In the wake of a disaster or crisis it is human nature for people to come together, to document and to look for answers. Never have we been more acutely aware of this than in the current global situation we find ourselves. London-based directing duo James Worsley and Pedro de la Fuente, aka Pedro and James (last seen on DN here), embraced that pull to curate and try to express the ways in which we have all been affected, resulting in heartfelt global documentary Pandemic. Premiering on DN today, Pedro and James reveal how despite being created within the strictures of lockdown they strove to make a film which feels massively expansive, intimately personal and ultimately hopeful.
What compelled you to make a film which would reflect on the current crisis from a globally diverse perspective and how did it all get underway?
Pandemic came out of a necessity to do something in what might be the event that marked our lifetimes. I was in Sao Paolo, Brazil and James was in London, UK but we were talking daily about it all. Whilst everything was unfolding, I had this inner sensation that we had to act; to volunteer, to photograph, to simply put ourselves at the disposal of people that needed it most. At the same time, there was a sense of not knowing what was the best we could do as we are not doctors or journalists. It was then that it struck us we could do what we are good at; a film.
Over the years we have shot projects all over the world and therefore developed friendships with great people from all walks of life in all continents. This we thought, could be the thread of the film. The pandemic is affecting people all over the globe and to open a channel to hear people’s stories, concerns, fears, hopes; that, we could do. From this idea the project was born.
We made a list founded on where people were based. The idea was to reach far and wide and to include people from different backgrounds and professions. We then started to make contact and record the interviews. This was April and we took around 1 month to conclude all the interviews.
As difficult as it might be we set out to create a film that would be truthful to the reality we were facing.
The film is basically us talking to friends around the world however, we really tried to bring characters that would add to the story by bringing a particular experience we were missing. I remember that early on we realised it that it would be crucial to have doctors talking as well as people that have had the disease and possibly someone that had lost a family member. As difficult as it might be we set out to create a film that would be truthful to the reality we were facing, therefore, we needed to be prepared to touch upon sad stories.
What techniques did you use to glean responses which would fulfil the objectives of the film?
We have been making documentaries for quite a few years now and we believe that the interview is incredibly important to drive the story. There isn’t much of a rule as to what to ask but we always try to repeat some of the questions across all the people we interview so that we can juxtapose their comments and show how people take things differently. We tried asking about their fears, mental health, anything positive came out of the pandemic and their hopes for the future. Around that we went deeper in some of each person’s story, having a free conversation although nudging people to things we found were quite revealing.
Pandemic deftly uses a mix of intimate personal footage and these impressive grand vistas which you wouldn’t expect to find in a lockdown production.
From the beginning of the pandemic James was registering his life with a Hi8 camera. He was filming the news, his recently born daughter and life in isolation. He did not know why but told me he felt he had to do it. This became central to the film as it brings the news and his point of view through a distressed fuzzy image created by the analog camera.
There was no shoot for this, just the interviews, the Hi8 shots from James and B-roll we amalgamated over the years. It was all done from within our bedrooms as we watched the world go into lockdown. As with some of the shots we never used from all the years we have worked as directors in commercials. Interestingly enough we had shots from so many different countries and could really create a sense of the world with these beautiful scenes.
We’ve seen a wide variety of Covid films and this really stood out to us here at DN. Having I’m sure watched your fair share too, what in particular did you want to add to the ongoing narrative?
We know most likely big films will come out of this in the future. However, we did not see anything like what we have done, that rather than focus on local issues, tries to understand what we are going through from a human level and across the whole world. We started making this film at the beginning of April so there was nothing made yet at that point.
Being apart from each other wasn’t ideal but it is amazing how much we can do online these days.
James and I wanted not only to make a film for everyone but mostly for ourselves. A film we could look back on in the future and remember what we all went through. Like if we were to explain to the next generation what this time was like.
During post, how did you decide on the structure and flow of the film? Was it particularly difficult to nail down as you weren’t physically together?
The whole edit took around a month. We shared the project file and all the shots between ourselves via Dropbox so that we could both work on it whilst in different locations. It wasn’t the simplest workflow but it worked. We divided the film into chapters and through these chapters, we would talk about things we found were central to the narrative. There was a chapter to talk about fear, privilege, responsibility, hopes. Almost as if we were to break down the film into all the themes we found relevant. Being apart from each other wasn’t ideal but it is amazing how much we can do online these days. We had meetings over Zoom, would share our thoughts using Google Docs and the whole project was on DropBox. Technology hey!
Something for us that is really important is collaboration, as filmmaking really is a team sport. We’ve been working with The Mill for many years, so when we showed them a first cut they were eager to be on board. We’d worked with Colourist Alex Gregory on a few commercial projects and also our documentary Castells last year, so we were stoked that Charlie Morris (The Mills colour producer) hooked us up! Alex has a similar eye to us so complimented the film greatly.
We also worked again with our long time friend and collaborator, the super talented Composer Russ Chimes. He blew us away with his first pass, everything he creates gives us goosebumps. We sometimes have to remind ourselves that everyone worked on their parts from their home office/studios during a pandemic. Thacio Palanca from Lucha Libre Studio in Brazil worked on the sound design and mix, tying it all together, we’re super grateful for Thacio’s involvement.
We discussed the end of the film for a long time. What would be appropriate or how to close such a film.
Do you feel having worked this way will leave a lasting impression on your collaborative process going forward?
The pandemic has changed our world in ways we are still to discover and the making of this film has changed James and myself deeply. Making our films requires openness and being OK with being vulnerable. To embrace sadness and to cry with our characters. It also puts us in a position to make a comment. To observe what the world is like and to contribute to it with a positive view.
We discussed the end of the film for a long time. What would be appropriate or how to close such a film. Life is an endless cycle, and maybe to show hope is the most accurate ending we could create. Despite how bad things are, there is always a way to make it better. Also, the end for us was a way to talk about responsibility, how we impact the immediate future with our actions and what world we will leave behind to the next generation; our kids and grandkids.
This film is supposed to be a journey of emotions, maybe a good therapy session where you open up, laugh and cry and leave it with a sense things can get better no matter what happens. But the world won’t change if we don’t change on an individual level. So let’s get to work.