Ellie Rogers’ Outlines centres around an initially awkward encounter between a young girl, portrayed with a lot of promise by Helen Daniels, and her Dad’s hired escort. It highlights the warmth of female friendships and cleverly plays with narrative in a way which challenges prejudices, and boosts cinematic empathy. I spoke to Ellie about working with actors, showing not telling and her upcoming projects.

What prompted the idea for Outlines?

I knew I wanted to make a film that explored a relationship between two women but that wasn’t romantic or centred around men or desire. I was interested in how women interact and connect with each other, and the importance of female relationships. I also wanted to explore grief and how it effects people in different ways. When you’ve lost someone in your family sometimes the people closest to you can’t support you in the way you want because they are going through their own grieving process. You have to rely on others to lift you up and the women in my life have always been incredibly supportive and held me up in difficult times.

You have to rely on others to lift you up and the women in my life have always been incredibly supportive and held me up in difficult times.

Niamh McGrady gives such a strong performance, could you talk about working with her to develop her character?

Niamh was very generous and came on board saying she wanted to support young women working their way up in the industry, which was lovely to hear. After she had read the script we had a meeting and discussed the character of Jess and her dynamic between Sarah and her father. I’d seen some of Niamh’s work and what struck me was the subtle sensitivity she showed behind these strong, professional women. I knew I wanted Jess to be similar, she’s just getting on with her job and she’s a little guarded and prickly at first but ultimately compassionate towards the situation. She’s very perceptive and starts putting the pieces together as the evening goes on and wants to help Sarah. On set, Niamh knew the beats and how far to take the warmth her character shows towards Sarah. It was a great experience working with her.

The narrative moves along with these subtle reveals, the money on the table, the nose ring on the delivery girl, none of which is said but all visualised, what was it like structuring the script? Was it important for you to show visual cues rather than hear them?

When I’m writing I always come back to the old adage of ‘show don’t tell.’ It is a slight cliche but I get frustrated when films give too much verbal exposition or use heavy handed music to emphasis a moment, so I was trying to keep it as subtle as possible both in terms of sound and visuals.

I first wrote Outlines making the escort character, Jess, the protagonist but as the story and writing progressed it was obvious that the younger character, Sarah, had more to learn and there was a clearer arc for her over the course of the film. Her initial prejudice towards Jess was more relatable to the audience and it made it more interesting to try and melt that prejudice over time.

I was trying to keep it as subtle as possible both in terms of sound and visuals.

The script went through various drafts but slowly the beats like the money and nose ring all came together. I felt really fortunate to find actors who could also play those moments really well. Helen Daniels was such a star and blew me away on set with her subtlety. When you watch her you can see all the cogs turning, which was brilliant!

Are you working on any new films right now?

I literally just finished shooting my next short film called They Found Her in a Field. It explores how unresolved trauma can effect memory, and the importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ people. It’s very different from Outlines in terms of structure and I wanted to stretch my legs experimenting with more poetic visuals. It was a very tough shoot, we were working in the snow and freezing conditions which you don’t expect in London in late March! We also shot on 35mm which was a challenge in those conditions. As a director you have to be really specific with what you want when you work on film and this was hard when continuity was changing all the time because of the snow. But the cast and crew were real troopers and I’m excited for the edit!

Outlines play the BFI Flare Festival this weekend as part of the Altered States shorts programme. Tickets are available here.

Be sure to check out DN’s full coverage of BFI Flare 2018 here

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