I have as yet unfortunately not had the chance to see Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans. But jumped at the chance to sit in on a discussion about the making of the film with the Director behind the moving and visionary, or should that be, “retro-visionary”? films like Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines - as, well to steal a sentiment from leading man Michael Fassbender - they don't make them like they used to.
Derek Cianfrance's films are beautifully shot and the humanity portrayed brings gravitas to his tales. They take a long weighty view, looking past the immediate and instant to the longer repercussions and consequences of events and decisions.
|The Light Between Oceans (2016)|
A lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.
Derek Cianfrance, M.L. Stedman
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Besides who would not want to hear first hand from engaging top tier talent like Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander who is exceeding her Rising Star promise bringing challenging, intense and complex personalities to life on screen - about their experiences and approach to bringing M L Stedman's best selling novel and Derek Cianfrance's vision to life.
I have to say it was quite an experience sitting in the discussion, particularly listening to Michael Fassbender who seems to be able to communicate complex emotions and scenarios very clearly with an easy charm. It is very clear that this guy could excel at anything he chooses and that the performing arts are a better place with his contribution.
|The Light Between Oceans Poster Quad [Enlarge]|
Derek Cianfrance is still a mystery to me, like all the best directors, how they do what they do is not easily explored, and whilst making a film is not only a creative endeavour, it can be as gruelling as any mechanical production business with budgets, timelines and deadlines, but it would seem that Cianfrance seems to be very much in tune with the human side of things drawing both outstanding performances from his cast and placing them in a sweeping epic tale – like they don't make any more.
Despite the obstacles, their love flourishes in the stark isolation and they are soon married. Passionate for each other and hoping to be part of creating a new life together, they try to start a family, but fate intercedes. Then, one night, a mysterious rowboat holding a dead man and an infant girl washes ashore, setting off a chain of decisions—some impetuous, others wrenching— that unravel with shattering consequences.
To get on set and to have it to start to become real and to have these two great actors start living in these roles - that is to me the most thrilling moment of my life.
In the course of your life as a director there are so few days you actually get to shoot, but to me that’s where the essence is.”
- Director, Derek Cianfrance
Topics of discussion covered included:
- Director Derek Cianfrance discusses what drew him to M.L. Stedman' s story The Light Between Oceans
- Alicia Vikander discusses her character Isabel Graysmark
- Alicia Vikander on creating the accent for her character Isabel
- Michael Fassbender on his character Tom Sherbourne
- Michael Fassbender discusses preparation & switching between roles
- Michael Fassbender on working with children
- Michael Fassbender & Alicia Vikander discuss the challenges of portraying Tom and Isabel
- Derek Cianfrance, Michael Fassbender & Alicia Vikander on how faith influenced their approach to making The Light Between Oceans
- Derek Cianfrance and Michael Fassbender on balancing a story's emotion
- Derek Cianfrance on finding the right location for The Light Between Oceans
- Alicia Vikander on the influence the locations had on filming The Light Between Oceans
- Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Derek Cianfrance on working with the Australian cast
- Michael Fassbender on Director Derek Cianfrance's casting practises
- Derek Cianfrance discusses working with his stars; Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander
Over to the wizard of all things cultural Edith Bowman who hosted The Light Between Oceans Press Conference.
Derek Cianfrance : You know when I first read it, I was so taken with the emotion of it. I was on a Subway train in Brooklyn and I was crying in the middle of rush hour. It was so embarrassing but I felt if anyone else was reading what I was reading they would be crying too.
Eventually when I wrote the script and sent it to these guys, they were crying too. Basically, I wanted to do it because I wanted to cry more.
Michael Fassbender: And make other people cry too.
Alicia Vikander : Definitely, She is an interesting character and quite complex. When you find her at the beginning of the story, along with most people at the time, after the First World War had gone through loss, with a generation lost.
She’s still young, she’s coming of age, she's becoming a woman. She’s still quite naive but she has this immense amount of life spirit within her.
I loved that in both the book and the script that there is this element of this young woman that is almost unlikeable at the beginning because she is so upfront, she acts and says things without thinking.
|The Light Between Oceans Alicia Vikander as Isabel Graysmark [Enlarge]|
But for me it all comes down to – that she never does anything without it coming straight from the heart. She wants to do good and I admire her for this.
She is in a home that is mourning for her brothers that past, yet she just wants to believe in life, create life, believe in love and find a husband and create a family.
It is a big arc for her becoming a woman and mother.
It’s interesting for actors, for both Michael and me to play ordinary, good people, but, of course, that sometimes don’t make the best decisions in life. And I think that’s relatable, they are flawed but they only act with true emotion and goodness.
