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INTERVIEW | Breaking Taboos: Julia Aks and Steve Pinder Talk ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’

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Julia Aks and Steve Pinder at Tribeca Festival (Photo Credit: @jaksicle/Instagram)

It is quite unfortunate that periods and menstruation are still considered to be TABOO. Throughout history, menstruation has often been shrouded in mystery and misinformation. In many ancient cultures, menstrual blood was viewed as dangerous or unclean. However, these misconceptions have been passed down through generations, leading to myths that pain menstruation is in a negative light. Over the years, we have seen a lot of movies and TV shows trying to tackle this issue and starting a conversation regarding it. Joining the bandwagon is a brilliant short film called ‘JANE AUSTEN’S PERIOD DRAMA’. Director by Julia Aks and Steve Pinder, the film talks about periods in the most entertaining way possible.

Set against the backdrop of Georgian England, the film opens with a comically unconventional twist: Miss Estrogenia, played by Julia Aks, receives her long-awaited marriage proposal, only for it to be humorously interrupted by the untimely arrival of her period. What happens next is a candid exploration of womanhood, love, and societal expectations. There are a handful of projects that have tackled the subject so beautifully, and Jane Austen’s Period Drama is one of them. I recently got a chance to watch the film at this year’s TRIBECA FESTIVAL and talk to Julia Aks and Steve Pinder about the film. The duo opened up about how they came up with such a quirky title and what Jane Austen means to them.

Julia Aks

Julia Aks in a still from ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

Aayush Sharma: From a singer to an actor and now a director, how’s your journey been in the entertainment industry and does everything still feels surreal to you? 

Julia Aks: Well, the journey itself has been relatively organic, which I’m very thankful for. I’ve loved performing. Since I was a kid. I’ve done a lot of theater, I started in the theater. So translating that into film felt very natural. And I’ve been singing since I was a kid. At a certain point, my parents said, you know, maybe we should get her some singing lessons. And I don’t know if that’s because I sounded so bad at the time, or they wanted to foster my talent, I don’t know. S, I’ve always loved doing it and singing, and performing. And acting was a very natural profession for me to go into because I loved it. Since childhood, I have always been creating videos and working on small projects. My parents supported me in every way they could. If I wanted to use the family video camera, they would let me. However, I started directing and producing more seriously later on, as performing came so naturally to me from an early age.  So I kind of pursued that. But I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few people along the way that I clicked with, such as Steve is obviously at the top of that list at this point, because he was the one who, on the first project that we worked on together, I was just an actor. But he was the one who inspired me to try to do a Julie Andrews impression. I’d never tried to do that before, I’d never tried to combine all of the things that I had loved and all of the things I was pursuing, the classical singing the acting, the comedy, it was him and that short film that he cast me and that inspired me to try to do all the things at once. Then, from there, I’ve just been very lucky in a couple of ways with obviously ‘Seven Rings’ going viral and that really kind of inspired me to try to create my stuff and step into more of a directorial role more seriously. And then with Jane Austen’s Period Drama, this is the first time you know, really, honestly, fully stepping into narrative filmmaking as a director and as a co-director and co-writer.

Aayush: Now, Jane Austen is such a popular figure and even in today’s world, she is being quoted or talked about? What makes her so relatable and why her work intrigues you guys? 

Steve Pinder: She’s a feminist writer, you know. Even in her day, she’s writing from the point of view of women, and very thoughtfully about where women are in society and where they could be. You see it in all of her characters. And what else? I don’t know, I think there’s something in that messaging, and in that work, that’s timeless. I mean, there’s something about where women feel they are and where they want to go, and all the things that are holding them back, you know, all the social constructs that aren’t allowing them to get to where they want to be. I just think that she saw all that. So you could like see the matrix of it, you know, and yeah, I think we’re still drawing on it, we’re still still telling the same stories in some ways.

Aayush: The most fascinating part of the short film is its title. ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ is such a fantastic name, but it is also very interesting. Because if no one reads about it, no one would get to know that does “PERIOD” mean here. How did you guys come up with such a peculiar name?

