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9th December 2015
Swimming home
Title of film: John Grant, Down Here
Director: Lisa Gunning
Production Company: Good Egg
Someone somewhere said John Grant has “the perfect voice for imparting bad news” and it’s true - no matter what he is singing about his sonorous tones - that are echoed visually in his music videos - resonate with wrap-around warmth. Lisa Gunning’s video Down Here is no exception. It’s not schmaltzy or patronising, it’s a beautifully told narrative.

Did you collaborate closely with John Grant on the development of the narrative, especially as, this time, he doesn’t appear in the video at all?

I’d been wanting to make a video for John for a long time so when he sent me Down Here it set off a number of things in my mind.  I sent him two completely different ideas to begin with and I don’t think they quite hit the mark for him so I decided to have one last crack at it at high altitude on a flight to NYC.  This time I really listened to the track in minute detail, with all its twists and turns and out popped the idea.  The humour and the warm emotional twist of it just seemed to click with the the tone of the music somehow.  I wrote a really simple two-page treatment, he really liked it and from then on it was dreamy.  John was incredibly trusting, respectful and just let me get on with it.

How did you go about casting the characters? And where did you find the synchronized swimming team?

The whole thing came together in one week so the casting was very fast indeed.  I saw eight boys in one day and Fraser really stood out, something about his gentleness and his complete commitment to the idea.  He’s with the Ballet Rambert so he’s physically strong and great at remembering the synchro moves.  On retrospect I don’t think we would have been able to make the video work without his experience as a dancer.  Although it was never scripted, all the beautiful movements he did in the bedroom ended up being my favourite thing about the video.  The synchro team, Aquabatix, were found by our brilliant production manager Lana.  Adele Carlsen, the team manager, did a beautiful job with the choreography and also found us Conner, who was fantastic as the synchro boy.  I was so lucky to work with all of them, the girls and Conner surpassed my expectations completely!

What were the most challenging aspects of creating Down Here and how did you resolve them?

The most challenging thing about the film was the lack of time.  Originally we were trying to shoot the three locations in a day but it proved impossible.  I then tried to make the idea work at just the pool location but it compromised the idea too much.  The story has an arc and trying to make it all happen in one location put too much emphasis on the swimming part.

It was super important to me that the narrative progressed from one place to another and my unwillingness to budge on this nearly meant that we couldn’t make the film!  However with the amazing support of John, the record company and Good Egg we managed to make the budget stretch to two days.

We only had four hours at the pool so we really had to nail the story beats and make sure we had them in the can.  The temptation was to spend too much time capturing spectacular material of the synchro swimmers performing, however, the heart and soul of the story centres around the two boys so I had to keep reminding myself to prioritise their moments over everything else. Tiernan Hanby pulled together the most incredible team for me to work with.  The brilliant Patrick Meller (DP) was completely tuned into the idea and together we just about managed to get everything we needed to tell the story!

You’ve worked and edited feature films such as Seven Psychopaths, Fifty Shades of Grey, Nowhere Boy, and also one of our favourite short films ever, Love You More, which was another collaboration with Sam Taylor Wood.  How does being a film editor inform your creative process as a director?  For instance, do you storyboard in detail in pre-production because you’ve already edited it in your mind? 

My editing background has really helped me with a few things.  Before the shoot I’m pretty obsessed with narrowing down what I’ll need to tell the story, I play the sequence out in my head a lot so I can be sure of the bare bones of it. Having said that,  I always try to be open because often the process will throw up better things that couldn’t have been predicted or planned.  I’m always on the look out for those things because they’re magic!

Being an editor has definitely given me confidence on set because I’ll naturally prioritise things when time is running out. This means I can be sure that I can make a certain sequence work with what I’ve shot.  Also I think it makes me more adaptable when things get tight time-wise, eliminating things that are less important.

Editors often complain that since directors have moved to digital they shoot way too much footage and it takes forever to go through the rushes.  Or do you know when you’ve got the best shot as you go?

Yes the digital age has brought about a lack of discipline in terms of the quantity of material that is shot.  The expense of shooting on film really made directors think about what they were shooting much more.  Having said that, I think having a lot of rushes is a good thing as long as there’s some focus there.  I’m definitely guilty of shooting quite a lot of footage myself (!) but I’d like to think that I don’t over shoot, when something works I definitely move on to the next thing, usually because time is running out!

You wrote, directed and edited a 30-minute film for Goldfrapp based on five tales which was screened internationally in cinemas last year.  Are there more collaborations like this in the pipeline?

I’d love to collaborate on something like that again and there is definitely something else in the pipeline for Goldfrapp next year.  I’m interested in playing with the conventions of music videos and expanding them into something bigger and more unusual so I’ll jump at any opportunity for that!

Please list five inspirations that have connected with you recently:

Force Majeure: brilliant film.  So much tension and human drama.  Beautifully told story, impeccably shot.

Montevideo airport, Uruguay:  I worked on something there last month and was blown away by how beautiful the airport was!

Francesca Woodman, Photographer:  I love her work so much.  She had raw talent, an incredible eye and the ability to tell a complex story in a single frame.

Kerala, India:  I recently filmed there and was inspired by the generosity of spirit of the people.  Working with them was a profound and beautiful  experience and one that I learned a lot from.

Roisin Murphy:  Love how she keeps pushing boundaries and is finally being recognised for that.  Hairless Toy’s is on repeat in my household!