“To Nowhere” is a micro-budget film that focuses on telling a queer love story and exploring gender identity. It’s currently in its final stages of post-production but the filmmakers need your help to raise the funds necessary to finish this project. ITOL editor, Bianca Garner, sat down with producer Georgia Hurt and director Sian Astor-Lewis to discuss the film in more depth, from its inception to the challenges they faced making a film on such a small budget. Most importantly, we discuss how you can show your support for this project and help to promote new and emerging talent in the indie filmmaking scene.
Bianca: Hello Georgia and Sian, would you mind introducing yourselves and your film “To Nowhere”?
Sian: I’m Sian Astor-Lewis and I’m the writer and director of “To Nowhere”, a dark coming-of-age drama about two troubled teenage friends who spend a chaotic alcohol-fueled day aimlessly wandering around London until the secrets that they have buried come to the surface and they have to face hidden desires and fears of theirs. This is a very micro-budget film and we are just finalising post-production and we’re running a crowdfunding campaign to make that last push.
Georgia: I’m Georgia Hurt and I’m the producer. I came into the project a little bit later. We first met in January, and I’ve come on board to help with post-production. Then lockdown has happened in between then and now, so it’s been quite challenging. So now, our whole working relationship has been completely remote.
Bianca: How did the story of “To Nowhere” develop? I believe it’s been a story that you’ve been working on for quite some time?
Sian: The story is driven by these two characters (Finn and Tulip) and their dynamic, and that’s at the heart of the narrative. I started developing the concept about eight years ago and there have been many different versions of their story. I was struggling with telling this story so much that I took a break from screenwriting for a year. During that period of time, I started writing a lot of prose instead but these two characters kept featuring in my writing which helped me discover which element their story needed to be told in.
Then it was about three and a half to four years to develop the current draft of the script for the film that we’ve shot. I think because it took so long to develop the project, the characters have become very developed in my mind because I’ve lived with them for all that time. So, it was kind of a blessing in disguise.
Bianca: Are you able to tell us a little bit about the two main characters of “To Nowhere” and their relationship together? Also seeing how they’ve been portrayed on-screen, does it match up with how you initially envisioned them?
Sian: I was so lucky to have been able to cast the two main lead actresses in the roles, who were just perfect. They did the most amazing job and immersed themselves deeply into the role of the characters and their dynamic. They really brought those characters to life and I was delighted by how they were portrayed.
The characters of Tulip and Finn are two isolated teenagers. Finn lives on the floor of Tulip’s bedroom as she’s ran away from home, although we don’t really know why. Tulip doesn’t have the best home life herself, her Mum’s died and her Dad’s abusive. So, they really only have each other. They spend their time bunking off school and drinking as much as they can. Tulip is obsessively in love with Finn, who can be very domineering, quite cruel, quite cold and enjoys this power dynamic in a slightly sadistic way. As the story develops more concealed sides of the characters both begin to come out.
Georgia: I’ve listened to the actors speak about the process of making the film, and what’s great is that Sian did a lot of improv with them both in rehearsals so they knew about the characters fully and would react to each other. This really helped the actresses on set as it was like second nature to them and they knew themselves as these characters.
Sian: They were both very spontaneous. There were little details that they added. There was one scene we shot where Finn loses her temper and throws a beer can on the floor, then Tulip picks it up. I hadn’t scripted any of that reaction by Tulip. They just knew exactly what to do and how their characters would behave.
Bianca: How did you manage to find the two leading actresses, Lilit Lesser and Josefine Glæsel?
Sian: I was very lucky that the incredible casting director Heather Basten came on board. It was quite a last-minute process. What was interesting about the casting was that I had originally written the characters as two Londoners, but then we got the audition tape from Josefine who lives in Denmark and she flew over for two auditions and the actual shoot. For a split second I was thinking ‘she’s brilliant but the character’s supposed to be English’ but then after reconsidering I found myself wondering why? She could have moved to London later in her life and I think it also adds this interesting layer to the character. I think they were the only two actors who could have played those roles.
