The films which live on in our memories can often be boiled down to a single defining moment. Whether that be Casablanca’s endlessly (mis)quoted “Play it again, Sam” line, The Graduate’s iconic ‘leg shot’ or the way collective jaws dropped when first experiencing Bullet Time in The Matrix – these shared reference points become the signposts which mark out our love of cinema. In Jack Weatherley’s beautifully poetic short The Hope You Promised Love, that ‘moment’ is the balletic journey of a single teardrop which encompasses a tale of love and loss that extends beyond the boundaries of its brief running time. DN is proud to feature the online premiere of The Hope You Promised Love, along with Director Jack Weatherley’s reflections on how he and the VFX team at creative studio Neon used a mix of virtual and traditional cinematography to make the impossible possible over three floors.
Development of Initial Concept
The film came about from the thought of a single image… A teardrop in reverse… I tend to obsess over things and started considering what this would look like but also what it would mean. Why we cry… All the things a tear can represent… How so much goes ‘into’ a tear. When you think about it, it really is a strange physical manifestation of emotion. From there an abstraction of a scene evolved. A couple in an embrace of sorts, potentially a final embrace, with no words spoken between them in a powerful, visceral moment.
The film came about from the thought of a single image… A teardrop in reverse…
Once that moment felt right, I started writing. I tend to think about films in shapes and what a film would look like if you could step back and look at it as an object… Whether it would be smooth or jagged, narrow or wide, clean or fucked up. I knew that I wanted the visual language to start as ambiguous, abstract, close-up or macro images and gradually get wider in a series of reveals as the film showed more of its face. The greatest challenge was going to be realising the idea in the kind of otherworldly, dream logic like quality and detail I wanted to. It would be impossible to achieve with only live-action photography.
I’d been familiar with the amazing VFX work of the creative studio Neon for some time and approached them early in the development of the film to see if they’d be interested in a potential collaboration. In our first meeting, I gave them copies of the first draft and asked them to read it while I played a piece of music (that I’d been listening to on repeat almost constantly for some time) which just captured the mood and tone of the film so perfectly… That song was I’ve Got a Future by Toydrum and Gavin Clark, a beautiful, haunting piece. Something resonated with Neon and they offered to not only do the VFX work but also to produce the film.
With Neon onboard we were able to explore all the possibilities of what would be achievable. I tend to be wary of VFX or CG work, as I prefer the tangible look and feel of capturing images in camera, but Neon’s work has such beautiful detail and real texture to it and I knew they could create something remarkable. We spent considerable time discussing the journey of the teardrop and how that would look and they were immediately confident they could make it work.
We set about scouting locations and one jumped out that presented both a unique opportunity and a challenge… Set over three floors, it happened to have a hatch between the basement and the ground floor and an incredible geometric metal grill between the ground floor and the first floor. This meant we had the opportunity for the journey of the teardrop to take place over three floors!
After so much love and care had gone into the development and prep, casting was next and, as always, crucial. We were lucky enough to already have Jim Sturgess onboard, which was fantastic and a real coup for the film. I’ve long admired Jim’s work and was delighted when he agreed to be involved. We then had another major boost when Jina Jay (Casting Director) came onto the project, which was fantastic. Jina helped secure Stacy Martin, who totally blew me away in Nymphomaniac, and I knew immediately that Jim and Stacy would be amazing together.
It would be remiss of me not to say here just how much of a contribution Toydrum (or Pablo Clements and James Griffith) have made to my work with their music. We first collaborated four years ago and they’ve scored most of my stuff since then. They elevate my work to a whole new level and I’m proud to count them as good friends. I asked them and Gavin (co-writer and singer) if they’d let us use I’ve Got a Future in the film, as it had been so important in the project taking shape, and they kindly agreed.
Like most other projects, the biggest challenge for the shoot was going to be time. Due to location and Jim and Stacy’s availability, we had to shoot in a single day. The shoot consisted of two elements… Live-action photography and stills. Neon have perfected a method whereby they capture literally thousands of still images of a scene; wides, close-ups and all of the texture and detail within it and then stitch those images together to create a photo real rendering of the scene. You then have the freedom to seamlessly combine moving live-action images captured in the conventional way with images from a virtual camera in Neon’s photo real version, resulting in almost infinite choices of camera movement!!