Julia: Well, I grew up with a father who likes to tell a lot of very, very silly jokes. Such as, like, he likes puns, and wordplay, and double meanings. So, I think his sense of humor has always been a big part of my sense of humor. So, in 2019, when I was doing a lot of YouTube stuff, and doing a lot of sketch comedy, and Steve and I really started collaborating as directors for the first time, Steve also likes all those kinds of jokes, which is very handy as a duo. It actually was the title that came to me first, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s funny. What if it was a period drama about periods?’ And it was just supposed to be a very small sketch that we would probably write together and probably direct together, like maybe three minutes long. But the more I started writing it alone, the more I started researching the idea, it became really clear early on that there was actually more in this topic, the topic being menstruation. To talk about that was actually really relevant and there might be more than just a comedic sketch to it. So I just kept writing and kept writing and kept writing and it turned into this very long thing. That was supposed to be maybe a web series at a certain point. But Steve, I found myself going back to Steve time and time again, for feedback, for notes, for jokes. And it was really him who encouraged me and eventually, us to take this very, very silly title, and turn it into a long-form movie. So we’ve written the feature-length script of the idea. This short film is sort of a piece of that big feature script, adapted into a short film that stands alone, but it’s also can be seen as part of the bigger project. So it did start with a very funny title.

Julia Aks and Steve Pinder (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

Aayush: What research did you conduct to accurately portray the societal attitudes toward menstruation and women’s health in England during 1813?

Steve: We definitely did a lot of research on menstruation and where the conversation is today. Like Julia reached out to a group of female-identifying opera singers and asked for all you know, like, whatever stories that they want to tell about, did they have any menstruation stories that they wanted to share? So we got a lot of anecdotal information from people, generally today. But then we also did a pretty good bit of research, trying to find out more about what was happening with the conversation around menstruation in Jane Austen’s time. There’s surprisingly little history, like recorded history about it because it was talked about so little. But there’s a lot about how women were treated, how their emotions were treated, and how men used women’s reproductive health as a method of oppressing them. Like, you know, if women were experiencing premenstrual symptoms, men could use those symptoms and, and, and use that to declare a wife hysterical or something like that.

Julia: And get them committed to asylums in some part. It’s there’s still a part of all that, that we see that today it’s the very kind of cliche, you know, Angry Wife or irritated wife and it’s easy for some people to write women off by saying, ‘Oh, it’s just hormone’. So there are remnants of that very much still in, at least of me in American society, but also globally, there are varying degrees of attitudes about menstruation and what that means and what that means for women.

Aayush: Julia, unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding periods even now. Women and men don’t know what to do and how to talk about it. This film can once again be a conversation starter about a topic that has been there for centuries. But why do you believe that talking about it is still considered to be taboo? 

Steve: I think shame is contagious. And we communicate shame to our younger generations through our body language. So until we collectively raise our consciousness level, about what’s happening, and until we have enough sort of mass education about it, we just continue to pass down our shame. You know, and that’s the thing that’s so hard to overcome because shame makes you not want to talk, it makes you not want to discuss the subject that makes you feel ashamed. You know, it keeps it all inside. So I think there’s, I just think we haven’t yet risen to that level of discussion where every, you know, collectively, we overcome those feelings.

(Photo Credit: @jaksicle/Instagram)

Julia: I think also, because a very formative moment, in young women’s lives is the first time you get your period. I mean, it is physically, emotionally, spiritually, like, a moment. And because we’re so young, especially now, like back in Jane Austen’s days, they would get their first periods when they were like 16-17, which is still quite young. But now we’re at like, 13-12 or even 11. You’re so young, it’s such a vulnerable experience that how you address it is very much dictated by the people and the adults around you. So if we have mothers or fathers, for example, who have learned it, whose attitudes come from their previous generation, because attitudes come from their previous generation, it just gets passed down and down and down. I have a friend who told me about the first time she got her period, her mom didn’t want to talk about it, and she kind of like, put my friend in the bathroom, kind of like threw a pad or a tampon, it would probably pad its first period. Threw a pad in there, shut the door, and was like, ‘Okay, deal with it. And we’re just not going to talk about it’. And that’s, that’s now you know what I mean? So but that’s just her mom’s learned behavior from like her mom’s learned behavior. So I think then it becomes it’s, it becomes a barrier to overcome. If you’re taught that it’s shameful from the moment that it happens. In order to feel comfortable talking about it, you have to overcome this initial experience as opposed to someone sitting you down, whether it’s Mom, Dad, friend, or chosen family, and saying, ‘Okay, this is you know, treating it like something normal, natural to be celebrated’. I mean, there are indigenous cultures in America for whom this is like a communal celebration, you know, it’s, we can choose how we address it culturally. We have for centuries chosen to make it something shameful. So we’re arguing that we can now choose to do something different.

