Interview: Eleanor Burke & Ron Eyal (Directors – ‘Stranger Things’)

Stranger Things‘ is the story of an unexpected encounter which leads to a surprising friendship between a vulnerable young woman and a streetwise homeless man. It is set in a remote village on the south coast of England: a place where the usual suspicion and indifference of modern life exist, but where quiet and isolation allow them to have less of a hold.

This delicate and compelling film, set against the backdrop of a quiet seaside village in England, explores themes of friendship, grief and human vulnerability. A young isolated woman, Oona (Bridget Collins), returns to her childhood home as she grieves the loss of her artistic mother and deals with her belongings. Soon after she arrives she reaches out to Mani (Adeel Akhtar), a mysterious homeless man whom she invites to stay in her garden shed. Despite the space between them, Oona and Mani gradually form an unusual and touching bond. With a great sense of calm and joy, we are reminded that anything in life is possible and that very often strange things can bring with them unexpected happiness.

‘Stranger Things’ won the Grand Jury Prizes at Slamdance and at the Woodstock Film Festival, as well as Best UK Feature at Raindance.

We talked with the husband and wife Directorial team of Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal about the visual influences behind the film, the soft lighting of the English coastline and the strength of expression in mundanity.  The film will play a week long run at Brooklyn’s reRun Theater beginning Friday, April 5, 2013

What was it about the coastal British location that made right for ‘Stranger Things’ narrative?
Eleanor Burke
:  I’m from London and it was an area I spent a lot of time in growing up.  Ron and I wrote the film for that location.  It is a village near the town of Hastings.  Hastings is a crumbling Victorian city that attracts a lot of people who are down on their luck.  Nearby there is this idyllic country side so there is an interesting dynamic there.  A story like this, about 2 people meeting each other who are so different, felt appropriate to be located there.   

Ron Eyal:
  Eleanor used to visit Sussex a lot when she was growing up and when we started planting the seeds for the story we thought it was also a great location for the isolation aspect of the character.  Since she is so isolated in the story it provides a catalyst as to why she reaches across this great divide to connect with a stranger.

Did you always have Bridget Collins (Oona) and Adeel Akhbar (Mani) is mind when writing their parts?
:  Yes.  We had worked with both f them on projects in the past.  We made a short film with Bridget “Ruth & Maggie” which premiered at Slamdance.  We met Adeel at film school at NYU.  He was out here studying at the actors studio.  We had a couple of exercises with him while in school and just loved him.  He is so talented.  Since then Adeel has had success in the UK, especially with ‘Four Lions’ where he played the goofy Jihadist that blows himself up.  He is also in ‘The Dictator’ and the Ch. 4 UK show ‘Utopia’.

Eleanor:  It is a drama but the films he tends to do are comic in nature.  There is this whole other side to him, as a sensitive guy with great depth.  I think this was really brought out in ‘Stranger Things’.

What was the dynamic between you two as directors and each of the actors?  How much of the characters depiction was written and how much was improvised by the actors?  I ask because there are extended moments of quiet lingering on mundane activities and facial expressions.  How were these moments translated from paper to screen?
:  Ron and I both love working with actors. We wrote the script for these two particularly so we knew they were open and brave actors who would work with us.  We actually never showed the full script to either actor but we did workshop their backstories.  They brought a lot of that work to the set.  Once we were on the set they only saw the script up to the point we were at in production.  We shot in script order which is quite unusual.  This is a story of two people discovering each other so we wanted the actors to discover their characters as well.  We wanted to be able to use their reactions and instincts as actors in the moment.

Ron:  It is really important to us to give actors the space that they need to be brave and vulnerable in their performances.

Eleanor:  This is a story that is about human connection.  It is a story that we wanted to tell in a delicate way, with small moments and the drama in those moments.  We kept the set very intimate.  Mostly it was Rona and I with the actors with no other crew.  We wanted them to be as immersed as possible in what they were doing, the story, their characters and that world.

You mention an intimate set, was the crew essentially the two of you for the duration of the shoot?
:  We had a very small documentary style crew which was light weight and flexible.  I shot the entire film and their were parts where Ron was recording sound.

Ron:  Having Eleanor shoot the film was an artistic decision in itself.  She has studied cinematography and photography at school and before.  She has a lot of experience with this.

Cinematography wise, what were your influences while shooting the film?
: We wanted to have a distinct feeling of simplicity and we wanted that sense of intimacy.  The actors are so good that I could stay on their faces and so much was conveyed we were drawn to those shots.  We avoided “showy” camera work to emphasis performance over anything else.

Influence wise, there are so many cinematographers and photographers that we love.  Their were some shots that were inspired from films like ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc‘…

Ron:  …From the close up shots.  We also knew that we wanted a natural light feel to the film.  On the south coast of England it is ideal for this.  The overcast is very good for film lighting because you do not have to worry about hard shadows.  It is a very soft and “glowy” light.  We both thought it is really beautiful.

– Interview Conducted & Transcribed by Steve Rickinson

But Tickets for ‘Stranger Things’HERE

Friday, April 5 – Thursday, April 11, 2013
IFP & Slamdance presents
@ reRun Theater
247 Front St.
Brooklyn, NY
: /StrangerThingsFilm
Twitter: @strangerfilm


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