The Melbourne International Film Festival is back and we’re celebrating not just the magic of cinema, but the act of turning one thing into something new. For the first half the Kill Your Darlings team talks adaptations – when they work, when they don’t, and which films (adapted or otherwise) we’ll be delving into over the next few weeks. In part two, director Sophie Hyde speaks about Animals, her film at MIFF based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel of the same name. Warning: some spoilers for Animals.
Further reading (and listening):
Some of our favourite adaptations:
We Need To Talk About Kevin
The Devil Wears Prada
Never Let Me Go
Our MIFF picks:
Alan: Talking About Trees, Litigante
Meaghan: Girlhood, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Alice: Meeting Gorbachev
Ellen: No Time For Quiet
With thanks to the Melbourne International Film Festival and to Melbourne Library Service – Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre for studio space.
Theme music: Broke For Free, ‘Something Elated’.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew, and today I’m pleased to bring you our Melbourne International Film Festival special episode. The first part of the podcast will be discussing book to screen adaptations, ones that worked, ones that didn’t, and some of the ways they can disappoint or delight readers. From there I’ll speak to director Sophie Hyde about a particular film of hers Animals, which is adapted from Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel of the same name.
Ellen Cregan: I’m Ellen Cregan and I’m the first book club host at KYD.
Alice Cottrell: I’m Alice Cottrell and I’m the publisher at KYD.
Alan Vaarwerk: And I’m Alan Vaarwerk, the editor at KYD.
MD: So it’s that time of year again, the Melbourne International Film Festival is rolling around. I certainly tend to go and see films that are book adaptations; it’s really interesting to think how you translate something that is designed for a completely different medium into a film. So I’m really curious to hear what you think. What do you think makes a good adaptation? And is it different to what makes a good film?
AC: For me, what makes a good adaptation is the director having an idea of the general mood of the book, rather than having a kind of slavish adherence to the plot. I feel like there’s so much that happens in a novel, so when a director tries to get every plot point and every bit of story in, it can really bog the feeling of the narrative down. But if the kind of overall tone and mood of the novel is expressed in the film in the way that films are able to do that, then I think that’s the best. The best example I can think of is the adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, where they cut out the fact that the protagonist is writing letters to someone and instead just had Tilda Swinton staring into the camera a lot, but she’s such an incredible actress and the mood felt right to me, so I think that for me is a big thing.
AV: I think there are a lot of book to film adaptations where you wouldn’t necessarily know that it was a book beforehand and I think that’s the right way to go. I mean, there are obviously big 10 pol films like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, where obviously the filmmakers know that 90 per cent of the audience are going in having read the book, but then there are other films that really, the book is just a starting point, and ultimately the filmmakers making a film and the audience is going to see the film.
EC: And on Harry Potter, I think that they got so much better when they actually had a distinctive style that they were working towards. Like the first two ones were just trying to sort of ‘drop the plot’ onto a cinema screen, whereas after the third film it had this really distinctive – quite marketable obviously – but like it was a Harry Potter film, and then that’s sort of changed the game a little bit as to how you saw the films as compared to the books.
MD: So perhaps it is that between making a film for the book audience or making a film in and of itself,` and not trying to adhere too much to the book, and Harry Potter perhaps is one of those few situations where they work as films but they also please the book audience.
AC: Well yes, one adaptation to TV that I read quite a lot about was Game of Thrones, because obviously there was a very dedicated audience out there who had read the books, but now there’s this much large audience, many of whom haven’t read the books, and I mean I want to say no spoilers, but if you haven’t watched the finale of Game of Thrones, find out then; it’s over for you anyway. The ending of the series was not what was intended for the book, and I mean I thought it was the worst ending ever, because there were all these plot points that had been laid throughout the series because in the books they’re leading to a particular conclusion, but then because some people on forums had guessed what that conclusion was, and the TV show wanted to shock them, they just completely changed tag. So it’s like, what’s the point of anything that happened before? That for me, is a terrible adaptation because I loved it for many seasons, and then the ending – god!
