Producer Jim Wilson details the wild journey from pre-production to Cannes involved in making You Were Never Really Here. This is the fifth feature in our Special Issue on You Were Never Really Here.
Lynne Ramsay’s fourth feature, You Were Never Really Here, was the wild card of Cannes 2017, screening last in competition. “We were certainly still working on the film while the festival was happening,” explained producer Jim Wilson when I talked to him over the phone. Hearing him recount the film’s wild, year-long journey from pre-production to Cannes inspires awe for the guts and quick-thinking of the entire creative team.
It’s become legend that they “went right to the wire” prepping for Cannes — and had their work rewarded with screenplay and acting prizes for Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix — but the full scope of what they had to do is far more insane and stress-inducing than just a little bit of hurried editing and sound mixing.
Wilson is one of many longtime friends and collaborators of Ramsay’s who worked on the film: he met her after seeing her shorts while talent scouting at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in the late ‘90s. Sound designer Paul Davies and cinematographer Tom Townend both met her at film school. Davies has worked on all of Ramsay’s features, and editor Joe Bini collaborated on her previous film, We Need to Talk About Kevin.
“Those [collaborators] were all in the family of the film long before [pre-production],” Wilson recalled. “Tom has a great film brain. We often yack about films — we’re all good friends — and Lynne felt that Tom would have a good sense of this type of story and be a good collaborator. This is unusual, but Tom had been working on the screenplay with Lynne, as a kind of script editor, during the development. That was obviously a very compelling reason for him to shoot the film: he knew every corner of it inside out.”
“I imagine Lynne will always work with a version of that team. She’ll always work in that very organic way. Joe Bini, the editor, was the choice from the get go. He was part of the process; Lynne would share drafts with him. And Paul Davies, Lynne’s sound designer, she would have showed him drafts, [too], and be talking about sound [with him] all the way through. Paul made playlists of music and even some sound design that he made himself: strange, acoustic ambiences; conventional music; weird, crazy sounds… Sound is hugely important for Lynne — she almost thinks in sound as she’s writing.”'Sound is hugely important for Lynne — she almost thinks in sound as she’s writing.'Click To Tweet
The pre-production and shoot was unexpectedly fast-tracked when Phoenix’s schedule suddenly cleared. “We had a very short time to prep the film, from Joaquin saying yes to making it. Unbelievably short — like nothing I’ve ever experienced. [Joaquin] said yes mid-May, but he had a tight window: he had to be released to play Jesus in Mary Magdalene in September. We needed to be prepping [You Were Never Really Here] in New York in June. All we had was a script, Lynne, and no money. Hadn’t prepped or planned anything.”
You Were Never Really Here’s rushed shoot meant it was extra vital that Ramsay be surrounded by collaborators she could trust. Some of our previous Special Issues have also delved deep into the importance of collaboration: we interviewed director Joachim Trier, co-writer Eskil Vogt, and DP Jakob Ihre for our Thelma issue, and we interviewed both Trier and Ihre for our first ever Special Issue, on Louder Than Bombs. Our issue on God’s Own Country (now available in eBook form) included interviews with the two stars, the DP, and two interviews with director Francis Lee.