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This month The Spread is delighted to feature Christine Lalla. Christine is a writer, filmmaker, cinematographer – you name it, this talented Jammer has probably been involved in some aspect of the creative process.

So with that in mind, I caught up with the London Film School graduate to talk about her past work, current projects and future aims.

Tell us more about yourself Christine

I’ve been a professional photographer since 1990, I have lived in Hong Kong, Paris and Mexico, specialising in action/sports reportage for editorials including GQ, Esquire and Condé Nast Traveller. After graduating as a Cinematographer from The London Film School, I was mentored by Academy Award nominee, Barry Ackroyd BSC. My films have premiered at Locarno, Cottbus and Clermont-Ferrand Film Festivals, and I was nominated for Best Cinematography at Emir Kusturica’s Küstendorf Film Festival in 2012.

In November 2006 I wrote, produced and directed Behind the Crooked Cross, a short documentary on the origins of the swastika and in 2010 I completed another short, Grandad’s Dead, working with six deaf and hard of hearing actors who all communicated the story using British Sign Language.

I am an alumna of the Berlinale Talents and a BSC Club Member.

A member of Directors UK, I’m also a self-shooting director producing documentary, corporate and children’s short films for clients that include The English National Opera.

I have written three feature screenplays and my short script; Slight Return was shortlisted in the Euroscript/Underwire Film Festival 2013 script competition. I am currently in post-production with my first micro-budget feature; The New Boy.

Joanne Gale as Louisa copy

So what is a busy professional like yourself working on at the moment?

I’m currently in post-production for The New Boy – editing at present and will be working with a very talented composer, Jim Hustwit (http://larpmusic.co.uk/) in April 2014 in preparation for the sound mix.

What was your inspiration for The New Boy?

As a cinematographer, I lit numerous shorts and expected to move onto no/low budget independent features after a few years. But this didn’t happen, partly because the feature scripts that I had been offered were unfortunately not great and aside from not wanting to work on films that I do not think are creatively good, it doesn’t matter how good a cinematographer’s work is on a film – if the film is bad, your work is never seen.

Then, three years ago I was fortunate enough to meet Ben Wheatley who encouraged me to write a no budget script, to film in the method he used for his debut feature, Down Terrace, which he shot in eight days with £6K. I was also inspired by Edward Burns, who makes micro-budget feature films, with a crew of only 2 to 3 people, little lighting, no costume/hair/makeup department etc. He manages to do this by limiting his takes, shooting on small DSLR cameras, having fewer locations and moving very fast – so I had a plan.

I set about writing a story about a family’s fall from grace, set in an English village that would take place over one sunny (i.e. available lighting!) cricket season. Unfortunately, I wrote the family as wealthy, owning a huge detached house – and driving two, top of the range cars. Not very no-budget at all but I continued to write it and five weeks later I had a screenplay – Catching Rocks.  It was put on the shelf and I thought again about a good subject for a no-budget feature. I’ve always been interested in the difference between love and obsession and once the premise was in my head, I wrote the script for The New Boy in March 2013 with an eye on keeping production costs down.  The working title for the film was CNE (The Christopher Nolan Experiment) as I’ve always admired how he made his first feature, Following on a shoestring, filmed over a period of a year at weekends.

Rollo Skinner as Sam

What were the highlights and difficulties of this production?

From the start I was as honest and open as possible about the filming process I was using as I knew if the actors/crew couldn’t handle the pace on set, then all would be lost. It’s not a method for everyone – so some days were more successful than others but we shot over 7 days with very respectable hours – our earliest call time was 08.30, our latest wrap time was 19.30 and we all sat down to eat lunch.

Once I had cast in November 2013, I rehearsed with the actors until a few days before we shot in mid February 2014. It was my aim to collaborate with the actors – see what they would bring to their respective characters whilst also retaining my vision and I think for the most part this has been successful.

The actors had a lot to contend with in addition to their craft – which was why casting wasn’t solely about performance – they were in charge of their own hair/make-up, I worked with them all regarding costume (I sent them all a table detailing colour palette, what was needed for each scene(s), continuity info and they sent images from their own wardrobe which we then chose from). But they knew that on the day it became all about the performance for me as their director.

I had a tireless camera assistant, Henry Keep who somehow managed to do all I asked of him – and more. On top of this he also threw in some of his own gear for the shoot including his jib, which made moving around a kitchen location that much easier and quicker.

I had two Parabeam 200 lights but I pretty much used only one. The upside of being both the director and DoP is that myself as the director blocked all the action in the best light. It’s amazing how just putting the camera in the right place can free up lighting time.

I upgraded from a Canon 5D to a C300 because we were shooting indoors in February and I needed the range. Ordinarily I wouldn’t chose to film at that time of year with little additional lighting but the story required it – the winter light and bleakness would lend itself to the look of the film. I produced a mood board with images and a colour palette that I shared with Henry – so he knew what I was going for with the look.

Joanne Gale as Louisa copy 2

I hired a professional sound recordist, Simon Hornett, so we had a three-person crew with help in production assistant roles as and when it was needed.

The main difficulty of the production was of course money and even on such a low budget the money has to come from somewhere…. and on such a tight schedule any late arrivals meant we were chasing our tails for the rest of the day. Highlights include some great performances under pressure, an unusual shot I had pictured in my head a year ago being realised, making up an unusual shot on the fly and it looking good, being welcomed into the homes of some wonderful souls and meeting creative kindred spirits.

What sort of support did The New Boy receive?

Having graduated from Film School some years ago I already had some contacts within the industry who’ve all been very supportive of the project and I’ve had my cheerleaders since its inception. Directors UK and the Actors Temple provided their rehearsal spaces for free – to which I am eternally grateful and the British Society of Cinematographers has also supported my endeavour.

I also had great support on the actual production – Ole Meinert from Panalux, Agis Louka from Concept Cameras and Patrick Morris from the Procentre all went that extra mile to make sure I was kitted out with my preferred light, lenses and camera to make the film happen. I’ve known all three for a long time and in filmmaking there is no substitute for someone who believes in your work.

What did you learn from this project in particular?

I was amazed at the support I received when I started this project – touching words of encouragement came from established directors and DoP’s as well as my film school peers and those starting out – I have truly learned who my friends are. It was very humbling for me to realise just how much some people cared and what they believed I was capable of.

I learned many things on this film – one of which is that you can send out as much information as possible in advance but you can’t make people read it! However the main lesson I will take from the project is that skill and latent talent are no match for a good work ethic.

As a self-shooter, I found this method suited me very well and having the time to rehearse the actors in advance and get to know them better was imperative for a happy set. A bonus of the extended time spent with the actors was that I made a good friend or two along the way.

I am formulating my next film using the same method – I’m so excited about it that I want the post-production for The New Boy to be over – so that I can start writing again. It will be filmed in 2015.

It all sounds exciting, can you give The Spread the plotline?

16 year-old Louisa is bored. Her curiosity for life lies dormant until a new family move in next door – under cover of night. She becomes quietly intrigued by their 17 year-old son, slipping into obsession as she spies on him from her bedroom window…

She is not alone in her fascination…

To find out more on Christine’s latest project, check out: http://thenewboyfilm.com/

For more on her personal photography and cinematography go to: www.christinelalla.com

Christabel Samuel is a writer, director and editor. Having graduated from University College London with a BA in English Literature and an MA in Film Studies she is now a self-taught filmmaker, writer and perpetual learner. She won funding in 2011 for Lust in Translation and has gone on to judge at the London Film Festival, been appointed Head of Film for The Book Magazine and is currently editor-in-chief for The Spread.

Posted on Apr 10, 2014

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