BAFTA winning director and NFTS alumna, Lynne Ramsay delivered a highly entertaining and insightful masterclass to the students after a screening of her powerful new film, You Were Never Really Here.

The session was hosted by NFTS Head of Screen Arts, Sandra Hebron and Lynne was joined by the film’s producer, Jim Wilson. Lynne explained that You Were Never Really Here is based on a novella by Jonathan Ames and that she was attracted to the project by the main character who she found “really interesting.” She continued: “I loved how tight the book was and I tried to keep that quality in my adaptation.”

Jim got involved in the project when Lynne contacted him about it: “The thing that drew me was that Lynne wanted to do it. I would pretty much do the yellow pages if Lynne was attached to it! I was interested to see how Lynne would look at the subject matter.”

Joaquin Phoenix was Lynne’s first choice to play Joe: “I thought it was him from the beginning. In my mind, he was in it.” But securing Joaquin meant starting the shoot earlier than anticipated as he had an unexpected slot in his schedule. Jim explained: “We didn’t anticipate that we would make the film that summer as Joaquin was due to shoot a film but when that got moved, we went from best laid plans to being in New York and starting the shoot with no soft prep as we had to get the film done by September when Joaquin was due to start another film.”

Due to the tight time schedule, Lynne had to adapt the scrip to shorten the shoot time: “Our backs were really up against the wall.” Sandra added: “It feels like you got what you needed – there’s something about the propulsion that really works.” Lynne agreed: “Summer in New York is brutal – it was dirty, grimy and noisy – being summer was good for that reason though as we ended up with a tight little mean thing.”

The vulnerability of Joe is a central theme of the film, despite its tough subject matter. Lynne explained: “I wanted him to be human and vulnerable. I had to try lots of tones in the edit as I wanted humour in there as well. I’d never done an action movie or anything with guns before. I see the violence as psychology, it needed to be super mechanical and personal as it was an everyday thing for Joe. Seeing a piece of something is more effective and real, it gave the film a different kind of energy.” Sandra highlighted the scene where Joe touches his mother’s feet as a particularly tender moment. Lynne said: “To me it’s all about love – the tiniest gesture and detail says everything about the relationship.”

One of the students asked how Lynne had made the transition from shooting to directing as she had studied Cinematography at the NFTS. Lynne replied: “I started as a photographer. It was quite tough at first. I had to learn a new language. It’s really good to technically understand shots though, I think every director should have the skills of a good DP and understand which shots will work.”

The impactful score is composed by Radiohead member, Jonny Greenwood. Lynne said: “Getting any music from Jonny was like a present. He was amazing. He saw the film in chronological order, following the film like a character – the soundtrack is like Joe is imploding.”

Sandra asked about the music choices, particularly those that accompany the scenes of violence. Lynne said: “We tried as much as possible. We worked with Paul Davies who was a sound tutor at the NFTS while I was there. This is such a good place! A lot of the time, it’s the sound that really affects you.”

At the end of the session, Sandra thanked Lynne and Jim and said: “You are clearly very energised – what do you want to do now?” Lynne replied: “The energy from the film was crazy, it felt so good and as soon as it was over, I thought, let’s go shoot something else! I have lots of ideas, none fully fledged yet – a comedy maybe?! Nothing is off bounds so long as it’s something I’m excited about and something that excites the audience. I still feel like a student – I’m still exploring.” Lynne signed off by telling the students: “I’m looking forward to seeing your films, I bet they’re kick ass!”

You Were Never Really Here is out now and credits three further NFTS graduates in addition to Lynne. They are: DoP, Thomas Townend, Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor, Paul Davies and Additional Sound Editor, Morgan Muse.

If you would like to attend masterclasses like this one, have a look at our upcoming open days to find out more about our courses -