4 October 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network

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“If you make something a little bit weird, it's probably no harm,” director Andrew Legge discusses LOLA
30 Mar 2023 : Nathan Griffin, Luke Shanahan
Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini in LOLA
We caught up with Andrew Legge, the director of LOLA, ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

LOLA is Andrew Legge’s feature film debut. Principal photography began in late 2020, and the film was shot on location in Ireland.

The found footage science fiction film follows two sisters who invent a machine that can receive broadcasts from the future. This allows them to listen to iconic music before it has been made, and place bets knowing what the outcome will be. With the Second World War escalating, the sisters decide to use the machine to intercept information from the future that could help with military intelligence. This initially proves to be a huge success, until one sister makes a fatal error that leads to a nightmarish future. 

LOLA stars Emma Appleton (Pistol, The Witcher), Stefanie Martini (Prime Suspect 1973), as well as Rory Fleck Byrne (This Is Going to Hurt), Hugh O'Conor (My Left Foot), Aaron Monghan (The Banshees of Inisherin), and Ayvianna Snow (The Good Wife).

The film was selected for Locarno Film Festival and Edinburgh Film Festival last year. Legge co-wrote the script with Angeli Macfarlane (Flight of the Innocent). It was produced by Alan Maher (Rialto ) and John Wallace (Redemption) for Cowtown Pictures, in association with Head Gear Films, Kreo Films FZ, and Metrol Technology. Break Out Pictures are handling the Irish release.

Director Andrew Legge sat down with us to discuss LOLA, its eclectic stylistic influences, unique filmmaking process, and gradual success on the festival circuit.

IFTN: Firstly, Andrew, I'd just love to know a little bit about the origin of the idea and how long you were sitting on it. Where did it come from? Do you have a background in history?

ANDREW: “No, I mean, I didn't study history, or anything, but I'd read history. The origin of the movie was probably from a short film I did called The Chronoscope, which is about a scientist that can see into the past. We did that in a documentary style with talking heads and archival footage. So I was expanding that into a feature, because I wanted to do a sci-fi, and we changed it into a machine that can see into the future because it presents you with more plot opportunities. That was kind of the genesis, I guess. And then I liked the idea of doing a kind of a documentary thing. but I didn't want to do that with talking heads and stuff, because I feel like, well, that's kind of been done. I think it takes you out of the movie as well if you start cutting to people talking.”

“But also then the whole idea is that the film itself is an artefact created by one of our protagonists Maurice and transmitted through Lola, the machine. So that sort of has to be told in this found footage way. I liked the idea of the protagonist being the storyteller because I haven't seen that been done a lot in movies. We've seen it in literature with the epistolary novel, like Dracula or something where it's like, diary entries by different characters. So I liked the idea of doing that with the movie.”

“And I loved the idea of this character, this wartime woman who would have grown up on Edwardian British values being exposed to Bowie, and pop culture.”

“All the music was written for the movie by Neil Hannon. So there’s the David Bowie track Space Odyssey, and the Kinks’s You Really Got Me Going, and then the rest of the tracks are all written by Neil. So the stuff that the sisters are playing in the house at the start, that's all composed by Neil on old instruments. It's not quite a musical film, but it is kind of a musical film.”

IFTN: So once you had this idea of how you were gonna tell the story through the protagonist and the format it would take, how did you go about incorporating archive material?

ANDREW: “The archive was kind of approached once I'd written the script, when we went into pre-production. Six months before we shot the movie, we hired an archive researcher and started going through the archives. So like I wanted the scene where London gets attacked, so we were looking at air raids in London. The footage where there are people running through London, that’s not a real air raid, that’s actually 1939 footage. It's just people running because there's like a siren going off. So the idea was getting existing footage, where you had people reacting, but then augmenting it with your CGI stuff. So it was reverse-engineering, finding shots of Hitler reacting to something, and then splicing him into our location.”

“To be honest, the edit was very difficult on this. I totally underestimated what was involved. I think we had an eight week edit planned, and it ended up being a six month edit. We didn't have a lot of reference points for the edit for how we were going to construct the movie. When we went into the edit suites with our footage, it didn't work at all, we had to totally rewrite and reinvent the film. Colin Campbell was our editor and he did a brilliant job.”

IFTN: Sometimes having parameters with which you need to work within, particularly if you're doing an independent film, can be very helpful. Was that the case when using the archival footage to create an alternative history?

