The communication challenge in executing The Last Word was thematic. With issues of aging or mortality, the challenge is balancing tone. That is achieved by communicating to everyone (cast, crew and, in turn, the audience) the specific tone.
We tried keeping the story human and offbeat, making it emotionally inclusive, and earning the emotional payoff via narrative investment in character. Thus you are letting the audience grow to love the people in these relationships.
When these moments are earned, you can then deal with weightier themes.
I often ask myself, how does each of us weave our own responsibilities into the pattern of history? How can I tell stories about human rights and the quest for justice yet engage people who are uninterested or apathetic? And the answer has always brought me back to this idea of the persistence of vision. Just as in cinema, believing that we will create a new art, and with it the possibility of transformation comes from this concept of 24 frames per second that from static images (things the way they are) comes movement (change).
Profound communication only happens when there is persistence — staying committed to people and places where we once made films. In my case, 500 YEARS is the third film in the Guatemalan trilogy, which began in 1982 with When the Mountains Tremble and continued in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. 500 YEARS (2017) takes up the story where Granito left off.
For me God’s Own Country is an investigation into authenticity of emotion and landscape. Having grown up on the same hillside where the film is set, it was critically important to me to communicate what this very specific landscape not only looks like but how it feels, sounds, tastes, smells. The wind, the cold, the rain that gets into your bones when you work outside all day. The daily struggle with the animals that leave very little time or energy to investigate emotion or relationships. I want the viewer to feel totally immersed in my world. I worked painstakingly hard on making sure this world was totally authentic – all the props had to come from the location farm, the costumes had to be bought in the local town, the actors had to work on the farm and “live” the life of the characters in extensive rehearsals.
For me, the greatest communication challenge that I encountered while working on my film happened during the prep phase, where I was still scrambling to raise funds and cast my leads. This was my first feature and a lot of people just weren’t sure of me yet. And short of surgically implanting someone into my head, it was nearly impossible to convey to them how the film was going to feel different than just what they could read on the page. I knew from the onset that I wanted to make a stylized film and you can obviously show people a million images of things that inspire you or are in the vein of what you’re going for but the actual result of what you’re trying to do doesn’t really exist yet, so it can be very difficult to explain.