By Jules Lavallee
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 08/22/2020 – A FILM BY PAULA VAN DER OEST(director of Oscar® nominee ZUS & ZO) STARRING – Claes Bang (star of Oscar® nominee THE SQUARE) Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) Brian Cox (Succession) When Will (Claes Bang) discovers his wife Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) and their three children have suddenly disappeared, he sets off on a frantic search across Europe. He finally locates them in a remote village in northern France, but relief turns to horror when Will discovers his baby son has mysteriously died. Will sets out to discover the truth about his wife’s disappearance and the death of his son, finding himself at odds with Rosalind’s former stepfather, Milton (Brian Cox), who wants to ‘protect’ her for his own private reasons.
CAROLINE GOODALL: You have starred in over 38 feature films and 40 TV series, do you believe there is a silver lining to the pandemic?
Everything is in flux, but I believe the pandemic has helped audiences to appreciate more fully the work that goes into creating film and television. It has become so central to everyday life because other avenues of entertainment and relaxation are suddenly unavailable. Also, independent films that may otherwise have been lost in the shuffle are being released to critical success on VOD and streaming platforms. Hopefully, the industry will note this audience appetite for challenging and original material from a broader cross-section of voices, and I include The Bay of Silence in that category, and will make room for them post-pandemic because these films make commercial as well as artistic sense.I think lockdown has made us realize we need to find more balance between work and private life. People who work in film are incredibly dedicated and the industry requires ntensity and crazy hours but tight prep and shooting schedules were becoming unsustainable. COVID has forced us to take stock.
However, we also want to work! From a purely industry point of view, the pandemic is crushing. A busy interconnected economic ecosystem vanished overnight. Our business supports so many service industries – construction, technology, travel and hotels, education, finance, legal, catering, publicity, agents, clothing, photography, exhibition, distribution, sales – just look at the credits of a film. As a writer/producer I am proud to be a job creator, not just directly of a cast and crew of highly trained professionals but indirectly of hundreds of other skilled people. That said, we are limping back to work, slowly. Acting-wise, I am set to finish shooting the feature, Birds Of Paradise, written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith,which shut down in Budapest on March 13. I play the American Ambassador to France, whose daughter (Kristen Froseth) is a rising ballet star. The health and safety protocols are pages long. I am tested for COVID twice before arrival, will quarantine for a week before work. On set we are relegated into zones, everyone but the actors wear PPE, departments are isolated, work in staggered shifts – the A zone ie: most vulnerable – actors/camera/director/hair makeup are tested daily. It bothers me. A film set needs teamwork, camaraderie, and ideas shared in the moment. So much happens on a daily basis – it may be weather or location related, demanding lightening rewrites – so flexibility is key. Often the best outcomes are unexpected or we just make do with whatever hits us. We experienced a freak twister that came off the sea in minutes on Day 4 of our shoot in The Bay of Silence in Liguria. The costume and makeup base were flooded. We managed to get going for the afternoon but dropped shots we needed for the driving opening sequence through the Ligurian tunnels which demanded traffic coordination and police permits. In COVID Times how could we manage that? COVID protocols demand rigidity which is the enemy of creativity. Fear is not a friend and we won’t fully recover until there is a vaccine.
What advice do you have for Artists today?
I am so impressed by the younger actors I work with – The twins in The Bay of Silence, Litiana and Lilibet Biuteneseva are a case in point. They are so natural on camera and easy to work with. So many people under 25 today grew up with a camera phone in their face documenting their lives. My generation had to learn camera technique and saw movie making as a mysterious magical craft. Theatre came first, Film and TV second. I did ten years in theatre culminating at the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company before I made my first big film, Hook, and I am forever grateful to Steven Spielberg. Hook and Schindler’s List were my filmmaking masterclass.
Young actors today are disciplined, they self-promote, something I still have difficulty with, they see themselves as a business. Tools are cheap and accessible to experiment with creating content and honing skills. They are comfortable multi-tasking.
My putting on a triple writing/producing/acting hat at my age is me running to catch up with them. They have shown the way and broken down so many barriers that were too high to climb twenty years ago.
I think that for women artists, in particular, I hope the rebalancing of power structures thanks to #Me Too, rewires our industry to allow for the same respect professionally and privately that men afforded each other. The pandemic has further opened a conversation into unconscious discrimination along with the Black Lives Matter movement and suitable work-life balances which hopefully will mean that more women can step forward to create. Of the 84 projects I have worked on, 6.5% were written by women. That is way too low a percentage. My advice would, therefore, be to go into every project with passion without sacrificing what’s most important to you, because if there’s one thing this pandemic has shown us, it’s life is really unpredictable.
