Conversation with Writer and Director Andrea Arnold at the Tribeca Film Festival
Filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange) interviewed writer and director Andrea Arnold at the Tribeca Talks series at the Tribeca Film Festival. Their lively discussion highlighted Arnold’s auteur viewpoint of filmmaking and some of her unconventional approaches to narrative screenwriting and filmmaking.
In 2005 U.K. born Andrea Arnold’s short film, Wasp, earned Arnold an Academy Award. She has also acquired two BAFTA awards and two jury prizes at Cannes as well as a multitude of festival accolades for her films, Milk, Dog, Red Road, Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights. On television she has directed two episodes of Transparent. Arnold’s latest film, American Honey, starring Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, was recently acquired by A24, about a crew of teens who sell magazines across the Midwest, is her first to be filmed in the U.S. American Honey is one of just three films from female directors in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s main competition and one of two from the U.K.
“As a kid I was always writing stories. I’m inspired by things that I see every day. Sitting on a bus. Someone walking up a path, and I could see her back and I start thinking about her. I invent a whole story about her life. Usually what starts driving me is an image I have that won’t go away.
I use a mind map. It organizes my thoughts. I start with images and then piece it together. And then when I have a rough idea I start writing. “
WRITING “FISH TANK”
“I had an image of a girl pissing on the floor in someone’s house; it wasn’t her house. And I thought, ‘What is this girl doing?’ and then I start thinking about what that means and who she is, where she comes from, why she’s doing that, and so I start a mind map. I start with that and think how to build from there. I wrote the full script before the Fish Tank star was found. I cast quite close to what I saw. She fit in exactly what I envisioned. The script didn’t change that much after that.”
GETTING SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK
“Sometimes I don’t want to hand it over but I actually got better at it and I do love getting feedback. It’s usually from the people who funded it; they are great people, really supportive and really do want to help. Sometimes I give it to people like a friend of mine who’s a painter — people I trust who understand what it means to make something. We have loads of screenings, literally inviting people off the streets to get feedback. It’s good to know what’s working and what’s not working.”
ARNOLD: “The idea for the American Honey script came about when somebody gave me an article from the New York Times about the subculture of kids selling magazines; it had huge resonance for me. It wasn’t the story in the article, it was just the world, and from that moment on I wanted to do it.
I did six or seven road trips here driving by myself so I could make the emotional connection with America; emotionally connecting to what I was going to do. I had a fantastic amazing crew. It was adventurous. We did a real road trip with the crew, and cast mostly unknowns. We stayed in the same motels. Some of the poverty really shocked me. Some of the towns, one I went through in the South, I was quite upset by what I saw.”
IRA SACHS: “It’s interesting you talk about poverty because in your films one of the things so powerful in your films is the depiction of class and certain people you don’t often see in a lot of American cinema. I’m curious if you see intention between your subject and your audience, because your audience is primarily arthouse as is mine, and somehow there might be a disconnect between the viewer and the subjects.”
ARNOLD: “I want to show it. I’m always hoping for more compassion for the people I’m showing. You’re right; a lot of people I make films about don’t see my films. When writing it, I’m aware of it. I’m not trying to please anyone.”