Aayush: What was the inspiration behind those weird names given to the characters?

Julia: Utter silliness. (laughs) We have a long list of, well, obviously, in the the longer version, there’s more characters, there’s more names, but we still even with that have a very long list of very silly names that have yet to be used somewhere that I don’t know when we would use them. But we had a, we had a lot of fun coming up.

Aayush: Can you discuss how you crafted the dialogue in the scene where Julia’s character tells Mr. Dickley about periods? To both maintain the period authenticity and highlight the comedic misunderstanding?

Julia: We were very conscious about it because we wanted to do a lot of things as writers in that scene. We wanted to address the educational aspects of it. We wanted it to feel really natural in the story, we did not want to be preachy about it at all. We wanted to make it funny, and we wanted it to mean something. So, we had a lot of drafts is the answer to your question. (laughs) You know, and we would one of the joys of being a part of a duo is we can both bounce ideas off each other throughout the process. There were drafts that I wrote, where I was like, this is it, this we need to educate people and Steve was like, it’s coming off like too educational and not enough about the characters and their journey. So then we did another version, where it was more about the comedy and more about the narrative, but I was like, I think we really should keep some of these ideas in here. In terms of menstruation itself. It’s just the feet. I mean, it’s heartening to hear that you think it did all those things because we tried very hard to find the right balance.

Jane Austen Period Drama

A still from ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

Steve: I don’t even think that we nailed it on set. I think it was partly in the edit that we had to lift some stuff and reorganize how sort of the structure of it, like it did kind of come together just over time, over a long time.

Aayush: The film premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and was a part of TRIBECA as well. How has the festival circuit been for you and the film?

Julia: The festival journey has been deeply satisfying. Particularly because we made a comedy. It needs an audience. Hopefully, an audience of strangers who won’t give you pity laughs like your friends lovingly will sometimes. So experiencing this film, in particular with this subject matter, like on the big screen with hundreds of people who didn’t know us before this and hearing them cackling and laughing, has just been the best. It’s been great. Amazing.

 

 

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INTERVIEW | Justinian Huang on Crafting a Sensual Saga: Exploring Love and Sexuality in ‘The Emperor and The Endless Palace

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Justinian Huang

Justinian Huang’s debut novel, The Emperor and The Endless Palace, released earlier this year, has captivated readers and critics alike with its expansive narrative and bold portrayal of gay relationships. The book has sparked both acclaim and controversy for its vivid depiction of passionate encounters between two queer Asian men across millennia.

Writing a book is never easy and if you are an Asian writer trying to write Erotica, things might get a little too stressful. However, Huang took this challenge and wrote one of the spiciest novels of the year. Apart from exploring sexuality, it challenges norms and explores themes of love, destiny, and identity through its rich storytelling. Recently, I got a chance to talk to author Justinian Huang and how he stitched a mesmerizing story about love, sexuality, and passion.

Justinian Huang

Justinian Huang (@justinianhuang/Instagram)

Aayush Sharma: Your book masterfully blends sensuality with profound human emotion and a yearning for love and authenticity. How did you achieve this delicate balance?

Justinian Huang: Oh, thank you for the compliment. You know, it’s interesting, I think that when you set out to write something very sensual, because of the way that people are trained to think like, especially if you’re saying, let’s just write something, it’s very sexual, right? Like, I think that sometimes people feel like, Oh, if this book has a lot of sex in it, they say, Oh, it’s just, it’s just porn it can’t have a deep meaning to it. I think the thing about writing about sexuality, and sensuality, it’s one of the deepest things we can write about. Because I feel like the relationships between people it’s undeniable that many of us are sensual beings, and to write about those moments when we collide with someone and fall in love with them. That has often been classified as a romance. And because a lot of women read romance, it’s looked down upon. But to write about such an experience between two people, it’s dipping into the deepest parts of what makes us human. So it’s not hard. If you set out to write something sensual, you are going to write about something very deep.