“The Bay of Silence” is your first major feature, where you do double duty as writer and producer. Tell us about the film.
I discovered the novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran and actually read it in the real Bay of Silence in Sestri Levante, Liguria, while on holiday between projects and was moved by its visual and emotional power. It’s a contemplative book, often stream of consciousness so it took time to work through how to stay true to the themes and complexity while weaving a plot that could translate to the screen. Lisa gave me her blessing to adapt her emotional story into a mystery thriller which explores the universal question of how far you might go to protect the ones you love.
Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and George Sluizer’s, The Vanishing were key references for me. The former deals with a couple trying to come to terms with their child’s accidental death for which they feel culpable; the latter chronicles the search for a man’s missing fiancée and the cat and mouse battle with the killer who tempts him to discover the truth. How far will he risk his personal safety to discover the truth? They are both deeply disturbing films with no special effects, relying on the performances and a creeping sense of dread. The themes in The Bay of Silence, death of a child, grief, madness, sexual assault are the terrain of psychological thrillers. And we pushed that envelope with the Hitchcockian references – the maguffin of the suitcase, the mysterious woman with a past, the normal man thrown into abnormal circumstances, the gothic house on a cliff, to name a few. By the time you get to Normandy the audience is meant to fall down the rabbit hole with Will and that is accomplished in the lensing as well as the story shift to a more gothic and nightmarish extreme.
Director, Paula Van der Oest took the project and ran with it. She and her director of photography, Guido Van Gennep went for a deliberately old school European look stylized but in a subtle way, using anamorphic lenses, framing for a wide screen but leaving large areas of the screen dark to help create a more menacing atmosphere.
Paula van der Oest is so talented at capturing a range of human emotions and our cast, led by Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko, and Brian Cox, are magnificent. Claes, Olga, and Brian all have the iconic magnetism of classic movie stars but are also deeply contemporary actors, which we needed. Olga possesses big screen siren allure, yet she is always so present, carefully calibrating Rosalind’s emotional progression so that when you see her in that strange house out of her mind you still care deeply for her. Rosalind’s emotional territory is that of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Laura Baxter in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now or Evelyn Mulwray in Polanski’s Chinatown, a film which is actually about incest but so flawlessly handled that we remember it as a classic LA thriller. Claes Bang looks like a noir hero but specializes in flawed vulnerable men. His character and the audience find out what is going on at the same time, so we need to trust him like Donald Sutherland’s character in Don’t Look Now or Cary Grant in North by North West – good upstanding guys who find themselves reacting to circumstances out of their control and finally take matters into their own hands. Brian Cox is a consummate performer with such a diverse body of work, so he keeps you guessing as to whether he is similar to Huston’s Noah Cross or not.
Do you see writing and producing as a natural progression?
I studied Drama and English Literature at Bristol University and have always written, whether for myself or for others. I’m drawn to stories that focus on the characters and their emotions, and I feel that actors have that innate talent to explore a character’s emotional journey through the written word. When acting, your main focus is always on the emotion behind the story but then an actor’s working experience on a set also revolves around relationships: both with the cast and with a crew. They say there are three scripts in every film. The one the writer writes, the one that is honed during production and then the final story in the edit. A screenplay is a group effort. Kathy Kennedy (now leading the Star Wars franchise) was Hook’s producer and an inspiration to me. I was in complete awe. I had a bad case of imposter syndrome just being on a Hollywood set at all. Between jobs, I went to evening classes at UCLA and studied Film Finance as well as screenwriting. I learned to budget and schedule the old way, fitting scene strips into a folding board thinking if I learned that, I might be ready, if and when the time came, to have my own screenplay produced.
Being a Lead Producer with just a script to sell is super tough. You are the first in and last out. There were so many twists and turns. Every time I found someone who responded to the material I inched forward, grateful they might take a chance on me.
I financed it via the classic independent film model – script, sales agents, attaching the actors, finding investors, pre-selling international territories, tax credits, and grants.
It’s chicken and egg, always. I enrolled in the Producers Forum at Le Marché du Cannes, one of the four main markets at the big film festivals each year – the ‘anti glitz’.
You pound the pavements, market badge swinging around your neck, running to meetings with sales agents, distributors, investors, buyers, possible collaborators, pitch deck in hand. Betsy Hamlin, a Laurel Canyon neighbor, who sells movies for airlines introduced me to the Croisette. She had bought Joceyln Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker which I shot in Australia and visited us on set. I asked her to read the script as a favor for an industry reaction. She said “OK, I’m in. I will buy your movie for airline rights.” That gave me market viability as airlines are picky. Betsy made the market fun.
