Exclusive Interview: Writer and Director Sabrina Doyle Talks All Things ‘Lorelei’

Image Courtesy Brian Brose.

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As the world waits for a semblance of normalcy to return, many are missing the amazing festivals that debut countless new and thrilling films for the world to experience. This is also the case for writer and director Sabrina Doyle and the team behind her new film Lorelei, which stars Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone. Set to debut at the Tribeca Film Festival which was ultimately cancelled, we’ve sat down with Sabrina to talk about the experience of filming Lorelei. 

Nerds and Beyond: What is the inspiration behind Lorelei?

Sabrina: I think the inspiration was wanting to tell a film about working class lives that actually showed the external pressures and the strain of not having enough money and the toll that takes. But also showing the love and showing that it can provide meaning and purpose and joy and so I wanted to tell a story that wasn’t as miserable as some of the films about the working class. I wanted to show a fully rounded and complex character and it’s important to do those stories justice. It was really important to me to show also the dream life of the characters, and that was sort of the starting place.

Nerds and Beyond: It does an extremely good job of showing how poverty can affect families and especially for single moms or for someone just coming from prison. Is there a reason you wanted to show this topic that we don’t see very often?

Sabrina: I grew up in a working class family, I’m a first generation high school graduate, my family all does unskilled work and so my family experienced not having enough money and running out of food, things like that. My childhood was also full of joy and richness and full of love and I think that I really wanted to show that side of it, and the meaning people can generate from childhood. Personally my inner life when I was a child, my imaginary life was so important to me, and I really wanted to put that in the film as well. Most films about these types of communities and families are about the external pressures and how misfortune after misfortune piles up and it can take hold. And I also think it’s important to show the resilience of these types of families and how they are actually really tenacious and really strong and able to find a path through those difficulties.

Nerds and Beyond: This was your feature directorial debut. What was it like for you to step behind the camera and take on that role?

Sabrina: Well I’d done quite a few short films before and so I already felt comfortable behind the camera, but it’s a big difference doing a feature length film. It’s really a question of stamina and how it affects you physically and emotionally. When you’re making a film you’re ‘on’ 18 hours a day, I was lucky to get even three hours of sleep a night on this film, and it was tough. When you’re doing a short you’re ‘on’ for three to five days and then it’s over. When you do a feature it’s just a lot longer and a lot more drawn out, and so for me it’s a learning curve about how to pace myself. There’s a lot to get through and you can’t just blow it all on the first day, you have to basically keep pulling out the goods every day. We shot for 25 days, 21 days in Oregon, two days in Sacramento and then two days in LA. For me the big learning curve extended into post production, you’re telling a story over the course of two hours verses a short over the course of 15 to 20 minutes. Everything is magnified and harder, but I do think the shorts prepared me well.

Nerds and Beyond: What was it like working on location?

Sabrina: Location shooting is tough because you are short of space often and often have constraints. We often had several locations on the same day which is really hard because you have to come into a location, set up, shoot, pack up, go to the next location, and we had several days where we had three locations or more. That was really tough because it feels like you want to make everything perfect and want to finesse things but when you’ve got that kind of a day it’s just really about efficiency and speed. You want to get through it quickly while also preserving the performances and being about to give the actors the time to feel relaxed and to give those performances. I’m so glad we decided to shoot up in Oregon because the locations there were just tremendous and the added value we got shooting in those places with those real textures was everything. An example is that cemetery scene with the tree that was struck by lightning in the graveyard, that was this incredible metaphor that I would never have been able to come up with myself. But this tree had been struck by lightning, half of it is dead and half of it is still alive. It’s such a good metaphor for the story and the characters and it’s just something that we found. We spent a lot of time before shooting traveling around the Oregon countryside looking for locations and we put a lot of love and time into that. What we got out of that is something that feels really real and lived in and really as if we got a lot of history from all the areas we were shooting at. Stuff that you never could have conjured up if we had to build all of that from scratch. Like the salvage yard that we filmed at, salvage yards are disappearing, they are shutting down and that one we shot at is no longer in existence so we felt like we were capturing a part of that community’s history. We were very lucky that the residents of the places we shot were just so welcoming to us and we used their lives for the background of our story.

