On Monday evening I was persuaded by fellow Flickfeaster John Reeve to attend an EIFF event that had a free bar and the chance to hear about the work of Birds Eye View (a company promoting talented women in the world of film). It was, basically, my first experience of schmoozing. The actual schmoozing didn’t really happen but I was lucky enough to meet Gaby Dellal, director of the very good Angels Crest, and she agreed to a fuller email chat at a later stage. The following is the Q&A stemming from our brief chat.
Flickfeast: The obvious starter for ten would appear to be how you came to direct the movie? Had you read and loved the novel or did the script fall into your hands? And what were your initial thoughts regarding that vital, difficult first few scenes of the film?
Gaby Dellal: The script got sent to me and I read and was deeply moved and felt compelled to go after it.
FF: We spoke briefly of the fantastic cast, were they drawn to the material or did you go on a search for people you wanted? Everyone really managed to make the most of every moment onscreen, from Thomas Dekker (who I only just now realised has SUCH an extensive background in film and TV) to, a long-time favourite of mine, Jeremy Piven – was it a struggle to edit and keep focus with so many great performances.
GD: I cast it in the normal way. I spent lot of time finding Thomas. The editing was hard because there were too many characters so we had to keep paring down stories as you were only really focused on mom and dad.
FF: I did mention Dekker’s youthfulness in my review and to yourself, to which you replied you “wanted a baby losing his baby”, how did that talented young man deal with such an emotionally turbulent, and probably draining, role?
GD: He’s very talented and has long emotional experience and pool to draw from despite how young he is.
FF: I also mentioned Winter’s Bone in passing but then made sure to reflect what a different movie Angels Crest really was, in many ways. Do you ever find yourself concerned that comparisons to other films will be made, warranted or not, or do these comments provide points of comparison from which more discussion and thought can be drawn?
GD: I’m delighted for the film be compared to Winter’s Bone. I just hope it will do as well.
FF: There were at least two actors I didn’t recognise until about halfway through the movie (Mira Sorvino and Elizabeth McGovern). How difficult was it to make your starlets look that far removed from the beauty and glamour we have seen in the past?
GD: I, of course, think that we made them more beautiful and their performances were more compelling than anything I have seen from them in recent years.
FF: I also mentioned that Lynn Collins played a part that WOULD SEEM to be easy enough but feel that my lack of emphasis may seem slightly dismissive. What I was referring to was the way in which Collins’ alcoholic mother figure could so easily have been an outright “boo hiss” baddie yet is given more than just the one dimension many viewers may expect from the outset. Was that another attraction to these characters for your want/need/passion to make the film.
GD: I think that the complexities of the characters are intrinsic to them and my actors were able to show more than a couple of facets. Also, that came out in the pacing of their performances, which is hard to monitor in the direction, the playing and the editing.
FF: Jeremy Piven’s character has a history featuring a terrible incident implied but never spelled out for the audience. Was that ambiguity a deliberate choice? Being unfamiliar with the source novel, I don’t know if this is directly from the book or not and would love to know what made this particular decision and if the actors involved all had more information about their character backgrounds than the audience would ever find out – the performances feel so informed and fully-realised that I certainly felt as if the performers knew all about the full life of their characters.
GD: I did not want to sign everything off neatly or mirror each character so wanted to merely allude to peoples histories. As in life, we know and expect that our peers have their own crosses to bear and skeletons but we don’t always need to know the details.
FF: Treating such a subject with delicacy must have proven tricky. How did you manage to pitch things so perfectly? There is occasional humour to relieve the bleak scenario but every view of the situation is covered with tact, a feeling of honesty and respect. Does every shooting day become a tightrope of dread while waiting to see in the dailies if things have turned out as envisioned?
GD: There was normal hesitation but, hopefully, I am quite prepared and in control so there were no great shocks. We rehearse and discuss a lot beforehand.
FF: You come from a background in acting so, the question to ask everyone from such a background, did you find that helped when dealing with the actors and describing just what you wanted to get out of them? Is that still a more comfortable part of the process than the other aspects of being a director, despite your experience gained on your previous films, or does every day allow you to bring something extra learned from every previous workday?
GD: I revel in all the aspects of film making, learning every day and wishing that the times in between films were smaller so that one could bring the knowledge picked up on last film straight to the next film. However, it doesn’t always work like that.
Angels Crest is showing on Thursday and Saturday during the film festival, the review is here, and I hope people catch it while they can.