AV: I think Game of Thrones is a really interesting example where probably like you say, there are probably more fans of the TV series now than there were of the books to begin with, or very least, now it is a TV series first and the next George RR Martin book that comes out is going to be, if not playing catch-up too – then it can’t not be a response to the TV series just through chronology, and so it’s interesting that we are in this kind of era now where book adaptations, they become their own thing even more so than just being a film in their own right; they become stories in their own right. Big Little Lies is another one whose second series is on at the moment.
EC: A Handmaid’s Tale is one as well.
AC: I was gonna ask you guys what you think about that. After an adaptation of the initial book has been made, then a continuation of the story, because for me I was really disappointed when I heard A Handmaid’s Tale was going to have a season two, because I just think the book ends so perfectly, and it’s like a shame to ruin a cliffhanger that good. And I think that is one of the downfalls of TV adaptations versus film, because a film is a discrete object – unless you’re talking Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but those obviously multiple book adaptations, but I think for TV there’s just too much kind of marketing heft or studio weight behind; if it’s popular it has to keep going, and that’s not always in service of the story as I feel with A Handmaid’s Tale, so I just stop watching.
EC: And then you get like a walking dead situation, where it just gets more and more insane and kind of does jump the shark in a lot of ways.
MD: I feel like The Hobbit is perhaps one of those examples where the commercial realities have imposed to create something longer than it’s necessary, but in film form not in TV form, so there is absolutely no reason why that could not have been one film; it was one book. Everything was laid for it to be one film, but because market forces suggested that you would make more money over three, that is what happens, so I guess that can happen in film as well as in television too easily.
AV: It’s such an interesting comparison, like the Lord of the Rings films compared to The Hobbit film, because the Lord of the Rings films, there were three fairly hefty books kind and there were three fairly hefty films, but there was not that same ratio as with The Hobbit, which was one fairly brief, quite readable book that was really really padded out to within an inch of its life, and it just really shows you how much pacing is just as important when you’re adapting a text as when you’re writing it in the first place I guess.
MD: And certainly I can think of examples that that’s happened with books we’re about halfway through the series you think; ‘oh yeah, the author doesn’t have any new ideas but these books are still selling so they’re still writing’, but usually we’re talking about like book eight or something in a series, and it’s not something that you generally feel during the second book or even the third book most of the time. Whereas I feel like by the time you’re getting to the second or third movie or the second or third season of something, it’s quite evident and perhaps it is because there’s a lot of money behind that and that does have an impact on what gets produced.
AC: It’s interesting in terms of source material and the product that’s created, because I think some of the most successful films are made from short stories and that’s because there’s character, there’s mood, but there’s not so much happening that needs to be adhered to. Like Brokeback Mountain for instance is based on a short story. That Korean film Burning that was out recently I think is a Murakami short story.
AV: Most of the best Stephen King adaptations have been from his short stories rather than his novel. Arrival was a really good adaptation of a short story. I guess it just gives a filmmaker space to breathe outside the confines of taking off plot points. It gets the filmmaker the skeleton to drive the narrative, but ultimately there is enough room for the filmmaker to make a film as well.
MD: It’s also a pretty great way of making sure that almost all of the audience coming to your film are arriving at that story for the first time, as we know the market for short stories is not gigantic so the chances of someone having read Harry Potter before seeing a Harry Potter film are still pretty high, even so many years after the films were made. Whereas the chances of people having read the one specific Murakami short story; I’ve read all of Murakami, but haven’t read that short story going into the film.
AC: How do people go though with, when a film adaptation comes out and you haven’t read the book, what’s your strategy? Do you read the book first? Because I do, because I feel like once I’ve seen the film, I’m not going to be able to imagine the characters, or it’s changed forever; it’s already has such a kind of set idea of what that world looks like in my mind, and for instance If Beale Street Could Talk is adapted from a novella by James Baldwin, and I hadn’t read that so I frantically read it before I went and saw the film, and I thought it’s a shame in a way as with Big Little Lies, I had already read it, I know what’s gonna happen, some of the tension of the film is diminished for me because I already know what’s coming, but in the same way If Beale Street Could Talk, I didn’t love the movie and I felt I had so much extra context because of the book about why people were behaving in the way they were. So I just wanted to know if you guys are on that train or not.