Huang: You know, especially if you want to explore why those two people are together, why they belong together. And you explore all of the emotions that come with love, sensuality, and sexuality. You know, I always say that when you this might be a bit crass. I apologize. You can censor it if you want. But I always say that when you when you have sex with someone, you’re also dry-humping all their baggage. And what I love doing is I love to write about that baggage. Like, well, what else? It’s not just like two people meeting each other, hooking up, and having a great time. It’s also that their worlds collide, you know, and what’s the messiness that comes with that? So I think that when I set out to write this book, I wanted to not just write, like, I didn’t want to just write about people hooking up, I wanted to write about the aftermath. The messiness that comes when people become vulnerable with each other, physically and emotionally.

Aayush: How long did the journey from initial idea to publication take? Did the concept evolve significantly during this process?

Huang: The book is based on a true story, right? It is that in 4 BC, there was this Chinese emperor, who fell in love with one of the men in his court. And then they both died young and mysteriously, right, he handed his whole kingdom to this boy. So, I always knew I wanted to write about them. Then, I wanted to show that queer Asian people have been around for ages. To this day, there are hundreds of millions of us. I wanted to show that this wasn’t a dusty story and that it’s still relevant to this day. So then I found three other timelines to represent to write, and I just wanted to so the other timelines are in the 1740s in the wilderness of China, and that’s based on a very famous Chinese folktale about an innkeeper who falls in love with a male fox spirit. And then I have a present day which is two young men and present de la bumping into each other at a party.

Huang: Originally, these three stories, these three timelines just ran pay parallel to each other they never intersected. The evolution happened when I was living in Asia, I rediscovered my Buddhist roots and learned about reincarnation. And I thought, What if I just What if the conceit of this book is that this emperor and his lover, their love is so strong that they reincarnate over and over again, trying to find their happily ever after? And that was the evolution of the book when I was like, Oh, I’m gonna reincarnate them and that’s when the book started to take shape.

Aayush: Coming from an Asian background, it’s difficult to write about sexuality. Talking about sex is very, very hard with your parents and even your peers. So, did you feel any kind of pressure while writing this book and thought that you could be taken in a negative light?

Huang: I wrote this book, not thinking would ever be published. It was like a writing exercise for me. You know, in my previous career, I worked with writers every day. However, I wanted to do this project, because one day during the pandemic, I was in lockdown. Anyway, I was in isolation and it was the summer of 2020. I wanted a project and I was just like, I’m going to write this book. Why don’t I try to be a writer, you know, because of that the book became very sexual, for many reasons. One, because I was in isolation, I was kind of lonely. I have always found it so ironic that we Asians, also South Asians, Southeast Asians, and East Asians, tend not to like to talk about sex. But clearly, at least our parents had a lot of it because there are billions and billions of us. We are a very powerful sexual force. But for whatever reason, it’s very suppressed and I wanted to bring it to light, you know, like, when you come out in the West, you feel like you can only view yourself in a sexual context. But often when you come out in the West as a person of color, you are given two options. You can be fetishized, or you can be desexualized. I wanted to write characters who own their sexuality, who enjoy each other sexually, who are swaggering in their sexuality, and who are confident in their sexuality because I feel like you don’t see that very often, especially with queer people of color. So but you know, like I said, it wasn’t like, I had a book deal already. And I knew this is gonna see I’ll see the light of day, I just, it was like a fun experiment. For me that has become very out of control. Because now I’m working on my second book, I quit my job. It’s been a very interesting experience, for sure.

Aayush: While reading the book, I couldn’t put the book down. I finished the book in two to three days.  Additionally, the novel exudes a sultry allure. How do you write romance that feels authentic and avoids being cringeworthy?

Huang: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of Romance Writers, because you know, I’m often put on panels with them, etc. The advice they what they had told me is that when you write about sexuality, someone’s always going to cringe because like I said earlier, everyone has their baggage when it comes to talking about sex. So you’re not going to please everyone you might as well just write for yourself and the people who get you will get you. I’m glad you didn’t find it cringe-worthy, but for instance, like when it comes to my book, there, there was some discussion online about my use of fruit to describe body parts like I like peaches and plums. My thing about that is that it’s historically accurate, that in ancient Chinese erotica that exists, it was very common to use fruits as metaphors for body parts. So you know, like it’s one of those things that if you as a writer want to cross the spicy barrier if you want to write about human sensuality and sexuality, you’re just gonna have to accept that people are going to respond strongly to it. Because you know, America is a puritanical society so people have a lot of people have a lot of hangups about sex, so you might as well just write what thrills you and my sex scenes.

