SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'Computer Chess,' 'Spectacular Now,' 'Emanuel And The Truth About Fishes,' 'Salma,' And 'Blackfish'

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes by director Francesca Gregorini

"Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes" Teaser - Dinner Scene from Francesca Gregorini on Vimeo.

A troubled girl Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel), who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to baby-sit Linda's newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes quick pitch:
A troubled girl (Emanuel) becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Linda), who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to baby-sit Linda's newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. It is a stylized, darkly humorous, suspenseful psychological-drama with touches of the surreal/magical.

Why it's worth checking out at Sundance and beyond:
It's stellar performances and it's uniqueness and execution of vision.

How it all came together:
Raising the money to get it made was by far the biggest challenge. I pulled the trigger and started shooting well before all the money was in, which is super risky, but the alternative was to wait and hope and I was no longer interested in doing that. I was interested in shooting my film, even if it meant doing it for a fraction of the money that we originally wanted to make it for. I was still hustling for money, to cover massive invoices and credit card bills in the last days of doing post. I'd be in the studio color correcting and then stepping out to make phone calls soliciting investors. Not ideal, but if your are also a producer on your own film, that's the deal.

Another challenge of course is keeping cast in place while you're busy raising the funds. At one point I had a completely different cast and was going to shoot the film in England and then a piece of casting fell out, which caused the financing to crumble, which caused other actors to leave and overnight you find yourself literally back to square one. But, in the end, I firmly believe and now have tangible proof that you end up making exactly the film that you were meant to make, with exactly the right cast and heads of department. It's like you're on some torture wheel and then suddenly the film gods smile on you and say ok, we've tortured this poor girl enough, she's not giving up, let's let her make her movie.

Some background on the cast:
I had a fabulous casting director, Deb Aquila, who fell in love with the script early on and stayed on for the several years that it took to get Emanuel off the ground. That was key. She's very well respected in this business so when agents got a call from her they listened and were willing to read and pass on to their clients. Access is key and she provided that for me as well as so much more over the years in terms of support and friendship.

I wrote the film originally for Rooney Mara, because having cast her in her first film (and mine), Tanner Hall, we had become close friends and post Tanner we were both looking for our next projects. So, I decided that I would write her a film. She was instrumental in feedback early on in the script writing process, literally getting the pages as they came out of the printer. Unfortunately, it took years to get Emanuel off the ground, so it was no longer believable that Rooney play a seventeen year old, besides all of her scheduling conflicts, that we decided it would be best if I moved on and searched for a new Emanuel. Enter the fabulous Kaya Scodelario. But actually not that quickly or easily. First, I met and read with what seemed like every young girl in Hollywood, by no means a painful process, however I couldn't find Emanuel, not because the girls weren't great, some even blew my mind, but they just weren't Emanuel. And because the whole movie rides on Emanuel, I was flat out unwilling to make the film unless I found the exact right girl, which I found in Kaya.

Alfred Molina was one of the first actors to sign on and to his credit (and my profound gratitude) he never flinched when cast and financing came and went. He was rock solid and that helped keep us anchored able to attract other talent, because he is such a fabulous and well respected actor, not to mention one of the loveliest humans I have had the pleasure to meet.

Jessica Biel was not on my short list of actresses for the role of Linda, simply because I had not seen her do anything like what was required for the part of Linda, but that is precisely what drew her to the part. She knew she had it in her and she was right. We went to lunch, she asked for an audition and she knocked it out of the park. She really is going to be a revelation to audiences in this role.

Frances O'Connor came on board shortly thereafter and really gives such a nuanced performance, bringing so much more to the role of Janice than I could have hoped for. Jimmi Simpson I had been a fan of for a while, so was happy to get a chance to work with him and he brings some much needed humor and a fantastic performance. And Aneurin Barnard (also cast out of London, along with Kaya) was recommended to me by Kate Mara, Rooney's sister, who had worked with him. He turned out to be the perfect Claude. Love him, such a find.

Next: Kim Longinotto on Salma, competing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition

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