AV: I mean my pile is big enough. If I lived by that rule, I’d never see any movies or I’d never get through the books that I had to read, so I sympathise with that viewpoint and probably in an ideal world if I was a faster reader I would try and do that more, but at the end of the day, I’m not gonna have time to do both, so I’m gonna see a movie while it’s out.
EC: I think in the case of an author that I really love, I do like to read it beforehand if it happens to come out as a film adaptation, but I’m the same; I’ve got so many things that I have to read that if I’m gonna see a movie, I’m not necessarily always as excited about movies as I am about books as well. I’m not like; ‘I’m really really want to see this movie’. I’ve got to get ready; I’m gonna go back and read the book and I’m gonna understand that context. That’s a really good point about context is that when you have read the book and you see the movie, there are so many things that you’re like, they could have made that a bit clearer for the people who don’t have that background.
MD: I’ve actually gone the other way; I used to insist on having read the book before I saw a film or TV adaptation and I found that I’m actually more forgiving at both mediums if I see the film first and I think it could be I’m not perhaps as well versed in the nuance of film and TV. Usually I’m watching for the plot and sometimes for the acting as well, so if I’ve read the book already, if I know what is going to happen or I have a good idea of what’s going to happen, it’s harder for me to enjoy the film or the TV because I am constantly comparing it to the book single; ‘they’d missed this plot point; they haven’t done this; why haven’t they done that’. I’ve found on the other hand, that when on the few times when I have watched the TV show or watched the film first, I’m actually a lot kinder on both of them.
AV: What do you guys think about the idea of a book being unfilmable?
AC: Well I read that that’s why George RR Martin wrote Game of Thrones. Apparently a couple of books that he had written were optioned for film but were never made, and he was kind of disillusioned with the film and TV industry, so he was like: ‘Right, I’m just gonna write something that is unfilmable with dragons and White Walkers, because it’s not gonna get made into a film anyway’, and then that’s the one that ends up being made, so I don’t think I subscribe to anything being unfilmable because with CGI and everything.
EC: Neil Gaiman with American Gods had the same tactic. I believe that he’d had a few things adapted or had a few things in the works and they’d never panned out, so that’s why in the book there are certain things that begin at different points; there are truly ridiculous things happening, and they’ve made a TV show in there on the second season. I’m not a huge fan of the TV show, but as we’ve said, I’m pretty judgmental about adaptations once I’ve read the book already.
AC: I guess the only books that I would think of being very difficult to adapt are things where there’s not much action and it’s just the interior life of a person. Like say how would you adapt My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, where it’s just someone lying in bed; it would be I would think, almost impossible.
AV: I guess there’s also things about like stuff that can be adapted, but shouldn’t. Like I’m thinking of Cloud Atlas, where you know, there might be sort of some cool futuristic sci-fi stuff, but then for a novel that’s about the same kind of souls being connected across space and time and culture. The way you show that on screen is, you end up with Hugo Weaving and Tom Hanks in yellow face, and so, I think maybe some things that would probably work fine on the page, maybe end up not working quite so well on screen.
EC: I sort of think my version of that is His Dark Materials. The Golden Compass was just not good, and I can’t imagine the other two on film, just maybe because it’s kind of poisoned by the memory of The Golden Compass, but the sense of wonder that you get when you read those books and the way that it sort of interacts with your imagination is really something, and I just don’t think that that’s something that could be filmed.
MD: So does this mean you will not be watching the upcoming… Is it a Netflix series I believe?
EC: I’m really divided, because I love them so much; I’ll give it a go.
AC: Worst I’m going to say, the adaptation of Joe Cinque’s Consolation.
AV: There’s a great essay about that on Kill Your Darlings by Lauren Carroll Harris.
