We were able to catch up with the powerhouse director and actress to talk about her latest film Pendulum.
Pendulum stars Lauren Cooney and Scott Michael Wagstaff
Lauren Cooney’s transcendent film was inspired by Gareth Edwards’ Monsters and tells the story of a generation born knowing the end of the world is imminent. After enjoying an award-winning festival run this powerful film will be released this month and was created through improvisation and guerrilla filmmaking in the dangerous jungles of India.
Two friends seek spiritual salvation in India away from their hedonistic and disconnected lives, in advance of the impending collapse of the Cosmos.
Hi Lauren, how are you doing?
I’m doing awesome, thanks. It’s been so amazing releasing Pendulum online, and sharing it with people. It’s great to see how people are resonating with it.
Congratulations with the amazing “Pendulum”. How did you come up with the story?
I was grieving the death of a very dear friend of mine, Jessie, and feeling generally confused about the meaning of life. I had the idea to create a “spiritual sci-fi”, something that would allow me to artistically explore my grief, and also practically give me momentum. I immediately aligned with Scott Wagstaff who co-stars in Pendulum, and he felt passionate about the vision and the message, having lost his own parents at a young age. I was inspired by Gareth Edwards’ Monsters to ask the question: “what if you knew you were going to die?” This is obviously not really a sci-fi premise, as that’s something we all face, but I created a structure around Pendulum that brought that Doomsday forward. Whereas in Monsters the world is dealing with the fact that Monsters have already landed, we were looking for a similar conundrum with Pendulum. It allowed the story to have a more wandering meditative quality, rather than a slew of scenes with people panicking, which we are more accustomed to seeing in end of the world movies.
How does the collaboration between you as the director and the producers of the film develop?
Scott was on board from the start, and Lisa Jacobi boarded the film just after we returned from principal photography in India. At both these junctures the two producers were fully passionate about the film and the way it would manifest on screen. The most important aspect for a direct-producer relationship is that you work with people who understand the core of your vision, and are able to keep that light shining throughout an often very challenging process.
You’re not only the director and producer of this film, but you also star in it. Was it clear from the start that you would take on the part as Cerys or was there a casting session for the role?
Yes. Scott and I originally met and worked together as actors. We were both aspiring filmmakers too, so it always felt like the perfect project to be exploring this dynamic. The movie and the characters were created with us in mind.
What was it that attracted you to the role of Cerys?
Cerys is longing for more out of her life, but is trapped by various internal and external factors. Everything in her environment is encouraging her to stay small and disconnected, but she has the gumption to take a risk. She’s not at all flawless, and possesses an element of naivety and selfishness, which I think can be a shadow side of wanting to pursue your own adventures. But she is learning. She’s a seeker. She’s curious and brave. What’s not to love?!
What’s the main difference in the way of acting when you’re “just” an actor and when your actor-director? How do you direct yourself?
I love being “just” an actor, because my natural state of play is very ballsy and mischievous. Acting is pure play, and without responsibility outside of that, it’s really possible to inhabit that world and test the boundaries. When directing, you are responsible for the whole production, and to me it feels like slipping into a different character, a different part of my brain and being. There was definitely a learning curve in juggling both the acting and directing qualities, but the more I do it, the more the juggle becomes seamless. In many ways, it is a relief. The biggest detriment to acting is getting in your head. When you are also directing, then you have no time to worry about that. You just “do”. Directing is a state of “doing”, and the best acting is a state of “doing” too. Furthermore, I can feel if a performance is connected and true. And I’d have thought ahead of time if there are several options I want to try tonally, and will make sure the AD and DOP are aware of that. Having a team who you can trust, and who can collaborate to create the truest expression of the moment is key.
The film is taking place in India. Did you go to India to film the movie and if so, what was the most difficult part of filming there?
Yes we went to India to film. It was magical. And it was challenging. I think environmentally it is just plain taxing. Delayed train journey that last 60 hours and cut your shooting schedule down by two days, and endless crew members with bowel issues, are all part of the fun. The most difficult part was doing re-shoots, and there are a couple of scenes that we re-shot for India at a later date. One key scene has a shot reverse section, where half was filmed in a Keralan jungle and half in a wood in Luton. Ten points if you can work out where!
The film is about the end of the world. How do you think that the world would come to an end?
That’s a phenomenally tough question, and totally depends on my mood. One answer is that I don’t necessarily think it will. There’s a version of humanity’s future where we damage the planet, or battle each other, to such an extent that we wipe out homosapien life as we know it. But the “world” itself is resilient and regenerative. Over hundreds or thousands of years, life will begin to grow again. There’s a lesson in that. The apocalypse we’re looking at in Pendulum is more metaphorical. It asks people to buy into a cosmic mystical reality, beyond the back wall of sky and clouds that appears to keep us safe. Beyond the blue of day, and the blanket of night’s stars, what is there? Endless expanding void. And beyond that? Light? And beyond that? … perhaps having some reverence for the awe of this mystery might just save our sorry asses from facing any Doomsday at all. And if it were to come, perhaps like Cerys, we’d be loving it, with the transcendent best view in the house.
What do you hope that people will take away with them after watching it?
A desire to live their true path, and if they don’t know what that is, then a desire to begin exploring it.
Where did your passion for film come from and what made you want to become an actor/director/producer?
I have acted ever since I was small. I always found the playground and other kids confusing, whereas in the theatre I was able to be authentic, to play, to emotionally connect. Directing, writing, producing and all that jazz came as a teenager, when I was making theatre. It always felt important to be creating work, and interrogating what stories need to be told. My passion for film developed at University. I studied English Literature at Cambridge and the Cambridge Picturehouse became a retreat. I loved the permanence of the expression, in comparison to theatre. Of course interpretations can change, and many films become dated; but it’s like a loved tattoo. It represents something realised about a particular place and time. And in terms of the craft and collaborative aspects, I was entranced by how so many talented people can become united under one vision.
Let’s fast forward to when you would be 90-years-old and you would look back on your: What would you love to have achieved?
A rich tapestry of experiences. Bold adventures. Great loves. Feeling connected to many humans around the world, aligning with soul brothers and sisters. Knowing that I listened to those wiser than me, and stayed open and flexible to new ideas. Knowing that I have given and shared and opened doors for people who can’t always see the route. To have encouraged others to live with fearless love. To have supported and propped up the work of those around me, who are doing amazing things, which I am excited and astounded by. And to have told stories, which touch something primal and urgent in our cultural shared narrative and universal hearts.
Do you have any advice for people out there who wants to get their first shot as a producer?
Make a short. Make content. Work with people you like, and foster those relationships. Mistakes happen. Welcome them. Learn from them. Know there will always be other opportunities. Be kind. Follow what moves you. Learn. Stay open.
One last question: Are there already any other projects you have your eye on?
Yes. I am developing several television and feature film projects, including a psycho-spiritual sci fi called Retrieval, which Pendulum serves as proof-of-concept for. Stay tuned @lauren_cooney_ and www.laurencooney.com
Film and Celebrity writer Liselotte Vanophem