Filmmaking: <I>Love Sarah</I> director Eliza Schroeder
Issue: January/February 2021

Filmmaking: Love Sarah director Eliza Schroeder

Eliza Schroeder’s new film Love Sarah makes its US debut on January 15th. The film marks Schroeder’s feature directorial debut, following a string of successful shorts and commercials. 

Schroeder incorporated her production company Rainstar Productions in 2008, and in 2017, she joined forces with producer Rajita Shah to develop Love Sarah. The film tells the story of a young woman (Shannon Tarbet), who hopes to fulfill her mother’s dream of opening a bakery in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood. To accomplish this, she enlists the help of an old friend (Shelley Conn) and her grandmother (Celia Imrie).

The warm-hearted drama was shot in 2019 in Notting Hill before the pandemic hit. Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, London-based Schroeder discusses her work on the film; how her previous experience prepared her for the challenges of a feature; what she learned from this project; and how they were able to turn an antique store into the perfect bakery setting.
This is your first feature, but you have directed many shorts and commercials. Did that lead you to a preference in cameras and formats?

“Absolutely. I think that with every little short film you create, you increase your level of experience. I’m actually listening to a very interesting audio book about directing and how you can never learn enough. I’ve definitely learned with the short films, how to direct actors, what equipment I prefer. And it’s been a steep learning curve. Of course the first feature is always a totally different beast because it is longer. It’s more intense. I had five lead actors. It was a great challenge, but I really enjoyed it.”

Photo (left): Cinematographer Aaron Reid and director Eliza Schroeder

Your cinematographer was Aaron Reid. Did you rely on him to choose the  camera, or did you have something already in mind?

“I used to work as a photographer so I have camera knowledge and I have preferences, and yet, especially when we were talking about the formats and details in terms of shots and camera, I would very much trust Aaron. From a very early stage we did a lot of talking. He really wanted to creep into my head and understand what I wanted to do visually. Sometimes you can easily do that by sharing pictures and references. But still, the key thing for us was to spend a lot of time together in pre-production, and exchange visual thoughts and images on what I wanted him to do. And that led to suggestions. I had a great trust in him and I think he’s done an incredible job.”

What did you end up shooting on?

“We used the Arri Alexa. It really is always dependent on lenses. We had a beautiful set of Zeiss lenses for shooting digital. And you also need an incredible gaffer. That was quite interesting because we were struggling to find the right level of gaffer until the very end, and I was getting really worried because I knew the film would live from the lighting. And we found wonderful Chris (Georgas), who really switched on the light for us.”

Why was lighting a challenge?

“We were shooting very much on location, so all the street scenes you see are actually streets in Notting Hill, in our neighborhood. And I had a discussion with our producer who said, ‘You want to shoot on the street of Notting Hill, with a limited budget? You’re crazy!’ Yet somehow she magically made it happen. So relied more of less on natural lighting. We had little sources of light here and there. Little LED lights, but relied on the gray London sky, which is quite a good thing when you’re shooting outside. And of course when we were shooting inside, we had lighting.”

You had two editors working on this film — Jim Hampton and Laura Morrod. How did that work?

“They were coming on board much later because it was a budget restriction where we couldn’t allow ourselves to have an editor on-set. In hindsight, [it] is something I would do differently the next time around if my budget would allow. It is really quite incredible when you have your editor on-set. We had someone who would assemble the footage for me to see, but we didn’t have these two editors.

“These two are a couple. We started with Laura and then she got busy on another job and she referred us to Jim. And I have to say, to have the pair was truly magical, because for some reason Jim came at a moment where Laura and I had put our heads into it for an intense amount of time and we really couldn’t see clearly anymore. And then Jim came in with his very sort of ‘male attitude’ and chopped things away, where Laura and I were sort of looking at each other and thinking, ‘What is he doing?’ But it did the project very well. So if they were up for another joint venture, I would always work with them as a couple. It was brilliant.”

Why is it important for you to have an editor close to production?

“It’s purely because, especially when you are working on a tight schedule, you can hardly make any mistakes. You don’t have as many takes as you sometimes need. If I were to have one of them, or both of them, on-set, I would have asked them often, ‘Do you think we’ve got what we need for this particular scene?’ Or ‘Do you think we need to reshoot?’ I didn’t have that. For me, making a film is very much a team effort. It’s not my film, it’s our film because I trusted all of these amazing creative people who have given me their time.”

What were they using for the edit?

“They were only working on Avids.”

Was this a single-camera shoot?

“We worked a lot with a Steadicam operator, which allowed us to go with a two camera set up for the scenes that were visually quite intense. I definitely wanted to have a lot of movement in there. I really wanted to bring the bakery alive. The best way to do that was working with a Steadicam. For me, that was an incredible experience because there are a few really well-rehearsed scenes that were done in one shot. Although that takes a lot of time to prepare and lots of takes, once you get ‘the golden take’, you really have something quite dynamic. I really love that. It really gave us opportunity in this fairly small space to switch on the movement, the magic.”

You shot in 2019. Did the pandemic affect post production?

“Luckily it hasn’t affected this project. It’s affected other projects that I am working on now. Love Sarah was before that, luckily.

“I am extremely excited about Samuel L. Goldwyn having taken it on and hopefully about the American audience, because they are set at home [and] have time to watch it and enjoy it.”

What did you learn from this being your first feature?

“I think what I [learned] is that prep time and rehearsal time with the actors is something that is really valuable. That is something we had some time, but certainly not enough. Why I am saying that? Becasue I had an amazing team of actors who have given me their trust and we had a really nice team spirit, but I would have liked to have gotten to know them before hand and not just during the shoot. It would have allowed me to maybe increase the level of trust and performance even further. Once the level of trust is there and we’ve rehearsed things well, it might have even saved us time during the shoot. That’s the one big thing I think, rehearsal time.”

How long was the shoot? 

“We shot around five-and-a-half weeks.”

The bakery was an actual location? How did that come about?

“It was an antique shop. I really wanted to have a real location. It’s an amazingly quiet antique shop, so we asked the elderly women who owns it if she would be willing to go on holiday, and we would pay for it. And she said, ‘No problem! I am going to put my stuff into storage.’ We had the room to ourselves to make it look like a bakery.

“For the gaffer and for Aaron, it was a real challenge to keep the consistent light, especially if you only have light from one side. It can make it look quite dark. They had an amazing constriction called ‘the eyebrow’, which they put in front of the shop to give it consistent light.”

Soundtracks are always important. Did you have an original score?

“I’ve had the composer for quite a while. He’s a similar age to me and he lives in LA. His name is Enis (Rotthoff). I had been in touch with him previously, but we had never worked together. When I was thinking about the film, I knew I really wanted to approach him. He has been incredible. He really was listening. We went scene by scene and he really went into my head. I told him, ‘Enis, I need something that is uplifting but also has a deeper layer. And it needs to matter and it needs to touch people.’ And I think he’s really done that well.”

What is next for you?

“I am working on a few projects at the moment. One is a documentary project about ballet dancers, who are mothers, and how they are juggling motherhood with the physical challenges they have as a dancer. I am very excited about that. And I have two other things: One is a thriller, which I am super excited about, because I have always wanted to direct a thriller. It’s in the early stages. And the other one is a children’s movie.”

Credit: BTS photograph by Laura Radford