We interview the related director Joe Marcantonio.
Cheer up (and listen to this): If you ever find out that you've become a character in a movie and Fiona Shaw is playing another character in the movie, and suddenly you find that Fiona Shaw is really, really nice to you – really worried about your well-being when she wasn't very nice before – there is only one right answer.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) does this several times during the suspenseful length of the new horror film Kindred, but her running doesn't go quite as she planned.
Let's go back.
Charlotte is pregnant and her boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft, in a brief but memorable appearance) has just died in an extremely sudden, violent, unhappy, and ironic way. With that, Charlotte is more or less at the mercy of Ben's extremely wealthy mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw) and stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden) in a huge house that can best be described as withered and convincingly creepy.
Everything about it is creepy. The faint pastel furniture is creepy. The echoes are scary. Its emptiness is creepy (you can feel the draft). Even the driveway is scary. And its inhabitants are not great tremors either. Margaret is a woman of extremes, usually prone to threat in a way only Shaw can; Thomas often offers his guests quiche, a noticeably uncomfortable movement that itself seems quite creepy. He is a man who seems to have nothing and everything up his sleeve at the same time.
In other words, they are the perfect caregiver for a woman who has just lost her baby's father. Margaret wants an heir, and that's why Charlotte's health and well-being are extremely important to her – so important that she blocks Charlotte's comings and goings at every opportunity she gets. Kindred is a really scary story of loss and the evils that old money can bring.
No film school had a wonderful conversation with first-time director Joe Marcantonio about the complexity of film.
No Film School: How did you find the amazing house the film is set in?
Joe Marcantonio: The reality is we knew what kind of house we needed. And it was just about finding the right kind. And the script was originally shot in Scotland. I live in London and most of the actors live in London. We thought we'd see if we could find one in England.
So we looked around England. But then the problem with England is that you don't get a huge tax break on filming in England because they usually want a tax break. Then we went to Scotland, but I didn't qualify because I'm more English than Scottish. Even though my producers are Scottish, we didn't qualify for the right kind of scholarships. Then our attention turned to Ireland because there is a very nice tax rebate for filming in Ireland.
And it feels right about the location too because – basically this is where it becomes a crazy story – due to the British occupation of Ireland. Many of these British mansions were built just before the famine in Ireland. And then, after Irish independence, many of them were burned down and destroyed. And then those who did not tend to fall into a state of decay.
So we went to Ireland and looked around Dublin for a week or two. And on the other hand, there is one thing in Ireland where if you are filming a certain distance from Dublin because they are a fairly unionized film crew, filming outside of Dublin is a bit of a pain because you are paying your entire crew overnight must be extra for transport and cargo. All of these costs are associated with filming across Dublin. And this house was just too far from Dublin. That meant filming here would be a major production headache. But luckily, because the house was so good, they let me do it.
Recognition: IFC midnight
NFS: Was there an acclimatization period before you started shooting? Did you have a time when you were just helping people get used to the room?
Marcantonio: It was my first film, but I've been in the industry for over 15 years doing various fun little jobs here and there. And one thing that I've kind of rounded up is how important the rehearsal is. And not just rehearsing, standing in the room, just doing the lines and somehow fading them out and working on the scripts. Basically I managed to scrape off a two week trial period, which is pretty rare for such a small film. We spent about a week and a bit in London refining the script. And then when we went to the site for a rehearsal, we spent a lot of time exploring the rooms, exploring and figuring out rooms and finding out whose bedroom belonged to whom.
And even the rooms that you don't see in the film we identified in the house. We said, "Oh, that room would be Thomas' room. And this is the room he threw his things in. And that way you are helping him become part of the character in the movie. And you do." Don't get that when you're shooting on a sound stage because on a sound stage you have to design everything from where the ashtray is to the floor you have. You don't get the lucky accident that Finding yourself at the place was a practical matter.
NFS: Well, let's step back a little. I am curious to see how the story developed itself and what the seeds for it were. And how long did it take to develop the script? And that was exactly the origin of the whole idea for the film, because it is very convincing.
Marcantonio: Basically I'm 39 people now and I think I've been writing now and then since I was about 14 or something.
It was then that I was writing my first alien invasion script. Fortunately, I don't know where it is because I imagine it's absolutely terrible. And over the years I've attended film school. It wasn't a particularly prestigious one. It was more of a university with a film course. And then I graduated and was a runner for years. And all of that time I was an assistant trying to do music videos and then company ads and all that stuff, the only thing that kept me sane throughout all this kind of career was scripting and trying to get scripted . And I don't know anyone. I have no family members in the film industry. I grew up in London, so it's no stranger to me, the industry itself.
But my whole experience was more advertising and that side of things. I took my break there to help and work in offices and so on. What kept me going was that I wanted to make films, and the only way I could think of was by writing scripts. So I've been writing for a long time and I'm constantly writing down ideas. And this idea came to me about 10 years ago and I just wrote it down in my folder with all my other ideas. I have a folder on my computer with tiny Word documents that range from a one-line summary to a page of random garbled notes. And I basically wrote down the sentence about how the family kidnapped their daughter-in-law after their son died because they didn't want her to run away with the baby.
