Kat Kourbeti chats with writer-director Jane Spencer about The Ninth Cloud…
This year’s Raindance Film Festival has marked the return of fantastic independent cinema, with projects spanning all categories from documentaries and shorts to feature films from all over the world. We got to chat with writer-director of The Ninth Cloud, Jane Spencer, about her latest film, a project that’s been in the works for half a dozen years.
Kat Kourbeti: First of all, great job on the film, I watched it yesterday and I have to say, it’s made an impression.
Jane Spencer: Thank you very much.
KK: My first question has to be about the script, which you co-wrote with Lucy Shatterworth. The dialogue makes such an impact with the way it goes from highly poetic to painfully mundane. It’s the heightened difference between Zena and Brett, really, which I’m getting at.
JS: (laughs) Yes, I see what you mean. The way I see it is, everyone thinks about the universe. I wanted to have a character who would think about these things, like whether death feels like falling backwards… things that Zena has probably read somewhere and can’t wait to talk to Bob about. Brett is the sort of character who is very superficial, he likes to talk about hair. So his speech pattern reflects that.
KK: So the juxtaposition was quite intentional then, stylistically.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. Lucy and I talked a lot about it when we were writing. Brett was partly based on people we know… (laughs) I probably shouldn’t say more than that.
KK: That’s understandable. Now, about the soundtrack, which I couldn’t help but notice. It’s really dream-like and sometimes so on-point that I had to take a moment to appreciate just how phenomenal the music was in some scenes. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
JS: Wow, thank you so much. You are the first person to actually notice the soundtrack. We did a lot of research on it, I wanted it to sound ethereal and retro, something to fit all these characters from different walks of life that cross paths. The score was composed by Marcel Vaid, a wonderful Swiss composer, and by Raz Olsher who wrote themes for different characters. I also hunted down songs by three artists whose sound I really liked: Vashti Bunyan, Jimmie Spheeris, and Sibylle Baier. They really captured that dreamy early 1970s retro style I wanted for the film.
KK: It definitely works, absolutely sets the tone for the film. From the score to the songs, everything sort of helps to create a clear image of who these people are, how they feel, what they’re thinking. It’s sometimes louder than the words they speak.
JS: Thank you so much for noticing. Not many people did – except for Michael Madsen, who told me ‘I need a copy of this music’, in his deep voice… I had to burn him a disk.
KK: That was my first reaction after seeing the film, actually, I had to go online to search for the soundtrack and the artists on it.
JS: They’re all fantastic musicians, I’m glad you spotted it.
KK: It’s a really complex soundtrack – and rightly so, there’s so many characters with subplots that get their own screentime. Everyone in the film seems to be running from a painful past, and they’ve got their goals and wishes and dreams and regrets…
KK: What can you tell me about Bob (played by Michael Madsen), who features so prominently in more ways than one?
JS: Bob is an ex-soldier. He’s had to do some pretty dark things, he’s seen violence and been a part of it. He’s had to shoot people with a rifle from a helicopter, things like that. The scene in which he talks about his past in the military was actually heavily cut because it got too dark, and I wasn’t sure that was the direction I wanted the film to take. But we filmed it and it was some very powerful stuff. Bob’s just trying to claim back his innocence, to bring some light into his life by being carefree and making art.
KK: Can I pick your brains about that last couple of scenes? The symbolic and ambiguous ending that leaves us hanging? Because even though Zena takes her life, and we see her belongings wind up in Helene’s wardrobe, in the end she gets up and walks away.
JS: Well, Zena, in her way, accomplished what she wanted; she got that boy his new leg. Even though she tore the check and left, that resonated with Bob so much he gave all his own money to do the right thing. He ends up in love with her after she’s gone, sort of an idealised version of her. In the end it’s Zena who is Bob’s muse, just as he was hers at the beginning of the film. Which is an interesting turn.
KK: It definitely is. Though I’d have to say my favourite character would have to be Jonny. His loneliness and immeasurable sadness even though he’s surrounded by money and people is something that really resonates.
JS: Jean-Hugues (Anglade) did such a good job, he’s a fantastic actor. Jonny’s deeply sad and alone, he feels like he can’t escape his life and that there’s something missing at the very core of him, and Jean-Hugues captured that beautifully.
KK: His composer storyline didn’t play into the film until quite late, was there a reason behind that?
JS: We didn’t really get a chance to develop that storyline as much as I’d like, there were more ideas behind it but in the end we left it with the structure that exists in the film. Guillaume Depardieu was originally going to play him.
KK: And Billy and Helene’s story, I have to say I had a soft spot for him.
JS: (laughs) Billy, yes. He’s played by David Birkin, who is definitely more assertive in real life. He’s not as soft as Billy is, for sure. Leo Gregory is nothing like his counterpart in the film, either.
KK: He was hilariously obnoxious in the film, definitely lends most of the comedy to it.
JS: He does.
KK: Any particular challenges while shooting?
JS: Mostly financial. I’m really thankful to the crew, we shot the film within a very tight schedule with a young crew straight out of London Film School, and they were all amazing in getting things done.
KK: It’s rare to be able to make a truly artful film nowadays, with the focus being more on the business side.
JS: That’s definitely true.
KK: What’s your fondest memory of making this film?
JS: My fondest memory would have to be the first day of the shoot. I couldn’t believe we were there. We’ve worked on this film for six years, writing it, financing it, testing it, and we had several false starts. So when we were finally shooting I couldn’t believe it was real, it was such an amazing moment.
KK: Thank you so much for speaking with us Jane, and best of luck with the film.
The Ninth Cloud received its UK Premiere at London’s Raindance Film Festival. Find out more on the film’s official website.
Read my review of the film here.