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Q&A with Daniel Fitzsimmons, dir. of Native, at the East End Film Fest

Thursday 30 June 2016, by Anne-Sophie Marie

I gather your background is a mix of Liverpool and California? How have both environments influenced you and your work on Native? (And does Liverpool produce better alien beaches than LA?)

In my experience Los Angeles and Liverpool are generally open and welcoming to outside influences and people, but on this movie that is not the sort of environment we needed the characters to inhabit. I wanted to burden Cane and Eva with an insidious social claustrophobia that can either be a help or a hindrance, depending on your perspective. I’ve travelled around a lot, I went to school in Brussels and spent time in Spain and France growing up. Maybe the idea of a character wanting to understand or be a part of a culture that is as scary as it is seductive is something that influenced Native. Actually, I think that central idea infuses a lot of the stories I want to tell. And Formby beach is as good an alien landscape as anywhere. We didn’t set out to make Baywatch.

You mentioned Samuel Beckett. North Korea and London as two sources of inspiration for Native. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

In order to give Cane and Eva a relatable context, we had to create and give rules to their society. What is the hierarchy, the structure, where does the loyalty to authority come from, why does it work in such an ordered way… and through Cane’s experience, how and why does it wane? Their lives are structured as part of a hive, serving the common good. ‘For the good of us all’ is their mantra. And that is what they are indoctrinated or born to believe. Tales of people who have fled and documented extreme isolationist regimes such as North Korea inspired the journey that Cane goes on. Conversely, it fascinates me how these power structures are able to maintain the loyalty of millions and function. Beckett has influenced everything I’ve done on some level: Isolation, loneliness, the futility of existence in a godless universe, and all that lovely stuff. It felt particularly relevant to me when I moved to London.

How did you select your cast and crew for it? Can you tell us a bit more about budgeting and funding?

One of our producers, Jennifer Handorf, has a wonderful team of London-based filmmakers that were available and wanted to work on Native with us. Without her resolute determination that we could get such a talented group of people involved, I don’t know whether we would have attempted to be so ambitious with such a meagre budget. This commitment was the same with every one of the crew, each of whom went above and beyond for the cause. Rupert is a genuine star, someone I wanted to write for since I’ve known him. He understood the character from an early version of the script, and his thoughts filtered through the subsequent drafts. I think what Rupert gives us is a very human performance. To say more than that would be saying too much! Once we had cast Cane, I met with Ellie, as I had been a fan since I saw her in Misfits and An Education. What she is able to transmit is an independence and agency that was vital for Eva. She has an amazing ability to communicate so much in a very economical way. As a director, that is currency. It is really when the story telling becomes cinematic. Great actors allow us to do this. And in spite of the age difference, Eva is very much Cane’s equal in the film, a dynamic that was absolutely necessary.

You had two DoPs working on Native. How did that come to be and what was the reason behind it?

We worked through prep and did most of the planning with Nick Gillespie. Nick was able to commit to the first part of the shoot on the ship with us. But right up until production, with us being on a modest budget and needing to compromise, we knew that we could lose Nick to High Rise when it went into production in Belfast. It was just unfortunate that the two schedules ended up clashing. However Nick, the producers and I anticipated this and we arranged to change over from Nick to Billy midway through the shoot. Billy Jackson has photographed with Nick before and so the transition was a comfortable one. He turned up on his massive bike with his tattoos and ponytail and I knew we were in safe hands!

Cane and Eva are two names charged with meaning. How intentional was it?

If we accept that these two characters speak a language that we would not even begin to recognise, I wanted to give them names that would be equivalent to their own myths and legend. Transposing our biggest myth, the Bible, over to their society, I took names from the Book of Genesis for all the characters in the hive, and corrupted the original spellings slightly. I think the best myths, legends and fairy tales are nasty, pulse-quickening things that arrive at a cathartic, climactic release, and those first biblical stories of incest, violence and betrayal that many people still chose to live their lives by seem somehow appropriate to our movie.

Music is an essential (and stunning!) element in the story. How did you pick the piece that triggers Cane’s physical and emotional journey? How did you work with your composer to score the film?  

Baltic Fleet is Paul Fleming. He scored the film and recorded his own version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which is on the Golden Record sent on Voyager I. That was the jumping off point in plot terms for this idea of connection across the universe, but it is also a genuinely powerful and recognisable piece of music that we felt Cane could become obsessed by. Baltic Fleet had scored a short film I made, Schrödinger’s Waltz, and it was obvious that he would be perfect for Native. Paul is so inspiring to work with, and the way his music encapsulates the tone of the film is just genius.

How did you work with your cast from the first contact to the final day of filming? 

We didn’t have the luxury of much rehearsal time but Rupert, Ellie and I talked a lot about the script before we started production. I had even less time with Daniel, Pollyanna, Leanne, Joe and Chiara, but they are all great actors so we were able to just get on with it.

Do you think we could be at risk of becoming a hive?

I understand the usefulness of social media, but on some base level I find it troubling. Personally, I don’t like how social media has eroded privacy, or how it has changed the way we communicate, allowing us to view and parade our deepest and most private insecurities in front of everyone, and in perpetuity. In this sense, it can be unedifying and I suppose a bit hive-like. Instantaneous sharing creates a barometer of consensus or panic that changes constantly, and hooks us into a pattern of needing to know or broadcasting things that we could, and probably should keep to ourselves. People stare at phones and get swipe fatigue instead of using actual human verbal conversation. There is a danger that people start broadcasting themselves instead of talking to each other. I know I sound like an old codger but I just don’t think that telepathy on that scale is something we should aspire to!

Native is screened as part of the East End Film Festival, at Genesis Cinema on 1 July at 9 pm and will be followed by a Q&A. More info here.

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