AC: That was one where I think the material is so compelling because of the authorial voice of Helen Garner, because she makes ordinary things extraordinary and it’s through her lens that you sort of want to explore when you’re reading her books. They removed her authorial voice and just told the story and it was just very stodgy and boring in a way, so that was one I just don’t think should have been adapted. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say ‘best adaptation’ when I haven’t actually read the book, but The Devil Wears Prada; it’s such a good film and it’s a film that you wouldn’t know was a book, and I didn’t until I googled ‘best film adaptions’ as research. It’s such a great movie; feels like it’s made for that form, yeah that was so great.
AV: I’d be interested to see it again now that a couple of years passed, but the one that sort of sticks out in my mind is Arrival. Like I mentioned before, it’s just I remember sitting in the cinema and seeing that and just really being wowed like I had not been by a biofilm for a long time, and so it’d be interesting to have a second look at that one. That’s probably in front of my mind as a great adaptation.
MD: So the reason we’re speaking about films today in the first place and adaptations is because of the Melbourne International Film Festival, which runs from 1 August to 18 August this year. So I think it’s pretty important that we touch on the films that we’re looking forward to seeing. I’m really looking forward to actually seeing a film that I have already seen, because I’m going to go see Girlhood, except this time with the soundtrack from Sampa The Great, and I’m really excited about that. It’s a great film; very different to the other film from Celine Sciamma. Girlhood is her film set in the housing projects in Paris, I believe the name in French is ‘band of girls’, so like ‘girl gang’ effectively. The other film she has at MIFF is actually I believe, a 19th-century French love story so that’s going to be quite different, but Girlhood with Sampa The Great forming soundtrack – that sounds pretty amazing; I’m really excited about it.
AV: Sounds great! I want to try and see some documentaries this year because I don’t see enough of those in the cinema. One that I think looks really good is called Talking About Trees; it’s a documentary for Sudanese filmmakers who are trying to revive the kind of cinema culture of Sudan, which is being under pressure from the political troubles there. Another one I think looks interesting is a Colombian film called Litigante, which is about a woman who’s kind of under investigation for corruption while she’s also dealing with a terminally ill mother and a son who is asking some uncomfortable questions about his father, and apparently the mother and the grandmother in the film are played by the director’s mother and cousin, so that looks quite interesting.
AC: I have become obsessed with Soviet history since I watched two TV series, so I’m now reading Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, so that’s like my whole new thing, and I’m gonna go see the documentary Meeting Gorbachev which is by Werner Herzog. It’s three extensive interviews with Gorbachev and then archival footage of the Soviet Union. I’m totally fascinated and compelled by the whole thing now, and I like to see films at MIFF, or any Film Festival that I wouldn’t see in mainstream release. I love Soviet history these days.
EC: I’m going much more local. I really want to see No Time for Quiet, which is the documentary about Girls Rock. They’re just kind of a really cool music program that’s run in Melbourne for young girls and gender non-conforming teens and they get to form bands and rehearse and made all these industry people so it’s just kind of a documentary showing the start of that program to the end. There’s so much else I want to see but it’s kind of overwhelming; there’s just a lot on it.
AC: It is. Sometimes I think you just have to pick a day and a time that you can go and be like, what is on in this, like, three hour segment.
EC: Because you’ve never disappointed, sometimes you sort of surprised; but it’s always fun.
MD: So I guess our end message here is go see something even if it’s not something that you would have seen under the circumstances, it’ll be an interesting experience regardless, and we hope you have a great festival.
After spending time discussing our favourite adaptations, it was a pleasure to see Animals directed by Sophie Hyde at the Melbourne International Film Festival. In the film, Alia Shawkat and Holliday Grainger star as Tyler and Laura; best friends who find their close, hedonistic life together under threat from Laura’s impending marriage. Sophie Hyde joined us to discuss the pleasures and challenges of bringing Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel and script to the screen.
