Across the River is an “ex-love story” about recapturing lost love, following your dreams, responsibility and modern life. Emma has it all as a successful lawyer: Barrister husband, lovely children, and great house in Chelsea. Ryan is trying to build an elephant out of sand on the Southbank. He was her first love; it ended badly many years ago and they haven’t crossed paths since. It’s awkward at first but they then find they have one thing in common: a strike has paralyzed public transport and they need to get to their homes on opposite sides of the river.
On their way they reminisce, argue, cry and laugh. They can never recapture what they had, but the memory of it tempts them. So what now?
Across the River’s director Warren B. Malone’s first narrative short as sole director, Office Party, was shortlisted for the Arri Best Newcomer award at Rushes Soho Shorts and Forgiving your PE Teacher, his next short, won Best of British at, Oscar and BAFTA qualifying, Encounters International Film Festival. Across the River is his first feature as Director.
To begin with, lets talk about your latest film ‘Across The River’, where did the idea come from?
That’s a slightly better question than “Where do you get your ideas from?” and I understand the impulse to try to map the genesis of a project.
There’s a lot of autobiographical stuff. There was a messy breakup though in reality it wasn’t very long until we saw each other again so the tension didn’t build up so much and was released in shorter bursts over the years.
I was actually considering writing “Emma” & “Ryan’s childhood romance story but as a no budget project that was impractical. I realized I could explore the same characters and also add some production value for free if we used the streets around the Thames as locations.
Having the characters closer to my own age also allowed me to explore some more recent issues and conflicts relevant to my life at the time I was making the film. I’m fortunate to be able to use stuff like this as a form of therapy, to a degree.
Difficulty committing to a relationship, to a job, to a project, conflicts between material desires and artistic or emotional ones. How to be a good person.
Tell us about the cast, who are the lead performers?
The casting was even more critical than usual for this film as not only did they need to be great as the characters but also excellent improvisers. They needed to be very intelligent and understand story structure in away not all actors do nor have to. There also needed to be chemistry between them – they had to produce extreme emotions in each other.
I saw Elizabeth Healey (Emma) the first day of casting and knew immediately she was whom I needed. I’d written some dialogue and she delivered it so convincingly and with such freshness; and every time she’d do it differently and she’d make me laugh and cry. And her improvisation skills are amazing. Once we’d created the character she was able to come up with some truly wonderful moments for her.
She’s super talented (presents a TV show about medical advances, writes, directs) and has been starting to get parts in some big movies.
It took way longer to find Keir Charles to play Ryan. Again though, as soon as he read the lines I knew he’d be perfect; he’s a fabulously natural comedian. Then it was just a question of convincing him to do it!
He’s done a lot of good work on stage and some smaller roles on screen but I hope this helps him get to play more of the lead roles he deserves.
It is reported that a lot of the acting and dialogue is improvised, as the writer/director of the film, why did you allow this level of freedom?
It was conceived to be an improvised project so it was expected rather than allowed! I know it’s just about possible with “the magic of cinema” (editing basically) to recreate the freshness and truth of those singular moments created by actors riffing; but those moments are so precious and wonderful that greedily, I wanted as many of them as I could get.
I had a deadline to finish the main shoot (the birth of my daughter) so everything was scheduled towards that. I’d hoped for a few months time to develop the script with the actors (from the scene outlines I’d been working on with some writer friends) but because it took so long to find Keir everything was compressed. We managed to get the back-story pretty solid and worked on key scenes before the shoot but a lot of it was really “seat of the pants” while we were shooting.
I’m not sure I’d do it exactly the same way again but I’m always very collaborative in anything I work on and always appreciate others’ input.
What are your influences as a filmmaker?
It’s hard to answer this.
I could give you a long list of Directors or Writers I like but that doesn’t mean that I’ve actually been influenced in, any concrete way by them, particularly in making this film.
I can say that I’ve been inspired by the hilarious dialogue and can-do attitude of Kevin Smith.
I really appreciated what Thomas Vinterberg did with DV cameras on Festen and what Lars Von Trier does with his various restrictions.
Noah Baumbach has made a few films I would have been very happy to have made, and Andrea Arnold has made some electrifying drama out of everyday lives.
Billy Wilder managed to combine a strong moral centre with laugh out loud moments and I’d love to be able to do that as well as him.
I really appreciate how Mike Leigh works and the naturalistic results he gets and Richard Linklater was a clear influence on this particular film.
What advice would you give to any aspiring filmmakers?
Practice writing and rewriting. This is the cheapest one so there’s not much excuse not to!
Practice working with actors, getting the best out of them, getting what you want out of them and choosing the right ones for your project.
Practice shooting. Use your phone or whatever you’ve got or can get and work out how to say what you want to say with light, shadow, framing, movement, colour.
Practice editing. Work out how to express ideas and information through cuts and what you need to shoot for the edit.
And while you’re practicing accept criticism and advice graciously even if you disagree wholeheartedly with it.
Try to make something that is rooted in the real world and not just about characters or situations inspired by other films.
Try to make the world a better place. Try to be honest.
What is the next step for you? Do you have any other films in production?
I don’t have anything in production. I have some ideas for my next features and I’m trying to make time to write them. I’m always happy to read new writers’ work, with a view to developing projects together. And I’ve got a short that I might make this year with a writer friend.
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