Nathalie Biancheri: From Studying Literature to Working with Universal

Nathalie Biancheri, the mind behind Nocturnal and Wolf sat down with Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir to talk all about the making of her two feature films. 

She goes in-depth on pre-production, casting, the importance of rehearsals, directing actors, her creative process, budget, working with Universal, and more.

Nathalie moved to London when she was 18 to study literature at Kings College. 

‘If you haven’t done the film school thing, you are always a bit outside, I do find it’s very cliquey – the UK film industry. So that’s why I went to Ireland.

I made Nocturnal, my first film, here. But even here, with the producer (who’s American), we were quite outside the system, we tried to get funds, but nothing. It’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the system, they probably didn’t like the film, but you always feel a bit out.’

Getting Started

‘He managed to find some American private investment – it was a tiny budget for Nocturnal, but somehow we did it and that was my UK experience of filmmaking.’

At that point, Nathalie had already basically moved to Ireland and had set up a film company with an Irish producer, so decided that Ireland was ‘a better place to live and make films. And it felt a little more accessible in terms of being able to speak to the people from Screen Ireland.

And when we pitched Wolf, they were really interested and supported us immediately. I owe them a lot because that was the first place that gave me public funding for the film and for filmmaking.’

Imposter Syndrome

‘I came from literature and then worked at the BBC. I wanted to do news and, at some point, started getting into film and making shorts on the side, but I never thought I was going to make a feature. I just thought it was an impossible dream.’

Nathalie says that even when they were shooting, it all felt surreal and bizarre in the beginning. 

‘And then with Wolf, it was a more official setup and that was incredible.’

She said that the first round of development, for her, equated to immense joy. ‘So far nothing in my life has given me that level of satisfaction, and enormous fear because everyone’s going to realise you’re bluffing.’

How Her Films were Different

‘With Nocturnal, it took so long and there were many disappointments and then with Wolf, we had this relatively easy journey with the film. We pitched and immediately got development first round, we got production funding and they were very generous.’

It takes a long time to make a film, but they didn’t feel like they were being ‘beaten down with a stick every time. It was, in that sense, smooth.’ 

Because of the performances in Nocturnal, Nathalie found that people felt more confident in supporting Wolf, which she says was ‘ an ambitious project.’

‘I think Nocturnal was more stressful because there was always this feeling – is it actually real?’

Even during prep, ‘three weeks before shooting, I still didn’t believe it was going to happen but these people had signed contracts, so somehow this film was going to happen.’

Rehearsing for Wolf

They were afforded three months of rehearsals because of the pandemic. ‘George was basically crawling around Hampstead Heath for three months. And Lily crawled around her flat in Paris. It was this golden situation in which all the actors, who would normally be so busy going from one project to another, no one was booking anything else.

And this last beacon of hope was to make this film. They were all really dedicated. I would zoom with them constantly, particularly George because his character required a complete metamorphosis into a wolf.’

They also kept in touch daily via video and voice notes. Actors would keep diaries and they would be set small tasks to keep the spirit of the film alive.

Working with her DP

‘With the DP, we basically went through the whole film scene by scene. The production designer, who would’ve been doing a hundred commercials, had all this time to do sketch-ups of all of the sets, which we then used to block the shots with the cinematographer, on Zoom.

It was a bible of 200 pages with every photograph and when we went to Ireland again, we knew we were going to have rehearsal time which, for me, was super important.’

Getting into Character

Nathalie used a lot of games, play-based activities and improvisation in the rehearsal process.

‘The first day we did icebreakers because there were quite a few actors. There were different units and energies that needed bonding. So we just played games, really. We got to be a child again.

And then we did, what went down in our little shoot history, this insane four-and-a-half-hour improvisation with all of the cast in which I was playing the therapist.

We discovered so many little gems. It gave me the chance to observe them – no judgment. Who was bonding with who, and I rewrote the script after the end of my three weeks of rehearsal. I added in little details and had so much wealth to think of or places to go to.’

Two Films at Once

Nathalie was writing Wolf while she was writing Nocturnal. ‘The two were happening simultaneously. By the time I started shooting Nocturnal, I’d started production funding on Wolf.

Nocturnal had just premiered at BFI. And I remember we were collecting reviews and sending them through’ to get funding approved.

Working with Focus/ Universal

‘Focus came on board at the script stage, before we started shooting and that was also one of those surreal moments. It was only in the mix, when we were doing post, that we first had the Universal globe and that was a moment for our tiny little film. 

Financially it was an incredible thing, it means that you’re shooting without worrying that you’re going to be in huge debt.

But working with studios comes with certain restrictions, especially if you’re a small fish – an indie art-house film.’ Studios are guided by box office numbers. ‘And the film, if we’d maybe sold it separately to different territories, maybe we’d have had more releases in different countries.’

Nathalie said that Focus were incredible and that they pushed the film into a lot of cinemas, ‘but ultimately when it came to the world, under the umbrella of a big company – priorities are going to be made in terms of what’s selling. 

It’s just business, but I think once you filming, you don’t think of the business that much.’

Her Last Words of Advice

‘I learned so much, but I guess, the importance of rehearsals was so invaluable. It gives you room to have more confidence, to play more, to find new things and to have a relationship with the actors.’

For more from Nathalie, listen to our podcast with her, here.

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