Readers may or may not already be familiar with Carol Morley, but she’s made some wonderful documentaries and shorts in the past. Now with her latest film, this director has taken an exciting step into the world of fiction features. Fraught with sexual intrigue, clever techniques and supernatural shadings, The Falling is well worth a watch and will be at Broadway from the 27th of April to the 7th of May! Here’s what happened when we got speaking to Carol:
NAFN: Do you think you’ve arrived at a style that you’d like to keep using with The Falling?
Carol: Oh, no. For me it’s about the story, and the story should guide you as to how it wants to be told. I’m not a big fan of style really, because it feels like you get into a groove, and you’re not really learning or enquiring or uncovering what you should see as a result. So I think every time I make a film I want it to be like the first time. And working with Agnès Godard, she had that attitude too. Maybe it’s a good thing I feel that way? Maybe people think, “thank God she’s not going to do that again” [laughs].
You’ve previously done documentaries. Do you find making dramas and documentaries similar?
Yes, because I do a lot of research. So the only way I differentiate is that in a fiction the people don’t really exist. But ultimately, when I wrote The Falling I believed I was writing a total reconstruction of something that had happened, because I’d done so much research. I also used to always have pictures out of magazines in front of me, so I had people who I felt were the real characters.
Was The Falling also influenced by your short The Madness of the Dance?
Yeah, when I did that short I discovered this whole topic of mass psychogenic experiences that goes back to medieval times. And I found it very intriguing, because experts don’t really know why they happen. So I remember even before making that short film, I thought, I’m going to make a feature one day set in a school about mass hysteria. It took a while though: that was ten years ago!
But I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And after Dreams of a Life, I needed to do something collective. So I was drawn to telling a story where people connected. Schools are also pretty universal, so almost anyone can connect to them too.
Is it also important to you to connect different artistic traditions in your films?
I wouldn’t say so. I kept a sort of scrapbook, and that felt like this amazing way of connecting people to the material and communicating what you wanted quickly. So when I was writing The Falling, because the history of mass hysteria goes back to medieval times, I wanted to tap into that. Including a sense of older traditions was important for that. You would start to look at Renaissance paintings and you’d begin to see their colours in the school uniforms, because school uniforms are very historic. So I was trying to reach back.
Could you tell us about how music influences your creative process too?
Well before I even write, I will have a soundtrack. A lot of the original songs from the 60s or before, for example, I wrote to. They would play as I wrote, and I think I assigned a song to each character. I think most of these songs made their way into the film too. So the Mary Hopkins that opens the film (and Florence later plays it) was written about the moon, and I feel music helps add a characterisation to the film very early on in this way. You’re not just applying it later in the edit; you need to work with your music early on, I think.
The Falling has very refreshingly central female characters. Could you tell us about how you approached writing these characters?
Well, I don’t even think of them female as such. I just think about them as people going through experiences, you know? For me it’s disappointing when you see films and the women in it are just the girlfriends or have no narrative drive, and you’re like, “Jesus Christ!” So I like to think I’m making a film for everyone instead. Which means that when people say, “oh, you’re film’s really weird,” I get really hurt, because I don’t see it as weird. And you end up thinking that maybe it’s just not common to look at women experiencing certain things, and so it’s rendered weird. I don’t know.
But obviously I have stories I want to tell where women are going to be strong in those stories. I was very inspired, when I first started getting into films, by Douglas Sirk and that kind of 50s melodrama. The women’s films, as they were called. And growing up I watched a lot of Coronation Street, so I think you end up taking inspiration for a variety of different female characters from various areas. I remember seeing Bugsy Malone and being wowed by Jodie Foster too, and you look back and end up thinking how many films with young leading female characters were there really?
What was it like giving such major roles to such a young cast?
Amazing. I mean, Masie obviously already had her Game of Thrones experience. So she didn’t behave like she knew loads, but you could tell she was confident with what was going on on set. With Florence it just felt as if she’d already done it in a different life. But the main thing I think you do as a director with actors is see them as your front line. It doesn’t matter how good everything else is, it’s the performances you engage with as an audience. So I think as a director you have to give the space over to them and hide everything else. For that reason I wasn’t trying to make being on set seem like a big deal. We were there for the actors, not the other way round.
And it was really exciting and a pretty intimate set. We weren’t loaded, so it wasn’t what Masie would be used to on Game of Thrones where you don’t know who’s in the trailer over there or whatever. But I think this meant that the cast all supported each other, and they all lived together during the shoot and we did a lot of workshops. Which essentially meant that by the time we started filming, Masie and Florence were really close.
Coming back to this idea of people finding your film weird. Do you think that’s partly because you use sound and images in a sort of avant-garde way in The Falling?
The thing is though, regarding innovation and things like that, I don’t feel like I do things differently. Or I don’t set out to do so. Still, I guess when I went to art school and studied fine art and video, you weren’t taught how to do something. You were taught how to use the equipment, but you weren’t told, “this is a three-act structure,” or “this is how you make a short film.” So my experience with film is out of a sort of experimental tradition, where it would do a disservice to the film and its story not to play with it.
But I don’t think I’m being weird. I think I’m being respectful to the material and to the characters by trying to find ways to present something inside them. I think people just find this topics in my films weird, because of the fact we don’t address them in real life.
There are also scenes where images of Abbie flash over other images, how did you edit those?
Well, me and the editor had this theory that if you put three frames together you would only see one of them. And every time we watched it, we would see something different. Also, when the DVD comes out, if you extract those bits and put them together they make their own story. So the extra features might give you clues into the film! But yeah, we were calling these flash-frames “subliminals,” because you see them but I believe you don’t see them all. So in some ways they are subliminal. We wanted these to feel like you were inside somebody’s mind losing it a little bit, and also that they were fracturing the story.