By Tom Ue.
Director Aoife McArdle discusses the making of Kissing Candice, a film that follows the titular character (Ann Skelly), a 17-year-old, who aspires to escape the boredom of her town and who finds solace in her imagination. Dreams and realities collide when she meets Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), about whom she dreamed and when they both become involved with a local gang. McArdle is an award-winning Northern-Irish filmmaker who is based in London. Her background spans music video, short films, and commercial work. For some of her projects, see https://www.aoifemcardle.com.
Congratulations on the TIFF selection for Kissing Candice! You have extensive experience with directing short films and music videos: what is different about directing a feature film?
Thank you. We had a similar budget for the feature as I’ve had for shorts so that was the main challenge. Any filmmaker can testify to how grueling and full of sacrifice a micro budget feature is. The process reminded me of when I first started making low-budget music videos. You have to really invest your soul and get your hands dirty. You have to rehearse intensively and instead of days of sleepless nights you now have months. A lot of post-production, colouring, effects and sound design goes into the final aesthetic of most of my work but with a feature that entailed treating around 145,500 frames as opposed to the usual 100s. So the main overall difference is the length of commitment and the emotional investment that naturally comes with that.
The film looks and sounds excellent: tell us about your decisions with the opening dream sequence.
Thank you. I wrote the opening and ending first. I wanted to use the opening to immerse the audience in the power of the lead character’s inner world. A hypnotic journey with visceral, emotional colours, enveloping sound, sexual frustration and all her subconscious fears of the dangers awaiting her. Then the ending takes you right back to the idealistic elements of that dream in a circular, inevitable way. I also wanted to use the opening dream sequence to outline the story. The audience is so smart and cineliterate that I liked the idea of giving them all the clues early on so the film becomes a psychological puzzle that slowly solves itself. Visually, the look of the dream sequence came mostly from my own dreams. Then I went about storyboarding it. Probably the greatest challenge is trying to replicate what you see in your own mind. Dystopian locations, art direction, cinematography and lighting take you some of the way there but then I spent a lot of time in post to achieve the final aesthetic and sound design that would bring Candice’s dream world to life.
Kissing Candice changes, and plays with, styles: what are some of your influences?
It’s a youth film so its form reflects its subject … it’s willfully intense, overwhelming, dramatic, non-linear…just like the protagonist’s psychological landscape. Fundamentally I wanted to make a film that wasn’t conventional, that played with the idea of a teenage vision at every level so it was a little anarchic, irreverent and pulp in its approach to reality, structure and genre. In terms of influences, there are probably thousands of subconscious ones but I’ve always loved Gothic literature, detective fiction, vintage horror and art filmmakers like Fellini, Antonioni, Bresson, Jodorowski and Tarkovsky.
The film features excellent performances from Ann Skelly and Ryan Lincoln. Tell us about the casting process.
The search was wide and intense. I met hundreds of young people all over Ireland. We ended up with a combination of street cast, theatre and film actors. There were many auditions from talented people but at the end of the day you have to go with your instincts and choose the actors who you genuinely find most captivating. Ann had this intoxicating voice, an enigmatic quality and a deep understanding of the character and Ryan had a nervous energy and natural warmth that brought extra qualities to his role. We rehearsed the script very intensively and they poured their hearts and souls into it and worked so hard. I’m madly proud of them both.
How did you prepare the actors for the dream sequences?
We rehearsed all of the dream sequence to 50s music in a tiny office and I filmed them so we could practice the expressions and choreography. Every scene was rehearsed rigorously before we got to set, truthfully, because our shooting schedule only ever gave us enough time for one or two takes. Ryan spent a lot of extra time practicing sleep walking in his bedroom too. It’s not easy to do. He also had to psyche himself up for the fire moment, some of which was achieved in camera. He was amazingly fearless about it.
Did improvisation play a role in the film’s development?
Mostly we stuck to the script and storyboard but in the rehearsal process, I inevitably changed some dialogue here and there to suit the actors’ style or performances or to incorporate something amazing they could bring to it. In the rare instance when we had time to spare on set, we’d do an extra take that was more improvised. Those moments can be the most exciting – for instance some of the driving lesson dialogue is spontaneous and, because of this, it had an electricity it wouldn’t otherwise have had.
There’s a sense in which dream and reality are indistinguishable as the film progresses, though one of the film’s central stories revolves around the very real story of a missing boy: how important is reality to the film?
We’re experiencing the inner, subjective world of a teenage girl so it’s her stylized reality we’re immersed in rather than anyone else’s or a necessarily truthful one. She’s preoccupied with the disappearance of this boy so he intrudes increasingly upon her reality as it unravels. Overall I think each of us perceives our own worlds and circumstances in a very different way so it’s only her reality that’s important to the film. The biggest challenge for me was how to immerse the audience in her particular vision of the world through mood, colour and sound rather than have them feel distanced from it.
What is next for you?
I’m in the middle of writing another film. It’s more of a conventional narrative film. A psychological sci-fi with a vintage sensibility.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.