We’ve come a long way together this year. Back in March, it would have been difficult to explain the ‘screenlife’ genre of filmmaking to many people outside of quite a niche bubble. But over the course of the past few months our relationships and interactions have taken place increasingly through screens, via Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or the multitude of video platforms that have sprung up. Depending on how heavily locked down you’ve been wherever you are in the world, screenlife can often be more realistic than depictions of the before times, where people touched and breathed all over each other without a care.
Director Aella Jordan-Edge’s new short film ‘Remember That?’, directed entirely through video conferencing, reflects on intimacy in these times, when screens mediate our human connections and the thought of touching another person seems almost unfathomable. The same old desires and emotions remain, but how do they express themselves now?
In it, a group of friends show concern when another friend goes AWOL after some bizarre text messages. Through a string of video calls, a friendship that had waned begins to show the embers of something more meaningful.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to Aella about the process behind the film and what she’s taken from the experience. Watch the film and read what she had to say about it below.
LBB> What was the first thought you had that led you to ending up making this film? Did you have a particularly intense Zoom call?
Aella> This year has obviously been unprecedented. Life as we knew it shut down for months, everything put on hold. Zoom quizzes and long video calls became the new normal. I wanted to create something representative of what a lot of people were going through. To explore how we were finding ways to communicate with loved ones from afar, confined to our homes but digitally connected more than ever before.
On an emotional level it was inspired by video calls I’ve had in the past during stints of long distance with partners. I was interested in the way video calls can feel intimate, bubbling with chemistry and potential. There was often a hopeful fantasy of what it might be like once we saw each other again… Like that old proverb says “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
However on a practical level an early version of the script was a submission to a writing competition which asked us to apply the limitation of using video calls to tell a story. It was a good exercise to frame and express what was swirling around in my mind at the time… and that’s what later became the script for ‘Remember That?’ When it wasn’t chosen for the competition, I knew I still wanted to make it anyway. Moral of the story: don’t let a knockback stop you!
Finally, another key and less glamorous answer is that this film gave me a passion project to put my creative energy into, a reason to get up in the morning during an uncertain time.
LBB> How did that develop into a script? What were the big considerations in that process?
Aella> I knew I wanted it to be a short slice of life. I knew I wanted it to be minimal and super simple, with real characters talking to each other in one (digital) space. It had to feel authentic and relatable, that was a must. I’m particularly interested in intimate human drama and so that’s what I honed in on for the tone of this script. I think Trigonometry on BBC iPlayer
is one the best things on TV right now because of its gentleness, its warmth and the love you have for the characters, despite the difficult situation they’re navigating. And that’s the kind of work I’m interested in making.
LBB> What questions did you want to pose with the film?
Aella> Can digital connection feel intimate? How do we support each other from afar? How do we find meaningful emotional connection when we are physically separated?
I think even more interestingly and more specific to the story:
If an old spark is reignited by this new and unexpected situation… have these people changed enough to make it work a second time?
LBB> How did you decide how you wanted it to look? It's obviously extremely natural. How did you make sure it felt so real?
Aella> We made this not even on a shoestring. The actors filmed themselves alone in their homes, using Filmic Pro, a smartphone app which costs £14.99 per download. The actors acted in their own bedrooms. We used domestic lights and props that they already had in their house. So it’s as real as people confined to their house, calling each other on their phones, really is. Because essentially that’s what it was.
Of course emotionally I also wanted the viewers to relate, so the hyper-naturalism was a choice to draw you in. The idea was to feel as if you were watching these characters in real time. To feel involved, almost as if you too were part of this relationship yourself. Anything too stylised or theatrical would have taken away from that.
LBB> With only three characters and very little other than their dialogue to drive the narrative, casting must have been an even bigger decision than ever. How did you make sure you got that right?
Aella> I was casting for another project at that time with the amazing casting director Sue Odell, so I had access to self tapes for some similar characters. Because the casting was so essential, I conducted auditions on Zoom to find the right actors for this film. I approached our trio, they agreed, Zoom rehearsals began. And we were off on this adventure together!
In terms of getting it right, I was specifically looking for a subtlety, a way of revealing emotions felt but not always shown. So with Em’s character BRETT it was about the loneliness and repression swirling under the surface and choosing when they allowed that to come out. With April’s character SENNA it was about her coping with her anxiety through a scattered dramatic energy. So SENNA says all these thoughts as she’s thinking them, whereas BRETT often stops themselves from saying what they really think. These two different approaches had to perfectly balance each other out and work together… Which Em and April totally nailed. So I’m super happy with the casting! And not forgetting James’ character RIK who comes in as this ball of nervous worry to shake up the vibe and propel the story forwards.
LBB> How did the process of directing remotely feel? And how did it affect the way the film came out?
Aella> In terms of the process itself it worked surprisingly smoothly. All three actors were gung-ho about trying the technical stuff. Really they should be credited as camera operators, DIT, art directors and gaffers too! So that really helped us not get too flustered. We would always start with getting the tech out of the way first and then focus on the performance, which was the most important.
I would have loved to have been in the same room with them, that’s always a preferable way of working. But because of the format of this film being told via the medium of screens (I’ve recently discovered this genre is called “screenlife”) I could watch them through Zoom for their “on screen” performance. I was always asking the questions: What do they present to the screen… what do they hide away and not want to present to the screen? So in a way it was useful to see them through that medium. Because I was viewing them how the viewer eventually would.
In terms of how directing on Zoom actually felt from a physical point of view though, it was tough going! I didn’t leave the house for three days. I was stiff from sitting down all day and I was holding all this tension in my body from the focus it took to direct through a laptop. It’s hard on the eyes as well… I’m definitely looking forward to my next live action shoot! Although directing in my pyjamas and dressing gown was the comfiest I’ve ever been on a shoot. So I might try that next time.
LBB> Being set in the 2020 lockdown makes it a real snapshot in history. How do you feel about the way it will age and be looked at from the future?
Aella> I think of this as a contribution to a 2020 time capsule. It captures what these characters were feeling at this specific moment in time and that’s why I made it.
Sadly it’s not over yet. With a second lockdown looming this film doesn’t feel in the past… it still feels scarily current. That’s why I was keen to share it online whilst the unique experience of the first lockdown was still fresh in people's minds.
LBB> What are you particularly happy with about how it came out? Are there any moments that you think worked well?
Aella> I’m particularly happy with the way my incredible editor Trace Taylor cut it. Together we found a rhythm and a pacing that feels right. They really understood and tapped into the human story of tenderness and hopeful longing that was at the core of the film.
I think one of my favourite moments is when the couple fall asleep together. Us watching BRETT’s face, as they watch SENNA sleeping… It’s those quiet understated moments peppered throughout the film that I like the most. To me it’s a modern love story.