LONDON — Between an Oscar nomination for her short “Wasp,” working with Danish maverick Lars von Trier on her debut feature and an invite to the prestigious Sundance Screenwriters Lab, it’s been a productive year for British writer-director Andrea Arnold.
Buoyed by the standout fest success of her soph short — “Wasp” has swatted 29 prizes — Arnold, 40, who worked as a TV presenter before turning to filmmaking, has embarked on her first feature. But Arnold’s working-titled “Red Road” is no ordinary debut.
“Red Road” is part of Zentropa topper von Trier’s experimental “The Advance Party” group project, which will see three different promising writer-directors make three different features all using the same actors playing the same characters.
Dane Mikkel Norgaard (“The Old Firm”), BAFTA-winning Scot Morag McKinnon (“Worms”) and Arnold (“Red Road”) have been handpicked on the strength of their shorts and entrusted with realizing von Trier’s expansive dream.
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In true Dogma style, there are hard and fast rules to von Trier’s provocative plan. The rules are designed to inflict collaboration on the three directors, who met for the first time in Copenhagen just a year ago. For starters, it must be shot digitally and on location, in six weeks and in Glasgow. No exceptions.
The three helmers are obliged to use the nine stock characters who have been devised by Danish scribes Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) and Anders Thomas Jensen (his 1998 “Valgaften” won the best live action short film Oscar.)
Jensen and Scherfig’s characters must remain consistent. “Red Road” producer Carrie Comerford explains: “If grubby-looking Jane — not that there is a Jane — is always biting her nails, she must carry that character trait. In one movie she may take a cameo role, in another, the lead.” The way in which characters relate to and interact with one another is open to each director’s interpretation.
Comerford acknowledges von Trier’s concept has thrown up some practical complications: “Coordinating casting sessions has been troublesome when you have actors concurrently reading for three directors.”
Hopes are high the three pics can be shot back-to-back in Glasgow this year, but with each being financed separately, Comerford can envisage them “growing apart.” “Road” is the furthest along and looks the favorite to shoot first.
For her “Road” script, to which she added the finishing touches while attending the “hugely helpful” Jan. 14-19 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, Arnold has once again decided to concentrate her attention on a mother’s devotion to her family. In “Wasp,” a hard-up single mom living in London’s East End struggles to provide for her children. In “Road,” a woman obsessed with the loss of her family uses her job as a closed-circuit television surveillance operator to confront the man responsible for their death.
Arnold’s mother brought up four children on her own, and the helmer acknowledges her work “is sometimes an attempt to see the world through mymother’s eyes.”
The unusual starting point has been a blessing in disguise for Arnold, who tells Variety: “Von Trier is right in thinking restrictions and constant collaboration help. Although inheriting characters may seem an uninspiring start for my first feature, the support network is very reassuring.”
Zentropa is once again teaming with Glasgow-based Sigma Films to co-produce the “Party” project. Sigma’s Gillian Berry and Zentropa’s Sisse Graum Jorgensen are exec producing all three pics.