Searchlight Pictures’ latest film, All of Us Strangers, is set in London, where Adam (Andrew Scott) has a chance encounter with a mysterious neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal), in their new apartment building, which is largely unoccupied. As a relationship develops between the two, Adam is preoccupied with memories of the past, and finds himself drawn back to the suburban town where he grew up, as well as his childhood home, where his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell), appear to be living, just as they had been when they died 30 years before.
Based on the novel “Strangers,” by Taichi Yamada, the film was written and directed by Andrew Haigh, and takes viewers on a psychological journey that leaves them questioning what, in fact, is real. Jamie D. Ramsay, SASC, served as cinematographer on the feature, which was edited by Jonathan Alberts, ACE, with music by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch.
Director Andrew Haigh
Here, Andrew Haigh shares insight into the filmmaking process, the challenges he faced and how the film ultimately came together.
Andrew, I see that you actually shot much of this film in your childhood home? I would imagine that you had your shot list very well thought out. Can you talk about that at all?
Andrew Haigh: “Yeah, I'm pretty prepared when I go and make a film, especially because I was shooting it there, I kind of remembered what it was like, and obviously aware of the location, though I hadn't lived there for a long, long time. I always like to do a shot list. I don't storyboard, but always do a shot list. But you have to be open to things being different. Especially in an environment that's real, like that, and not a stage. You suddenly realize that the light is coming through the window in a different way, or the room is not quite how you imagined it would look, or something is slightly different. I need to always sit in the space, reassess, work out with the DP if our shot list is still going to work, and then move forward from that.”
Your cinematographer was Jamie Ramsay. What camera were you using, and is that something that he suggested, or did you have something in mind already?
Andrew Haigh: We shot the film, and that was a conversation that I had with him from the very early days. I knew I wanted to shoot on film. There (are) always financial implications, so it was a bit like, ‘Do you have to? It's expensive!’ But I knew I wanted to. I wanted the film to have that texture. The power that celluloid could actually give a film, to me, is really special, especially for a film that plays around with ideas of the past. It felt like the right medium. We used, I want to say, an Arriflex, but I can't remember what it was. We shot on 35, so I'm not entirely sure what the camera was. I always leave the actual choices of camera to the DP. They're going to know more than I do about what works. I'm always interested in lenses and working out what is the right lens to use, so we did a bunch of tests and we worked out what worked. (We) did a bunch of tests to work out if it was going to be 2.35. At one point we thought about doing it 1.76, I think?”
The apartment was actually constructed on a stage? Adam and Harry seem to be perfectly lit through those large glass windows. Were you using an LED volume to take advantage of the golden hour all day long?
Andrew Haigh: “It was a volume and I've never used a volume before. We thought about doing (it) on-location but to shoot up in a high rise is so difficult. You can't light it from outside the windows. It's really, really complicated. So we built a set and then there was a big conversation about green screen, which I really don't like. I don't like how it makes the actors feel. I never like how it looks. So we did the volume and it is really interesting. It's technically complicated. We’ve got to shoot the plates on a real location and then we had the plates, and you've got to make sure that it works and everything. There was a massive volume, but I really liked it. When you are on the set, you feel like, ‘Oh, we're really here in a real location and the background is moving.’”
Where was this?
Andrew Haigh: “That was in the UK, in the studio in Wembley. It was actually it was built for us. They came to us.”
Can you talk a bit about the shoot?
Andrew Haigh: “We shot everything in the house - the childhood home - was all in one block. And then we shot the apartment in one block. There [was] a couple of weeks in the apartment. So all the scenes, in order, in the apartment.”
The Pet Shop Boys’ song is so important in this feature. You really committed to it? Was there ever a question whether you would be able to license it?
Andrew Haigh: “We made sure we could license it before we started. In fact, almost all of the songs were in the script, pretty much, so we made sure we could license every single song before we started. I wanted it to play. They had to sing along to it and that scene. I hate that pressure. Later on, it's like, ‘Oh my God! Are we getting the song? We're not getting the song?’ So we made sure to get it before we before we started.”
What were the visual effects needs for this film?
Andrew Haigh: “It's so funny. You needed some of the light reflection shots, like in the elevators, for example. We built an elevator that was see-through, double-sided glass, so you could shoot behind glass and shoot into an elevator. But, you know, we wanted to extend the reflections, so there's lots of little things that visual effects did. There's the end shot, which is obviously visual effects. But then there's other stuff with his distortions in the mirror. Visual effects is so strange. So much of it is cleaning things up, like the exterior of the building. We wanted all of the other lights not to be on in the building, so we had to turn them off through visual effects. There's lots of little things - some signage and some posters. And there's a lot of little things that end up being bigger visual effects than you ever thought you're going to have to do.”
How did you collaborate with editor Jonathan Alberts?
Andrew Haigh: “He was on set with us. He was in the studio, basically cutting as we were going along, and I would go and see him in the evenings and chat through stuff. And then we worked closely after that. I like the editors to be there from the beginning, even if I don't necessarily watch the cuts. I just want to check that things are working and check with him. ‘Is it okay? Yes? Is this working or not working?’ Whatever it might be. I've worked with Jonathan now on three films and he's done both my TV shows and stuff, so we've got a good relationship. We've worked together for over ten years, so I trust I trust his instincts about whether things are working or not.”
Do you know what he uses for editing?
Andrew Haigh: “Avid. I think he's always been on the Avid.”
How much of the color treatment was created in the grade, as opposed to what was captured in-camera?
Andrew Haigh: “Because we shot on film, there's inherent quality that film has, and we always made sure we knew it was going to be quite saturated. So that was there on the day already in what we captured. Company 3's grade was not dramatically different. It's always shaping. You're always shaping light. It's got a bit more contrast, a bit more saturation in certain scenes, a bit less saturation in certain scenes. But I wouldn't say looked dramatically different from what the offline looked like.”
What's next for you?
Andrew Haigh: “Well, the promotion will take up the next couple of months. It's not guaranteed (but) I'm hoping to make something next year. I'm just trying to work out what that will be. There's always money to raise, costs to get, companies to agree to do it. So it's always an ongoing process. So nothing is definitive.”