Recognition: IFC midnight
And I don't really know where it came from. There is a famous case in Europe, the Josef Fritzl case. He was that awful Austrian guy who'd locked this girl in his basement for years. But I think it basically doesn't have to have been that way. It wasn't directly inspired by that, but I seem to think in retrospect that it must have been around the same time. And I just left it in my folder because it just seemed like some kind of a bit nasty idea. I'm not really one for grotesque, excruciating porn, grizzlies, unless there is a reason to be there. The idea had been in my folder for 10 years.
And then I started making short films, self-funded short films. And they started out by being small, independent $ 200 pieces. What would you call her Like fiction, kind of. Really low budget set in one room, stupid projects with friends. And then I started making documentaries because they're cheap. I could do a documentary for a few hundred dollars. And I had a few in a row that Vimeo employees picked. And then I got lucky and met this producer in a prenatal baby class. We had kids at the same time and I ran into this guy who's a film producer.
And so we decided to make a short film together called Red Light. You can see it on my website and it is on video. And then I finished this short film that I wrote. And then the producer said, "Okay, let's do a feature. What do you have?" And I've looked through all of the scripts I've written. And by that point, I'd probably written eight features, eight or nine. And let's say the first seven were horrible. And then the last two weren't really bad. They were pretty good. You were good enough to show people off and not be ashamed of yourself. But the problem is, it was my first film. They were too ambitious, had a little violence, or the cast was too big. They were pretty big, big things.
We said, "Okay, let's write something new. Let's open the ideas folder and see what we can come up with." And so I sat here with my folder of ideas. And then this idea that I had come up with 10 years earlier just happened to me. I think because I was a parent and there was another child out, so my wife was pregnant. And I switched from the family point of view to the girl's point of view.
The synopsis stayed the same, but my approach to the synopsis had changed.
Recognition: IFC midnight
NFS: I was wondering when you did the film when you were in production, did the script shift? Has it changed or have you adjusted it?
Marcantonio: The biggest change we had was during this trial period. Part of the reason I'm doing this is because I want the actors to do something like what they do with theater, basically where you're working on a script. What we did was go over the scripts and, after every single line or word of dialogue, I wrote down what that line actually meant, what that person actually wanted. And then for each scene I wrote down what the scene was really about and what the needs were and what the trip was. So I had a pretty detailed idea of every aspect of the film.
Then when we got to that probationary period I would go through the cast and say, "Look, that's my ambition. And that's what I'm trying to say. What do you think?" And it would help because they could say, "Oh, I don't think I have to say that line of dialogue. I can do that with a look." Or, "I guess this line, if you mean to say that I'm not happy that he is leaving, maybe I could ask for another glass of water instead of just saying that I am not happy that he is leaving." it is. They find alternatives. And this process doesn't change anything about the film, as the end results have changed – the scene starts and ends as before. But it gives the actors the opportunity to imprint themselves on the characters. It makes the performances stronger because they don't pretend they're just repeating the words I wrote. They actually live the part because they are part of creating the character.
Everything I described there was before we shot. That was all before. I would sit down with my co-writer Jason and write down everything we came up with. And if anything was good we'd keep it. And if not, you wouldn't. And then that night we would go home and write it down. And the next day we would come in with new scripts for everyone. And then we would do it all over again, and we did that for eight days. And it was quite a pain; it is not easy. It's kind of silly fun, but it's also quite a slog. But it worked, I think, because that's where the performances come from.
While we were actually filming because we had gone through this process and a lot had changed on set, we lost a few things in the editing. You didn't work tonally. And the other worked very well in the script where Charlotte gets dizzy and almost falls down the stairs. But when you get into editing you find that she is basically walking down the stairs and the deeper she goes up the stairs the less chance she is going to harm herself. So it was just like that, oh no, actually wait because it was the other way around. You should go up the stairs. But you don't even really notice.
NFS: All of the characters in the film have something very intense beneath the surface. Did the actors do a lot of work developing backstories for their characters? Did you talk to them a lot about it?
Marcantonio: Part of my writing process is that I write fairly detailed backstories for every person in the movie, for everyone from the gardener to Charlotte and everyone else. And I shared that with the actors. And then I'll go over in my early one-on-one conversations with them and explain who I think their character is and where they're from.
But again, I am not dictating to them which is the case because by this point they have read the script and will have their own thoughts. And we'll kind of work on something together, but I'll basically leave the finer points to them. Because at this point I am passing a character if you know what I mean. As you know, Billy Wilder stopped Jack Lemmon in the middle of a sentence during a take and said, "You forgot to put the comma" or "You didn't stop long enough after you said the sentence." It's the opposite of what I'm doing.
I like to give the actors a little more leeway. And if it doesn't quite do what you want, take another shot afterward, or talk to them about it and try to be open and honest with them. Because for me it's about authenticity. I don't want the actors to pretend they're experiencing something and try to find that balance between the authentic experience and serving the story.