The market is fiercely competitive but I found a wonderful camaraderie. We are all attempting the impossible. To finance an independent film. My sales agents at IFT were supportive throughout. I met Executive Producer, Peter Garde, at the Berlin EFM.
(He co-founded the Scandinavian mega production house Zentropa with Lars Von Trier). He explained European co-financing and taught me my way around a finance plan, attended meetings with key players. I knew that it doesn’t matter how many people you may have worked with, why should anyone trust you with their money and time? So, I further honed the business plan, trimmed the budget to get the magic percentages of ‘soft’, ‘pre-sales’, ‘equity’ and ‘Gap’ right. My four major investors have been amazing. I knew none of them and they took a leap of faith based on the film package I brought to them. I met Sondra and Toby Eoff at a roast in Odessa, Texas where I was a keynote speaker standing in for Chris Morrison the founder for Care Highway International (CHI) a charity for which I am Ambassador. Claes Bang introduced me to Dan Friedkin of Imperative Entertainment who was directing him in Lyrebird (aka The Last Vermeer) who helped out when other money fell through due to timing issues. Cheyanne Kane at Vigilants Entertainment got us over the line when we thought we couldn’t get to Italy. Patrick Beharelle, whom I met in 2018 at Cannes stepped in just as investor money from the North of England fell away. My Italian co- producers Fabio Canepa and Lorenzo Giordano went the extra mile, finding amazing locations, accommodation for a whole crew at the height of summer, permission to clear the beach of a World Heritage Site for the magic hour shots in The Bay of Silence itself. The Thank You credits on my movie are extensive! But the greatest thanks is to my daughter Gemma who as a recent graduate from the Media and English program from Goldsmith College, London University, started as producer’s assistant, was promoted to assistant production coordinator, moved on to post production coordinator (UK), produced the Electronic Press Kit (EPK) and then returned to Producer Assistant and marketing and distribution coordinator. Not to forget my son Leone and his girlfriend who were extras, my husband cinematographer Nicola Pecorini who gave much needed advice and support from the script stage right on through, my line producer sister Victoria…
I am against the narrative that says you must be artistic or organizational. Why the divide? It runs through our education system, but artists deal with structures of meaning just like mathematicians. Timing in acting and writing and producing is everything. The film day on set is divided into filming minutes where everyone works together to get that shot knowing they have 10 minutes before lunch, a few minutes of light before the clouds obscure the sun or a passing plane drowns out dialogue.
Artists are deeply practical. I am a passionate advocate for actors and as producer, I am glad that my many years of experience on set gave me the opportunity to see things from the creative as well as fiscal point of view.
You began your career in the theatre with the Royal Shakespeare Company, what influence did it have on your film, “The Bay of Silence.”
Obviously, Brian Cox! We met at the Royal Shakespeare Company and worked together on a production of Shaw’s Misalliance where he played Tarleton and I played his daughter, Hypatia. We became firm friends and our families have known each other for years. He read early drafts and agreed to play the role of Milton. Brian is fearless. I am so grateful. And Brian is such a draw for other actors. When he and Claes shot their scenes they got on so well, nattering about the theatre and life in between shots.
Do you have a favorite scene?
There are so many, and of course, you always kill your darlings! A tiny scene that went in and out was what I call the “mussels’ scene early on when Claes and Olga are in a restaurant eating spaghetti and mussels. It was shot to be part of a brief montage but as the actors improvised it was charming and flirty.
They nailed the way people falling in love behave. I fought for it to stay in because we need to fall in love with them and I think we do in that moment.
Also, Olga brings such charm to Rosalind which we need to see before she starts to spiral, plus she speaks French and he doesn’t, which later on is an important plot point. Every scene needs to work on multi-levels pushing forward the action, informing character, laying the seeds for the plot.
Can you share a special moment on the set?
It was Paula Van Der Oest’s birthday on Day Two. She told no one but it got around and Niccolo Mori who owns Il Portobello Restaurant on the beach in The Bay of Silence threw us a surprise dinner that night. It was so immensely generous of him.
We wrapped in the bay and literally walked over to the beautiful terrace on the water where he was opening bottles of wine. It was like … out of a movie… the setting, the ambiance, the camaraderie!
It was the first time in the months of hope and preparation that I felt I could breathe.
I looked around amazed and grateful for all these people had helped bring the adventure into being and here we now were with the sun setting, eating seafood in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It didn’t matter what might happen tomorrow or how it would turn out. That moment was worth everything.
WATCH AND EMBED THE TRAILER –