The previs was made as a really loyal interpretation of the script, particularly when it came to the camera exploring the space around the teardrop. That informed what we’d shoot live-action vs virtual camera. One image I was adamant about was looking up through the teardrop from below at the space above it. The joy of working with Neon is that rather than being met with a series of pursed lips and sharp intakes of breath when you ask them if something is possible, you’re inevitably met with a positive, impassioned response. They were confident they could make the image work and they did.
When they took their positions it was as though some kind of electricity surged in the room and everything was beautiful.
We shot all of the elements of the film not involving Jim and Stacy first and then went about rehearsing the intricate camera movement of their moment with stand-ins. For some reason, we just couldn’t get it right, technically it was a massive challenge for my DOP and great friend Paul O’Callaghan to perform a really considered ballet of sorts around the actors with some pretty major focus pulling (from the heroic Ross Onions!!) chucked in for good measure. We carried on making corrections until it was nearly right but were rapidly running out of time and we had to get Jim and Stacy in and start shooting. The moment they stepped onto set something extraordinary happened… When they took their positions it was as though some kind of electricity surged in the room and everything was beautiful. The power between them was incredible and it actually felt a real privilege to witness it, let alone shoot it. Over the last year or so I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored by Peter Strickland and we’ve spoken at length about how some imagery just has an indefinable, impossible to articulate charge to it. The image of Jim and Stacy has that charge and it’s a real testament to their ability as actors to convey so much feeling in a glance, a moment and with no dialogue.
The initial stages of making my selects and combining the elements happened fairly quickly but ultimately the film was in post for over a year. Like a lot of work where there’s no real budget to speak of and people are doing things when they can, rather than being paid to meet a deadline, it can take time. Neon would send works in progress at various stages, I’d give notes and we carried on like that until things were where they needed to be.
One of the biggest considerations, both practically and aesthetically was the vertical journey of the teardrop. Practically it would’ve been a challenge to achieve in live-action due to time and the physical working space but aesthetically there was never a point where I felt the virtual camera would be a compromise. The method isn’t like shooting green screen or CG work designed from scratch whereby quite often, even in big budget work, you can see the joins… That whole “uncanny valley” thing of the disconnect between what your eye is seeing and how your brain refuses to accept it somehow. It takes you out of the moment and this film had to retain an immersive, intriguing quality throughout.
I think most directors will be able to relate to the singular set of feelings and emotion that is the post-wrap comedown. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it so acutely as with this film. The sense of elation that you’ve achieved the thing you set out to which then transforms into something else once the adrenaline has worn off and can often result in a crash. Bizarrely, that crash morphed from the metaphorical into the literal for me as, following a wrap meal and drinks, the cab I was travelling home in was involved in quite a serious accident.
We were crossing a junction at about 2am when another cab jumped the lights, smashed into my driver’s side at speed and took us up on two wheels. It sounds horribly clichéd to say it but the moment of impact genuinely did feel like it had happened in slow motion. Initially the driver didn’t respond when I asked him if he was OK but eventually he came around. As luck would have it, a Police car was crossing the junction moments after us, so was able to stop and call an ambulance. Once it had arrived and they’d established the driver was going to be OK, the surreal nature of the day really hit me and I think I went into shock. Standing with bruised ribs and legs by the side of the steaming, wrecked car it occurred to me in very real terms how lucky we were to walk away from it. One of those reminders that life is so fragile. But that was about to pale into utter insignificance.
Two weeks after the shoot, Gavin Clark, the genius musician whose writing and lyrics had been such a significant part of the film, tragically passed away.
I’d only had the pleasure of meeting Gavin a handful of times but had always found his music impossibly and deeply moving. He was profoundly talented, a true artist, and a beautiful soul. His passing added a very real poignancy to the film and we all agreed that however good the film was going to be, it now needed to be even better. To do his art justice.
We dedicate the film to him.