Alicia Vikander : I have been in Perth shooting a film so maybe I picked up something. I was terrified each day of trying to do any accent on The Light Between Oceans.
We started with discussing if we should do a RP accent, knowing that a lot of the Australian sounds came along after the second World War. But when we met our dialect coach she thought there was a way of morphing the sound, so it sounds like the beginning of what we know consider the Australian sound.
We tried to find our own voice, in the same way Partageuse is a fictional town in Australia. We tried to find a voice of that period, it was important.
With me now, not working in my native language, if you have done your preparation and come to work in the morning you have a tool that brings you back in character immediately.
So when I found Isabella's voice it was exciting for me, I had a way to fast track into her character.
Michael Fassbender : Yea, absolutely.
It was something Derek and I talked about I guess. We talked about lots of things, we would go for walks and chat about life and things that weren’t related to the film but definitely what Tom is bringing with him when we meet him.
|The Light Between Oceans Michael Fassbender as Tom Sherbourne [Enlarge]|
I was very aware that it had to be written on his face, his soul and that he was almost carrying this shadow of death, France, trench warfare and the horrors of World War I with him.
Everything about him is that war, the fact he survived it, the fact he is carrying this survivor’s guilt with him and the fact he seeks a job that’s going to put him in absolute isolation. So for sure that was something I was very focused on.
Michael Fassbender : It really depends on the amount of time you have got going into it. I suppose that's the hard thing.
Sometimes you have got six week to two months before you are going in to the next job so you can prepare accordingly. Other times it might only be 2 weeks.
I suppose the thing is if I know I’m going into another job it’s a very easy way to cleanse the other person out, because it’s just about getting the new person right.
It sounds like I’m going to be nuts in a few years! I’ll be in an old people’s home - Here comes his Macbeth again, Jesus!
So it’s quite a good way to clear the decks , when you start again. It’s sort of been a bit like that the last five or six years where I’ve gone from job to job.
Michael Fassbender : Yeah, babies. I guess they’re either crying or not.
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With babies there’s not a lot you can do. With kids you can work with them because they can talk, and express themselves. I’ve always found that with children when they have to adhere to a script that they can sometimes tense up or freeze up or be quite rigid - but when they’re improvising they’re magical.
Like I have said before it's sort of like a stream of consciousness, it comes flowing out of them. They’ve got such freedom in their imagination and it’s actually quite hard to keep up with them and to be quick witted and have a response for them. They don’t like to repeat things! Which I totally understand.
You know, they don’t want to go again! It’s unnatural, and they’re right! But I’ve always found that you can learn a lot from working with kids, that sort of magical element that enjoyment in creating an imaginary world and filling it unquestionably. There is no doubt in them when they are playing cowboys and Indians or in a doll house it's happening, it's real. That commitment to the imagination is quite intoxicating.
Alicia Vikander: I think the biggest challenge I had taking on Isabel, as I mentioned earlier, was that when I read the script I didn’t immediately fall in love with this character.
I was impressed by her energy and force. But she was also a girl who sometimes was a bit naïve, outspoken, young and wanted to say she knew everything about everything. Then of course she goes on a journey and is faced by the experiences of life.
The important part for me, for the story to work, was - when I read the book, you ended up feeling for her, well I did at least.
|The Light Between Oceans Michael Fassbender Alicia Vikander [Enlarge]|
And she had those unlikeable sides to her, yet, you would believe that it was truly by emotion and pure heart that she makes the bad decisions she does. And by the end she knows the mistakes she has made.
To pay tribute and honour that and to also portray a mother, which I am not, and trying to get insight into what it would be like in the situation because that is such a big trauma in the film the loss of a child.
Michael Fassbender: I suppose, reading a character you try visualise the character in your head and what they represent, and coming to a physical place with that.
It’s kind of difficult with all characters. I suppose with Tom, when I read him, I was so taken with him, he’s like a hero to me, it seems like he’s a man from a bygone era. They don’t make them like that any more.
There is a stoicism to him. He’s a quiet man who doesn’t vocalise what he’s feeling – yet there is a huge dignity and loyalty to him. There is a strength to him.
I just thought this is a great man, and somebody I would aspire to try be like. I suppose that was the difficulty.
|The Light Between Oceans Michael Fassbender as Tom Sherbourne [Enlarge]|
It’s always hard to know if you’ve come to place that your imagination has presented this character to you and whether you are physically embodying it or not. And it's very hard to tell if you are or not and that is where the director comes into play. You know, to either give you reassurance, or say, what the fuck are you doing?
