Christopher Payne

Christopher Payne

Christopher Payne has returned to the director’s chair with his new project Love Tomorrow; his first film since he made his debut with The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand back in 2000.

We caught up with the director to chat about the new film, the inspiration behind the story and what lies ahead.

- Love Tomorrow is about to be released on DVD so can you tell me a little bit about it?

It is a love story between two dancers; it is about two dancers who meet by chance on the streets of London. You come to realise that they have both got secrets and issues in their lives that come out of the course of the film. It is really about what happens next.

- You are in the director's chair for the film and have also penned the screenplay. Where did this project start for you and what sparked the idea for the story?

I had always wanted to make a film about… I had the basic idea of a woman who learns something about her fiancé, rushes out into the night and, a couple of hours later, and meets somebody else. The story is really about whether she follows the new person that she meets or goes back home.

What crystallised that idea was seeing some contemporary dance at a place called The Place in London; it is a contemporary dance venue.I was really struck by how powerful it was and how so much could be communicated through movement.

With many boy meets girls stories, the story is told through dialogue, but with this, we wanted to… making them dancers meant that we could tell a lot of the turning points in the story through dance; which is very cinematic and emotional. I spoke to a producer that knew who had been a dancer, and she suggested that we get in touch with the Ballet Boyz, and it went from there.

- I was going to ask you about dance and choreography a little later, but it seems the perfect time to ask you now.  How did you find the choreography aspect to the film? How challenging was it to get that aspect in without perhaps breaking the flow of the story?

We deliberately scripted scenes where the central couple would encounter dance in a very natural way: we follow them and they watch a dance in Sadler’s Well and they dance at a party - it was something that they would naturally be doing. In terms of the challenge of the choreography, choreography is a very complex art from and choreographers tend to have done a lot of training as dancers first.

We were very reliant, certainly initially, on the Ballet Boyz, who helped us work that side of things out. The Ballet Boyz were crucial to us as, not only had they had a background in dance, but they had also worked in films and so they understood what choreography worked for film. If you are doing choreography for a stage, the direction is all one-way.

The difference with film is that the image is flatter and the camera tends to be moving, and so it is a different type of choreography and you have to choreograph for moves that have visual impact.

From a directing point of view, I was really keen for the audience to have a sense of what it was like to dance. The cameraman, the producer and I were really keen to storyboard in many shots of the dancer’s face; you really feel what they are feeling and the shots are from their point of view.

The camera is right in the middle of a lot of dancers with the dancers working around it - that created its own problems (laughs). It is suppose to be more of an experimental feel to the dance sequences rather than the standard ‘keep the camera back so you can see the whole body’.

- I am always quite interested in how the writing process works for each director. I wondered how many times the story and the characters changed from the initial idea to the film we see on screen?

They change quite heavily. This was a loosely improvised film. We had a treatment, which we took to Cindy (Jourdain) and Arionel (Vargas), who we cast pretty early on, and they told us stories from their lives and dancers that they knew. They had a huge impact on the story that we wanted to tell. We tried to meet the actors/dancers, and so the characters are quite similar to the actors themselves.

Arionel in particular had a lot of influence on his character; in the treatment stage his character was very streetwise, irrepressible and much more vocal. However, Arionel thought it would be more interesting - and convinced us - to play him as more of an opaque character: so he was seemingly very charming on the surface, but he had an agenda underneath. It just seemed much more realistic.

Cubans like Arionel tend to be very gentlemanly and not as n your face as other cultures. It just felt more natural and more interesting cinematically. It has evolved that way. We did workshops, and the script changed as we heard from the actors. We made a film that would wrap around their skills really.

- Cindy Jourdain and Arionel Vargas take on the central roles of Eva and Oriel can you tell me a bit about the casting process and what you were looking for in your central characters?

Casting the role of Eva was interesting because as our central protagonist she doesn’t say anything for the first ten minutes. She is this quite glassy and perhaps quite cold woman; you might not understand why she is pushing this fairly charming guy away.

You just guess that something has happened. Nothing is really clear until she starts to open up - even then, the trick to the narrative was that you still expected that there was something else, but you are just not sure.

So we were looking for someone who could carry that weight of emotion on their shoulders and suggests that things that have happened to her physically, without weighing the character down.

We just thought it would be more interesting to make her a difficult to read character that slowly leaks emotions, suggestions and clues as to what has happened to her.

Therefore, we needed someone who could carry that off, was upright, someone who was interesting to look at and someone who could dance. She is someone who is in their late twenties and a dancer who you sense had had success but had lost that.

All these things are fairly instinctual when you are looking for your leading actor. When we met Cindy, Stephanie and I knew that she was absolutely like the person we had imagined. We cast her straight away.

We also got lucky with Arionel as well as we cast him very quickly too. We were planning to finance a six-month casting process that would have involved a lot of travel. We met Arionel through a contact at this dance company who just said ‘you have got to see this guy’.

There are not many thirty-year-old Cubans who can speak good English and dance at a very high standard around - so we got very lucky. With the rest of the cast, we had invaluable support from the casting director, who suggested many people like Max Brown, who were just really right for the job that they had to do.

