Joanna Coates is one of the names to watch out for at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as her debut feature Hide and Seek is on the programme.
We caught up with the filmmaker to chat about the film and making the leap into features.
- Hide and Seek is your new movie, so can you tell me a little bit about it?
Hide and Seek is a film about four young people who are disillusioned and hurt in some ways. They concoct a plan to run away together and start a utopia.
Hide and Seek is different to other films about utopias or dystopias, as it is more playful, realistic in some ways, and fantastical in others, sexy, and exciting.
- The movie sees you back in the director's chair and you have penned the screenplay, so where did this project start for you? And what inspired the story?
I was ready to make a feature film, and I had a few ideas kicking around: this is my debut feature. I met Daniel Metz at a film festival, and we really clicked, and started thinking about ideas together.
This film really came from our discussions about relationships, relationships ending, and different ways to really approach that subject in a more symbolic or fantastical way.
We also talked about the crisis amongst young people, people being disenfranchised. This is a movie that is very much about normal young people; this is not about aristocrats or people who have had horrific lives.
This about the average young person and how they feel about certain dilemmas and maybe the only way to overcome them is something ridiculous, crazy, and new.
- I was going to ask you about working with Daniel, as this is the first time that you have written a screenplay with him. How did you find the writing process with him?
It was really exciting. We are now married, so it has been quite an exciting time (laughs). Part of the process of our relationship developing was making this film and exploring things together.
I was always going to make a feature, but it was really interesting that it did come through sharing these ideas. We wrote it pretty fast: we made a short music video that explored some of those ideas.
Then it was mainly about developing character and bringing all of the different things that we were preoccupied with together.
Having two people pushing and pulling on things definitely advanced ideas much faster. That symbiotic relationship was exciting and it was a really interesting way to work.
- Can you talk a little about your writing process? Do you start with the story first? Or do you start with the characters and build the story around them?
It is more about an atmosphere and a feeling, and wanting to find a story that is exciting and evokes certain ideas and feelings. It is also a 'what if?' So taking ideas that you half would like to try out in reality, but don't.
Therefore, using film to probe and explore your psych is the fun thing to do. It wasn't necessarily character first, but then characters became... it then became really important to know which people were going to be there and how they were going to respond to that environment.
It was to do with an idea: and idea of discovering freedom, how people would react to that environment, and to evoke feelings of melancholy and worry and then joy overcoming those difficulties.
Also, to play with the sadness of ending relationships, half wanting them to go on forever and half knowing that they cannot. It was a way to explore that idea and feeling of growing up.
- You mentioned that this was a screenplay that Daniel and yourself wrote quite quickly, so how much did it change from the initial idea to the film we see on screen?
It changed continuously (laughs).In just a few weeks we wrote the outline, and then the dialogue... we knew exactly what was going to happen in each scene, but the actors supplied the dialogue. It was semi-improvised; it definitely wasn't improvised.
The way people express things was very much what the actors brought to the film. Therefore, we started a scene knowing who was going to be upset by whom, but there would be some fluidity in how we got to those points.
The structure was pretty much set from the start, but in the edit, things changed much more than during the filming.
Overall, the three act structure remains, where we are at the beginning and at the end of the film is how we wrote it. However, along the way, the emphasis changed, and so the edit was the most radical part of it.
- Hide and Seek marks your feature film directorial debut, so how have you found the transition away from shorts? What made now the right time to make that leap?
I found it exciting and I was impatient to get there. Making a feature can seem like a huge mountain to climb, and getting there can actually seem harder than it is to do it.
You can hover on the threshold of doing it, where it seems incredibly intimidating: it is intimidating because the stakes are higher. At the same time, Daniel was quite helpful... he could only be in the UK for a certain time because he was American, and so we had a time limit and so we had to just do it: that really helped.
It would have happened anyway, but is happened faster and in a more dynamic and exciting way, because of working together. It made it happen (laughs). That should happen for more people, where they just have to do it, because they would do it.
It was very full on; there was no sleep and the shoot pushed people really hard. We ate well, but we didn't sleep. It was definitely stressful (laughs).
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is to get any film made in this country at the moment. So were there any stumbling blocks in getting the financing in place and getting the film made?
