CLOSE-UP Culture spoke to director Louisa Fielden about her impressive short film People You May Know. You can read our review of the film here.
Q: People You May Know is a timely film. Was it born out of the Weinstein stories and the #Me-too movement or did the inspiration to make this film come from elsewhere?
A: THE release of the film just happens to coincide with a huge social movement that has upended the news cycle. But we actually shot the film in the summer of 2017, months before The New York Times published its explosive report. So I was in post-production as the accounts of Weinstein’s malevolence gushed and the #MeToo movement arose. It became clear to us early on that we had made a film with a subject matter that would hit the social zeitgeist.
Q: The film’s title is a reference to a feature on Facebook. We have an increasingly complicated relationship with social media at the moment, but it has played a big role in movements like #MeToo. Why did you decide to include Facebook in the film?
A: DURING the writing process I tried to come up with the most realistic and interesting way in our digital world that two people could reconnect after a period of time apart.
The ‘People You May Know’ feature on Facebook served that function. I was also interested in exploring the nature of female agency on social media. The characters reference Instagram too – which as a virtual community regularly depicts women as objects of the male gaze.
One central idea depicted in the film is that men have power that is exterior to their bodies, whereas women’s power is intrinsic to their bodies and how they look – their weight and age. Under patriarchy, men act whereas women appear. It was challenging tying all these ideas up together in terms of their connection to sexual violence, but I hope we can at least raise some interesting questions for the audience.
Q: One of the most fascinating elements of the film is watching the different stages Joseph Timms’ character, James, goes through – denial, blame, spite and others. How did you approach writing his scrambled logic?
A: THANK you, I could talk about this topic for hours because it was the key to unlocking the whole film for me.
In the first draft James admitted blame at the end and then I got a script note through arguing that he would never do that which I thought was spot on. So then it became a case of moulding Joe’s (Joseph Timms) performance in such a way that his guilt was evident, even though he technically remained in denial.
In a broader sense, I think in life we most often communicate in ‘scrambled logic’. Communication is not ever really straightforward or linear, is it? I hope the script’s approach to the dialogue feels authentic in that regard.
Q: Joseph Timms and Aiysha Hart give everything to their performances. How did you work with them to bring this emotional intensity?
A: I HAD directed both Joe and Aiysha before on a drama series for the BBC so we all had a good understanding of one another. They know how I like to work and there is trust.
Joe really draws you in with his charisma and vulnerability while Aiysha is one of the most talented people you will ever meet. But if I were to explain how I brought out such intensity from each of them, in a strange way that would feel somewhat disloyal to our process.
Also they both have different acting methods. I will say that directing a performance is first and foremost about using your emotional intelligence — then having a willingness to listen, seeing the bigger picture, accepting change and denying it. It is a constantly evolving and complex process.
We had a useful rehearsal period and I pushed both actors far out of their comfort zones. But when you see their finished performances think it is some of their finest work and they truly take the film to another level. They are both actors I really believe in and respect, so it is rewarding to see them reach their potential.
Q: I believe the film will be screened at Cannes this year. What reaction are you hoping to see when the film reaches wider audiences?
A: I STILL have not watched the film in a cinema with a live audience, so I am incredibly excited about that. Naturally I hope that people become enthralled by the journey of the characters and that the film becomes a conversation starter. But we will see.
Q: I am interested to hear what kind of stories you want to tell in the future. What is next for you?
A: FOR me it is always about sourcing the best scripts and working with the best actors. I have a few exciting projects in the works.