Director talks about shooting 'One Day'

Director Lone Scherfig, schooled in Denmark and Danish cinema, has emerged as one of the keenest observers of recent British social trends. Her “An Education,” from 2009, tracked a teenage girl in early 1960s’ Britain and the impact on her life of changing mores just before the dawning of the “swinging London” era. Her latest film, the just-released “One Day,” follows two people – played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess – over two decades. A brief, chaste romantic encounter in 1988, just as they graduate from university in Scotland, echoes through their subsequent separate lives as they deal with advances and retreats in their careers and relationships. The magnetism between them – observed on July 15 of every year and measured by the changing look of the artifacts of everyday life as fashion and design evolve – remains stronger than any other emotion.

Peter Caranicas: At what point did you decide you wanted to make this film?

Lone Scherfig: I read the book (by David Nicholls, who also wrote the screenplay). The dialog was good. They’re such sympathetic characters and time moves quickly, but it’s not until I got to about page 75 that I thought I would love to do this.

PC: How is the script different from the book?

LS: The timeline is the same, but David selected what he liked to keep. The book is longer, and you get more material from early years and more at the end, but they’re not that far apart.

PC: Was it hard to translate the book to film?

LS: The whole cinematic solution to how to make the years pass without being heavy handed or overpowering the material is a technical challenge. On a page it’s easy: you just write the date. With film, you have to come up with something that makes it worth seeing and listening to. For example, we had music that you could hear and hopefully, in a subtle way, see the years pass. I wanted to make it so you don’t really see it till it’s there. As in life, you suddenly look back and go, “Oh my God, was it 20 years?”

PC: You had to make subtle changes to objects in the film as you advanced from year to year.

LS: It was almost like 20 little films cut together. The art department would do a big timeline on the wall where you saw how much things actually changed during those decades. It was always the desire to make it effortless.

PC: How faithful were you to all the changes that took place during the period of the film?

LS: Benoit Delhomme, the cinematographer, and I decided that we did not want to be too exact, yet to embrace all the change of color and mood and visual style. The hard bit was to get each little historic moment right. Sometimes it was kitchen-sink realism, and sometimes it was techy 90s TV, but we had to do it in a way so it all belonged in the same film and had an identity of its own.

PC: What is your collaboration like with Benoit?

LS: He has a big toolbox where you can refer to a lot of old films and know which tools will work to get the feeling out of each moment, whether it’s to go handheld, to go a little more dogma, or to do a long, classical, epic, tracking move, like when Emma (played by Anne Hathaway) is alone in her office and the little feather on her desk starts being caught by the wind, and you’re much more in classical film language. We had to embrace all of that and still get some integrity for the film. That was a fantastic challenge.

PC: Where did you shoot the film?

LS: In Edinburgh, London, Paris and Brittany. It was a nine-week shoot. Benoit, Mark Tildesley (the production designer) and I tried to turn the variety of locations into an advantage for the film. There were so many places that we had to move around all the time, from one city to the next, rarely going back to the same rooms, but it was also very inspiring.

PC: How did your background prepare you for this shoot?

LS: I’ve done so much TV, low-budget work and dogma – and so has Benoit. We were trained to walk into a room and make it work. But we also have the ambition to do something different, something more, something that has the potential to be seen more than once. (We make sure) the angles we decide on are the right ones, the lenses are the right lenses, that the camera moves are the best for telling the story. It’s a strange combination of using our classical film background but also being capable of very fast decisions.

PC: How did you pick the costumes, which span a period of great change in fashion?

LS: When the scenes have more comedy you can be a little louder with costumes and details. That’s a kind of a rule. When it’s more emotional you want to tone it down so the audience won’t be distracted. Comedy gives you license to have a little more fun with costumes. But the costumes are probably a little less extreme than what people really wore in London at the time. To be on the nose would have been too much cultural history, so they’re more discreet.

PC: You shot in Northern Europe in July, when the days are very long, which fits the theme of the film.

LS: It was very deliberate. I’m Danish and we have endless dusk in the summer. We worked very carefully with the light. Benoit grew up in Brittany where part of the film is set. He can smell how the weather is going to be. It’s so unpredictable, as it is in Scotland. We wanted the weather to work for the story. Part of the book takes place in Greece but we moved it to France. You get this very blue light or warm sunset or dawn.

PC: Did you shoot on any stages?

LS: In Pinewood, and the underwater shots were in a public swimming pool in London. Anne (Hathaway) was heroic. The water was cold but she just went for it. She’s a trooper.

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