Sophie Hyde: I guess it was kind of unusual because I had been sent a script, so I already knew that people were trying to make a film, and I read the script and the film on the same day. I was looking for something to do; I’ve mostly developed my own work, but I was kind of like, ‘well what else exists in the world’, and I had been reading things that I wasn’t that taken with. They were either really beautifully written or had a really gorgeous idea, but those two things weren’t meeting very often in my experience, or in what I was being sent. So when I read Animals, I just felt like there were these two women that felt really familiar to me; that was the feeling that they were familiar and I was enjoying them in the novel and the experience of sort of being with them and feeling what they were feeling. I wasn’t sure that it would translate really well into a film but I really loved the ending, and I felt like if there were people ready to make a movie about it already, there was a real challenge to be had in translating what I loved which was kind of very bodily and very kind of driven by conflicted desires into a movie.
MD: What did having the author of the book so involved in the project, in the sense that she’d written the screenplay, what did that mean for how willing you were to take this particular project on?
SH: So Emma Jane Unsworth wrote the book, and she has a really strong voice and that voice is very witty and kind quite honest, and I found it really engaging and snappy and fast. So in some ways, my desire to do the film was that she would take care of all of those elements, so it’s funny and it’s relatable and it’s modern; all of these things. I could focus on the making of, but in a way then, when you start to work with somebody, you dive into this kind of weird bubble space together; you know you get into the muck together. The very freeing thing about having a writer who’s the writer of the book, is that you can choose together to do whatever you want; like there’s no feeling you have to translate the book exactly and so when I came on, there were things that I loved in the book that I wanted to make sure were in there, and some of those things weren’t existing in the script at the time. So we just spent a week or so in a room in London, trying to work out where’s our shared interest in this, and what do we both care about and what are the things that we feel translate to the screen but not in a really obvious way of like, ‘this is what screen narrative does’; but what about things like what we want to be seeing or what we’re interested to explore? So we did a lot of that. The great thing about Emma is that she’s so willing to try different ideas and and test out different styles of filmmaking and so we back-and-forth for a long time over many drafts and you know a lot of that was me just feeding back ideas and sending back things from the script and talking a lot about character which is something that I do all the time, and then she would turn that into really beautiful scripts. But then I would send lot of bits of notes about those scripts and quite specific and detailed and she was up for that, and that is really freeing as well because suddenly you’re not sort of trying to tiptoe around a writer; you’re saying what you think and that means they either can go with you or say that that they don’t agree, and you start having a proper argument or a conversation. So it was really a very good working relationship for a new working relationship.
MD: You mentioned there were some bits that you loved from the book that you both worked to make sure were included in the screenplay that weren’t at the start. Were there bits where it kind of went the other way? Were there bits that you both loved from the book but upon filming didn’t work the way you’d expected and had to be cut for perhaps the good of the film, or the exact structure of the novel?
SH: There were places where we diverted from the original story and some of that happened before I came on even. For example, the two central female characters; there is a sister that’s pregnant in it, and in the film she is like the lead’s sister. In the book, she is the other girl’s sister, and so that shift happened because we were telling the story of a woman basically, and her perspective on the world and the people around her, so it felt really right to contain that; it felt like the right move. Similarly, the dad in it in the book, was really a very present strong character and and there was a whole storyline there and we shifted that storyline into the sister in a lot of ways, or that feeling emotional space to the sister. And that was partly just about me wanting to see more women interacting on screen about interesting things, and partly it was I felt that in films we do get a lot of father-daughter things that are like: ‘the father and daughter get along so well, shame the mothers a bit uptight’, and I really wanted to avoid that, and I don’t think Emma was doing that in the book, but in a book you get more chance to do that in a nuanced way; it’s harder in a very short space of time like a movie to do that. So those things shifted. There was like the opening of the script is Tyler doing the caterpillar on the ground to Buffalo stance, and we don’t use that in the movie; we kind of had taken that somewhere else through collaboration with the costume designer and Alia the actor. What I wanted it to be, which was kind of a Mirabal kind of moment and a very kind of awestruck Laura in some ways, so that kind of dorky daggy just wasn’t there, and so that didn’t feel exactly the right way to do it, so it was sort of turned into more of a montage or more of a kind of setup that shifted from the shooting to the edit. I mean, things changed so much with cast, so suddenly Marty the character, like a poet kind of character that she has a sort of secondary a love interest in, and he was written as a older academic type, and when we met Dermot or when we saw him read, we were so interested in him as a young version of that, and somebody that was also going through those same things even though we weren’t following his story, and so that felt like a more interesting way to play that.