Image Courtesy Brian Brose.

Nerds and Beyond: How was it working with the three kids on set?

Sabrina: The kids were amazing, they were not actors, had never acted before the film. I thank my lucky stars for them, the younger two [Parker Pascoe-Sheppard and Amelia Borgerding] had never acted at all and then the older one, Chancellor [Perry], had done a commercial or two and a photoshoot or two but had never done anything like this. I just thank my lucky stars we found these children, we spent months looking for them. We went to theater camps all around Oregon, I even went to do a bit of street casting and we’d go to crowd events in Oregon and approach children that looked interesting to us and spoke to the characters, we did a lot of work to find them. It’s so funny because the younger two that we cast ended up, by sheer coincidence, being really good friends with each other so Amelia who plays Periwinkle and Parker who plays Denim, their families actually knew each other and it just turned out that those two kids were the kids we wanted for the roles which was magical because they already had that relationship and they already felt close. Then we made sure before production that they got to know Chancellor really well and they bonded and did games together and by the end they all really looked up to Chancellor as an older brother and it felt like a little family unit which I think was key to creating that sense of a real family that you feel in the film. And then the parents of the kids were so great as well. When you cast a child you also have to look at the parents, they are also really important and on set the whole time. They are helping you translate what the child is feeling and how to best work with that child. We were so lucky because we had tremendous kids and tremendous parents. One of the things I feel most excited about as this film goes out into the world is having people react to those child performances.

Nerds and Beyond: The kids were amazing, especially that big fight scene that was very intense.

Sabrina: That was an emotional scene, Jena was so generous when we shot that scene. She really helped Parker, it’s really hard for a child like Parker who is really sweet and tender-natured to act that angry, to kick and scream and then spit. Parker did physically spit at Jena, that’s a really hard thing to do and Jenna was so wonderful because she gave Parker permission to everything and encouraged him and walked him through it. She said, “You can spit at me, you can spit harder,” and she was giving Parker permission to do those things and walked him through that scene to help him through those difficult emotions. And Parker was able to understand that whatever they did to Jena in character Jena wouldn’t take it to heart, they were in character and it wasn’t real. She was so wonderful in that scene and it put that moment and that performance down to her generosity and her scene partner. You need someone acting opposite you to pull that off and she was great. Then with Amelia’s moment in that scene, that was a really tough scene because Amelia had been taught not to say bad words to people and so it was really hard for her in that scene to summon that in herself and differentiate what her character is saying from herself. We explained that this is Peri hurting and she’s lashing out in pain and that doesn’t make her a bad person. It’s just a testament to how smart and awesome these kids are that they were able to understand that. There’s a line where she says, “I hate you” to Jena, that line was initially meant to say “bitch” to Jena and she found it too hard to say that word so we said, “Why don’t you say ‘I hate you’ instead?” The wonderful magic that happened when she said that was that Jena was able to improvise her line back to Amelia. That was one of my favorite moments of the film, that line that Jena says was completely improvised. That whole process ended up working out so well. I’m so grateful that the actors were able to go there for that scene, they felt it and really went there.

Nerds and Beyond: Turning to Jena and Pablo, how did you find them for the roles of Delores and Wayland? They have incredible on-screen chemistry and with the kids.

Yes I think these actors are so perfect in these roles. You just think about who you would want to cast in it and I’m so lucky both Pablo and Jena said yes. We approached them and said, “Would you be interested, here’s a script,” and I’m just so fortunate they decided to take a risk on a first time filmmaker. I’m just so grateful they said yes and that they reacted to the script enough to do this. When they were on set they went all in, they really worked so hard for this film and really went there emotionally. They have very different acting style, Pablo comes from a theater background with that training and rigor and then Jena is so intuitive and she really pulls from inside herself and I see them together and they are so great. That’s all them and I feel incredibly fortunate and that they are in this movie. They are the face of these characters, it’s one thing writing a character but when you see that character become flesh and blood it’s the most incredible transformation of the script that evokes real feelings. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such amazing actors in my first film.

Nerds and Beyond: The cast works so well together and feels very authentic.

