Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis are the filmmaking duo behind White Lie, which is nominated for 4 Canadian Screen Awards including Best Motion Picture and Achievement in Direction. We asked them to give us a sneak peak into their creative process. They responded with the following selection of films that inspired the writing and directing of White Lie.
Structuring White Lie was one of the film’s big challenges. It took us three drafts to solidify where we wanted to enter and exit the story, and a handful of films from the Romanian New Wave helped us crack the code. Many films from that movement play like thrillers or procedurals, injecting little hits of genre into their everyday, hyper-realist drama. And, most importantly, their narratives are regularly confined to an extremely compressed timeline—there’s always some sort of ticking clock to keep you engaged. As we wrote our script, we worked our way back through Romania’s staggering cinematic output of the last two decades; the most well-known, Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) was a major structural and tonal influence. Less widely viewed entries like Stuff and Dough (2001) and Child’s Pose (2013), both directed by Cristi Puiu, (the forerunner of the New Wave), helped us get a handle on the script; what exactly we stole from these films is unclear, but their spirit was fundamental to the writing of White Lie.
(Photo credit: Stuff and Dough (2001), Cristi Puiu)
La promesse (1996), the film that brought the Dardenne’s to world prominence, is about a young boy, Igor, who helps his father exploit undocumented immigrants. Igor carries a profound secret with him for the duration of the story and, in the climax of the film, he finally reveals the truth in act of bravery. This touching and complicated moment of honesty inspired our final pages, helping us imagine an ending to our film that was dramatic without being overwrought.
- (Photo credit: La promesse (1996), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Olivier Assayas has been a major influence of ours for many years now—partially for his impressive use of modern technology in film. In Personal Shopper (2016), he used texting in the most authentic way we’ve seen on screen (outside of Asia), but he’s been incorporating different forms of technology into his work for decades. We’ve always been afraid of writing hyper-modern elements into our scripts, as most films seem to fumble if not outright fail at creating any sense of reality from on-screen cell phones or social media use. It’s legitimately very difficult to do with any sort of believability. Our first feature, Amy George (2011), exists in a sort of nebulous, nostalgia-world, in which no characters seem to own cell phones or computers. Some of this was because the story was derived in part from our own childhoods, but also from a fear of just doing it badly. It was in revisiting Assayas’s films, including Demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2006), that we started to grow some confidence that we could make a film with phones and texting and social media as a narrative driver and not make fools of ourselves.
(Photo credit: Boarding Gate (2006), Olivier Assayas)
Unlike most of our earlier screenplays, White Lie began with a character and the plot developed from there. We knew that a lot, if not everything, rode on this character commanding our attention, interest, and, to some degree, sympathy. We wanted her to feel real yet also heightened, sympathetic yet also dangerous; she needed to have this fierce and slightly unstable physicality that kept the audience on edge. One of the performances we asked Kacey Rohl to use as inspiration was Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane in Moneyball (2011): he’s exciting and charming, while constantly suppressing a deep well of rage and depression. There’s a small and incredibly revealing moment where he kicks a laundry hamper out of the way as he moves through the Oakland Athletics’ locker room that spoke so well to his character, as well as the character we wanted to create with Kacey.
(Photo credit: Moneyball (2011), Bennett Miller)
Nobody builds world and character like Adrian Lyne. His films from the early-80s through to 2002’s Unfaithful are almost too full of moments where characters reveal themselves through the smallest of actions; dropping a coin into a beggar’s hat, laughing alongside a group of singing girls on the street, failing to open an umbrella in a rainstorm. Lyne crams every street corner with school children on a field trip, nuns hurrying back to church, a woman in hair rollers impatiently waiting for her dog to pee—the extras have just as much personality as the lead actors. In Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Tim Robbins collects a forgotten doll from the hallway floor and returns it to a stroller outside a neighbour’s apartment; he’s done it before and he’ll do it again. Just watch the opening credits of 9 ½ Weeks to see the largest number of ideas ever given to background actors. It’s been 18 years since he last made a film, but Lyne is back this November with Deep Water and we are excited.
Photo credit: 9 ½ Weeks (1986), Adrian Lyne