Tribeca Film Festival: A Conversation with Acclaimed Writer/Director Andrea Arnold

Posted by Susan Kouguell

At the Tribeca Talks series at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, filmmaker Ira Sachs ("Love is Strange") interviewed U.K. writer and director Andrea Arnold about writing, filmmaking, and surrendering.


Andrea Arnold


In 2005 Arnold’s short film, Wasp, earned an Academy Award. She also received two BAFTA awards and two jury prizes at Cannes, as well as a multitude of festival accolades for her films, "Milk," "Dog," "Red Road," "Fish Tank" and "Wuthering Heights." On television she has directed two episodes of "Transparent." Arnold's latest film, "American Honey" starring Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough (recently acquired by A24) about a crew of teens who sell magazines across the Midwest is her first to be filmed in the U.S. "American Honey" is one of just three films from female directors in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s main competition and one of two from the U.K.


"American Honey"


On Filmmaking

In Andrea Arnold’s films many of the actors are non-actors and they employ street casting.

Sachs: The shooting process has surprises, dangers, and risks. Arnold: I love that. It brings life. I don’t like knowing everything that’s going to happen on the shoot.

Sachs: What frightens you in filmmaking?

Arnold: I like the obstacles. In the last one (‘American Honey’), I think I pushed it. It was very tough, there were days I had scenes with loads of non-actors, and there were a few days I really pushed it. What are you frightened of?

Sachs: I’m burdened by everything. Arnold: The money?

Sachs: Yes, the money. It’s fear and fearlessness. You navigate between the two; I don’t panic in it.

Arnold: I remember before starting the film, I was taking a lot of risks that definitely entered my head. I try not to let the money stop me, you worry too much then you don’t push it. I do feel responsible for the money.

Sachs: Do you think your filmmaking has changed?

Arnold: I feel like the last film I made was the most me I’ve ever been. I trusted myself totally, the most I’ve ever done. In that way it has changed.


IFC Films - Andrea Arnold's 'Fish Tank'


About Screenwriting

Sachs: How do your ideas for film begins?

Arnold: Usually what starts driving me is an image I have that won’t go away. For ‘Fish Tank’ I had an image of a girl pissing on the floor in someone’s house, it wasn’t her house. And I thought ‘What is this girl doing?’ and then I start thinking about what that means and who she is, where she comes from, why she’s doing that, and so I start a mind map.


Arnold: Sometimes when you’re filmmaking things don't always go the way you were expecting. You know, I have such a beautiful vision in my head in my head before the shoot, and then we get there and of course it's different.


"Wuthering Heights"


On Improvising

Sachs: With your screenplays, does the dialogue or the action ever change when you're shooting? Is there any improvisation? How concerned are you with preserving what you've written?

Arnold: I always have this romantic idea about improvising but then we go on set and there's no time to get the same coverage. I think it's sometimes valuable when you have scenes that might not be working. And this last film (‘American Honey’) we did more than normal. I let them put in some of their own words but it's definitely my story but they did do it in their own kind of way.

Sachs: I never liked improvisation. I want it restrained.

Using Film

Arnold: We did start with film, but it was way too difficult; we had to keep changing magazines. I like film a lot. Somebody said the other day, which I thought was a very good way of describing it; “When you see a shot of a man in an empty room, on video, you think someone has left the room, and when you see it on film, you think someone is about to come in.” There’s nothing like film.


"Red Road"


On Rehearsing

Sachs: Do you give actors the whole script? Rehearse?

Arnold: I haven't rehearsed in a long time. I don’t like to rehearse. In ‘Fish Tank’ I gave them pages once a week and they learned it bit by bit. On this last one, ‘American Honey’ I gave them pages every day -- they didn’t know what was coming!

Final Words

Sachs: Advice for first-time directors?

Arnold: Be yourself. There's only one of you. Be unique, trust that.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College SUNY, and presents international seminars on screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide.,

THIS ARTICLE IS RELATED TO: Andrea Arnold, Fish Tank, American Honey,Wuthering Heights, Red Road, Tribeca, Tribeca 2016, International Film Business,International Film, International Film Sales, International Film Festival, International Sales Agent.


About Susan Kouguell

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell serves as chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC - a motion picture consulting company where she works with international filmmakers and studios. She writes about film and screenwriting for SydneysBuzz,Script Magazine, and other publications. Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY, and presents international seminars. Her films are in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection and archives, were included in the Whitney Museum Biennial and screened in many festivals worldwide.


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