MD: So you mentioned like one of the freeing things about working with the author is that you can go back and forth and iron those things out between you; it almost gives you the permission to make those changes without feeling like you might be changing someone else’s vision to an extent that they’re not happy with because they’re with you along with it. But I guess when you’re adapting a book, you’re also bringing along all the readers of the book with you as well. Recently we discussed the difficulties sometimes of watching a film after we’ve loved the book, that if the director diverts from the text too much they can alienate the readers, but sticking to it too closely can do the film itself a disservice. How do you balance those competing responsibilities when you went into this?
SH: I mean, fortunately there’s a big difference between adapting Harry Potter then there is adapting Animals. Animals is loved for very many reasons; a lot of which is the kind of central voice of it and a kind of feeling it evokes. We stuck very true to the ideas of Animals, especially the ending and the celebration of the women and the lack of judgment around them and these became the very important parts of adapting it. I don’t think there’s that same sense of like, ‘you have to get the story exactly right’, because no one’s really reading Animals like ‘I just love the story, wow the plotting is amazing’, like that’s just not the book, and in a lot of ways, I found what was hard translating it was that you know film requires plot a lot of the time, and a book like Animals is light on plot and so I didn’t love that we were kind of having to plot all the time; but you do, to make that same thing translate to the screen. So that responsibility is different. I think the place where that came up the most though was that we moved the film from Manchester where the book was set, to Dublin, and that was sparked by a financial consideration where we couldn’t finance out of the UK and we were asked to consider shooting in Dublin and there was definitely a feeling of: ‘do you want to shoot as though it’s Manchester?’ and then just do a couple days in Manchester to get the exteriors, or do you want to move the story. We had to sort of dig deep and that was really hard for Emma because she’s got a lot of Manchester pride and she loves that this story is set there, and feels like that would have been amazing to put that on screen. And Holliday, our lead actor is from Manchester as well, so there was a strong pull there. There’s a lot of fans of the book from Manchester, but in the end, in terms of the responsibility to the audience of the movie ,it felt like embracing the city that we were shooting in and you know really using that visually and the kind of heart of that city was super important to the story and so, rather than adapting the book to still be said in Manchester we went: ‘well the important thing about the book is that the city is a part of the story and the city is part of who these women are’, and so if we’re going to move it to Dublin, let’s make that the case as well there. So that became the way of adapting it.
MD: The feeling and the voice of the book really did feel like they came through in the film, which is obviously quite a difficult thing to do. Another thing that we discussed is quite difficult to do in an adaptation, is the humour. Humour on the page works really differently to humour in a film.
SH: As I said, Emma’s a really witty writer, and a lot of the time we were kind of balancing this idea of; ‘is it a very humorous film, is it comedy?’ Or is it a film that’s kind of about exploration and therefore drama. The truth is that it’s both. In Emma’s writing, her book is quite short, it’s very quippy, and you sit inside a place of humour where you’re laughing but oh god you feel something as well. So to do that in the movie, we didn’t want to stay in kind of a broad comedy sort of space. So I always knew that to make it really truthfully from myself, it was going to shift away from that a little bit. I really like comedy, but there’s other things that have to exist there at the same time for me. So it’s funny, because sometimes jokes just feel really naff when you start putting them on screen. And so it was like, how do we do this in a way that still feels really humorous to us and not just like it’s there for a gag? And that was just a constant battle. At the same time, you know there’s this scene, where Jim’s playing a piano in the old man’s bar and Laura’s watching him and he’s like, ‘oh what are you doing? Oh I’m hitting this note, I’m finding the room’ and I just couldn’t have that in there without it being a joke; because what I loved about the story I loved the kind of pretension of the characters but also you have to cut that with humour, so it’s a sort of constant balance. But certainly a lot of directors would have made it a much more comedic film than I did, and even though I think there are lots of funny things in it. I actually think Emma has this way of kind of cutting into the heart of what she’s saying as well as doing the funny stuff. I’m not sure if I fully answered that, but I guess it was just a process of trying to always work out the tone as we’re going. And the tone wasn’t ever going to be exactly the same as the book, because it grows and changes, but you want some of that element of Emma’s very excellent take on the world to sort of exist there still.
