ist AC: Robby Hart
2nd AC: Jojo Canon
DIT: Eli Berg
Gaffer: Nghia Khuu
Key Grip: Julien Janigo
Editor: Dan Sherwen at Final Cut
Telecine: Rich Fearon at MPC
Music Supervision: Major Tom
Sound Design: Freddie & Joe
Assistant editor: Ryan Beck at Final Cut