- You talked earlier about how collaborative a process this film was from the scriptwriting process down the shooting. How did you find working with Cindy and Arionel? How much did you enjoy the collaborative nature of this project?

There are all kinds of directors out there, but collaboration is one of the most exciting this about making a film. I find that you get people’s best work if you collaborate because they give the best of themselves. It was a world that I wasn’t as familiar with when I started as I am now and you are relying on the cast and everyone around you to tell you their stories and work really hard.

Dancers work so hard as they come from a very disciplined… to carry off what they do you have to be very self disciplined and incredibly motivated; if you make a mistake on stage, everyone sees it. It is an art form - particularly ballet - that demands perfection; people go to see a perfect line and a move executed perfectly, as that is where the poetry comes.

In order to achieve that they have to train like boxers, and they are as fit as boxers. They are athletes of an international standard and yet they have an artistic temperament and soul. They don’t talk much, but they are very interesting people to be around as they learn very quickly and are very up for working through a lot. I loved it as they were both so giving.

They both understood the nature of the project and wanted to make something that was realistic. Cindy didn’t want to play a character that would go off the deep end every two minutes; she just wanted to play scenes that felt right.

We knew that some people would respond to it and wouldn’t be frustrated by the fact that all of the issues that are raised in the film are resolved; that is not the point.

The central point of the story is Eva getting to a place where she can start relating to the world again; at the beginning of the film, she is in complete meltdown, by the end she is starting to understand who she is and her place in the world. Both of them really understood that and worked really hard to making it realistic and understated. 

- You shot Love Tomorrow in just twenty days, do you like working in such a tight time frame? Where there any major challenges that you faced?

We started shooting in mid-autumn and ended in early winter, so we did have continuity issues as one minute there were leaves on the trees and then there weren’t. Films are shot really quickly.

I have just watched a Hollywood film called End of Watch, brilliant film, and they shot that in twenty two days; a lot of independent films are shot very quickly now. That is the game really.

It does make people concentrate. We had a fantastic crew who worked very hard. We had many young people on the crew and for many of them this was their first film, but they really did step up. There were no tantrums and no one ever complained.

The bar was set by Arionel as he was rehearsing The Nutcracker during the day for the English National Ballet, he would get into his car and eat a sandwich, come to the set and start working until 4am and then sleep in his car and go back to the theatre; that is like going to the gym all day and working all night. He didn’t once complain about it.

It was a very happy shoot from that point of view. I would walk over broken glass to work with dancers again.

- A lot of the film was shot on the streets of London so can you talk about how you shot the film - I was reading that you were going to film in wide shot but changed your mind?

That is true; no one has ever asked me that before.  In many films you want to show off the scenery that you are going through and create a cinematic journey for the audience; we really did think about doing.

Very bravely, a cameraman said ‘no, we should make this intense’. Throughout this film, they are just concentrating on each other. She is not living in the world during the course of the story; a lot of the film is focused on someone who has suddenly got a closed focus of the world and is only seeing what is in front of her.

We wanted to shoot in locations that we knew, that had atmosphere and texture but are not necessarily iconic locations.

We just followed the accurate journey that they would follow; to get from his flat on Mile End, you would naturally cycle through Victoria Park to get to that church. From that church, you would come down to the river to get to Greenwich and so on; they just happened to take in locations that were appealing to us, but aren’t seen as much.

- How have you been finding the response to the film so far?

We have had a really warm response. We were delighted as very few British films of this budget are distributed these days, to be picked up by Soda, who have a really great track record for first and second films from directors, was such a thrill. They have been fantastic. They chose to screen the film in art centres up and down the country.

There are many venues that will have a cinema, theatre space and also dance clubs and acting classes. We have been doing Q&A’s in these venues, and the response has just been fantastic as they really get it; especially venues were many of the audience are dancers. We have had a terrific response from that point of view.

It has been really rewarding to see people who live this kind of life say ‘yes, you have got it’. It has been great. We are still going as we have got a few screenings in London. I have enjoyed that side of things very much.

- Love Tomorrow is your second feature film as director, but your first since 2000. Why has it taken you so long to long to make your follow up to The Jolly Boys' Last Stand?

(Laughs). I do quite a few things and so I have been writing a lot. I was quite happy doing that. The first film that I made was not really made for cinema release; it was made really as a muck about with friends that got picked up.

I wanted to have another go and this was a story that I didn’t want to give away. I have been developing lots of things, but I thought that this was a story I could do. I met Stephanie Moon, the producer, and she was amazing at raising the money and organising it all. I had a couple of films that nearly got made and I am attached to a couple more at the moment.

- That does lead me into my final question, what's next for you?

I am very lucky to be attached to a film called The Incubators; it is a true story about a punk band that inadvertently get caught up in a foreign revolution. It is being produced by Bedlam - they were behind The King’s Speech. It is a cracking story. That is in pre-development stages and hopefully we will start shooting next year.

Love Tomorrow is out on DVD now.

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