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INTERVIEW | ‘All My Friends Are Dead’: How Marcus Dunstan and Jade Pettyjohn Created a Modern Slasher Classic

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Jade Pettyjohn and Marcus Dunstan (Instagram.@jadepettyjon_official; Getty Images)

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Slasher sub-genre enjoyed a lot of success due to a lot of factors. For many, the rise of slasher films coincided with societal changes and anxieties. However, as time progressed, their popularity started getting affected by mediocre films. Fortunately, in recent years, we have seen the sub-genre being revived by some unique titles. At this year’s TRIBECA FESTIVAL, in the middle of hard-hitting cinema, there was one movie that stood out by taking viewers on a wild, thrilling ride. With its epic kills, it kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Yes, we are talking about Marcus Dunstan’s slasher film ‘ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD’. The film chronicles the journey of a group of college friends going to Karmapalooza, a massive music festival. However, a vehicle mishap forces them to spend a night at an isolated Airbnb. Things get bad to worse when they realize that slowly their friends are disappearing and someone is trying to kill them.

Now, the storyline seems to be something that we have already seen before. But one thing that Dunstan does well is how he perfectly balances brutal kills with high emotions, something that we don’t particularly see in slasher films. That’s why this film turns out to be different than all the other entries in the recent past. Apart from that, it features a superlative performance from Jade Pettyjohn that enhances the viewing experience and makes the story so relatable. I got the chance to talk to director Marcus Dunstan and star Jade Pettyjohn about creating such a fun movie. Additionally, they opened up about how they shot this project at the home of Hallmark movies.

Marcus Dunstan and Jade Pettyjohn (Instagram/@jadepettyjohn_official)

Aayush Sharma: Over the years, we have seen a lot of campy/slasher kind of movies, and ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ is an addition to that genre. What inspired you to create such a flick and how did you make sure it was different than what people have seen in the past? 

Marcus Dunstan: I worked at a movie theater since I can remember, and then I worked at a video store when I was trying to forget, you know, that was kind of a thing. But I’d watch everything and just try to do it slowly, but surely, you start to accumulate almost this bit of a library of stimuli. And then so here was this opportunity to be a part of a murder mystery. And whoa, when stepping into those waters, there are wonderful, wonderful entries. Here was an opportunity that is entirely cast dependent, where you get to cast suspicion, and you get to learn more about them. You get to potentially feel more. Now in the acreage of those pages, you could go a straight line and hope that maybe melodrama connects, the melodrama can sometimes feel a little too distant. But what if you could go the other way around? What if someone has a biting wit? What if someone is asking for it in that great horror tradition of like, well, this is kind of inevitable, you’re offering yourself and all your personal details up to any stranger who’s out there and now you’re in voyeurism territory, and wouldn’t you know, you just let the voyeur in. And he told him where you are. And you turn your back to the world. And here he comes. That’s sort of an idea. So, it was starting to hold hands, but then to hand it over to the talent of Jade, none of that has a chance that tone has no chance to succeed unless you have a grounding rod unless someone is nimble with all of those tones. Because what I did want to do, and what I did want to contribute, is inspired by just a handful of these movie moments, where it’s almost like it goes quiet. All of a sudden, it’s not about the humor, it’s not about the horror, it’s about this stark moment of terror. Then you realize you feel something for these folks. Jade protected the heart of this movie with a performance that we simply count on, it was awesome. A bridge.

Aayush Sharma: How did you prepare for the role, especially given the intense and multifaceted nature of the character’s experiences throughout the film? 

Jade Pettyjohn: I was really drawn to the character of Sarah, for exactly what you said. I mean, she’s very multifaceted and, you know, there’s an experience that she’s going on at the beginning of the film, which is trying to navigate being an outsider in this friend group that has already been established, and how does she find her footing in her place in this world. As the night takes a further deeper, twisted, darker turn, so does the rest of the cast, and so do the rest of these characters, and they get pushed to their limits, and you really discover a completely different side of these people. I think Sarah is a really interesting character in that she, for most of the film, she’s very grounded, and she’s very, you know, going on this really quiet journey, and then when everything starts hitting the fan, so does she and, and you see this completely different side to her. So, for me, I mean, it was really just a matter of a beautiful, wonderful conversation with Marcus and trying to understand what his vision was for this and how to capture all of those tones and semi-tones that are needed to tell that story correctly. As well as like, you know, playing an ode to watching all the great horror films of the past and really studying what makes a great final girl and then just sort of diving into it and just seeing what comes out of it and that was just truly such a fun experience, and I couldn’t have thought of a better project to be like my entrance into horror films in that genre because it was such a treat all around.

