(L-R: Mahalia, Chloe and Jens)
NFTS Graduates - BAFTA winning director Mahalia Belo, Cinematographer Chloe Thomson and Sound Designer, Jens Petersen returned to the NFTS the other day to talk about their forthcoming 6 part BBC series, Requiem – hailed as ‘the most terrifying BBC drama ever made’.
(Still from Requiem)
Mahalia, Chloe and Jens met and worked together at the NFTS. Mahalia’s BIFA winning NFTS graduation film, Volume, was shot by Chloe, “so we had a shorthand already in place from working together before” Mahalia said, chatting to Ian Sellar, NFTS Co-Head of Fiction, hosting the Q&A. Chloe continued “We share a visual aesthetic”. Both Mahalia and Chloe were recently named BAFTA ‘Breakthrough Brits’ and Mahalia as a Screen International Star of Tomorrow.
(Still from Volume)
Jens has won numerous Sound Design awards, his credits include I Am Not a Witch, 71, Viceroy’s House and Film Stars Don’t die in Liverpool. Sound is a key element in psychological thriller Requiem, creating an eerie atmosphere. “A lot of the things had to be told in sound, the ‘otherness’.” Jens explained. “Mahalia tells me what the character is feeling, and I come up with a sound to express that – she wanted it to be as good as a feature film – which is why we all want to work with her!”
(Still from I Am Not A Witch)
The Guardian praised Requiem as “An exemplary winter chiller”, warning “Bolt the doors and hold your loved ones close, for dark forces are abroad in rural Wales”. Having won a BAFTA for her 2016 TV drama film Ellen, Requiem is Mahalia’s first TV series. Often, directors may only direct one or two episodes of a longer drama series such as Requiem, but Mahalia directed all six. Meaning she might be shooting scenes from different episodes with very different tones on the same day, because they were set in the same location. “I had to have six episodes of plot running through my head at all times!” Mahalia recalled.
(Still from Requiem)
She praised her actors as “a joy to work with”. Mahalia loved how “The lead actress, Lydia Wilson, always does something different than you expect – that’s what brings the character alive.” Lydia’s character is unusual and Mahalia reflected, “there can be this strange perspective on women in the media – a concern to make a female character ‘nice’ so that the audience will like her, but I’m like ‘you know what, she’s a human being, she’s complex – let’s go with that’.”
Almost everything was filmed on location in Wales. “I really like working on location,” Mahalia said, “you can feel the place breathing, and it’s great for the actors as well.” Chloe praised the production designer Cristina Casali, “she’d done a brilliant job on the house, so when you walked in it already felt creepy, which made my job as a DP that much easier!” Jens described how with sound he then “tried to bring the house alive, so it creaks a lot, like you’re on a ship.”
To create the otherworldly sounds, Jens contacted a company that produces military technology for minefield surveillance and earthquake detection and obtained elements of their Geophones - devices that ‘listen’ to the earth by recording ultra-low frequency vibrations. He took them to Wales and recorded the sounds of the earth there – where the tectonic plates are still shifting as result of the last Ice Age. “Mahalia wanted to find the sound of the energy of the landscape surrounding this village in the story.” Jens explained, “So with the Geophones I recorded what we came to call ‘The Welsh Rumble’ to use as part of the sound design.”
Asked for advice for new NFTS students starting out at the NFTS, Mahalia said “At the NFTS you get the chance to try things out, I made some mistakes with my films, I still am, that’s how you get better, the safe space to try things out here at the NFTS is amazing. And also the relationships.” Chloe advised “Make as much work as possible, shoot as much as you can.” Jens said “50% of what you get out of the school is the people you meet. For those of us in post-production who may be sat in our rooms alone all day I would say don’t be seduced by doing too much work, go to exhibitions, meet people, discuss things. My top advice is to go to the bar more.”
Six- part drama Requiem starts on BBC 1 at 9pm, Friday 2nd February.
Requiem trailer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05vg2mt
If you would like to follow in Mahalia, Choe and Jens’ footsteps, sign up to one of our many upcoming open days – more info at www.nfts.co.uk/opendays