Pictures Of Lily is an independent British film shot on the scenic beaches of Brighton. Roobla caught up with the film’s writer and director to ask him about this unusual love story between a stranger and the enigmatic Lily. Read our interview with director Mark Banks below!
The British film industry has become a more respected presence in recent years, not just for its contribution to huge Danny Boyle directed blockbusters and award-winning period dramas but with smaller, independent films. The latest indie offering is Mark Banks‘ upcoming art house project Pictures of Lily; eponymously named, perhaps unintentionally after the famous 1967 song by The Who.
Set on the pebbled beaches of sunny Brighton, Banks wanted a story that captured loneliness, individuality and that ‘in the moment’ rush of love. “A ‘like story’ about voyeurism and The Wizard of Oz…with funny bits,” says Banks.
Described mainly as a tale of enlightenment, the project took off after Banks penned the script as an incidental love story which, in his own words, did not resort to ‘the obvious trapping and clichés of a romantic drama’. The narrative itself focuses on a man, ambiguously named The Man, from London who finds himself in Brighton and encounters a woman named Lily who shows him the beauty of Brighton and lets him into her world. Naturally, similarities have already been drawn between Pictures of Lily and Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, but this abstract ‘meeting of minds’ love story is different.
“It’s about two very different people that meet when one accuses the other of spying on them,” says Banks. “This initially awkward encounter then turns into a mutual fascination as they spend the day together wandering around the town; dissecting and discovering each other in equal measure.”
Banks himself lived in London for many years before moving to Brighton, describing it as a “a runaway town for cool people” and based the film around his own experiences:
“My fingerprints are all over it,” he exclaims, before adding that the film could not exist without a loyal production team. Producer Ele Berrie, according to Banks, read the script in one sitting and immediately began to seek out investors and actors to play the parts of the protagonists. The character Lily took on a life of her own when Elena Soarin was cast.
“Most of the female protagonist works I have read or seen seem to deal more with ‘being a woman’ than ‘being a person’ who can’t quite seem to fit in,” says Banks, who insisted that Lily was ‘not there just to enable the man’s character to arc’:
“I wanted her to be strong, challenging, intelligent and independent like most women I know … and rarely see represented on screen.”
Whilst Daniel Lane took on the challenging role of The Man, Soarin’s spirit and enthusiasm to get inside Lily’s skin is what won over Banks and his production team in their search.
“Elena arrived at her first audition ‘as Lily’. It was there straight away: the attitude, the dress sense; she’d put together an outfit that was exactly as described in the script – now that’s dedication,” recalls Banks. “There was some competition – in fact I’d all but offered the role to someone else before Elena had even tested, but she shone through as the real Lily and came to be known as such by all cast and crew.”
“On set there was no Elena … just Lily.”
Whilst the title centres around Lily, The Man is the central character of whom which Banks deducts is going through a ‘premature mid-life crisis of sorts’.
“Daniel [Lane] was one of a handful of men I liked for the role of The Man,” explain Banks. “His character was, perhaps, less defined by the script. He’s a quiet, dispirited guy in a suit. That was about it,” Bank said.
“The actor would need to convey intelligence, melancholy, a troubled history and, most importantly, be of interest to an audience before he even spoke. Yet the first scene I asked Daniel to read was one of the last in the story and he gave us goosebumps with the opening line.”
Banks and Barrie were impressed with Lane’s initiative when he sourced his own costume and slid right into the role of The Man so much so that he was mistaken for a genuine commuter when shooting began. The Man would be a perfect counter-balance for Soarin’s Lily and their unexpected chemistry together boded well for Banks and his crew.
“We get the sense that he’s very much alone in this busy and sociable town, but that maybe he’s enjoying observing it at a distance,” says Banks. Taking inspiration from the likes of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus for their archetypal Outsider to create the identity of The Man, Banks also admittedly also ‘stole’ from The Man With No Name among other modern works which directly influenced him.
“I’m a bit of a Francophile, I have books and films that I became obsessed with as a teenager which never left me,” says Banks, “but I always liked the moments where I can taste and feel rather than the whole story,” he explains. “Which is why I tend to take bits rather than a whole film.”
Banks got into film-making at a young age, making mini-movies with a Super 8 camera before deciding to take a film course 15 years ago. Yet it was the likes of Edgar Wright, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith who inspired Banks to grab a copy of The Guerilla Film Maker’s Handbook to just ‘go out to make movies for whatever money you could get’.
His first production was a 90 minute movie called Look At Me and a few music videos and short videos followed. Pictures Of Lily however, is Banks’ first ever feature film.
Shooting on a DSLR and digital photographic cameras so that each scene would look like ‘moving pictures’, the film has a very cinematic feel as opposed to the hand-held style that Banks initially envisioned – ‘an aesthetic choice which worked out cheaper’ for Banks, whose project has suffered some issues with budget.
“What’s great is that the film now looks like it cost ten times more than it did,” says Banks, praising DOP Ed Christmas and his camera team for their beautiful cinematography.
The film does indeed pay its dues in style to the French New Wave films of the 1960’s that Banks seems to be so fond of. Using a dreamy soundtrack compiled of local Brighton-based musicians and artists to capture a unique Bohemian feel, Banks detailed that the film also behaves as a ‘love letter of sorts’ to the quaint seaside town. Pictures Of Lily, in fact, also seems to serve as as example of everything that is interesting and wonderful about British cinema; whether it be result of its authentic homegrown music, its unknown up-and-coming cast or its postcard shots of the UK’s blissful southern coast. Everything from concept to colloquy is sure to reflect our flowering yet highly-threatened arts industry.
More than a twee story of star-crossed lovers, Pictures Of Lily attempts to capture the things we fear and desire about being an outsider.
“I think ultimately we all just want to be ‘got’ don’t we?” says Banks. “To share our feelings and communicate. Connect.”
Pictures Of Lily is still currently in post-production is being released via Twisted Kiss Pictures. You can watch the trailer for Pictures Of Lily on the official website.