Jade Pettyjohn in a still from ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ (Photo Credit: Tribeca)

Aayush Sharma: What kind of reaction do you hope to elicit from the audience, and what do you want them to take away from the film? 

Marcus: Well, I overheard one and this meant a lot, it was ‘Well I knew going in that there would be violence, I knew that there would be blood and I assumed there might even be some humor but what took me by surprise was the heart.’ That was like okay because there are far too often even the slasher murder mystery, the murder mystery or whatnot is embraced in allotted based on its ability to be cold. So, we dared reach a little higher once reach a little higher and courtesy of the cast once again, the North Star of jade. We dared reach for the heart, and we grabbed that.

Jade: I couldn’t have done it without you, Marcus. Yeah, I think something that I really love is as a cinephile, myself, and someone who just really loves movies. I love going into the theater and getting lost in a story for a couple of hours, and getting to feel as vividly and as viscerally as possible. I think that slasher films and our film particularly allow you to jump, to scream, to gasp and all those things, but also to laugh, and also to feel like to feel the heart of this film. I just want people to go on this experience with us for a couple of hours, and feel as much as you can feel and enjoy the experience of going to see a movie. I think that’s just like, that’s one of my favorite experiences in this life and making it with so much fun. I want people to feel that when they experience watching this movie.

‘All My Friends Are Dead’ is scheduled to release in theatres, on-demand and Digital on August 2.

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INTERVIEW | ‘A Dance of Memories’: Jaclyn Bethany and Greta Bellamacina on Crafting ‘Tell That to the Winter Sea’

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Tell That to the Winter Sea
Jaclyn Bethany and Greta Bellamacina (Photo Courtesy: Diana Patient and Instagram/@gretabellamacina)

Tell that to the Winter Sea is a beautiful exploration of love, feelings, and unresolved emotions. Directed by Jaclyn Bethany, we follow the intertwined lives of Jo and Scarlet, two friends grappling with the echoes of their past. Set against the backdrop of a girls’ trip to a serene country manor, the film sensitively navigates themes of love, friendship, and the passage of time. Additionally, it captures their emotional journey with raw authenticity and builds a genuine connection with viewers.  As Jo (Greta Bellamacina) and Scarlet (Amber Anderson) confront their unresolved feelings amidst the celebratory atmosphere, viewers are drawn into a world where every glance and conversation reverberates with unspoken yearning. It is undoubtedly one of the finest movies of the year and explores the enduring power of love.

I was fortunate enough to talk to the director Jaclyn Bethany and co-writer/star Greta Bellamacina about the heartfelt film. During the interview, the duo opened up about the film’s narrative and how dance became such a huge part of the story.

Tell That to the Winter Sea

Greta Bellamacina and Amber Anderson in a still from ‘Tell That to the Winter Sea’ (Kaleidoscope)

Aayush: What inspired you to create a story primarily focusing on the intense friendship and first love between two female dancers? 

Jaclyn: That’s a great way to start because it seems like you summarized the story there. I think it’s inspired by Greta and I’s relationship as friends and also sort of how we’ve seen each other grow and change, we’ve been friends for a decade or more. And also as collaborators, we sort of circled each other’s products, she acted in a couple of sorts of mine, and I had a kind of history and love with the UK. We sort of, have the same sort of values and aesthetics and we’re interested in the same kinds of stories. I think it was a natural sort of collaboration to tell the story of two women going through this sort of second coming of age as friends and you know, who have a deep love for each other no matter how you want to read that.

Greta: I think it’s also interesting how, as people we carry, you know, these younger versions of ourselves inside of us everywhere we go. But we evolve as people and experiences naturally happen. But, when you go back and you’re reconnected with the people you grow up with, you know, you resort back to, essentially parts of themselves again, and something is interesting how you’re haunted by the people you were growing up, and you know, what you choose to hold on to your memories and know those intense relationships you have, and life happens, but they kind of never leave you. That kind of was one of the big inspirations.