Sabrina: Yeah, it’s for me the heart and soul of the movie. Our producer, Kevin Chinoy, said at one point that he thinks this film is a love story between five people.

Nerds and Beyond: Where did the idea for the children to all be named after a shade of blue come from?

Sabrina: It was a little bit of a stream of consciousness where it came out of Dolores’ love of the water. Once I figured out that she loved water, and I started think about the color palette of the film and emotions, I think she has this connection to the ocean and the blue of the ocean that she was never able to let go of. It came out of her repressed longing for the ocean.

Nerds and Beyond: There are dream sequences and images of water woven throughout the film. Did that also come from Dolores?

Sabrina: The water worked as a symbol of change for me. Water in the film is the agent of change, it washes away the old and brings in the new and is a life force that is big and dangerous and you can’t deny it. For me the film is about change and the way we embrace change. It’s better to embrace it than to fight it, and so water is the way I found of expressing that. At the beginning we have her sort of in the womb and by the end she has broken out of her cocoon.

Image Courtesy Brian Brose.

Nerds and Beyond: There are many films that tackle the ‘will he, won’t he fall back into crime’ storyline of ex-cons released from prison. How were you able to balance Wayland’s history and past while keeping the storyline present and forward thinking?

Sabrina: That was tricky because when we showed the film some people wanted more of the traditional ‘will he, won’t he’ story, but that’s not what this film is about. You always have to ask yourself what it’s about and for me it’s a love story about how the love of children and the love of a partner can allow you to accept painful change. He was mad that his life didn’t go the way he thought it should and it’s hard to let go of that sometimes, it’s hard to say ‘this isn’t the life I thought I was going to have, but this is the life I’m in and I’m going to roll with it’. To me that was always what the film was about, and to focus on the past would also have pulled away from his relationship with the other characters. I didn’t want to take away from the time on screen that they have together. It might have made the film more thrilling but that was never what it was supposed to be about. Initially there was a scene where he committed another crime and I took that out, it felt wrong. It didn’t feel right. We definitely went through a period of toying with that but it felt like that would be a violation of what this film was about.

Nerds and Beyond: When writing did you have a favorite moment and is it still your favorite from the final film?

Sabrina: My favorite scene when I was writing was probably Peri’s birthday party. Then my favorite scene with the movie is probably the end. Peri’s birthday party for me just felt real. I’ve been in that situation, I’ve seen the disappointment on kids’ faces and I’ve been disappointed when I haven’t had presents I wanted and it felt like it was being watched from the perspective of a child and the child being too young to be sensitive to the mother’s financial struggles and that breaks the heart of the mother who can’t give her child what she wants. That felt so searingly painfully real to me that that was my favorite moment in the script, and I love that scene in the film. What’s hard to convey in a script is visuals and how those can effect you. So at the end of the film there’s no dialogue, so some people who read the script wanted more from the last scene but I felt the visuals would convey that. When I see the end of the film and know that they are looking up at their mother and they’ll always remember her looking like that. It’ll be one of the defining memories they take with them and will play like a movie in their minds. That for me is the defining moment of the film.

Nerds and Beyond: Are there any plans to release Lorelei on any streaming platforms? 

Sabrina: We’re figuring that out now. Traditionally with a film like ours we have some kind of limited theatrical release and then it might go to a streaming platform after, but the answer is that we are still figuring it out. Nobody knows what the film landscape is going to look like in the years to come now, I think this has been a huge tsunami that’s hit the film industry and everyone is re-calibrating. As a team now we are figuring out how we want to approach this, whether we hold out for some kind of theatrical release or if we try to get as many eyes on it now through streaming. Both have their merits and what we are trying to do is figure out how we can turn this difficult time into something positive and try to find the silver-lining in this situation. I think people are consuming a lot of media right now and that could help us. From our point of view we want to have the film seen by as many people as possible. Personally I just want people to see these actors and how good they are, that’s our starting point and we are figuring it out. Hopefully there will be news soon.

We certainly hope Lorelei will be coming to a screen, big or small, near you soon. We will continue to bring fans the latest news on Lorelei. In the meantime, check out our review of the film here!

Brianna

Written by

Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09

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