Derek Cianfrance: For me I grew up Catholic, what do they call that now? A recovering Catholic now I guess.
You asked the question about Tom and how he comes into the movie, I feel he cannot live any more he has so much guilt. For me as a Catholic I also have so much guilt about every move I make in life, every choice I make.
These characters definitely live in that world, especially Tom at the beginning of the movie, there's this kind of cloud over him of of guilt, of sin.
Throughout the course of the story, one of the things I loved about it is that it’s ultimately a movie about forgiveness. Forgiveness of his sins, of their sins, of the human error really. To me, this movie was ultimately just a human story, about humans that make mistakes with good intentions.
To me that was really the role of religion – forgiving, people forgiving other people for just being human.
Alicia Vikander: I agree, that is what I thought when you asked the question. I think that with these characters having not only to go through their own private dilemma but also, in where the film is set, after the first World War, and all the guilt and horrors that people have been through and actions people have done if there is a larger message.
We can all relate to these characters. Typically nowadays with stories we try and find a protagonist and a villain, and you can’t really with this story, that’s the beauty of it - you feel for these characters, even the ones that made a terrible, terrible choice, because in the end they find a way of taking responsibility for their actions and find a way forward and people to forgive.
Michael Fassbender: I think, with time that we are dealing with, religion played more of a role in everyday society. I think for Tom personally, and his experiences in the war, I believe that he is a religious person.
In the book, it says that he makes a pact with God that if he gets out of this alive that he promises not to bring harm to any other human being again.
I think perhaps being in that scenario as a soldier and being so close to death and in the possibility of death, one can sort of find a new found faith, if he didn't have one already.
So for sure I think he’s somebody that believes in God and that there will be consequences for ones actions here in this life and the next.
Derek Cianfrance: I grew up watching a lot of melodramas, I always loved them. Douglas Sirk movies. I loved Powell and Pressburger's movies. I love Victor Fleming and David Lean and I also grew up watching Days of Our Lives. My mom had Days of Our Lives on everyday.
I don’t really understand melodrama as a genre. I just understand truth and emotional truth. And I also understand that when you’re making a movie about these emotional characters who are making emotional decisions, that their emotions have to be heightened.
For me, anytime I’m emotional I usually regret it. Crying on that subway train was embarrassing. Being on the side lines of my son’s soccer team yelling at another parent - I regretted it afterwards. I would always regret my emotions.
These characters are emotional, they are in such a ripe emotional state all the time in the movie. So I think all we thought about was trying to approach those emotional moments as honestly as possible. And I had two of the greatest actors on the planet, attacking that with me.
We were like truth metres for each other. Anytime we felt like we were pushing, it wasn’t right. There was a time I must confess, when Michael cried early on in the movie - I thought to myself – yeah, way to go and cried.
Eight weeks into it, we would be together before a scene - saying whatever we do, let’s not cry and it was like - yeah, I don’t want to cry any more, but it was so ripe with emotion we couldn’t stop crying. The whole movie was snotty crying the whole time, while we were shooting. We couldn’t help it.
Michael Fassbender: What is the definition of a melodrama? That’s the question. Melodrama is a scenario - where the good is good, and the bad is bad isn't it? And they’re played one dimensionally, like that.
I call this film a melodrama at times as well, at times but in a weird way, the good people are making bad choices - it’s an interesting thing in terms of emotion, if things become overweighted, let's say. And becomes too much for an audience if it's too heavily weighted in an emotional realm than as opposed to the story or narrative. I don’t know. Really as a performer, that’s in the director’s hands.
All we do as performers is try and give as many options in a given scenario. So if we are doing a scene We may play it with different intentions and different emotional content or different activities, to get what we want. And then really it’s up to the director to mould that vision.
Derek Cianfrance: No. I spent six months trying to find the perfect place all over Australia and New Zealand. We were going to shoot in Australia, but then Pirates of the Caribbean came into town and they took all the tax credit away. That’s Pirates of the Caribbean 5.
So, we had to go find another spot. We went to New Zealand, which is such a gorgeous country. It’s further south, so the light was really beautiful, it’s always really low in the sky.
There were many great islands that had lighthouses on them, but they also had indigenous populations of protected lizards, so people couldn’t go on those. And then there was this great island we found but the lighthouse wasn't quite right.
|The Light Between Oceans Michael Fassbender Alicia Vikander [Enlarge]|
I like going to camp when I make a movie. I thought that the isolation would play into it, it would be an x factor to us in making the movie.
In some ways it was. We had nowhere to go, we didn’t have technology to escape to, we didn’t have many distractions, we just had each other. We had a very small crew and I was very thankful that these guys agreed to do it like that.
