This week, the science fiction period drama about two sisters who create a machine that can show the future finally arrives in cinema. Filmed in black and white, the found footage film LOLA, starring Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini, explores time travel in a completely new and unique way. Director and writer of a series of award-winning shorts, Andrew Legge makes his feature film debut with LOLA. He took the time to chat with Filmhounds about all the aesthetics of old machinery, twisting the concept of the mad scientist and the pros and cons of making a found footage film.
Firstly, absolutely loved the film, can you tell me how you came up with this unique story and why you chose a found footage period science fiction setting?
The story was initially was from a short film I made in 2009 called The Chronoscrope which was about a scientist looking into the past, a documentary, very Zelig-esque. I quite liked playing around with that form and using old cameras, as I'm an old camera geek. I liked the idea of time travel but not literally moving through time, more like information from time. I was originally looking into making a feature adaptation of my short but then the idea of looking into the past is quite limiting in terms of plot and what you can do so I changed it into the idea of seeing the future and developed the story from there.
Playing with the idea of these two women being in one era, the 40s, being exposed to pop culture and playing music like David Bowie I thought was really intriguing. Incorporating the found footage was necessary, not to give away any spoilers, but it wouldn't have worked any other way because the whole film is a message from one sister to the other, so it was needed for the story to be logical, as the film itself is an artifact. Creating the story happened in layers, you have one idea then that generates another idea and builds up. Essentially the film wouldn't worked as a normal drama because then the whole idea of the film itself being a message would be lost.
In a found footage film you don't see everything that happens, it's the same with LOLA, there are going to be parts of the story we don't see. Was there ever version of the film where we would get to see these missing scenes?
With a found footage film you are very limited, which in one way is good, particularly for a lower budget, but there were so many times when I was writing the film, I wished I could have shot a particular scene in a certain way. You really do box yourself in with found footage, which can be frustrating. I would have loved to have been able to open out the story. But at the same time, I liked that we were forced to always be filming from Mars' [Stefanie Martini] perspective, even when it was newsreel footage as it is her editing that together and I quite enjoyed that challenge.
Was making the film found footage the key element to the story or was it more about the sisters, Tom and Mars?
The found footage is a storytelling stylistic device and the story is about the sisters.
Why two sisters, what was it about these two characters?
I found the sisters' dynamic, the love/hate relationship intriguing. I have two daughters myself so maybe that partly informed the idea. I also felt that this dynamic needed to be explored as I haven't seen these characters in film before.
The sisters' bond and relationship are portrayed really well in the film, the two complement each other, one being artistic, the other technically minded. You also don't see two sisters creating something together in a science fiction genre film. The machine, LOLA, that the sisters create, follows in a pattern of your previous films. Can you tell me about your fascination in machinery?
It all started as love of beautiful old machines and their gorgeous design. My grandfather was a doctor and he had an amazing collection of Victorian medical equipment and I remember being mesmerized by it. I found that all the items; the wood, the glass, the copper and the brass, the materials they were made from so beautiful. I love the aesthetic of old machines and scientific objects in a retro world, rather than a cyber one. I also love the concept of the mad scientist and that probably connects to the sisters and the fact you never see female mad scientists, they're usually male and old. There is also the fun you have with a machine, plot wise, in particularly time travel which can work well with a low budget.
Can you tell us about the practical effects used in the film?
We always wanted to build something that was beautiful and that felt like a character in the story. Most of the effects in the film was done practically. We didn't use CGI, we did use some compositing where we manipulated the archival footage but did everything else practically. We shot the film using 16mm and 35mm cameras. That was always very much part of the film, building this lovely set, this machine and just being able to go into that room and point the camera at it. The location where we shot the film was an old period house with that lovely 200-year-old silk wallpaper. We tried to use those real elements and not have to fake things in post.
Finally, what future projects are you working on that you can tell us about?
It's in very early on, but I do have an idea that I've been working on. It's sci-fi again, set in the 60s. I want it to be musically based, continuing that theme of music [from LOLA] and we're going to shoot it in colour. This time its two friends, two women, we meet them first as teenagers and follow them as they go on very different paths, loose contact with each other but then meet again 15 years later.
LOLA is released in cinemas on 7th April