In the run up to the Manchester Film Festival 2020 we are going to be spotlighting some of the filmmakers who are going to be attending, getting them to talk about their films and filmmaking. Up first is Katharine O’Brien, director of the LOST TRANSMISSIONS starring Simon Pegg and Juno Temple. Lost Transmissions is the story of an acclaimed music producer (Pegg) who goes off his medication for schizophrenia. The film has played both South by Southwest and Tribeca film festivals.
INTRODUCING KATHARINE O’BRIEN
Katharine OʼBrien was born in Santa Barbara, CA and studied English at Wellesley College. Katharine worked at Muse Film (Virgin Suicides, Buffalo ʼ66) and as a television writing assistant with Kids in the Hall and Russo Brothers before receiving her MFA in film directing at Columbia University’s graduate film program.
And you can see the latest Simon Pegg film at MANIFF2020, on Sunday 8th March at 5:30PM – Odeon, Great Northern. Book now!
You wrote and directed the film. What was the inspiration?
Katharine OʼBrien: It was inspired by a similar experience I went through with a friend of mine. There were a lot of us trying to get him help but we discovered how impossible it can be to get someone psychiatric care when they don’t want it. You just go through this revolving door of temporary hospital stays. It was heartbreaking.
It was around the same time that the homeless crisis was exploding in Los Angeles. I would drive by encampments on my way home every day, and it really connected the dots for me. Most of the people on the streets are suffering some kind of mental illness and in need of help, not being brushed off by society. I thought there wasn’t a strong enough connection being drawn between the broken mental health care system and our homeless problem in the public consciousness, and the film aims to do that.
How long did the process take from finishing the script to getting the film made?
Katharine OʼBrien: I started writing the script in 2015 after taking my last film I co-wrote around the festival circuit, and we shot in the spring of 2018. Pulse Films was interested in the script because it’s really in their wheelhouse, being a story set in the music scene.
At what stage did Simon and Juno become involved?
Katharine OʼBrien: Simon became involved and was a champion for it early on. He was way ahead of the curve of making an effort to work with female directors. Having made the realization on his own that he hadn’t worked with any female directors in his career yet, he wanted to do something about it. He also was ready for a more dramatic role.
We had to wait for a bit while he finished shooting Mission Impossible. There was a moment when that got delayed we considered moving on to someone else, but I just couldn’t. He was the one for it. The character is challenging to play in the sense that for the majority of the film he is frustrating people and pissing them off. It required someone that you just loved and wanted to continue to help despite it all. Simon is so uniquely lovable. In addition to having incredible comedic and dramatic range, and knowing just when to play what.
The person the film is based on was very funny, and the things he would say would be funny when he was on his medication and disturbing when he was off. Having grown up with schizophrenia in my own family I found that to be a particular experience of it. A lot of the things they say are by nature off the wall. It’s the kind of thing where in the moment it’s scary and then once things have settled down, you can laugh at the absurdity of it. Humor is a coping mechanism in these situations. So it was great luck to work with such a comedic ninja as Simon.
Juno came on board closer to the shoot. She was suggested to us by our casting director Jessica Kelly, who knew Juno personally and knew Juno to be similar to Hannah in having a huge heart. She hadn’t initially crossed my mind because Juno is such a chameleon in all her different roles. She’s an incredible character actor. I was happy to have a role for her that let the world in on what an incredibly loving, empathetic human being she is.
This character is our heroine because she is nurturing and sticks it through to the end, which is a specifically feminine type of hero. Juno also has all this wildness contained within her, so as Hannah is going through her own journey, tapping into this reservoir of emotion she had been suppressing through antidepressants, Juno had all that to release like a damn breaking.
What were the biggest challenges in making the film?
Katharine OʼBrien: It was a great experience. We had a very enthusiastic devoted crew. It was a fluid shoot with producers who were on top of everything. But we were a small film and that means that you don’t have a lot of time. We shot in 19 days and had 15 locations across Los Angeles. You find yourself whittling things down just to fit within the parameters of your resources. I would have pushed the clock a little longer to get shots perfect if I could go back. You realize in the edit room that’s the most important thing.
What are you planning next?
Katharine OʼBrien: I have an action film set in 1500s Scotland. Quite a different genre! But treated with a similar level of realism and social commentary. We’re looking to make it a American and British co-production, so I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time over here! I wrote it in Scotland and just love this part of the world. I’m of Irish and English decent so everything feels very familiar. I’m very happy when I visit.
LOST TRANSMISSIONS stars Simon Pegg and Juno Temple and is playing MANIFF2020 Sunday 8th March at 5:30PM – Odeon, Great Northern.