ANDREW: “Yeah, it does set good parameters. It kind of makes it an easy thing to direct because it’s technical, you've got your archival footage, and the sequence that you're shooting is about matching that. The archival footage will lay the visual style for you and your cinematographer, how you're going to frame your shots. You were so boxed in, they were kind of easier to do. The scenes I found difficult to do were just the scenes in the house with the sisters, you didn’t have the same parameters locking you.”

IFTN: And were there a lot of recreation scenes outside of the house?

ANDREW: “So any stuff where like London is being blown up any of those sequences were manipulated archive footage because we wouldn't have had the budget to do any big scale stuff. We did a day of shooting in London with Emma Appleton, so when she’s running around London that’s me with the Bolex running after her in costume framing out modern stuff like tourists.”

IFTN: The decision to shoot it first-person handheld, and choosing to shoot it black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, could you tell me about that?

ANDREW: “The approach to shooting in the house was just trying to be realistic. There would have been colour film in the 40s, but it would have been really really expensive, like they had Kodachrome and stuff. It was just about what they would be likely to use. They'd be much more likely to be shooting it in black and white because that stuff would have been way cheaper, particularly if you’re doing a documentary. Those decisions were all just made because that’s how the characters in the movie would’ve been most likely to shoot it. We shot it all on period cameras. So we used a 16mm Bolex which is Academy ratio, it’s 4:3. We used the 1950s Aeroflex as well, which again is 4:3. We shot the newsreel stuff on a 35mm Fairfax and also 35mm Newman Sinclair camera, which is a 1930s newsreel camera. So we were really just using, as much as we could, the period of the time, with some artistic licence. Like we mixed the film, then in 5:1, not mono. Image is so degraded and scratchy and stuff, if we matched that with degraded scratchy sound, the film wouldn't have been a pleasant experience.”

IFTN: How was it sourcing those pieces of vintage equipment? How was the experience of preparing for and then using them on the shoot?

ANDREW: "That stuff all came very easy to me, because I shot my shorts on film. The main camera that we used for LOLA was a Bolex, which is my own camera. So that was great. And I have a few lenses for it and stuff. I was leaning into stuff I've done in my shorts. So none of that was new. And the Bolex, I’ve used it so much I can use it really fast. I know what the image is going to look like, there were no surprises with that. The rest of the kit then came through Oona, our cinematographer, and a contact she has who had this amazing collection of old lenses, Arriflexes and Newman-sinclairs and stuff. So he provided us with all that gear. All the pickups as well for the movie, I shot myself on the Bolex."

IFTN: And can you tell me about working with Cowtown Pictures and how they came on board for this feature?

ANDREW: “Alan [Maher] I’ve known for years and he came on really early with this. When he came on board it was a five page pitch document. So I developed it with Alan, he was also the person who suggested Neil Hannon coming on board which I think was an inspired idea. Obviously a film like this was quite tricky to finance in the market because it's experimental, it's black and white, it’s a little bit odd. So Screen Ireland came onboard, and we benefited from Section 481. We also got a little bit of money from Ffilm Cymru, and so we did our post production in Cardiff. Through getting money from Film Cymru we could also access the UK tax credits. So that brought the budget up to about 1.1 - 1.2 million euro.”

IFTN: When I first heard about the project I thought “God, this sounds super interesting”. So I've been very eager to see it. It's been gradually building up steam across the film festivals, and I really hope that continues. Can you tell me about your experience on the festival circuit so far, and what the feedback has been?

ANDREW: “Yeah, I mean, the festivals are tricky. There's a bit of a strategy to it.  I mean, you send it out, we turned down a couple, and then we got offered Locarno, and we liked Locarno. Giona [A. Nazzaro], the artistic director of Locarno loved the film and was very passionate about it, and championed it. And then Indiewire did a ‘highlights of Locarno’ and we were in that, which was really great. Then it went from Locarno to Edinburgh to Fright Fest, and Fright Fest was a huge surprise for us because I wasn't familiar with the festival. They really got it. The genre audience of Fright Fest really got it, and we got lovely reviews out of that. Since then it feels like the genre film people have really warmed to it. The genre circuit seems to be where it gets the best response. I think it’s funny because I like genre films, but LOLA is quite a hard film to define, I didn’t know if genre people would like it. Because it's a bit of an arty movie as well, but  I was trying to tell quite a traditional story.”

“But, it’s hard, there’s thousands of films being made. I think the big festivals get like 4000 feature films submitted? So I guess if you make something a little bit weird, it's probably no harm.”

LOLA releases in Irish cinemas on April 7th.

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