CS Exclusive: Alice Waddington’s 6 Ways to make a visually dazzling indie
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to speak with director Alice Waddington to discuss her new film, Paradise Hills, where the filmmaker shared six ways to make a visually dazzling indie, which you can check out below!. The movie is currently playing in select theaters and will arrive on Digital and On Demand on November 1.
Written by Nacho Vigalondo and Brian DeLeeuw, Paradise Hills is led by an ensemble cast consisting of Emma Roberts (American Horror Story) as Uma, Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil franchise) as The Duchess, Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin, Bird Box) as Chloe, Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight, Crazy Rich Asians) as Yu, and Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver) as Amarna. Jeremy Irvine (Mamma Mia 2), Arnaud Valois, and Daniel Horvath also star.
On an isolated island, Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up to find herself at Paradise Hills, a facility where high-class families send their daughters to become perfect versions of themselves. The facility is run by the mysterious Duchess (Milla Jovovich) where calibrated treatments including etiquette classes, vocal lessons, beauty treatments, gymnastics, and restricted diets, revolve all physical and emotional shortcomings within two months.
The outspoken Uma finds solace and friendship in other Paradise Hills residents — Chloe (Danielle McDonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Mexican popstar Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez). Uma soon realizes that lurking behind all this beauty is a sinister secret. It’s a race against the clock as Uma and her friends try to escape Paradise Hills before it consumes them all.
1. Production Design
Production design in “Paradise Hills” was one of the biggest challenges of the film in the sense that we had to create a new world from scratch, in a certain way. We needed, you know, to use influences from a very wide range of backgrounds. For example, we have a Middle Eastern, brutalist, modern east, retro-futuristic in general influences. And we have real locations, which is also part of what is so complex in the film simply because our production designer, Laia Colet, had never tackled a big science fiction world like this one before. What we were doing in general and with every aspect of the process was just to have very honest production meetings in which we would speak very openly about the amount of money that we needed.
2. Location Scouting
We also shot in brutalist places that belonged to architects and there were pretty spectacular in Barcelona. And those are locations that no one has ever shot before. But at the same time, we also reused the parking lot in Gran Canaria in which we would park our trucks later on to be able to use it as a stand-in for the first-ever location that we see from the residents that gives the name to the story, no less. So, we did take a lot of risks. And specifically, we were very cautious with the use of money and where they open. We have production meetings that last us for hours upon hours, just discussing materials, locations. A lot of locations switched places between Barcelona and the Canary Islands several times, for example. And this was just to be able to shoot them in the schedule and in the schedule of the actresses, which was tricky in itself.
We were heavily inspired by Eiko Ishioka’s work, her armor work, specifically, because there’s a lot of references to fairytales in this film and there’s a lot of references to militarization, the institutional militarization. So she did that really, really well. And we used specific references from her work in “The Cell” with those gorgeous imposing female figures. But also, from her work in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.
You know, Alberto Valcárcel is the kind of person that has worked in opera and in ballet his entire life. And going with the scene was, again, doing a lot with a little. That is something that he has been “obliged” or he’s been, you know—working with a little has been part of his creative process since forever precisely because of his background in those crafts. So I would say that it was very interesting to see how he’s the kind of person that when he started working in ballet, he took a year of classes as if he was to become a prima ballerino, just to see and feel how the clothes would feel on an artist, on a moving artist. So that is a person that we were dealing with, a human with a lot of empathy, as well as creativity, right, which is an idea, a combination for any collaborator.
His references in this film range from everything from “The Draughtsman’s Contract” to “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to Eiko herself to “My Fair Lady” and modern videogames such as “Final Fantasy”. So he was managing some references that were hard to accomplish without a complete budget for him. And they did a lot with what they had. They handsewn 200 pieces of costume work for the film, which is insane. Of course, his team was also wonderful. He had this all-female team that helped him both sew and dress the actresses on set. And every costume had, I want to say around 60 something pieces. The main uniforms that the girls are wearing on the film, you have the thermal sort of shirts that they’re wearing, the corset. The proper order is a thermal shirt, the skirt, the corset, the harness, the collar, the tights, and the shoes.
4. Hair and Makeup
The costumes, combined with makeup and hair, made for a very long prep time. I remember that the Thursday of shooting that we had all our protagonists together and we realized that we couldn’t keep on shooting that way because we would never make the movie, right, because we needed to—meaning that we not only were we tight on budget all the time, but we needed to double the hair and makeup team at the very least, in order to be able to make every day. So you know, we encountered challenges like that. Again, because this is for independent filmmakers who want to know this stuff, it’s very interesting.
So the trick with CGI regarding the budget was essentially that Nostromo Pictures, our production company, has this associated studio that is pretty much directly linked to them both personally and financially. And they worked in Catalonia. They worked in Barcelona. And they’ve been making films together for I want to say, I don’t know exactly because I don’t know, but like, they’ve been making films together for a few years now. And they’re very much, their budgets are very much codependent in a sense that they will make something on spec and then Nostromo will give them a bigger job on a different film. It’s a situation in which you’re working essentially with an agreement to Weta Workshop, but in Spain in which you have sort of full-service digital pre and post-production with say 20 people that are essentially working creatively and conceptually for the film.
A lot of people, when they see the film think that some of the locations that are actual digital are real and vice versa. There are only two full-on digital locations in this feature, which is the opening scene of the boardroom and the closing scene. I’m going to say the opening scene, not to spoil anything. Like the opening scene with the ballroom and also the scenes that shot from the sea, the master shots that are shot from the sea of the exterior of the island, whether by night or by day.
And all of the locations are real, you know? There are very few selected locations that have digital extensions. But there is no—you know, it was important for me to both appreciate and you know, and value their work highly and give actors and actresses the real locations to play in. And I think that our digital effects team, Lamppost, really worked at making the most fantastical elements of the story look beautiful and realistic and believable… And I always try to direct VFX like their characters.
And also, with sets, when I direct sets, for example, I do the same thing. I speak about the bedrooms where the girls are sleeping and I’m like, make the space more infantilizing. Make it look like it’s just cradles and they’re babies that are being put to sleep. You know, I tried to do that as well so that their rounds of notes are diminished as much as possible, which is also part of how to save money.
We started working on the script and I sort of provided emotional and visual references and there was this parallel path of working on the script at the same time, which was really interesting. At the same time, I was kind of perfecting this presentation that I had used for Fantastic Fest. And with this idea that we’re going to send, and this was my producers’ idea, that we were going to send the script with the presentation to the actresses for them to have an idea of this probable world that we wanted to create, which again, needed a lot of world-building.
Basically my producers put their contact someplace by giving it to agents of actresses everywhere. And then, it sort of took off when I went to Los Angeles for quite a few weeks, and I stayed on friends’ sofas until Danielle Macdonald said yes. And then, when Danielle said yes, of course, she had a lot of hype with “Patti Cake$” out of Sundance, rightfully so… And it became even this year when Emma Roberts signed in. You have the other actresses that had this emotional reference of what the story could be like, right?
All of the other ones signed on after that. And I had conversations of about two hours prior to them signing on, which was really interesting for me to see the way they wanted to be directed, right, which is really all that matters, is a director, especially as a first-timer, the hardest thing to do, rather, is to adapt to what every different person needs in their life, and as an actor, in this case, to talk to every person like, you know, what they are, which is their own person with their own fears, their own insecurities and their own brilliances and their own strengths. So every single actress and actor brought something interesting. There’s something of meaning in every character.