Exclusive Interview with director Courtney Hope Thérond

By Bianca Garner

During LFF 2019 I encountered many short films, there were many that I enjoyed but there was one that stayed with me long after the festival had ended. This film was “Rehearsal” written and directed by Courtney Hope Thérond, who very kindly agreed to talk to ITOL regarding her film and the it’s production. During our interview we discussed what inspired her to make the film, the issues concerning consent and what filmmakers inspired her. We would like to extend our thanks to Courtney and wish all the best of her luck with her future projects!

Thank you so much for letting me interviewing you, I was really blown away by how good “Rehearsal” was. Would you mind introducing yourself and how you came up with the idea of “Rehearsal” for our readers? 

Courtney Hope Thérond: I am a filmmaker who likes to explore darker themes in my work that focus on a female perspective. I’m a first AD for my day job and I worked on a film where there was a sex scene which was handled strangely, it was a different scearnio to the one portrayed in “Rehearsal” but it was a similar situation of this grey area and there was a specific incident that made it uncomfortable. It was hard to explain the incident after the fact to those who hadn’t been there. Just thinking about the incident and whether I should have responded differently inspired the film. 

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Jessica Mendez Siqueiros in “Rehearsal”

So, I wanted to make a piece that tapped into that ambiguous area of consent which I think people gloss over as it’s easier to talk about the more sensationalized pieces that have come out because of the #MeToo movement. Pushing the boundaries of what consent is start at a small level and that’s where the boundaries are tested and that’s what allows for the patterns to start. I really wanted to start a conversation around what that looks like. 

What has been the reaction to your film from both female audience members and male viewers?

C: I was really nervous about showing the film because what occurs is so subtle, and I was worried about questions about “why didn’t she say no” but I haven’t encountered any of those types of questions which was surprising in a good way. So far it’s only played on the festival circuit so the audience has been made up of people who are more exposed to these types of situations. People have shared their personal stories with me after the film has been screened, some women have stated that I have managed to capture what it’s like to be the only woman in a room full of men, even people who aren’t part of the film industry have shared their experiences.

“I wanted to make a piece that tapped into that ambiguous area of consent which I think people gloss over… Pushing the boundaries of what consent is start at a small level and that’s where the boundaries are tested and that’s what allows for the patterns to start. I really wanted to start a conversation around what that looks like.”

 I have had a few people (male and female) who have said that they’ve been on the other side of that situation, where they’ve been dealing with people like they’re props without asking whether it’s okay if they touch that person.  It’s been interesting to get that sort of feedback. 

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Courtney Hope Thérond at LFF 2019

The ending of the film where the character of Anna (played by Jessica Mendez Siqueiros) is sat in the car in a state of almost shell-shock is so remarkable and powerful. How did you decide on that ending, was it scripted or improvised? 

C: Originally in the script there was another scene after that one, but in the editing process we realised that it was better to leave it open ended. You can look at the film with the cuts to black and time jumps, and wonder whether she’s recalling the events and trying to process what happened after the fact. We’re also leaving it to the audience to come to their own conclusion about what took place. 

Are you able to talk about the casting process. I found all the performances especially Jessica to be extraordinary and they all come across as so genuine and natural. 

C: I’ve worked with Jess before, she actually auditioned for my last film and we worked together on that. It was actually at the after party of the premier for the film that I pitched the idea of “Rehearsal” to her and Amanda Treyz who was my DP for “The Dress You Have On”. They were both really excited for this idea and Jess helped produced it. Jess also helped me find the rest of the cast, she and Clinton have worked together before. We didn’t hold auditions, but looked at work samples and reels, and once it had been casted we all met to discuss the film in greater depth. 

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The Dress You Had On

“It was important to me that the male characters didn’t come across as evil as that’s one of the most common misconceptions of these types of situations.”

We discussed about what was the feature film that the characters were rehearsing and how those characters knew each other. The actors all developed their own backgrounds for the character they were portraying, “they live in so and so neighbourhood, and of course the DP is later because he had to go get coffee.” They all brought specific ideas to their characters and it really added to that ‘fly-on-the-wall’ vibe to the film. 

It was important to me that the male characters didn’t come across as evil as that’s one of the most common misconceptions of these types of situations. We decided that the reason that the rehearsal was being held was because the men had decided that it was for Anna, but they hadn’t asked for her opinion. 

Do you think whether the topic of the grey area of consent should be something that is taught and discussed in film school? 

C: It’s so complicated because I think on some levels consent is such a personal choice as well. Making the film this is something I came to realise and as an AD my own habits have now changed. It’s about having a private conversation and not having that discussion it front of everyone, and to avoid using leading questions like “This is cool, right?”. It depends on the individual as well, some actors prefer to treat the situation in a more autonomous fashion and some actors want a close set. The pre-production process is important, deciding on how to shoot the nudity scenes in advance and not getting caught up in the adrenaline. 

“I wanted the film the feel what white noise sounds and feels like, to create that visual version of discomfort that you can’t turn off.”

For “Rehearsal” we are also putting up a different version on-line which doesn’t include the nudity as there’s a broader reach compared to the festival circuit, so it’s also important to have that conversation with your actors in terms of distribution and viewer access. Open dialogue is so important, filmmaking is so fast-paced that there seems to be a lot of assumptions that everyone is on the same page.

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Jessica Mendez Siqueiros, Clinton Lowe, Alexander Chard, Alex Portenko in “Rehearsal”

In terms of the film’s cinematography are you able to discuss the process of shooting the film especially your decision to use wide shots and tight close-ups?

C: Amanda is just a brilliant DP and I think we have a lot of similar perspectives on the world so we work well together. My original pitch to her was that I wanted the film the feel what white noise sounds and feels like, to create that visual version of discomfort that you can’t turn off. We made the decision to shoot it all in one room and in wide, and Amanda managed to create that claustrophobia of the setting. 

We have just finished our ITOL Top 50 Films of the decade, are there are any female filmmakers whose work that you admire?

C: I love Lynne Ramsay, her work is very dark which really appealed to me! I also love Sofia Coppola especially her earlier work such as “Lost in Translation”. In terms of other filmmakers, the films of Michael Haneke was a huge influence on “Rehearsal” although I didn’t realise it until it came to editing the film with Amanda until she commented on it’s European ‘look’. I’ve also watched a lot of short films as I used to write about them for a blog, seeing so many short films helped me understand the format of short film. 

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Courtney Hope Thérond on set

What’s next for you? I know you mentioned you enjoy tackling dark subject matters, is your next film centred around a dark subject?

C: Err, yes I am! I would like to do my first feature in 2020, I love shorts but there’s only so much one can do with a short film! I am currently working on a script that explores a shooting and is about a woman receives a phone call from her younger sister who is hiding in a bathroom at a nightclub where there’s an active shooter. It’s pretty dark but it’s focusing more on their enstranged relationship. I lived in Paris for a few years and I was there during the Charlie Hebdo shooting and I now live in the US where there’s an active shooting every other week, so I wanted to explore the more personal side to these events and showing the human cost which often goes overlooked by the media. 

Thank you to Courtney for her time, and you can find a link to “Rehearsal” here. You can also find a link to Courtney’s website here and you can also follow her on Twitter here

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