Richard Lawson, Toshai Ozawa (DP) & camera assistant, David
Why did you make this film?
It was important from the outset that the subject of the film was aware and involved in the process of making the documentary and had a chance to intervene/navigate the project, something which I had not seen in other documentary films. This was the first question I was asking when we set off on this project. This consideration was made complex by the fact that Annelise was only 17 years old when we started working on the project (and 18 when we began principle filming). In this project I was experimenting with process orientated filmmaking; interested in seeing what ideas could be generated from avoiding using predetermined scripted dialogue/action. There wasn't a whole team of researchers aboard, we were never sure what the film was going to be at the end. But filming freely without a tight storyboard was going to be problematic. If it was going to be possible, and since I knew that I wanted to shoot 35mm, the whole team had to be "in on" the process. So, first I searched for the right director of photography who could understand this process and this film; ready to collaborate totally.
How did you find Annelise?
I saw Annelise dancing in a club and I was completely captivated. One night in Newcastle I had been dragged out by some friends- I wasn't into dancing so I hung out at the bar watching "the theatre of life". I saw this young woman dancing on the stage amongst many people, apparently alone. I thought at the time that she could not be older than 15 or 16. She was luminous; drawing in and reflecting all the light around her. People often ask if I was attracted to Annelise and if that is why I pursued the project. I honestly have reflected on this question myself and I don't know the answer. Whatever "attraction" means (I am sure that there is always a sexual side to it) I was drawn to Annelise - I saw that she was a film waiting to happen.
How did this project begin?
I had been awarded a filmmaker in residency position at a media institution in the North of France which were funding a project. It was a fiction film about the wives of submarine men, of all things. Fortunately, the project fell through when the screenwriter of the project decided that she wanted to direct it herself. This left me with no project to produce. I was reflecting on what I wanted to use the residency for- I was in a really privileged position to do anything that I wanted, the funding was already in place. It was the filmmaker Robert Kramer, also an invited artist at Le Fresnoy, who encouraged me to film what interested me most. I looked back on all my ideas in black A5 notebooks and I remembered the young dancer. So that was it, I got in the car and drove the 12 hours back to Newcastle to try and find her! Luckily, it didn't take me too long to find her. When I approached her, I had no idea how open she was going to react to the idea, or how hostile! As you see in the film she has a very open character. We exchanged phone numbers and had a meeting later in the week before I went back to France.
What was it like to involve Annelise?
I wanted Annelise to be at the heart of the production team. I had worked as a lecturer in Ashington (North of England) and had worked for several years with students of her age. I knew that there would be things that she was capable of and that it really depended on her, what she wanted for herself. I found Annelise completely eager to being involved with developing the project and her suggestions and comments were a constant flow which arrived to me in meetings and through constant email contact. At times it was difficult for me to communicate the purpose of the film and perhaps what most difficult to communicate was the idea that this film was not just entertainment; that there was a meaning to what we were doing. We watched many films together to discuss what we wanted the film to achieve. I was clear that what we were making wasn't Ally McBeal. We talked about and watched Kids, Gummo, and many so-called lesbian films, Bound and Drugstore Cowboy too. At times energies went in peaks and valleys for the both of us... the various stages of production were never fast enough. I got to know Annelise very well I think. One of the factors of this was that our shoot was delayed through the summer due to our French investors. So I spent a large span of time in Newcastle mainly with Annelise- developing art direction and location scouting together with the production designer.
Perhaps my one regret was that Toshi wasn't available throughout this period to get closer to Annelise and to work together to further develop our visual ideas.
How did you end up working with the DP, Toshiaki Ozawa?
It took me about a month of calling every producer, director, and agent I knew before finding Toshi. At first I really wanted to give the project to a lesbian DP and I called everyone I knew to find the name of someone they knew working in the industry. I did the research but didn't find any possibilities. I was really trying to find someone who had an investment in the film - it was positive discrimination. With no luck I tried just to find a woman or even a gay man - in the end the person who emerged was a straight married man and it worked out great! I actually don't remember through what chain of phone calls I came to get Toshi's number but it was apparent from our early conversations that he understood the working process which I was interested in. He had worked with the British filmmaker, Isaac Julian, and was collaborating with Verushka, the fashion model on similar, non-traditional projects. When I said that there would be no script, even on the day of shooting, he said "No, problem" and that was it. All we had were locations and rough ideas that linked the scenes!
When I began discussing my interests in terms of aesthetics and film imagery, I mentioned that I had recently seen a film which had interested me for the visuals of Closer. This was Buffalo 66. It turned out Toshi had actually been second unit director of photography for this film. He had worked very closely with Lance Accord who had shot the film and the director Vincent Gallo.
As our conversations deepened, I began to realise the impressive work Toshi had done - he had been asked to be the DP for Velvet Goldmine (which he turned down to work on Buffalo 66) as well as shooting tv ads for Calvin Klein. I made it clear from the beginning that though we had some funding from Northern Arts and co-sponsorship from Le Fresnoy, a French media institute, that the budget would be modest for the type of film that we were making (high shooting ratios and transferring video to film). Toshi replied that the reasons he did commercial projects was so that he could make films such as ours. I knew immediately that he was the right person to work on the project with.