Charlotte Wells spoke with RogerEbert.com by Zoom about working with Barry Jenkins and Adele Romanski, shooting in Turkey, and how David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” became the focal point of her film’s most emotionally bruising scene.
In past interviews you’ve talked about how the script began as more conventional in its plotting until you began putting portions of yourself into these two characters. Was there some reticence in going more personal?
I mean, on some level, yes; but it just felt impossible not to. I spent so long working on it and there was always a personal infusion into the characters. That was never lacking. I just think over the course of writing and allowing memories and anecdotes from childhood to form the first skeleton outline of this script was a process of searching through my own past. And that process found its way onto the page, you know? So the film took on this like retroactive gaze that it didn’t have in that more conventional concept.
Did you feel like you needed to ease into the personal memories?
I think it just started from a place of thinking about what might my first feature be: A young father and his daughter on holiday. I have a lot of experience to draw from, and it’s a relationship I don’t see portrayed too often in the way I think I can write about. And wouldn’t it be fun to shoot a movie in a holiday resort? [laughs]
I had made one short film at that point, and I made two shortly thereafter. But it was really early in my filmmaking and in writing, and so it came from a much more pragmatic place. I was in school and everyone was told to think about their feature film. In allowing it to be personal I think, ultimately, it’s coming from a sincere place of expression. I’m not really writing outside in; I think I’m writing inside out. So that, unfortunately, as a person who doesn’t particularly like to talk about myself, even personally, it’s just the reality. I’ve found this way of articulating things that I don’t think I can articulate any other way.
On that note, what has it been like seeing people’s reactions and sitting in an audience while the film has been playing?
Well, those are two different questions because it was almost torture to sit in an audience as the film was playing. I finally had the experience at Telluride where I was able to watch it. And I think because I’ve seen several films in that same cinema, there was a comfort in there. I feel like for the first time I was able to just watch and not be intensely stressed out. So now I think I’m done watching because I’m just grateful that I was able to have that experience.