Bianca: How did you find your crew, like cinematographer Mads Junker?
Sian: There are certain crew members that are so vital such as the cinematographer that you must make sure you find the right person. It’s a difficult balance being a female director working with a male cinematographer and in the past, I’ve had some fairly bad experiences.
I watched a hundred showreels from cinematographers, it was a bit obsessive actually but I knew it was so important that I needed to have a good dynamic with them. I finally found Mads, who is a Danish DoP (director of photography) based in London and we had this wonderful connection. Other crew members came about via word of mouth or we found them online like how Georgia and I met!
Georgia: For low-budget filmmakers just starting out, Facebook has a really great community of filmmakers, there are so many groups you can join and be able to connect with people that way. It’s just so useful.
Bianca: What are some of the challenges of shooting a low-budget film, for example, were there any issues with locations, props or costumes that provide particularly difficult to find or obtain?
Sian: Being low-budget you do have fewer people and the people you do have are essentially doing more. Along with the production manager and the second AD (Assistant Director), I was quite involved in the casting of smaller roles, and location scouting. A lot of the clothes and props you see in the film are ours. On my bed, I had lots of different items for each character to make up their bedrooms. I actually ended up shooting one of the scenes in my Nan’s house because she has this eccentric living room, and you just couldn’t ever recreate that. That’s a nice element of micro-filmmaking because you end up using things that are real.
In terms of the biggest challenge? We shot in two weeks, and while that was fine, there were one or two scenes where I just wished I’d had a little bit more time. We did a lot of very long takes that required choreography. However, I’m really happy with how it all came out and retrospectively you just have to allow things to evolve by themselves.
Georgia: I think as well, that because it was a low-budget shoot everybody was there because they wanted to be and not because they felt they had to be there. It created a real team spirit and everyone was there because they wanted to create a really good film.
Sian: The team was so dedicated. For example, our first AD (Top Tarasin) was so sensitive to the fact that if the schedule did run over by a couple of hours then it was completely necessary. He really respected the fact that we needed to do the story justice. It felt that everybody involved really cared about the story.
Bianca: What do you hope viewers will be able to take away from “To Nowhere” and why is it important that stories like “To Nowhere” are being shown on-screen?
Sian: “To Nowhere” is portraying two queer characters, and the hope and intention is that it’s done in a real and authentic way. It’s been inspired by real people and it’s really an exploration into gender identity which is something that people are finally aware of and talking about. It’s not spoon-feeding the audience, but rather it’s woven into the film in its own emotional way and it’s about portraying the small everyday encounters that people face. We’re also exploring the impact of trauma, it’s not overly done but rather this subtextual experience. We’re hoping to place the audience into someone else’s shoes. This isn’t a commercial film.
Georgia: I don’t think you really would get a story like “To Nowhere” in a commercial film. You just wouldn’t get this type of storyline or representation in mainstream cinema and that’s why we think it was so important to make this film.
Bianca: Are you able to go into more detail about your crowdfunding campaign?
Georgia: We need to raise £11,500 to finish the film, that’s split across sound design, colour grading, music licences, festival applications as well as stuff like promos and posters. The whole of this film has been done by crowdfunding which is very impressive, so we’re just hoping we can do the rest.
We’ve got some great rewards, for example, you can receive a private link to the film and be one of the first to see it, you can premiere invites, producer credits, and we’re in pre-production on our next film so you can also become an extra or come visit the set. We’re using Greenlit which is a really great platform for Indie filmmakers because it’s specifically a crowdfunding site for film. They’ve also been super supportive too.
You can find the campaign video for “To Nowhere” here. And please consider supporting the film via Greenlit, which you can find here. From everyone at ITOL, we wish Georgia, Sian and the whole cast and crew of “To Nowhere” the best of luck with securing their funding.