Toolbox Ep. 174: Wells discusses the evolution of his first feature film.
It’s a credit to the construction of Charlotte Wells’ feature debut “Aftersun” that it can’t be accurately described as the story of a young girl (Frankie Corio) and her father ( Paul Mescal) vacationing together in Turkey in the late 1990s. This is the story of a woman who remembers the vacations she and her father took together, with both warm clarity and ellipsis painful, mysteries that will probably never be solved. The powers, failures and textures of memory guide us to understand Sophie and Calum, together and apart, and the film finds such a stunning and visual way to dramatize how each of us ultimately becomes someone else’s memory. .
He does it, partially, with a rave.
Wells joined the Filmmaker Toolkit podcast to talk about creating anchors for memory in film history, the joys of working with DV camcorder footage, and the liminal place he sits between the dots. of objective and subjective viewpoint, honing perspective and sense of memory in editing “Aftersun” together, finding immediacy in a specific time period through film appearance, and more.
Listen to the full discussion below or read on for excerpts from the conversation. To hear this and other conversations with your favorite TV and movie creators, subscribe to the Toolkit Podcast through Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify or Overcast.
Partial highlights from the transcript below:
Wells on how the story evolved into a story of memory
As the project moved away from something more conventional, whatever that means, in story and structure and became this other thing, this thing about memory, there were remnants of this earlier version that have persisted. And one of those elements that lasted a very long time was a dramatic tension derived from their relationship.
And the conventional arc of this relationship, as it was articulated to me, was that when the story begins, their relationship is kind of fake and the tension builds and there’s a breakup, and at the end, their relationship is suddenly real, you know? And just the second that was articulated to me, I realized that was the opposite of what I wanted this movie to be.
I wanted it to be a relationship that was real from the first frame, to be a relationship based on understanding, respect and love, and that doesn’t mean there isn’t tension between them. sometimes. Yes, but that’s not the primary tension of the film. And sometimes when you hear comments that aren’t what you’re trying to do, that’s the most clarifying because by having a really strong reaction, it clarifies what’s important to you, and sometimes that’s how it is that this must come on.
Wells on shooting digital camcorder footage
The DV was so special. I remember the first time we met on set, we did a test one afternoon at the end of the day, and it was just Frankie jumping in the pool, the scene where she jumps on the [inflatable floater], which was quite specifically scripted. And we had a reading on a monitor, and you see through that monitor in 2021 in this Turkish hotel on the coast, this image that really looks like the late 90s, and it’s so surreal and it’s is so evocative – at least I think for people my age who have a relationship with this type of footage, whose own childhood can be captured to some degree on this format.
It was a really special moment and it was very liberating to put the camera in the hands of the actors. My DP could step back and see for the first time in those footage what was happening on set and it was just a lot of fun. It wasn’t as free as I expected. I had an image of only the actors and me, and in fact there are still a hundred other people standing around and you still have a solar mixer and a boom operator. But there was always a lot of fun and freedom in these sequences. And there are some in the film that were examples of Paul, Frankie and me wandering the streets of Ölüdeniz, the town we were in. “Big Head” is the one who ended up in the movie where [Calum’s] saying she has a big head and she says that’s a bit rude. It wasn’t scripted. It was just them having fun and they were so much fun to capture.
I don’t know why I incorporated them into the film. Well, I do. There’s a tape of DV footage of me around that age. I play chess with my dad and his friend, and we’ve all been cut at the collarbone. So it was just everyone’s body but not their head. And it’s completely surreal and totally banal. My dad and his friend are having a talk about work. The music is playing in the background and it’s just voices, and it’s so weird to have a recording of that moment, and I found myself writing it into the movie.
The opening of the script was the opening of this band, which is this blurry morph from white to cream to blue. I guess the cap was on the camera and different objects were passing by. And I just wrote exactly as I saw it, and it evolved on the page and it looked crazy. But it was also this amazing tool for point of view and allowed each character to see themselves and then see the playback from the other’s direct point of view. And it was just a really interesting addition to that aspect of the movie and also provided some story or anchors for the memory. Like, these are things that happened at some point. I wondered if it was possible to shoot this sequence with different actors, which I think would have been crazy, which is why I didn’t do it. But those are the kinds of thoughts that float through my head about how you separate this file from facts, even though [it’s] seen through a person’s eyes.
Courtesy of A24
Wells on creating texture in film
I think to do this well, like Edward Yang, looking at “Yi Yi” footage, they are so perfectly captured and crafted and the time that must be spent setting up these shots cannot be underrated, which I think ultimately does us, and they’re the first thing to go. They seem unimportant. People quickly cross them off the shot list as you progress through the day and don’t capture what you need. But you need it and it’s hard to find the time to capture such important frames for film texture. And I’ve always seen images like that as existing out of time in many cases, and so integral to this idea of memory. You know, you lost your bag in a grassy area as you were walking down a hallway to reach your hotel room, and somehow that bag is still there because where it would be. ‘other ? It was interesting to see how it fit together once we got into the edit.
The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and Stitcher. The music used in this podcast is taken from the score “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.