Director Laura Scrivano on working with Sarah, on wolf women and Noel Coward, and running through the rain.
ON THE PASSION’s METHOD
The unique thing about THE PASSION is that the actor is integrally involved in the process of creation so they choose the text and are part of the creative conversation, often over a number of months, and from that conversation a script and the vision of the film emerges. We spend hours and hours interrogating the text and each other, discussing and playing with every line, every image to arrive at an understanding (or OUR understanding, at least) of the piece.
ON SARAH AND ALICE
Sarah is an extraordinary talent and she’s the type of actor who enjoys the collaborative process, she enjoys the research. We both have a theatre background so we have a common language and we had mammoth Skype conversations, intense and in-depth, and through the whole process Sarah’s’ emotional intelligence was evident.
I knew that I wanted to make something set in a wood. At the same time, Sarah was reading a LOT in preparation for the project, at bookstores in the States, where she was shooting, and she sent me through 4 texts, one of which was ALICE (IS AT IT AGAIN), by Noel Coward, and it immediately struck a chord with both of us, and gave us the opportunity to have that forest setting.
ON THE THEMES OF ALICE AND WOLF WOMEN
The irreverence of the poem (read, here), Noel Coward’s double-entendres and his cheekiness, and also the challenge of contemporizing the piece was interesting to us. And also, it just felt fun, and freeing and spirited!
Our other influence, in terms of the narrative, was a folktale from both the Mexican and Native American cultures called La Lupa aka the Wolf Woman, which tells of an old woman who travels the earth collecting wolf bones and when she finds the wolf bones she sings the wolf back to life. According to the myth, if you see the woman running at night and she’s struck by moonlight she becomes a beautiful young woman again. So it plays into these themes of renewal, and old age, and the vitality of youth and the power of sexuality and of female sexuality.
The themes of the original are very much of the time and place of its writing, while our adaptation is very much about the empowerment of female sexuality, and the wildness and freedom of discovering that. And that’s contrasted with a sense of aging and the idea of an older woman looking back on her younger life, but also still feeling free and at one with nature. So, the film is very much about exploring and celebrating female sexuality.
THE PASSION films present a unique challenge as there aren’t traditional dramatic scenes. They are character portraits, while at the same time, solo performances, and so you really need to consider how you shoot, how to cover, and how you visualize the thematic of it.
I was really inspired by Sarah’s sensuality and vulnerability and wanted the film to reflect that while at the same time making a film that was very lush and visually arresting. The piece lends itself to a very elegant approach that is very locked off and composed, while a key reference was the work of photographer Lillian Bassman, who was a fashion photographer in the 30s but who also made a series of dance images and of women in motion.
INTO THE WOODS
We shot in the woods in New York State and the biggest challenge in terms of production was making a lush forest look dead and then allowing it to bloom on camera. We did a lot of location scouting and found a stretch of forest which had been burned in forest fire in the autumn and then we used a lot of practical in-camera effects to achieve the effect of the blooming that our Production Designer, Erin Turner, came up with. It was always a gamble that it was going to work but it did and it looks beautiful.
Managing those effects and moments, and ensuring we got the key narrative shots, and set the overall visual signature was the big challenge of the project for me, while also giving Sarah the space and time, over the three days, to create the character and find her performance.
A lot of your work with actors as a director is done prior to being on set, and so when you are actually in production on the day, you have to give your actors the space and the right environment to do their work.
RUN FOR IT
The fast running shots through the forest were the highlight of the shoot for me…Sarah is a fantastic runner…she really got into it. We are all in the truck, and it was pouring rain, and she just took off down that forest. It was actually really exhilarating to watch someone run like that. Really without fear and no holds barred, and encapsulating the film and the character. It was very beautiful.
What I hope audiences experience from watching the film is a sense of joy, and a sense of fun. Sarah is an incredibly captivating actor and I hope audiences are exhilarated by seeing her on screen.