MD: One of the things we also discussed is being quite difficult to show well in film, is someone writing. To show someone actually writing; it’s a very solitary activity, it’s not always very entertaining for the audience, whereas you have to at least show them trying to write sometimes for the audience to believe in them as a writer. In Animals, Laura’s not writing is actually really engaging. How did you come to that combination of her jotting down tiny bits, and scenes where she is not writing in a way that’s actually quite engaging for the audience?
SH: [Laughs] Yes, Laura’s not writing. I mean, Laura spends a lot of the book jotting down notes, which is what she talks about; jotting down notes in her little notebook, and never actually getting anywhere – which is writing, you know but there’s a difference between being an observer and thinking and jotting things down, and sort of achieving something with your writing. Laura is not particularly disciplined; she tries to take on her new loves’ discipline and that doesn’t go that well for her. I think that the reason that stuff is enjoyable to watch is, we’re always thinking in the making of this movie about pleasure, so there it has to be a pleasure in the viewing of it, and so visually it’s very tactile and seductive, I suppose. And so even when it’s bare and ordinary or like she’s doing something where she feels despair in it, it’s visually rich and it’s cut with, I guess a playfulness, a bit of a wink to the audience about what’s going on, and it is walking that line of comedy again and truth – not that those two things are exclusive, but when we were talking about they’re like, ‘oh you know she’s not written; ten years she’s been writing her book’ and she’s got ten pages, and there are some people that were like, ‘well that’s just too over the top, that’s too broad, right? Like that’s too far’. But actually the truth is, you’re often on a project for many many years, swimming around it, and the actual work is not getting out. So I don’t think it’s that much of a leap, particularly at that time in your life. And so it was like, that is funny. I mean, in a scene with your parents, telling them that for ten years you’ve been trying to write something and you only have ten pages is comedy, but it also hurts, right? Because it also feels like what it feels like to try and make something sometimes, and try and find your way through it. So I guess, yes pleasure for an audience, but also trying to stay inside – trying to balance when you’re with Laura and feeling what she’s feeling and when you can see her from the outside and how absurd and ridiculous that can be.
MD: I think certainly when you see her attempting that you see the humour in the situation, but also you can really empathise with her position because I think we’ve all had moments when we’ve looked back on a junk of time that oh, five years have gone, ten years have gone, have I achieved the things I set out to in that time?
SH: There’s even times where I feel like we’ve made so much work over the last few years, and been really efficient with our time, but there are some projects that I’ve had swimming around for a long time that I’m like I’ve got a lot of material on this but I don’t have any documents that would help me move this forward. Even I have that at a moment where I literally am coming out with another movie right now. We all have that all the time, so I think it’s just the internal feeling of that, is that at all the stages you have that feeling yourself rather than just the time where you’ve been partying too much.
MD: How different is the film that we see when we’re going to see Animals today to what was shot in the first place?