Alicia Vikander: You don't live in a movie, in the sense of a story.
If you’re doing it in London and everyone just goes home at the end of every day that's one thing. The beauty of it is that - I’ve done a few films now where you end up going away on location with a crew and you are there as a team and you’re living close to each other. You create a community and work very intensely and tied together in all departments and that gives a lot.
The best perk of this job is that you end up going to lots of places that I wouldn’t likely have ended up if it weren’t for my job. I arrived on set and a lot of people told me to go to New Zealand and see the nature, it’s extraordinary. But it is one of those things that until you are there it's breathtaking. Every morning and every morning I saw a new sunrise and sunset.
Before I had the role and I met Derek for my audition he said “I expect my actors to fail and surprise me and in turn I will give them experiences”. And this was one. All of us, the actors and the crew thought it was kind of cool. It was Monday to Friday and we were able to go back to our little town on the weekends.
To experience that nature I never felt so small in the world. There was also insight for the characters into what that isolation means, and the wind that never stops – it kind of could drive you mad at night.
Alicia Vikander: Amazing. I was so glad to see Jack again. I met him in Venice and we weirdly met him in Vegas before, sat in a bar and suddenly Jack Thompson walks up.
I’m still at the beginning of my career so every time I get to work with actors who I look up to and whose work I have seen, and I not only get the chance to shake their hands and tell them how much I appreciate them, and to get the chance to work with them is always extremely humbling.
Michael Fassbender: Yeah, I had met Bryan Brown before at a party and I had started doing my best Cocktail impersonation of Coughlin's Law.
So it was great to work with him. Jack Thompson and Garry as well. There’s a sort of musicality to them. Jack, he’s a poet as well as anything else, they’ve just got a real knack for storytelling. I don’t know if that’s because of their Irish heritage – you know, all the Irish convicts going out to Australia! – but there’s a natural gift that the Australians have for storytelling. I think you can see it with the sort of talent that comes out of the country.
There’s a great humanity to Australian artists and performers, and they also have an understanding of the land and the harshness of the environment and what it can throw at you. So yeah, it was a blast! Garry was improvising as well during the wedding scene - it was hilarious.
Derek Cianfrance: I had no idea who Norman Gunston was (a character played by Garry McDonald), but he was Borat before Borat, right? He’s the original Ali G! He’s the best and the bravest and they were all such a pleasure, all the Australian cast.
I have to give credit to Ben Mendelsohn, he pretty much cast the whole Australian portion of the movie.
Michael Fassbender: And full credit to Derek as well. I have to say, in the casting process he’s always searching for truth. Whether or not somebody is known on the scene or not. As an actor early on when I was always trying to get cast in something you always look for those directors who are open to a fresh face or a name that’s not on the list. Amongst Derek’s many traits, that’s a fantastic one - giving people the opportunity to do things they might not otherwise get.
Derek Cianfrance: When I’ve spent a lot of time writing or adapting something I’m so sick of it by the time I’m on set shooting, because I've seen it in my head all the time.
To get on set and to have it to start to become real and to have these two great actors start living in these roles - that is to me the most thrilling moment of my life, in the course of your life as a director there are so few days you actually get to shoot, but to me that’s where the essence is.
From my personal experience of making this film and observing these guys - To me: Michael, was like a heavyweight champ, and when you go to fight with a heavyweight champ you got to show up!
So Alicia showed up, and she was like the thoroughbred, and so a heavyweight champ is used to getting someone down in the second round, but she kept running.
So they kept raising this bar for one another on set and it was so wonderful to watch these two great performers just pushing each other. I didn’t have to do much pushing because they were doing it for each other! And it was beautiful to see when they had each other’s backs.
|The Light Between Oceans Poster Quad [Enlarge] |
As mesmerizingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking, M.L. Stedman's novel The Light Between Oceans was a literary sensation upon its publication in 2012. Now, adapted for the screen by acclaimed director Derek Cianfrance, (Blue Valentine) and with an incredible cast including Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz, this breathtaking story is set to remind us all of the infinite power of love, the overwhelming fear of loss and the complexities of human nature that bind the two.
When lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his adored wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) discover a baby adrift in a boat off the remote coast of Western Australia, they must make a choice. When they decide to raise the child as their own, the shattering consequences of this choice will change their lives forever.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is released in cinemas on Tuesday November 1 2016.
The Establishing Shot: THE MAKING OF THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS - DIRECTOR DEREK CIANFRANCE AND STARS MICHAEL FASSBENDER & ALICIA VIKANDER CHAT ABOUT MAKING THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS - IN CONVERSATION
|Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.|
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