‘ECHO’ dir. Lewis Arnold

‘ECHO’ follows 17-year-old Caroline, as she receives a phone call delivering the tragic news that her dad has been involved in a motorbike accident. Her unexpected reaction reveals there is more to this call then first appears. Based on a real life event witness by writer James Walker.

Director: Lewis Arnold
Writer: James Walker
Production Manager: Lawrence Mason
DOP: Alfie Biddle
Key Cast: Lauren Carse, Oliver Woollford

C8: How did you come across the script by James Walker and why did you want to direct it?

LA: James is an incredible writer and I love how he approaches story through character, so I was excited about working with him for a while. However I think the reason it had to be this particular story, was that the film is essentially a portrait on grief and the character resonated with me on many levels. In some ways I’d say that ‘ECHO’ is probably my most personal film to date.

James had told me of this event he had witnessed it was about a teenage girl he saw take a call informing her that her father had been in a serious road accident. She was so upset by the news suddenly people were drawn to help her, giving her money and getting her on route to the hospital. About a month or so later James saw the same girl doing the exact same call again. It was a scam.

The idea of someone giving such a convincing performance that they draw people in, without having to beg or approach them directly, interested me. Had she been through this experience for real or was it simply a perfected con?

The character and nature of what she was doing stayed with me for many months after our first conversation, so I approached James with my vision for the film and after lengthily discussions he agreed to write it for me.

C8: Talk us through your process as a Director. How do you approach projects once you’re on board?

LA: I’m not sure I do anything different or specifically unique to any other director but I do like to spend time as much time with my cast before shooting, whether it’s socially or through rehearsals, building a degree of trust between each other.

If an actor trusts you and you them, then you can go so much further together, as you end up giving them the space to work and try things, and they will go against their instincts for you. Working with actors is one of the greatest things about directing, especially when you’re pushing each other.

C8: How did you cast the film? What were you looking for in all of your actors?

LA: I’ve been blessed to work with casting director Amy Hubbard on both ‘Echo’ and ‘Charlie Says’. She is incredible and in both cases has helped us find really exciting new talent.

With ‘Echo’ we went to all the main stage and drama schools in UK that we could. I still remember the day James, Lawrence (the producer) and myself went to do the first casting session with Ian Smith at TV Workshop Nottingham. As we waited outside we all had this overwhelming nervous energy, as we knew how much the film relied on finding a girl who could naturally deliver the emotional stakes of the piece. Those nerves disappeared as soon as we saw Lauren Carse.

With my past two short films we’ve had very young leads so we’ve looked for people who have something real and natural about their performance. So we didn’t necessarily mind if they didn’t hit the lines, as long as we believed where they where coming from. This was definitely the case with Conner Chapman in ‘Charlie Says’. He’d never acted before and never remembered his lines but there was something so special and real about the way he performed.

C8: Did you set any rehearsal time aside? How did you work with lead actress Lauren Carse?

LA: I had two days with Lauren a week or so before filming. We spent a day discussing the character and getting under her skin together. On the second day Lauren helped me block the scenes in the streets in relationship to her instincts, so that we could plan the shoot around her performance.

I think the only rehearsals we did were the scenes with her and Oliver Woollford, who plays her brother, and this was mainly to shape their relationship.

Lauren was great though and she was that convincing that whilst we where shooting the opening scene, with the cameras away from the action, she kept getting random people coming up to her to see if she was ok.

C8: How did you work with Cinematographer Alfie Biddle to bring your cinematic vision to life?

LA: I would they say that it wasn’t really ‘my’ cinematic vision but a shared vision between Alfie and myself. He is a real talent and when you work with someone like that, they constantly push you to think bigger, especially in relation to the drama and the cinematography.

‘Echo’ was our first collaboration together and we’ve since gone onto to work together where possible. This means we have a second hand and know what each other like visually speaking. We also both enjoy pre production and spend a lot of time scouting locations together and getting excited about the visuals. Many a day has been spent in his car chatting work whilst listening to the Arsenal ‘Tuesday Club’ podcast.

C8: The film has had a tremendous run on the festival circuit screening at over 15 festivals all across the world. What do you think contributed to the success of the film?

LA: We’ve been thrilled to see the film screen at some great festivals but it’s hard to gauge why it’s been selected.

I personally like the idea that an audience can have their own thoughts, feelings and questions after watching the film, as we all come into the cinema with our own unique baggage and experiences.

I suppose I also like the feeling that after the film has finished, you still feel like the character exists beyond what you’ve seen and that it is up to you, the audience, to imagine or take ownership of that character in your own mind. Maybe this has something to do with it, I’m not entirely sure.

C8: Outside of the festival circuit what has the reaction to the film been like?

LA: The film has been more successful for me personally, outside of the festival circuit, with it helping me to gain representation at United Agents. It also continues to play a huge part in showing other industry figures what stories and films I’m interested in as a director.

C8: You attended the National Film and Television School. How did this course shape your narrative voice as a filmmaker?

LA: The National Film and Television School was an incredible experience and I grew so much as a director over those two years. It’s funny as before you go you think you know how to direct but then after week one you realise how little you actually know and you suddenly become a sponge absorbing all this new information.

It shaped my voice massively as the key thing the NFTS enables you to do is explore and play with the form in a safe environment, by giving you the opportunity to make films back to back. Making shorts in such a quick time frame means to analyse your experience and put the ways to improve into practice immediately on another film. So you very quickly develop your craft and voice.

C8: You directed two episodes of the final series of ‘Misfits’. Tell us about the experiences of making a TV show as opposed to a short.

‘Misfits’ was such an incredible experience and I feel very fortunate to have been able to contribute to the show, as I was a fan prior to working on it this year. The cast and crew are all so incredibly talented but they also all welcomed me onto the show with open arms, giving me great confidence to do my job.

The process for me was generally the same as when I made my short films, but on a much bigger scale. The biggest difference however is that you have much less time throughout the process, compared to what you might have for a short film. So with ‘Misfits’, I had to prep and edit two one-hour episodes in the same time as I’d prepped and edited ‘ECHO’, which is only a sixteen-minute short film.

I’m a huge fan of television drama at the moment and with audiences demanding more from broadcasters, we’re benefiting by getting great cinematic, dramatic shows like ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ in the U.S., and ‘Luther’, ‘Appropriate Adult’, ‘Red Riding’, ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Top Boy’ to name but a few in the UK.

It’s a great time to be working within the medium and I hope more short filmmakers see television as a way to explore their talent and voice.

C8: What is next for Lewis Arnold? Any interesting projects on the horizon?

LA: I’m currently in post-production in Manchester with a new E4 show called ‘Banana’. Created by Russell T. Davies and produced by Red Productions, I’ve had the pleasure of directing the first four episodes and it’s been a lot of fun.

After this I’m looking at more TV projects but am also keen to push on with my feature slate as the dream would be to shoot my first film sometime in the next year or two but we’ll see.