SH: I always think that the script is you know just a blueprint for what you end up making, and the great thing about having a book that you’re adapting is that you also have this entire world that you can draw on. So in the rehearsal room and in the production office, I had quotes from the book all over the place, and we had a lot of imagery and everyone felt like they had this world that existed that was bigger than just the script; what we could put in the script. But one of the interesting things about going into the edits, was right up until the end, I loved the very final moment and the decision that Laura makes at the end, which you feel you know she has a decision between two people and two lives in a lot of ways, all multiple lives, and she chooses something else, and I think that that was always the thing I loved. But what became really apparent making the film and that we were struggling with during the adaptation process, was that to tell the story on screen, it was sort of a bit demonising of Tyla the character, and it felt like we had to make it so that the audience would want Laura to leave Tyla in some respects or feel like she needed to get away from her. And that was at odds with our feeling that we wanted to sell Tyla is a character and to celebrate the friendship. And so we scripted, and we done all this stuff and there was a passage where they kind of re-met and that was in the script and sort of worked, but it was a little bit unsatisfying and it was only really late in the edit that we realised we needed to relook at their relationship from the point of view of celebrating it, so that she could make these decisions and so that she could become the kind of person that she was. And so this whole passage kind of grew up out of that in the edits. That was something that Emma and I had certainly discussed wanting, but had never found a way to fulfil on, which was interesting
MD: I think certainly if there wasn’t that sort of celebration of Tyla and their friendship, where would the tension come from? If there wasn’t something interesting in the way that she lives her life and the way Laura is when she’s with her, there wouldn’t be any decision to make.
SH: Yeah and certainly a feeling that you realise that someone has pushed you into a place that you need to be in some form, or the way that they’ve questioned you isn’t just about sabotaging your love life, it’s actually about making sure that you are the best of the person that you can be, whether that means that that relationship with them keeps going on or not. And that was really important for us to find.
MD: This may have a sort of similar answer, but now that the film is out there and being viewed and you’re doing these Q&As, what are the things that you hope most that people will take from the film and the things you’re most concerned people might misconstrue?
SH: I guess the idea of the celebration of a friendship that isn’t necessarily going to go forever; that might just be there for a season is really important; that it can be something to celebrate and to love and to not feel like is a failure because it ends is something that I want an audience to walk away with. A lot of people talk about feeling the conflicted desires which is what I first related to in the story; the feeling that all of these different parts of the life were interesting and had a place and then it’s really hard to want so many different things and to genuinely think that they’re all options and they’re all contenders. I guess I don’t find this much, but sometimes people just think it’s a party movie, and I’m like: ‘it’s so interesting to me, that some people will have such a big emotional response to it’ and other people will just see it as a party film; that’s fascinating that difference in terms of the audience’s response to it. And you want it to be a party film too, because it is fun. I guess we never wanted to demonise the idea of drinking; it was never a story about addiction, but sometimes people have a bit of a feeling about the women drinking so much. I mean drinking such a tricky thing, because I mean it’s so fun and it’s such a big part of a lot of our lives and you don’t want to put it up on a pedestal as this gorgeous thing, but you also don’t want to be like, ‘it’s always about addiction and it’s always something to get over’, and it was really important to us that you know Laura didn’t tip although booze down the toilet at the end; that the choice to do something with your life isn’t about rejecting everything else; it’s actually like actually doing more with the things that you have. And so her drinking at the end is quite an important part of the story and was really important to maintain, because we’ve been generally unsatisfied by some films where that’s where women are basically told that they need to grow up and shape up and clean up and then they’re a useful part of society and ready to have babies essentially. And that’s an unsatisfying thing to be told as a woman, you know; and we get told it a lot through our storytelling, so it’s really important for that. At the same time, we all have moments where we’re like, ‘oh my god we’re drinking so much maybe I’d get a lot more done if I wasn’t’.
MD: There’s still at least one screening of Animals to go at MIFF, so get onto that now. If you’re not in Melbourne or like Alice, you’re determined to read the book first, then the author you’re looking for is Emma Jane Unsworth. Animals is well worth a read. Thank you to Alan, Alice, Ellen and Sophie as well as to the Melbourne International Film Festival. The film festival is on until August 18th and if Animals isn’t your scene, I’m sure you can find something else and score fantastic films on offer, and once you emerge blinking from the dark of the cinema, you should come along to our August First Book Club event. It’s on August 22nd at Readings St Kilda, and our August title is Nina Kenwood’s ‘It Sounded Better in My Head’. You’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. See you next time.