Recognition: IFC midnight
NFS: The characters of Fiona Shaw and Tamara Lawrance more or less dominated the film. There was obviously a lot of tension between their characters, both in the mother-in-law-fiancé relationship and because they are both parents – one who actually had a child, one who didn't. And I wonder how did you develop that relationship while working with the two of them?
Marcantonio: I think the funny thing is that it is constantly evolving. It kind of depends on what you are filming in a way. And of course, when you're shooting a scene that is going to be a tense scene, the actors avoid each other a little more than usual. And also, if it's a scene that is a little more cheerful, they'll hang around a little more and chat a little more.
Again, I think the process we went through in production helps because nobody is nervous on the day of shooting about what they are doing, what their motives are or what will happen because everyone has a certain amount of experience.
And I think they both come from RADA, a very, very famous drama school in London. Fiona was there many years ago and then became a member of the RSC or the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is literally one of the greatest actresses of her generation. And Tamara, despite being a younger actress, came through the theater by chance, and I think they can turn it on and off a bit more than non-actors and less experienced people. The folks working in a more current style may find it a little trickier. But I think it just depends on the actors' personalities and how much preparation you've put in.
Recognition: IFC midnight
NFS: The bird pictures in the film were very strong. What were your goals when you wrote?
Marcantonio: The idea is basically a perspective. Movies are almost always from the point of view of a single character. And at the beginning of the film, I really wanted to try and make the film almost from a couple's point of view. Charlotte has been the main character from the start, don't get me wrong. But I wanted Ben, her partner, to be almost equal in this first part of the film. If tragedy occurs at the end of the first act, it will be a little more effective for the audience. And so you don't see a lot of bird pictures, just a few flashes in the first act. And from that point on it gets a little more obvious and a little more recognizable. And that's because it's meant to mean this changed perspective. Now we see everything with Charlotte's eyes.
And likewise, the crow family of birds, they are used in literature and art as harbingers of dark omens and murder, death and impending darkness. That's why we chose these images. And it shifts slightly in the film because it's very close and more abstract at the beginning, then faster and more unpredictable as the film goes on. They reflect their mental state in the film.
NFS: How did you manage the logistics of the pet handling on set?
Marcantonio: I have to tell you it was a very strange experience. I've shot a few animals. One of the weird chores I've done over the years was doing a series of commercials for a famous department store in Britain called John Lewis. And we had to shoot a badger, a squirrel, a hedgehog, a fox and a few things. These were usually very long zoom lenses. But the problem with this film is aesthetic, I didn't want that look. It had to be first class lenses. It had to be anamorphic.
That was a little tricky. Because as I said, you would be much closer to the animals. And we're also shooting in rural Ireland. It wasn't easy to find the right number of birds we needed. And then there is all the discussions about how much we could do with VFX and how much we should really be shooting. In the end we shot a few things on the green screen. We put one in the front room, the living room, and turned a few things around thinking we'd never use them. And actually a couple of those shots made it into the film. And the rest was shot in a barn because we couldn't afford a proper studio. Everything we filmed had to be in or around the house.
We found an abandoned haystack, decorated it, put some straw on the ground, and then shot the birds first. And then we brought the horses in and shot the horses. The hardest thing about the birds is that we shot a huge raven, then some smaller crows and some magpies. The crow and raven worked out pretty well, but the only magpies we could get from the zoo keeper looked very strange. There was one that looked like a cub and one that was full size. It broke its leg at Game of Thrones, so it had this really weird, protruding leg. So we didn't end up using the magpies.
As I told you, everything with animals is incredibly stressful because it only takes so long.
Recognition: IFC midnight
NFS: How much would you say you shot compared to the amount you kept?
Marcantonio: We probably shot half a day so I don't know how many hours of rush that probably was. It was probably two hours of physical filming, but most of that was around 50 frames. So we had probably three and a half hours for about 30 seconds, 40 seconds in the movie. It's tough. I am a great planner. I showed people their shot list every day and kind of knew what I wanted. And then I would always change things during the day because you want to have time or see another option when you are there. But for this stuff, I think we kind of stuck to getting what we needed because you didn't want to get stuck in the edit realizing that you didn't get the one shot you needed.
NFS: Obviously the soundtrack goes a long way in adding to the tension. I'm just curious how you got there.
Marcantonio: From day one of planning the script, the score would be a big part of it for me. I think film music is one of two things. They either distract or improve. And I really wanted it to be some kind of score that would improve the movie and the mood. I basically created a folder of records on Spotify and then we reached out to some composers. And indeed, Natalie, our co-composer, attended a kind of very prestigious film school in Great Britain with my film editor Fiona. They knew each other. Natalie is incredibly talented and immediately got the mood of the film.
And she basically went home and sent me exactly what I wanted within a day, I think. She moved in a man named Jack Helena to help her do it to her. And that worked out very well because he's more into programming and more modern sound layering. She was almost more concerned with traditional strings and conducting. And we didn't have a lot of money for a film our size, but we even managed to get some live recordings in a real recording studio. We had a 14-piece orchestra. They went out of their way to make it work and I think they did a really good job.
Kindred can be rented or purchased from iTunes, Google Play, and other streaming services.