Featuring the emotive talents of Succession’s Sarah Snook, Italian-Australian filmmaker Laura Scrivano takes a subversive trip into the world of Alice – a woman who yearns for freedom and finds it in the discovery of her seductive nature. A beautifully composed contemporary folktale which repurposes the words of Noel Coward’s irreverent poem Alice is at it Again for the modern age, DN asked Scrivano to take us through the adaptation process which led to this joyous celebration of female sexuality.
Alice was conceived as part of a larger art film project developed by myself and Producer Dan Prichard. The concept was to reimagine classic texts in a contemporary form, and in doing so, re-frame their relevance for digital audiences. In the case of Alice, this meant subverting the original Noel Coward song into a fable that celebrated rather than judged female sexuality.
Alice was the second film of the project (the first being A Lovesong, an adaptation of the T.S Eliot poem The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock starring Daniel Henshall), with the idea only coming into focus once we had Sarah Snook onboard. Sarah was integral to the conception of the film as I wanted the actors to have input into the text we adapted and the central motifs of the films. Sarah and I discussed a lot of different options, mostly over Skype as she was in LA and San Francisco and I was based in NYC. And as part of these conversations we found a similar interest in unconventional female characters, in female subversion and the power (and fear) of female desire. I vividly remember her reading Alice is at it Again over the phone to me from a LA bookshop – and I think we just both connected with it immediately. Within Coward’s trademark witty lyricism and playfulness we found the space to explore our themes in an original screen story.
After we settled on the text, I wrote the first draft of the adaptation. It drew heavily on the conversations I’d had with Sarah as well as the visual references I’d started to gather with Zoe White, our cinematographer and production designer Erin Turner. New themes began to emerge, around nature, renewal, decay and death.
The concept was to reimagine classic texts in a contemporary form, and in doing so, re-frame their relevance for digital audiences.
The forest location became pivotal to the story, but also a real challenge for the NY based producers Jess Cohen and Marina Cukeric. How were we going to find or create a dying forest, and then how were we going to bring it to life? For the second problem we used a myriad of techniques – from rigged practical effects, invented by Erin, that allowed flowers to ‘bloom’ in shot, to traditional time-lapse and plate shots. The hardest thing to create was the wide of the forest ‘blooming’ with such limited time and budget. We certainly didn’t have the cash to do it with VFX, so we settled on a time-lapsed plate shot. It’s not perfect but did the trick.
Friends of the producers had a cabin-style house in upstate NY where we could accommodate crew, so started to recce locations in that area. We had local intel that there had been a bushfire nearby recently, luckily we found the spot, and it was perfect. The burnt-out orange hues of the pine leaves were fantastically surreal and a perfect contrast to the lush greens of the ‘alive’ forest locations.
We had a 2.5 day shoot during summer, all in upstate NY and shot on Arri Amira. I’m a big fan of the Alexa, and the Amira gives you a similar look but was much better suited to being up the side of a mountain with a limited crew. Zoe was an absolute dream to work with. She is such a talent, taking the buds of my visual ideas and extending or pushing them to be even better than I imagined. So much of Alice looks exactly like what I imagined in my head, and this is utterly down to Zoe being able to turn my vision into reality.
Sarah’s performance on the day, and in the film, was perfect. She is quite a physical actor, and I’m a physical director – I like to do, rather than talk, and get scenes on their feet quickly without overthinking it – and we are both theatre trained, so we really gelled in terms of process. And all the conversations we’d had in prep meant we were really on the same page in terms of tone and style. Working with Sarah was an absolute joy, and I very much hope we get to do it again someday.
I like to do, rather than talk, and get scenes on their feet quickly without overthinking it.
The film came together very easily in post, mostly because we had brilliant performances and visual coverage. Editor Josh Rathmell and I had worked together a lot before Alice, so had an easy shorthand in terms of style. Josh is a very rhythmic, musical editor so I think he tapped into the lyricism of the text to find the pace. On Lovesong we had quite a fluid script so I used screenshots of each setup to look at how we would order the scenes. However on Alice we cut much closer to the script – perhaps a symptom of the fable-like quality of the adaptation.
Basil Hogios’ score for this film is still probably my favourite ever music created for one of my films. Again, most of this collaboration was over Skype as Basil was living in Barcelona at the time. We talked a lot about the themes, my inspirations and what we wanted the music to do – and he just started sending these wonderful sketches, which we then tried out in the edit. Once we were happy he recorded the violin and strings section live to make sure it had the very organic feel it needed to match the film.
I’m currently working on my debut feature, Ring Road, a psychological thriller about motherhood set in Iceland. I’m developing it with UK production company Silver Salt Films, with early development support from BFI Network. I recently directed a feature length episode of ITV’s new detective drama McDonald & Dodds, and look forward to working on more high end TV as the lockdown in the UK slowly eases.