When a new family moves in next door, Laura befriends their little girl, Megan, and their friendship quickly leads to a strange tension between the two households. As the unspoken invades their lives, Laura begins to unravel, ultimately taking things into her own hands. Both families become entwined in an unsettling story of paranoia, grief and secrets.
Having its World Premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition at SxSW Online 2021, we talk with director Stacey Gregg from HERE BEFORE.
Welcome to SxSW! Is this your first SxSW experience?
Yes this is my first experience of SxSW and I’m beside myself with delight. It’s one of my favourite festivals and a total trip to have the film premiere in such good company.
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!
Although this is my debut feature, I’ve been a screenwriter and theatre maker for years. I’ve always been drawn to film and found myself taking more of a lead directing my theatre work. I’ve been a staff writer in many incredible writers rooms and love immersing myself in new worlds. I’ve also worked as an actor, so I love working with actors. All this meant that stepping into directing allowed me to draw on more experience than I realised I had.
How did HERE BEFORE come together?
We prepped for eight weeks and shot for four weeks on location in Belfast, in winter. It was cold and wet! But perfect for atmosphere and a fantastic shoot. Lockdown happened when we were in the edit and I had to learn how to post remotely from my bedroom on my Macbook. It was a learning curve, but also inspiring and incredibly humbling to be able to continue working through the pandemic.
What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?
A combination of the thrill of making something that is always somewhat unknown until you’re out the other end – and can change vastly in that process, and the lightness found in knowing there are so many lives we could be living but I get to do this now. I think you have to focus on the awesomeness of that over the more anxiety-inducing aspects of making film.
What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
The biggest challenge was probably the years between writing the script and getting to the first day of principal photography. That and doing ADR remotely!
The most rewarding moment was towards the end of the shoot when we were in the low loader and I was listening to the actors off camera, and the kids were telling Andrea how much they were going to miss her and how much fun they’d had, and Andrea was saying the same, and I just felt so proud that this was a nurturing and creative shoot. It can take a lot of energy to create a good environment but it’s never wasted.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of HERE BEFORE and how it was made.
My Director of Photography Chloë Thomson and I knew we wanted to create something clean and uncanny, visually. I was keen to work with lots of wides and one-shots. We folded production design and Costume in early to set the look, and when I returned to our original look-book now I’m pretty smug about how close we got. Once we were shooting we made sure to get into the habit of scooping up GVs and anything interesting along the way, so that we had a magic bag of imagery for the edit. I’m a great believer in getting your HoDs together as early as possible to join up everyone’s thinking and enable the greatest collaboration.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW Online?
Just getting the film out there and sharing it, and especially, sharing a slice of Northern Ireland. It’s a fantastic landscape, with a thriving and skilled crew, and it’s a privilege to get to represent that.
Clearly this is such a different time with virtual festivals and online screenings. How do you feel about releasing movies in this current format and how do you feel audiences will see most films in the future?
It’s mixed. We all want to sit communally and share these films, but given what we’re up against, I’m glad virtual festivals are continuing to platform great work. I do think people will return to cinemas, but at the same time seeing what can be achieved remotely and virtually has been eye opening in terms of access and adapting to new ways of working.
Where is the movie going next? More festivals or a selective release?
I guess we’ll see what the festivals have to offer!
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?
Just try to make things however small, to meet collaborators and learn by doing. And treat people well. One of the crucial ways the industry is evolving is to question some of those stereotypes that have been around too long.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?
My all time fave is probably A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. It really inspired me as a kid. It was entertainment and it felt progressive and epic and uplifting.
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!