Aayush: Why did you choose a quiet Catholic school as the setting for their childhood and teenage years? 

Jaclyn: The way we told the story was sort of through these glimpses of the past and memories, and there was a big sort of difference between how they were. They’re the same people, right, but how they were when they were teenagers, how they are now and sort of figuring that through the line. And Greta and I were interested in sort of their feelings sort of being constricted in this Catholic school environment because if they did have feelings for each other as women that will be on friendship, it was sort of, you know, could become taboo, looked down upon which obviously, it shouldn’t. Because Amber’s character, Scarlett, was sort of not as cool in that sort of high school way that Joe’s character was. That kind of created, this tension when they were sort of at the school, and then they would be in the dance studio together. They were able to, you know, just be friends and be free. I think that we’re looking at a specific moment in their life at that time. So I’m sure that the girls hopefully became less mean, as we see later in the film at the hen party. But so I think we were interested in sort of the secrecy and the intimacy of the relationship and the school environment.

Greta: I think school becomes such a, you know, it’s such an integral thing, your whole identity is kind of formed by it. And, you know, you see glimpses, of Joe’s character, where, you know, the friends are saying, like, oh, you know, her, and they kind of question that. And I think we kind of liked the idea that you know, when you do something like a dance class out of school can be life-changing, you can be the person you dreamt of being, you know, there’s a flashback where you see them talk about who they will become when they get older, and they have these big dreams. So I think it’s sort of, it’s nice to keep the innocence of that and, and then show there sort of the relationship.

Aayush: The relationship between your character and Anderson’s character is really poetic, yet very complex. How did you approach portraying the complex and evolving relationship between Jo and her best friend? 

Greta: Well, a lot of it was about how to convey the unspoken, because obviously, you see this tension build-up. They get reconnected after all of this time and there are lots of open questions that haven’t been answered and time has passed. So a lot of it is about the internal monologue you’re having with yourself, you know, the things you want to say, but can’t say. So a lot of the process was thinking about, you know, of course, you want to just express everything that you can’t, because, you know, you’ve essentially become a different person and, it would be bizarre. So, I think a lot of getting into character. One of the kind of the important ways to do that, for us was that, we did a lot of dance rehearsals before we started filming. And then we built up this sort of physical intimacy, where we had this unspoken relationship. Then, when we were filming something, you know, present-day real-time, we had a really shared history that felt real. So that helps get into character today.

Jaclyn: I think it’s also interesting, because, you know, the film does have this time lapse and time jump, where the friends kind of become a little bit more estranged. And I think having them sort of have that shared experience and do those dance rehearsals which sort of reflected their teenage time together. Yeah, and then but have, you know, not knowing each other super well. So there was still like, sort of a distance naturally of trying to figure each other out and how each other worked. And that was like, that was, you know, beautiful to witness. And I think that translates on-screen.

Aayush: Dance is a very important means to tell the story in the movie. When we see you and Anderson moving, we realize what it means for both of these ladies. So, what kind of dance training or preparation did you undergo to convincingly portray Jo’s dance talent?

Greta: When we were in sort of the early processes of writing the film script, and thinking about how we were going to convey the innocence of their relationship growing up, and without wanting to reveal sort of them, like their relationship, that sort of sexual intimacy, we wanted to find an innocence and keep this sort of, you know, the dance, is it open to interpretation. So I just finished filming a film in Italy and the film was predominantly told through movement. So at the time, I was very inspired about, you know, how you convey these complex emotions through movement, without saying anything. And I think that was kind of one of the big inspirations of the scriptwriting element. But then, I guess, when we started practically doing it, a lot of it was listening to songs from the early 2000s. Getting into them as teenagers and things they would naturally listen to, and, and, you know, the innocence of just making up dance routines with your friends. And because that was kind of a way to, it’s like it’s got, it’s almost like its own foreign language in itself. But also, we wanted to keep this motif or something that kind of expresses that physical intimacy.

