Winter, which premiered at Raindance last year, was shot on an Ari Alexa for under £800K (raised through private equity). The film was praised by the charity Mind for it’s depiction of mental health and went on to be nominated for the Discovery Award at the 2015 MBIFAs. We spoke to writer/director Heidi Greensmith about making the film.
Translating mental illness to the screen has been done many times before – with varying degrees of success. Winter does a terrific job at this, which earned it the seal of approval from mental health charity, Mind. How important was it for you that Wood’s experience (and by extension, the audience’s experience) was accurate?
It was very important in the end but strangely I didn’t really think about it like that while I was shooting as I was more interested in Tommy’s portrayal as the character Woods and what he was going through rather than the portrayal of a mentally ill person. Of course, I was very happy that Mind thought we had done a good job and that people suffering or relatives of sufferers might be able to relate.
How did you go about writing and shooting Wood’s mental regression? Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted the audience to experience it when you were writing the screenplay?
Yes, it was very clear in the script and we pretty much stuck to to the script when we shot. In the end I decided to cut some of the more graphic scenes in the edit as I didn’t ever want to feel we were being gratuitous. For example, there is a scene with Woods in his studio, where he sees his dead wife’s face in the painting he is working on. Originally he sits on the floor and sobs his heart out, it’s an incredible piece of acting from Tommy which I could watch again and again but extremely upsetting.
One of the most arresting things about the film is the really tight – arguably intrusive – shots on faces and body parts, which gave rise a claustrophobic feeling at times. Aside from the explicit tools you employed to portray Wood’s experience of grief and mental illness (dialogue, performance), how were the decisions you made around sound, shooting style, editing, art direction informed by the character’s journey?
I always knew that for an audience to have any understanding at all of what Woods was going though they would have to get as close to the inside of his head as possible. By working closely with my DOP Joel Devlin on storyboards before we shot the film we managed to choreograph our shots very specifically to achieve this.
Winter’s soundtrack is curated to perfection – featuring established artists such as Feist, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, and John Grant – which is fairly rare for an low-budget indie film due to the cost of licensing music. How did you go about getting such a fantastic soundtrack?
My love of music is almost equal to my love of film so the two will always go hand in hand. I listened to a lot of music and while I was writing and shooting Winter, I was picking out songs that I thought had something of each of the characters in them. My music supervisor John Boughtwood was given a wish list which he then went about trying to get for me. He got all but one agreed for a fraction of the cost because of his persuasive skills and because the artists believed in the film. The brilliant score was composed by my wonderfully talented husband Dominic Greensmith who was able to do that rare thing, to create an original score that meshed all the tracks and the music together seamlessly.
Tommy Flanagan, Stacy Martin, Judith Godrèche, Kate Magowan. Winter has an exceptional cast – one that most first-time feature directors could only dream of. How did you get the script for Winter in front of them? And how difficult was it to locking down this talented and busy cast after they’d read it?
If you don’t ask you don’t get. You have to just go for it. I had the amazing casting director Des Hamilton on board from very early on so he was able to get the script in front of the principle cast. They all did it because they loved it, it’s the only way low budget film making works because there isn’t much else in it for them. I had worked with the lovely Kate Magowan previously and we had remained friends, and Simon Kunz is a mate.
Winter had an amazing 2015, taking home four awards at NCYIFF, including Best Drama Feature and International Director, as well as being selected at several film festivals in Europe and America, topping off the year with a Discovery Award nomination at the British Independent Film Awards. What’s next for Winter? Will we be able to see it again soon?
Winter is now in the hands of a sales agent so I have had to let it go and hope they find the best home for it. I am very excited to be working on my second feature, Bloody Mary, which is a complete change from Winter and a lot of fun.