Yes. We just decided that we had to do it, which helped (laughs). We set a start date for shooting before we had the money, which also helped.
It is all privately financed - I have to emphasise that it is not through me having rich parents. There is no secret story of a trust fund here (laughs).
It really is from having found some really smart investors, who we managed to convince that the project was worth it. I also put some of my own money and savings into the project as well: I have been paying for that ever since (laughs).
The money is the main stumbling block, but we also planned around not have a lot of money. We decided to shoot in a house that was beautiful and interesting, but we could get cheap: we really worked the budget around those constraints.
The casting was the other thing, finding people who were smart enough and interesting enough to take the risks that the film demanded of them. We didn't a disaster or anything that was a horrible problem: we were lucky in that case.
- Hannah Arterton, Daniel Metz, Rea Mole, and Josh O'Connor all star in the film - all of whom are emerging acting stars. Can you talk a bit about the casting process and what you were looking for in the characters of Charlotte, Simon, Leah & Max?
We were looking for actors who had the will and the strength to do some quite revealing work, so it was important that they got the film. It is subtle and it does walk a fine line, so people had to sympathise with that and feel safe with that.
We had one audition with someone who started saying 'I feel like they are in a concentration camp', which I thought was a slightly insensitive and extreme reaction (laughs). So we didn't work with them.
I had worked with Josh before and I thought he was a really interesting and talented actor. I wrote the film with Daniel, so we were able to think about and tailor what was most interesting to explore with his character.
Rea is a friend and was very interested in the film: she comes from a more experimental theatre background. She was really interested in exploring and working with screen.
Joe Banks is also in the film, and he is a friend of mine. He is brilliant but a none-professional: I think he might be doing some more work after this because he is so good in it. Hannah came through an audition.
We played around with different ages, relationships and dynamics, and once we had the cast we wanted, we adjusted the characters to suit the actors.
It was more exciting to not put a square peg in a round hole, but try and get characters that gave the actors a chance to bring personal experiences or perspective to it.
- You said earlier that filming was a very collaborative process with the actors bringing their own dialogue. How open were they to working like that? Some of the cast have very little experience.
They were pretty open to it. We rehearsed for a month in an empty house - I was cat-sitting (laughs). We had chance to be in this big residential home to rehearse it, which helped a lot, as we weren't in this empty rehearsal room trying to imagine a scenario. We were in this domestic setting where it immediately became more intimate.
We weren't demanding that the actor write the story, - that can often lead to something that is quite dull - as there was a strong story already in place as well as a strong background to the characters.
That did make it a lot easier for the actors to know what the parameters were and bring their own reactions into it. They did really well.
We auditioned many people, and we found the ones that could rise to that challenge: I don't think everyone could to be honest. Because we had a month or rehearsals, we got to the right place before we started shooting.
- The movie is screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, so how excited are you about playing at the festival?
Not at all (laughs). I am so excited because it is the perfect place for it to premiere.
It is the British festival that we wanted the most because they take the most risks with the work that they show. They also have such an interesting screen heritage. So far, it has been great.
- We have some terrific festivals in this country so how important a platform are the festivals in getting movies out there?
They are really important: almost unfortunately, they are really important. I think that the more that people are interested in the festivals and the more those festivals can be open to more interesting and contemporary work the better.
I do think that there is also room for a film just to exist and find an audience. I don't think it necessarily should be that you have to go to a festival in order to reach people and move them.
However, there is this structure in place and that is how things are afforded respect at the moment: it is not the same as music and other art forms. They are pretty essential right now.
- Finally, what's next for you? Now you have moved into features, is that were you are going to stay? Or are you going to continue working in shorts and documentaries as well?
I plan to make another feature film in the next couple of years for sure. I am looking to do something that is bigger in every way. I am still developing that, and there are some ideas in the pipeline that I want to start working on.
There is a documentary feature idea that is kicking around: that is less time specific. I can't see another short, but you never know.
The momentum and effort to make a feature is such that it would be nice to try and keep that up.
This is my first feature film and it really scratched the surface in starting to understand that form, there is quite a long way to go in developing and understanding that (laughs). It is just the start, I hope.