Director Rosie Westhoff returns to the BFI Flare film festival two years after her first short Crush first played. Crush was a heart-warming, quirky affair about developing those first romantic feelings for someone of the same sex. It makes it all the more apt that Treacle sees similar themes expand and, along with Westhoff’s impressive talents as a filmmaker, transform into one of the most memorable and exciting films I’ve seen so far at Flare this year. Treacle follows two young women on a post-breakup road trip and the vibrant and impulsive encounters they confront along the way. DN caught up with Rosie at the festival to talk the casting process, balancing your screenplay, and shooting hot sauce at Six Flags!
What is the genesis of Treacle?
This actually stemmed from true life experiences of April Kelley, the writer, who also stars and produces. She never had the courage to deal with the situations how she wanted to at the time so wanted to explore that within the film as well as shine a light on one of the least represented communities within LGBTQ+. There’s a tendency for bisexuals to feel disposable and we wanted to show how seemingly harmless actions can have a lasting effect on those who identify as bisexual.
I remember seeing Crush at my first Flare two years ago! What were the lessons you took from that and your experimental drama Blue when making this larger, more expansive film?
I learnt so many things between Crush & Treacle but the most important lesson would be to work with a producer who works harder than you do. I’ve worked as a producer for many years and so producing Crush felt like a no brainer. However, with something bigger and more ambitious you can’t or shouldn’t do it yourself. The director needs to be solely focused on story and performance, not worrying that the DIT doesn’t have enough hard drives to do their job or where people can go to the toilet on a deserted ranch with no running water.
Making best friends doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work in rehearsal, without giving away too many of my secrets I made the girls go to Six Flags together, ride a roller coaster and shot hot sauce!
Tell me about the casting process, what was it like working with April and Ariana Anderson to develop their characters during preproduction?
We, of course, always knew April would be cast as Belle as she’s the writer and came to me with the idea of wanting me to direct but the process of finding Jesse was a lot more laborious. We actually had two other actors fall through at different moments in the preproduction period, which was very difficult for April and I. By the time it came around to flying to LA to film, we still didn’t have our Jesse. So, we asked the wonderful Casting Director Heather Basten to help out. She put the call out and got in tapes and then once we were in LA we met with about six actors. Ari stood out to me as the person we had to have. April had different ideas, she actually wanted someone else at first. So, it took a bit of persuading and soul-searching for her to come round. She couldn’t be happier now!
Working with April and Ari was a joy but throwing two strangers together and making them best friends doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work in rehearsal, without giving away too many of my secrets I made the girls go to Six Flags together, ride a roller coaster and shot hot sauce. The rest is history!
Treacle is filled with so much fun and has the feel of a hangout film but also features these really tender, awkward moments, could you talk about balancing the tone visually but also in the script so that the film doesn’t feel unbalanced?
The script really changed from what was on the page to what you see in the final film. Mainly through rehearsal and the two actors getting to know one another and build memories together so that the conversation would just flow. The thing April and I always said was if it’s not working don’t be a slave to the words, and that they could play around with what they were saying so it was much more natural. I always wanted it to feel happy, relatable, awkward, and sad and I think that’s what we have achieved.
Visually, myself and the Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins just wanted it to feel really fun, and light and this big sunny world, but also have shot choices that suit the characters and their world. In the edit, myself and our Editor Fiona Brands made sure to let the performances lead the edit and cut out all the stuff that we didn’t believe, without losing the essence of the story.
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve got a very exciting short film I’m shooting in May with Producer Fiona Hardingham from Adapted Pictures. It’s a drama short with an autistic lead and I really can’t wait to make it, I think it’s going to be really special.
You can read DN’s full coverage of BFI Flare 2019 here