The best actors have an uncanny ability to draw from their personal experiences in order to imbue their characters with a depth which makes them utterly compelling to watch. But tapping into such a potent emotional wellspring doesn’t come without its risks. In his riveting two-hander The Craft, Writer/Director Armand De Saint-Salvy (last seen on DN here) tracks the mounting turmoil of a young actress as she is forced to publicly confront her demons for the good of her art. A method he witnessed regularly in acting workshops, DN asked Armand to open up about indulging his fascination with scenes of interrogation and using long takes to keep his actors in the zone for this intense short.

I studied acting for many years and was astounded at the psychological duress actors put themselves through in order to perfect their craft. I witnessed some very intense things, especially from one very famous teacher who pushed their students to reveal their darkest secrets in front of the entire class. I often wondered how safe it was for such actors to expose their most vulnerable secrets in front of a group of their peers. It takes courage to do this, but it is useful for one’s acting. On the other hand, what kind of support is given to these actors after the class? I wanted to make a film that gave the every day person an insight into this tortuous and dangerous process.

For the look of the film, we drew on Almost Famous for the “scene within the film” aesthetic. The set dressing and colour palette was very much the warm autumnal look of Almost Famous. The style of the ‘interrogation’, when Diana grills Priscilla, was inspired by a mishmash of films. We looked to Birdman for that kind of ‘deer in headlights’ vibe of someone on stage. But we didn’t want our film to feel so crisp, or harsh. Inevitably there is a fragility to the process of revealing one’s deepest secrets, so we felt that we needed to soften the Birdman look. We kept Diana backlit with some bounce under her eyes so that she felt slightly, mysterious. Priscilla was slightly more ‘under the spotlight’, but we kept her slightly shadowed because she only very gradually reveals her secrets.

We shot the entire film in 6 hours with 2 Arri Alexas and rolled very long takes. This allowed the actors to work off each other instinctively without interruption. Every line of dialogue spoken was scripted, but we prepared as best as we could, to make everything sound natural and improvised. The Craft is pretty much wall to wall dialogue. We used Doubt as our reference for how powerful a scripted two-hander can be. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of interrogation, and in our film, it happens under the guise of “help”.

I wanted to make a film that gave the every day person an insight into this tortuous and dangerous process.

The two lead actresses and I rehearsed like it was theatre so that we could run the entire film in one take. On the day, we had real people (non-actors) sit in the audience. In order to film their honest reactions to what unfolds, we let the two main actresses play out the entire film in one take, and I filmed the audience in real time with two cameras, capturing the most authentic reactions possible.

One of the audience members cried during the filming and we thought she was acting wonderfully. But when we called cut, this audience member ran outside and broke down. I found out from her that the themes in the film cut very close to her own real story. She was so affected by the film she called me the next day to thank me. She was on a train to make amends with a close family member as she was inspired by her experience with our film to make positive changes in her life.

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