Logline: What would you risk to follow your heart?
Length: 20 minutes
Director & Writer: Alexandra Billington
Producers: Lesley Matali, Alexandra Billington, Omar Asmar, Phil Gates
About the director (Alexandra Billington) and main producer (Lesley Matali):
Alexandra Billington is an award-winning screenwriter and director in development with her debut feature Altitude. Her company, Belle Films, is in development with three features with New York based Didza Productions.
Film producer Lesley Matali studied law then joined Studio Canal / Vivendi Universal where she learned all aspects of the business of film. Her company, New York based Didza Productions, has four international features and documentaries underway.
Looking for: Sales & Distribution. Film festivals
Funders: Private equity (Germany/UK)
Why did you make Geography of the Heart?
Originally Geography of the Heart was to be a feature film comprised of several different stories set in different cities (New York, Paris, Berlin) around the world, each exploring the complexities of intimacy and love. Lesley Matali joined the project as the producer of our Paris segment, which was to star Cesar winner Sylvie Testud (La Vie en Rose). We’d filmed the Berlin segment of the feature with Heike Makatsch (Love Actually, The Reader), Clemens Schick (Casino Royale, The Lake) and Jana Pallaske (Inglourious Basterds) then eventually decided to release that segment as a stand alone short, Geography of the Heart, as a ‘teaser’ for our new feature Altitude, which is three of the original scripts developed into one interconnecting feature.
We had a lot of stops and starts in the original feature version, but everything happens for a reason – and now we’re really happy with Geography as a short, it works beautifully, and Altitude is far stronger as an interconnected film – it will be a great ensemble cast so we’re really excited about the changes.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I wanted to tell a story that challenged clichéd perceptions of ‘love’ and relationships– we’re conditioned to make choices based on age, culture, social groups but real love cares nothing about such trivialities.
Real love will shake up everything you thought you knew – the heart really is a compass, guiding us to the right people - and that person may be the very last person you imagined yourself with. Far more exciting and unpredictable than society’s idea of who is ‘right’ for us.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I love exploring all the big, wide and deep and meaningful themes of life – as I said in the last answer, I think if we really listen to the unseen and unspoken around us, we find the truth and that truth takes us on journeys that make this rollercoaster worth all the ups and downs.
How has the script and film evolved over the course of its development and production?
We really have had intense evolvement of this particular project. It’s been several years growing, changing, stripping down, adding flesh to new bones, shedding skins and finally getting to where we are now.
One of the highlights of this journey was meeting producer Lesley Matali. I’d worked with other producers and was left underwhelmed, but Lesley is rare, she has a genuine understanding of writing and storytelling. She was finding it hard to find character-driven stories, and I was looking for a producer whom I felt had integrity, both in personal character and professionalism (very rare).
Together we’ve become a strong team and we’re proud of what we have achieved, not least in that whatever problems we’ve faced (and there have been many), we have never given up or questioned why we are doing this. It’s way too easy to walk away when things get hard.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Really fantastic - and it’s been amazing to get such heartfelt feedback. The funny part is I don’t speak German (other than yes and no and a swear word) and we shot almost entirely in the German language. At the time I was living in Berlin and one of our other producers, Omar Asmar, an Australian living in Berlin, came on board the film later - and we had our dream team.
Directing in another language is not easy, or so people kept telling me, but I knew every line and nuance of the story, so I directed by just knowing what I wanted from each scene emotionally, reading the actor’s faces, movements, energy.
Our cinematographer, Mateusz Skalski had so many great ideas re how to capture the emotional atmosphere, so everything fell into place. We shot Geography in just four very long days and it’s thirty minutes long – so there was very little sleep. We were also under enormous pressure re the actor’s tight schedules as they are very much in-demand, but everything was falling into place quite literally moment by moment, and we learned to trust the process.
When Omar secured us a suite at the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, the very location I’d written had manifested last minute again – so all these little omens that we were making a film the universe was supporting.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We’re in development with the feature Altitude which Geography of the Heart is the teaser for, so hopefully that will attract the right people so we can bring this next story to life. We’ve already attached BAFTA winning, Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Remi Adefarasin as our cinematographer, and we’re working with an incredible actor and producer you’ll be hearing a lot more of, Michael Brando (Brando Pictures), whom we really connected with creatively and professionally. So it proves the old theory that you just have to do the work that feels right and others will join you along the way if they are right too.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Sales agents, buyers, distributors for the short. We’re also interested in film festivals.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How far would you go for love? Would you risk everything to follow your heart? It’s a big question and always inspires some passionate debates that are as much heart as head, which can be really revealing of who people are.
Would you like to add anything else?
For the filmmakers out there, take your time and focus on quality not quantity – it’s too easy to rush and want the career and success to happen fast, but anything worth doing is worth do well. And that’s tenfold when it comes to telling stories and the writing side.
So many people saying they are scriptwriters and it’s clear they are not crafting anything from the heart nor having a genuine passion about what they are doing, they talk about what genres are selling best and write one more - churning out scripts like paint by numbers. I liken it to looking for a soul mate on Tinder. Seriously?
In past times and still now in indigenous cultures, storytelling was a vital tool for living. Stories inspired people, gave them hope, made them want to live another day in hard times. And that’s what cinema and films have the power to do.
So scriptwriting is not about rules, it’s not about a three act structure, plot points and character arcs, it’s not about what genre piece is getting financed more right now - and hearing that kind of stuff is chilling.
There are stories everywhere waiting to find someone to tell them. They come to us in thoughts, dreams, inspirations. They use us as a channel, a voice and it’s something that should be respected. It’s a magical process. When a story comes to you, you feel it on a gut level. Take it and bring it to life. Audiences are sophisticated, they know when there is honestly and truth on the screen – never underestimate the power of that.
What are you working on now?
Altitude is our next film and my debut feature as writer and director. In some ways, especially when I meet thirty years olds with ten shorts and three features behind them, I’m late to the directing party. I was focused on writing and still work with other writers and directors on their films. But this story (Altitude) was so deeply personal to me that it made sense to all of us that I direct – which is also why I helmed Geography.