Jaclyn: When we started writing, even the early drafts, this was always prevalent in the scripts that Joe and Scarlett had some sort of language through dance. And that changed as we went on. But I also grew up doing ballet. I think, like I was saying, there is sort of this natural sort of competitiveness that happens through that. And it’s, you know, very specific to the female experience because your bodies are changing as you’re, you’re doing this sort of ritualistic dance every day after school or whatever. I think we were interested in carrying that aspect over into the film, but also because it is such a visual film in such a visual medium. You have the opportunity to express things not necessarily just with dialogue or words, but through your body and the kind of even the subtle glances between them. So we worked with a choreographer named Sarah Winter, who was phenomenal. I think they all had really sort of mapped out the journey through the dance because each dance feels distinct and comes in a special different part of the film. So I think we sort of collaborated t to bring to light what is in the film through dance.

Aayush: The movie is not just about women meeting to celebrate their friend, it’s much more than that. It’s about women talking about their struggles, their love, and their feelings. However, at the core is this beautiful relationship between two women. How did you navigate portraying the balance between the larger themes while still ensuring that the core relationship between the two friends remained the focal point and heart of the film? 

Jaclyn: We were interested in some sort of setting where all women come together. And one of those settings is like a bachelorette or a hen party. But we wanted fun moments of that, of course, because that’s just a natural part of that experience. But it was sort of within the sort of larger context of the relationship of Joe and Scarlett. We wanted to make sure that that storyline didn’t take away from the relationship between our protagonists. And these additional characters are a beautiful addition to their journey. I think when we were filming it, we stayed close to Joe and Scarlet’s experiences, so that you were kind of never hopefully never taken out of their journey and light through this weekend, and sort of how they are in front of their friends and how they are when they’re alone. Because I think it’s, it’s quite different. And I think we were just looking at that storyline as a compliment and revealing more about their relationship and how they are with each other, and then how they are with their girlfriends.

Greta: I think it’s interesting, because the sort of the ensemble cast of the hen party kind of tells you bits of information, missing information about these characters that you’re trying to piece together, through real-time watching them. But really, our kind of aim was to show you know, the complexities of just time and you know, identity and the people we could have become, there’s kind of there’s a sense of loss in it because it says it’s a bittersweet ending, because you see, reality versus younger dreams. So it’s kind of trying to keep hold of those two, being on this precipice of you know, in your 30s. And obviously, things are changing again, but bringing everyone back together and learning, almost learning the story backward.

Aayush: Amber and you, Greta, have such a beautiful chemistry in the film. It is visible in every frame you share. So, how was it working with Amber?

Greta: She was wonderful and she understood the character from the beginning. I think, just from our first session in rehearsals together, we were lucky because we were able to build this physical intimacy together. But also, because we weren’t speaking, it was all about the body. So when we were filming and had to kind of have this distance, that it was, it was great, because we were able to have that shared physical history, but then also not keep stuck some things back. So, it was wonderful just having that time together really before we were on set.

Jaclyn: Amber immediately responded to the script, and was very enthusiastic and was, you know, just responsive to the fact that this was told from a unique female experience. I think she and Greta are very different and they complement each other and in a beautiful way as well. And I think she’s, you know, a wonderful actress, and I had seen her in Emma and it was great to work with her and we’re so lucky to have her a part of our story.

Aayush: Jo’s struggle to reconcile her past with her present is beautifully presented in the film. Her emotions are raw and she is still dealing with the loss of her first love. What aspects of Jo’s emotional journey resonated most with you? 

Greta: Well, I guess now when I am reconnected with people from my past, and they share photos of me and I kind of, and I’m shocked to see the person. They are the visual reminder of what I used to wear or you know, everything it’s sort of, you know, I think it’s this sort of reminder of, you know, it’s like that John Ashbery poem, so many lives, we could have and we do have within us. So I think that was also quite crucial and Joe’s character having her like, visually different in the flashback, she’s got like this kind of early 2000s wig, and she sort of very much into that era.

Aayush: How do the themes of letting go of the past and embracing new stages in life play out in the film? What message do you hope the audience takes away regarding these themes?

Greta: I well, I hope it’s just a Universal film of friendship and love that people can connect to, but have, you know, an honest, complex portrayal of women and their stories.

Jaclyn: It’s interesting to have made this film, in September 2022, and then come back and look at it, and talk about it now, because the film is about to release. What I do feel about this film is that it’s timeless and I hope that anyone who watches it can see a part of themselves in our characters, and hopefully, we can also inspire some young women to go out and make their films and find their voices.

Tell That to the Winter Sea releases in UK theatres on May 31.

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